With the exception of three starts by Ranger Suarez in 2018, the Phillies haven’t had a lefty in their rotation since Adam Morgan in 2016. With Suarez still a little shy of being ready for the majors, the Phillies made finding a lefty for their rotation one of their priorities for this offseason. Their focus went first to Patrick Corbin, but his signing of a six-year, $140-million deal with Washington left the Phillies out in the cold. Corbin was enough of a target for the Phillies that at one point, they let it be known that they would not be outbid for his services. That likely changed when the Nationals went to six years.
The Phillies haven’t given a six-year contract to a pitcher since they signed Cole Hamels to an extension at the 2012 trade deadline. Ironically, Hamels contract was for six years and $144-million or could be extended to seven years and $158-million with a team option.
Corbin joins Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer in the Nationals rotation. It’s not known if the money spent for Corbin excludes Washington from re-signing outfielder Bryce Harper or whether it’s meant to show Harper they are serious about winning and will use the signing to help lure him back to Washington.
Meanwhile, the Phillies are still without a major league ready lefty starter. One option is to pursue Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi, who was officially made available to major league teams yesterday. The Phillies have previously shown interest in Kikuchi, who has until January 2nd to sign with a major league team or return to the Seibu Lions. Any team signing Kikuchi would have to pay a percentage of his contract to the Lions as a posting fee in addition to the money they would owe the lefty. Several teams have expressed interest in Kikuchi, who followed up a 16-6, 1.97 season in 2017 with a 14-4, 3.08 campaign in 2018. Overall, the 27-year old is 73-46 with a 2.77 ERA in eight seasons in Japan.
Kikuchi doesn’t come without concerns. He has been shut down twice in his career – 2010 and 2013 – with shoulder pain and missed two months of the 2016 season with a side injury. He has also thrown over 1,000 innings in Japan. The Rangers, Yankees, Angels and Giants are all known to have interest in Kikuchi, who is represented by Scott Boras.
Another candidate is a lefty who the Phillies are more familiar with; J.A. Happ. Now that Corbin is signed, more teams figure to turn their attention to Happ, who is now 36. The Phillies drafted Happ in 2004 and he made his MLB debut with them in 2007 and was later shipped to Houston in the Roy Oswalt trade in 2010. Happ pitched with the Blue Jays and Yankees last season and was a combined 17-6, 3.65 in 31 starts. Since the Phillies traded him, Happ has pitched for Houston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Toronto (twice) and the Yankees. Happ is reportedly seeking a three-year deal, which would be more to the Phillies liking.
The Phillies could turn to the trade market instead of free agency to acquire a lefty, with the Giants Madison Bumgarner being one possibility. The 29-year old has spent his entire career with the Giants and battled through injuries the past couple of seasons. In August of 2017, Bumgarner – not doing the brightest of things – was in a dirt bike accident prior to a series in Colorado. Of all things to injure, he hurt his left shoulder and missed the rest of the season. Last spring, as he tuned up for the season in spring training, a line drive from Whit Merrifield hit Bumgarner squarely in his left hand, breaking the fifth metacarpal and putting him on the DL for the first couple months of the season.
While both injuries were of the freakish variety – and Bumgarner has sworn off riding a dirt bike – there are concerns regarding his velocity. Bumgarner was throwing at 93 miles-per-hour in 2015 and was down to 91.3 this past season. There’s no arguing with his numbers though, as he’s gone 10-16 with a 3.29 ERA in 38 starts over the past two seasons. The Giants picked up Bumgarner’s option for 2019 at $12-million, a more than fair price for a 29-year old quality lefty.
The Phillies have also asked Arizona about Robbie Ray (6-2, 3.93 in 24 starts in 2018) and the 27-year old left-hander apparently is available for the right price. Ray is eligible for arbitration for the second season and made $3.950-million last season. Over the past four seasons, Ray has made 107 starts and is 34-34 with a 3.84 ERA over that time.