CARLSBAD, Calif. — Over the past two seasons, Phillies starting pitchers worked 1,766 2/3 innings, 15th most in the majors. Of those, though, only 12 innings were pitched by a lefty, fewer than any other team and all by 23-year-old Ranger Suarez.
It stands to reason, then, that acquiring a left-handed starter would rank high on the Phillies’ offseason to-do list.
“In a perfect world, we would like to have a balanced rotation,” general manager Matt Klentak said as the annual GM meetings continued Wednesday at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa. “What we’re not going to do is swap out a good righty for a less-good lefty. But if we can keep the rotation as good as it is or make it better and also add balance to our pitching staff, I think that’s something worth exploring.”
When the Phillies passed on bolstering the rotation at the July 31 trade deadline, Klentak was emphatic about not wanting to delve into the starting-pitching market. But this might be a better time to go shopping, as offseason supply — at least among lefties — might come closer to actually exceeding demand.
In free agency, Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, and Gio Gonzalez fit the profile of middle-of-the-rotation or better starters. And 27-year-old Japanese star Yusei Kikuchi is expected to be made available to major-league teams through the posting process.
But a sense among the executives here is that a robust trade market for lefties might be forming, too. Here’s a look at a few potential trade targets to help the Phillies contend with Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, Washington’s Juan Soto, and the other tough left-handed hitters in the National League East:
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco
The Giants began the GM meetings by poaching Farhan Zaidi from the rival Los Angeles Dodgers to be their president of baseball operations. And Zaidi’s first order of business will be deciding what to do with his ace.
Bumgarner, 29, is due to make $12 million in the final season of his eight-year, $58.06 million contract. He averaged 213 innings, a 3.00 ERA and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings from 2011-16 and was dominant in the postseason in 2014. But a dirt-biking accident and a broken hand limited him to 240 2/3 innings over the past two seasons, in which he posted a 3.29 ERA and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Giants, coming off a 73-89 season, have three choices: a) sign Bumgarner to an extension; b) hold on to him through at least July in hopes of making a playoff push; c) trade him now for a bushel of prospects. If they decide on Option C, it could present an opportunity for the Phillies, who have a strong farm system.
For all the talk of the Phillies’ late-season collapse, the Diamondbacks were nearly as dreadful, fading from contention by going 11-24 down the stretch. And now, general manager Mike Hazen must figure out how to address the team’s short-term needs and lock up franchise icon Paul Goldschmidt before he reaches free agency next winter while also trimming the payroll.
“We’re going to have to be creative about how we do that,” Hazen said.
One way would be making a trade. Hazen’s preference is almost certainly to unload ace Zack Greinke — and most of the $95.5 million that he is owed through 2021. But Hazen might have more luck moving Ray. Not only is the 26-year-old lefty eight years younger than Greinke and one year removed from posting a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 162 innings, but he also is under club control and due for relatively reasonable raises through arbitration for the next three seasons.
Hazen confirmed that teams have called about the Diamondbacks’ starters. But he also noted that the team would need to acquire starting pitching in return, especially with Corbin poised to sign elsewhere. If the Phillies are willing to deal one of their young, controllable pitchers (Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zack Eflin, or Jerad Eickhoff) and a prospect, perhaps they could be a match.
No general manager has overhauled his roster more in the past few years than Jerry Dipoto. And after the Mariners faded in the wild-card race in the superpower-filled American League, he could do so once again.
Paxton might be Dipoto’s most attractive trade chip. He just turned 30 this week and has two more years of club control through arbitration. He also has a 3.52 ERA (and a 2.90 FIP) with 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings over the past three seasons.
The knock on Paxton: health. He pitched a career-high 160 1/3 innings in 28 starts this season, the first time he topped 150 innings or 25 starts. But he has the talent to slide into the No. 2 spot in the Phillies rotation, right between ace Aaron Nola and veteran Jake Arrieta, and be the lefty they have been seeking since they traded Cole Hamels in 2015.