So far, the Phillies have been linked to dozens of big names. From front-line starting pitchers like Patrick Corbin to franchise altering names like Machado and Harper, the Phillies have been in on seemingly everybody. There have also been rumors that the team is looking to move certain players off the roster, particularly Santana and Franco.
Despite being kings of the rumor mill, the Phillies have yet to make any significant moves.
This honestly isn’t much of a surprise. Most of the time, dominoes fall quickly in regards to the MLB off-season. Once one major move happens (typically at the winter meetings), a flurry of transactions take place as teams scramble to secure their needs. The Phillies figure to be one of the biggest players in free agency, so I wouldn’t be surprised if things kick off league-wide when they inevitably make their splash.
But while the Phillies brass has plenty of cash to spend, it is important that they still make wise financial decisions. The club may be flush with cash now, but reckless spending in free agency could provide plenty of headaches down the road. Specifically, the club must be careful not to have too much money tied up when they eventually have to pay Nola and Hoskins. A mega contract to one of Machado or Harper is affordable, but the team would be wise not to get bogged down by an anchor contract with a starting pitcher.
Recent Comparable Contracts Suggest Staying Away From Corbin
The type of contract I’m referring to is the one that Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin is bound to get. As the top arm on the market, Corbin is likely to recieve offers of at least 6 years and well over $100 million. With the Phillies long said to desire a quality left-handed starter, the two sides have been linked all off-season.
The rumors really picked up yesterday when it was revealed that Corbin was meeting with team representatives at Citizens Bank Park. A photo of him wearing a Phillies hat on the park’s scoreboard made the rounds on social media.
— chris jones ¯_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) November 27, 2018
It was also revealed that the left-hander met with the Nationals and Yankees sometime this week. Corbin has long been linked to the Yankees and continues to be even after the acquisition of James Paxton.
As for the Phillies, there is no doubt that Corbin would provide an enormous upgrade to the rotation. Not only would the team be gaining a reliable lefty, they would be adding one of the game’s most dominant pitchers from last season. If they signed him, I couldn’t hate.
However, signing Patrick Corbin to a long-term deal is not without its risks. Time and time again, high quality starting pitchers have signed contracts that have ended up hurting their respective teams. Just last season, the Cubs signed Yu Darvish to a six-year deal worth $126 million – a contract almost identical to what Corbin is likely going to sign.
At this time last year, it was hard to argue that Darvish hadn’t earned his payday. A four-time All Star, Darvish put up Cy-Young caliber numbers during his time with the Rangers and was viewed as an upgrade in any rotation. However, Darvish was not without his question marks. The Japanese ace missed all of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery and only made 17 starts in 2016. After a solid (not great) 2017, Darvish signed his mega-deal with the cubs. He would end up pitching only 40 innings in 2018 after being shut down for elbow soreness.
At age 32, Darvish is still owed over $90 million over the next five seasons. Needless to say, the contract is looking like it will be an anchor for the Cubs.
David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, Homer Bailey and Felix Hernandez are other names that come to mind when you think of crippling contracts. While not all these players, particularly Zimmerman, are comparable to Corbin, they all represent $100 million + commitments to veteran starters. All these contracts were thought to be at market value and these players were signed in hopes they would help their teams in the short term. But by and large, all of these contracts look like either total or partial disasters for the clubs that handed them out.
Don’t get me wrong, there is without doubt merit to signing Corbin. At age 29, he is younger and has less innings pitched than most of the names listed above at the time of signing their respective contracts. However, Corbin has had injury issues himself, including Tommy John surgery, and has been inconsistent. In between dominance in 2013 and 2018, Corbin was so-so as he worked his way back from injury. His first full season back in 2016 saw him post an ERA of 5.15 (FIP of 4.84) as well as an improved 4.03 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 2017. He threw an impressive 344 innings over those two seasons before putting up stellar 2018 numbers. All told, Corbin went 11-7 with an FIP of 2.47 while striking out a career high 11.1 /9 over 200 innings last season.
With numbers like that, it is impossible to say I wouldn’t be happy with the club signing Corbin. The rotation is in dire need of an upgrade and Corbin is certainly that.
But at the end of the day, I fear Corbin’s contract could end up being an issue. Even if the early returns are good, guaranteeing lots of money to pitchers on the wrong side of 30 has proven to be a bad decision for other clubs. The odds of Corbin producing for all of those years are slim. At best, teams hope for 4-5 years of production and acknowledge that the final couple seasons will be paying for what they hoped were productive first seasons.
Of course, it isn’t all bad. Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Cole Hamels are names that come to mind when I think of veteran pitchers who got paid and produced. I would just hate to see Matt Klentak make poor decisions that hurt the long-term success of the team in the name of short-term upgrades.
I would much rather see the team sign Dallas Keuchel. A Boras client, Keuchel is arguably the second-most sought after pitcher following Corbin. While his stuff isn’t as dominant as Corbin’s, the former Cy Young Award winner consistently has one of the highest ground ball rates in the league and is a lefty as well. Yes, he’s older than Corbin (31), but that is precisely why he represents the better option. Keuchel will likely be looking at four years, five max, as opposed to Corbin who could realistically be looking at upwards of seven.
Does he have a higher chance of falling off sooner? Maybe, but I’m sure he would be an upgrade for the first year or two even if he began to taper off as he approaches 35. A four-year contract to Keuchel dramatically improves the team while not causing headaches long-term.
So while we’re all eager to see the Phillies make moves, we don’t want to see them spend money just because they can. Patrick Corbin would be a welcome addition, but I fear that the risks outweigh the rewards when it comes to him. With promising arms a couple years away in Medina and Sixto Sanchez, I don’t see the need to invest heavily in Corbin with Nola is already in house.
But at the end of the day, what do I know? I just want to see one of Manny or Harper in a Phillies uniform; anything else is a bonus.