The Phillies can win in 2019 without Harper or Machado ... if they get the right pitching

The Phillies signing of David Robertson adds another piece to the puzzle that will be Philadelphia’s 2019 season.  Robertson signed a two-year, $23-million deal last week and joined former National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen and All-Star shortstop, Jean Segura, as notable off-season acquisitions. 

Philadelphia needed to add an arm to their bullpen — and one might argue they still do. Phillies’ relievers posted a 4.19 ERA last season, which ranked 11th out of 15 National League clubs. Seranthony Dominguez (2.95 ERA, 11.5 K/9 in 58 IP) is a good complementary piece in the bullpen. But for the club to compete with Washington and Atlanta next season, they need more depth. Relievers Craig Kimbrel and Adam Ottavino are still free agents, but the market for relievers appears to be on hold while Manny Machado and Bryce Harper decide their fates.

If the club misses out on Harper and Machado, one could make the case to invest in the bullpen and create a staff of super relievers. They could also invest in some starters. Let’s figure the club has roughly $300 million set aside for either of baseball’s prized free agents.  Instead of signing one of them, why not do the following?:


Sign Kimbrel at five-years, $65 million.

Sign Ottavino at three-years, $38 million.

Sign Cody Allen at two-years, $18 million.


Sign Dallas Keuchel at four-years, $70 million.

Sign Derek Holland at two-years, $10 million.

If you add up the projected contracts together, the Phillies would be spending $201 million for all this talent.  Granted, we are aware nothing in baseball — or life — is this simple. The contracts these players sign could be completely different (though this seems within range).

Let’s start with the bullpen again. Signing Kimbrel and Ottavino would not be out of the question, considering the money it would take to sign Machado or Harper. They’ve already signed Robertson and were reportedly in on former All-Stars — Zach Britton and Andrew Miller — before they signed with other clubs.

Allen is coming off a tough year with the Indians. He posted the worst ERA (4.70) and ERA+ (93) of his career. So in other words, the 30-year old reliever is coming off an off year. He could be a cheaper option out of the bullpen, especially based on his numbers from previous seasons.

From 2014-2017, Allen posted a 2.62 ERA and a 12.1 K/9 rate in 282 appearances. His 282 games were fourth-most in the majors during that span. Only former teammate Bryan Shaw (308), Tony Watson (296) and Dellin Betances (283) had more. Maybe his 2018 season was a result of wear and tear on his arm? Maybe it was an off-year? Either way, Allen has the potential to be a great option at the back of the bullpen. 

Potential Leaders of the Phillies' Bullpen

Based on the above signings—with 2018 Numbers

Kimbrel           Ottavino          Robertson        Allen               Dominguez

ERA                            2.74                 2.43                 3.23                 4.70                 2.95

IP                                62.1                 77.2                 69.2                 67.0                 58.0

K/9                              13.9                 13.0                 11.8                 10.7                 11.5

Opponents’ OPS         .565                 .509                 .595                 .740                 .501

Now, for the rotation. For starters, Aaron Nola put together a spectacular season in 2018. He finished third in National League Cy Young voting, posting a 2.37 ERA and striking out 224 batters in 212.1 innings of work.  Jake Arrieta was solid at times, posting a 3.96 ERA in 172.2 innings.  They are easily the one-two punch of the Philadelphia rotation. 

But the rotation lacks depth — particularly from left-handers. They don’t have a major-league level left-handed starter on their roster at the moment. For years, the Phillies had some of the game’s best lefties in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. Now it seems like those days are a distant memory. 

Keuchel is the best remaining starting pitcher on the free agent market. The 2015 AL Cy Young winners would bring two key aspects to the Phillies’ club.

1.      He’s a lefty starter, who when healthy, can be penciled in for 200+ innings and a mid-3.00 ERA.

2.      He’s a World Series champion with postseason pedigree. Keuchel is 4-2, with a 3.30 ERA in 10 games — nine starts — during his playoff career. 

Holland is coming off one of the best seasons at the major-league level. The lefty posted a 3.57 ERA and struck out 169 batters in 171.1 innings for the Giants last season.  From 2015-2017, Holland struggled, pitching a sub-par 5.50 ERA in 300.1 innings of work.  Signing the 32-year old could be a risk, but he has the potential to become a cost-effective, consistent, starter in the rotation.  And remember, the club already has strikeout artist Vince Velasquez (9.9 K/9 in 146.2 IP) on the staff.

Potential Phillies' Starters

Based on the above signings—with 2018 Numbers

                                    Nola                Keuchel           Arrieta             Holland           Velasquez

Record                        17-6                 12-11               10-11               7-9                   9-12

ERA                            2.37                 3.74                 3.96                 3.57                 4.85

IP                                212.1               204.2               172.2               171.1               146.2

K/9                              9.5                   6.7                   7.2                   8.9                   9.9

Fans might be disappointed should the club fail to sign either Harper or Machado. But this isn’t basketball. You don’t need the brightest star to clinch victory. A collection of stars can outshine a single one, no matter its brightness, any day of the week ... especially if the shine comes from a World Series trophy.