As managers and front-office personnel alike continue to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of Major League Baseball, some high-profile starting pitchers remain unsigned as spring training heats up. In an offseason that saw Wade Davis earn a record-setting salary for a relief pitcher, Jake Arrieta and other above-average starting pitchers remain without a team as February comes to a close. CBS Sports has kept an up-to-date list of free agent signings included with their ranking of the free agents leading up to the offseason. Based on that list, three of the four unsigned players in the top ten are starting pitchers (Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb).
As more teams embrace “tanking” and rush to rid themselves of salary to avoid a luxury tax, paying two or more players as much as one star player has become commonplace. Baseball Reference lists the Phillies’ 2018 payroll at $67.6 million, minuscule by today’s standards. As a team that has not made a playoff appearance since 2011, with a young core joining the big league club, and presumably with money to spend, why is Arrieta not in Clearwater? Currently, the two highest paid pitchers on the Phillies roster, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, are owed a total of $16.75 million, which is almost $8 million less than the expected average annual salary that FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron estimated for Arrieta. Secondly, no member of Philadelphia’s projected starting rotation is even eligible for arbitration yet. It seems that all signs would point to Arrieta joining Aaron Nola atop the Phillies rotation.
Moreso than Lynn or Cobb, Arrieta would be a welcome addition in Philadelphia, as his tendency to induce weak contact would suit Citizens Bank Park well. For his career, Arrieta has allowed less than one home run per nine innings, no small feat playing home games at Camden Yards and Wrigley Field. While he may not regain his 2015 Cy Young form, a 32-18 record with a 3.30 ERA over the last two seasons is likely what we will see going forward. No longer an ace, Arrieta could become a second or third starter on a contending team, which the Phillies can easily become. A top of the rotation featuring Nola and Arrieta, with Hector Neris, Neshek, and Hunter in the bullpen would provide the foundation for a strong pitching staff.
As for hitters, the Phillies certainly are not lacking in that department. Rhys Hoskins provided a late-season spark, and a look ahead to what should be a bright future. Hoskins hit an absurd 18 home runs in just 50 games, slashing .259/.396/.618. Nick Williams (.288/.338/.473 in 313 at-bats), Aaron Altherr (.272/.340/.516 in 372 at-bats), and Carlos Santana (.259/.363/.455 in 571 at-bats) should complement Hoskins in the middle of the lineup. If highly touted shortstop J.P. Crawford can live up to his potential, the Phillies could quietly have a potent offense.
As the Mets continue to refuse to spend money to fix glaring holes and the Marlins begin their rebuild, now is the time for the Phillies to go all-in. The Washington Nationals are the clear-cut favorites in the division, owners of one of the most complete rosters in baseball. After the incumbent, though, there is no favorite for second place in the National League East. Once a formidable division, the NL East has become top-heavy in recent years, with success heavily favoring Washington. The addition of Arrieta would give Philadelphia the inside track on second place, and possibly a Wild Card spot.