The Phillies have landed Jake Arrieta
With a resume that is only matched by Tim Lincecum and Sandy Koufax and includes the 2015 NL Cy Young, a World Series ring and two no-hitters, everyone (especially agent Scott Boras) expected Jake Arrieta to command a five-year deal worth upwards of $125-150 million in free agency this offseason. Instead, the market for Arrieta, 32, stalled to the point where into the second week of March and a month into spring training, he had yet to find a new home. Alas, the wait is finally over, as Arrieta has agreed to a three-year, $75 million contract with the 66 win Philadelphia Phillies. Under the terms of the contract, Arrieta will make $30 million in 2018, $25 million in 2019, and $20 million in 2020. Interestingly, while Arrieta has an opt-out clause after year two of the contract, the Phillies can void the opt-out in exchange for exercising options for $20 million in 2021 and 2022, which would push the value of the contract to up to $135 million if Arrieta hits incentives based on starts and Cy Young voting.
On the surface, Arrieta had a fine year last season, going 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA, 1.218 WHIP, and 163 strikeouts in 168.1 innings pitched. However from his Cy Young-winning 2015 to 2017, Arrieta saw his velocity drop from 94.9 miles per hour to 92.6, which contributed to his innings total decreasing from 229 to 197 to 168, his WAR dropping from 8.7 to 3.4 to 1.9, and his FIP increasing from 2.35 to 3.52 to 4.16. While this likely scared many teams away from giving Arrieta front of the rotation money, it should be noted that Arrieta did look like the ace of old in the second half, posting a 2.28 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 67 innings, before 10.2 innings of one-run ball in the postseason. Additionally, it is worth noting that over the last four seasons, Arrieta has hit home runs at a greater rate (1.89%) than he has allowed (1.81%), and that against current members of his new division rival, the Washington Nationals, Arrieta has only allowed one home run in 158 plate appearances.
While there are certainly question marks surrounding Arrieta given he has only thrown over 170.0 innings a season twice, few would argue that even though he isn’t the ace he once was, he is still unquestionably a front of the rotation arm. For the Phillies, this represents their second sizeable investment of the offseason, after earlier signing first baseman Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million contract. The question remains though; are the Phillies ready to compete in 2018? Here are a few reasons why the answer may be yes.
- Carlos Santana vs. Tommy Joseph: Last season, Joseph was the Phillies primary first baseman, and while he had some power, hitting 22 HR, it came with a -1.3 WAR thanks to a 32:129 BB:K ratio, a .289 OBP, and -10 Defensive Runs Saved. In his place is Santana, who may not be the player his salary calls for but has still averaged 3.1 WAR per season over the past eight years. Amongst offensive players, Santana would have led the Phillies last season with 3.4 WAR, 79 RBI, 90 runs scored, and 88 walks, and also would have had the fewest strikeouts of the Phillies regular with 94. Not only will Santana bring a much needed patient eye to a Phillies team that didn’t have a single regular with more than 61 walks last season, but he will also be a huge defensive upgrade at first base, with 10 Defensive Runs saved a year ago.
- A full season of Rhys Hoskins: Last season, Hoskins burst onto the scene for the Phillies, hitting .259/.396/.618 with 18 HR and 48 RBI in only 50 games. While Hoskins may initially struggle with the move from first base to right field, his bat appears to be legit and can be backed up by a very strong 37:46 BB:K ratio in his first taste of the big leagues. A 2.0 WAR player in 2017 despite playing in less than 1/3 of the season, ZIPS has Hoskins projected to hit .264/.356/.513 with 34 home runs and 121 RBI, which would give the Phillies a true middle of the order bat for the future.
- Jorge Alfaro Makes the Leap: Coming into 2017, catcher Jorge Alfaro was Baseball America’s #47 overall prospect. After struggling at AAA Lehigh Valley, hitting .241/.291/.358, Aflaro improved his numbers in a brief, 29 game cup of coffee, hitting .318/.360/.514 with the Phillies. While his 3:33 BB:K numbers in the MLB are alarming, Aflaro is being handed the keys to the Phillies pitching staff this season, and if he can continue to hit anywhere near the level he hit in September, he will give the Phillies a valuable hitter towards of the bottom of their lineup. Plus, reports out of spring training about Alfaro’s defense behind the dish have been positive, as he reported to camp 12 pounds lighter in an effort to improve defensively.
- Odubel Herrera Puts it Together in Both Halves: Overall, Herrera had a solid season a year ago, compiling 2.2 WAR, and hitting .281/.325/.452 with 14 HR, 56 RBI, and 42 2B. However, when looking at Hererra’s first and second half numbers, the stats tell the story of two vastly different seasons.
1st Half: .256/.292/.393, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 84 H, 25 2B, 77 OPS+
2nd Half: .323/.378/.551, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 64 H, 17 2B, 138 OPS+
If Herrera could find the middle ground between his first and second half numbers, the Phillies will have a legitimate top of the order bat, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Herrera return to his 2016 All-Star form with Hoskins and Santana hitting behind him.
- The Quiet Success of Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams: Lost in the shuffle of a 66-win season was the fact that Williams and Altherr gave the Phillies very solid production in the outfield. In his first 83 games in the MLB, Williams hit .288/.338/.473 with 12 HR and 55 RBI, while Altherr appeared in 107 games and hit .272/.340/.516 with 19 HR and 65 RBI. Between the two, the Phillies received 31 HR and 120 RBI, and while Williams is the starter, the two are set to share time in right field for the Phillies, giving the team a legitimate, four-man deep outfield heading into the season, and a nice lefty-righty platoon in right field.
- Aaron Nola, Ace in the Making: After the Phillies selected him 7th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft out of LSU, Nola sped through the minors, making his MLB debut in 2015. Last season, Nola made the jump into future ace territory, going 12-11 with a 3.54 ERA (3.27 FIP) 1.208 WHIP, and 184 strikeouts in 168.0 innings pitched. With strong peripheral numbers including 9.9 K/0, 1.0 HR/9, and a 3.76 K:BB, Nola appears poised to emerge as a true, 200+ inning number one starter this season, which would give the Phillies an incredibly strong 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. Plus, at 24, the fact that Nola already has three years of experience as a big league starter says a lot about how promising his future is.
- Hector Neris and Pat Neshek Ready to Close the Door: After resigning Neshek to a three-year, $22.5 million contract, the Phillies now have two relief pitchers who were worth 2.0 WAR or more as their eighth and ninth inning relievers. In an All-Star 2017 between the Rockies and Phillies, Neshek was quietly one of the best relievers in baseball last year, going 5-3 with a 1.59 ERA, 0.866 WHIP, 10.0 K/9, and incredible 11.50 K:BB ratio, and 2.8 WAR in 71 games. Behind him at closer, Neris had 26 saves and 56 games finished in 74 appearances, striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings while averaging an inning per appearance. Even if Neris struggles, Neshek can be slotted into the closer’s role, giving the Phillies a dynamic back-end duo to finish games.
While the above scenarios represent a ton of “what ifs” for the Phillies, the pieces are in place where they could emerge as legitimate contenders for one of the National League Wild Card spots in 2018.