Phillies could go trade route as they look to improve starting pitching


CARLSBAD, Calif. – Baseball’s offseason ramps up with the start of the general managers meetings Tuesday.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak is here, looking for two more good months. The 2018 Phillies led the National League East in early August then suffered a monumental collapse en route to a sixth straight losing season.

The Phillies will be a headline-grabbing club all winter because they have shifted from rebuild mode to win mode, they have big money and they are committed to getting better — now. They are in pursuit of both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, the two megastars on the free-agent market, and would like to land one of them. Signing both is unrealistic because the Phillies have future payrolls and future free-agent markets to consider and club president Andy MacPhail has said as much. Nonetheless, there has and will continue to be speculation that the Phillies will sign both, even if it won’t happen.

It is an oversimplification to say that Klentak is looking for two more good months. Obviously the Phillies need more than that to build a sustained winner. But for four months, starting pitching carried the 2018 Phillies. (Their starters ranked sixth in the majors with a 3.70 ERA through the first week of August and recorded a 5.18 ERA the rest of the way.) Starting pitching, among other things, slipped over the final two months and winning games became more difficult.

This is why improving the starting pitching is an item on Klentak’s offseason to-do list. It has just been overshadowed by Machado/Harper-Mania.

The Phillies were willing to part with young talent to acquire Machado before he went to the Dodgers in July. They are still willing to part with young talent and now it could go toward starting pitching.

Two names to watch as the GM meetings get going:

Robbie Ray of the Diamondbacks.

James Paxton of the Mariners.

Both are left-handers. Both have two years of control remaining. Both are said to be available. And both would appeal to the Phillies.

Paxton, 30, has battled injuries in his career, but his stuff is electric when he’s healthy. He pitched a no-hitter in 2018. Klentak previously worked for Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto in Anaheim and the two are very close. Could that facilitate a deal? Stay tuned.

Ray, 27, is a guy the Phillies have long liked. His name was kicked around last winter.

Another name to watch is Michael Fulmer of the Tigers. The Phillies poked around on the right-hander over the summer, but it’s unclear if the Tigers will sell low on him after a disappointing 2018 and minor knee injury that required surgery. Nonetheless, Fulmer has four years of control remaining and might be a fit if the Tigers look to move him. And the Yankees are committed to trading Sonny Gray so he could be a name to watch, too.

The Phillies will also be in on the top free-agent arms, particularly Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Dallas Keuchel and others.

So while Machado and Harper get most of the buzz, don’t forget starting pitching and the Phillies’ need for it.

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