If this is what free-agent starting pitching costs, Phillies should trade instead

If this is what free-agent starting pitching costs, Phillies should trade instead originally appeared on nbcsportsphiladelphia.com

If this is what it costs to bring in one of the top free-agent starting pitchers in a relatively modest class, the Phillies are better off spending their money elsewhere.

This week, Patrick Corbin agreed to a six-year, $140 million deal with the Nationals. Nate Eovaldi, who was dynamic in the 2018 playoffs but has been healthy all year just once in his seven MLB seasons, will reportedly get $67.5 million over four years from the Red Sox.

Corbin is really good. Eovaldi has a big fastball and can be a mid-rotation starter when healthy. But these are long, expensive commitments.

And there are simply better pitchers than Eovaldi on the trade market.

The trade market is where the Phillies should be focused in their attempt to land a high-quality starting pitcher. As solid as J.A. Happ has been these last few seasons, he’s not close to the same tier as the Indians’ duo of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. He doesn’t have nearly the upside of Arizona’s Robbie Ray. He’s not close to as productive as a healthy Madison Bumgarner or Zack Greinke.

Phillies fans who were upset by the team’s missing out on Corbin should take solace in the fact that other aces are available and even more will come available over the next 8-12 months. Even if the Phils sign a mid-rotation piece like Happ, they could also find another trade partner by the 2019 deadline. These next two or three months are not GM Matt Klentak’s final chance at bolstering the rotation.

We know the Phillies want to add a lefty to the staff. With Corbin in Washington, the next most accomplished southpaw is former AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel.

Keuchel is an addition worth exploring … for the right price. He’s declined since his Cy Young season, no question about it, but he still gets ground balls at a higher rate than any pitcher in baseball. Add him to a rotation alongside Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta and your outfielders will have plenty of idle time.

Keuchel turns 31 on Jan. 1. He allowed 211 hits last season, most in the majors. He also had his lowest strikeout rate since 2014.

A move to the National League would help Keuchel a lot, but he needs a strong infield defense behind him. With Jean Segura at shortstop, the Phillies’ infield defense will be better in 2019. If they end up landing Manny Machado to play third base, the defense gets even better.

Happ will be less expensive than Keuchel, but with the Yankees also interested in Happ, there’s no guarantee he signs a fair deal. A fair price for Happ, at age 36, is something like $28-30 million over two years. If a team has to commit three years to him, or if the price rises closer to $20 million annually, that’s just too much.

Keuchel seems like a candidate for a three-year deal with incentives and a fourth-year vesting option. If Arrieta got $75 million over three years, Keuchel should be closer to $55-60 million. Free-agent contracts are not linear, but is any team really going to offer Keuchel more than $18 million per year?

We should have some more answers by this time next week. The Winter Meetings kick off on Monday in Las Vegas.

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