One of the strangest MLB free agent periods of all-time is finally winding down, as the Phillies signed starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, who might have been the top free agent available from the start. For both sides, it looks like a great deal—with the Phillies being able to get out of the deal after three years, and Arrieta making a whopping $30 million in the first year before $25 million in 2019 and $20 million in 2020. If all goes well, Arrieta could reportedly make up to $135 million if the contract goes five years.
After the move to sign the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner and 2016 World Series champion with the Chicago Cubs, many are starting to call the Phillies serious playoff contenders in the NL. While a number of teams have improved this offseason (like the Brewers and Giants), it’s hard not to like the roster moves Philadelphia has made over the last few months—and Arrieta is the biggest move of them all.
Over the last five seasons, the Phillies have really struggled as the payroll dwindled, alternating fourth- and last-place finishes in the NL East. The offense struggled mightily, and the pitching was even worse most years. However, the team still showed some promise with stretches of good play—they just haven’t put it together for more than half a season.
But while the team in the majors was losing, the minor league was flush with talent and winning a lot of games. There was 2014 Rule-5 selection Odubel Herrera, who came over from the Rangers for $50,000 and has turned into an All-Star while playing in the majors, but aside from him much of the Phillies’ current young and exciting talent spend time in their minor league system as homegrown players or players acquired via a trade that then spent time in the minor league system.
Cesar Hernandez is the oldest of the bunch at 27, and he’s been one of the best second basemen in baseball over the last two seasons, hitting .294 in each of them.
Rhys Hoskins, who has been moved to left field, broke multiple home run records to start his big-league career last season and should be a stalwart in the center of the lineup for years.
Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams are both athletic outfielders that can hit for power and average, and play defense—Altherr especially has defensive prowess.
J.P. Crawford is a former top-ten pick that the club obviously has high hopes for after dealing Gold Glove-caliber shortstop Freddy Galvis this offseason.
Jorge Alfaro was brought over in the Cole Hamels trade in 2015 and has promise both behind and at the plate.
Then there’s third baseman Maikel Franco, who has a ton of potential and power but has yet to fully tap into it; outfielder Roman Quinn, who has a ton of speed and can also swing the bat; first baseman Tommy Joseph, who hit over 20 homers in each of the last two seasons; and perhaps best of all, infielder Scott Kingery is an extremely promising prospect that might be too good to leave off the Opening Day roster.
As for the pitching staff, the team hit big by selecting Aaron Nola with the seventh pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, and he seems to have the stuff and the mindset to become a Cy Young contender at some point. Jerad Eickhoff has shown promise but needs to be more consistent. Vince Velasquez has a ton of talent, and if he doesn’t work out as a starter, he could probably become a big-time weapon out of the bullpen for the Phillies. And dominant 19-year-old Sixto Sanchez leads the pitchers coming up through the minor leagues.
There is a lot of promise for the Phillies roster, and the move to sign Jake Arrieta could be the one that gets the Phillies going again as serious National League and World Series contenders.
For this season, it’ll lengthen the rotation and give them a serious one-two punch atop it with Arrieta and Nola. Rotations need guys that can be anchors and stoppers that you can rely on for solid performances or to put a stop to a losing skid. Along with Nola, Arrieta could be just that—which could lead to less pressure for everyone else in the rotation.
Let’s say the trade deadline comes and the Phillies are right there with the Nationals and other teams in the National League. Philadelphia will almost certainly be buyers, as their payroll is still among the lowest in the majors despite their usual willingness to spend. Maybe they’d make a move for someone like 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels, who has a club option for 2019 and might not cost a lot to acquire if the Rangers are out of contention. A top-three of Hamels, Arrieta, and Nola in the rotation would be arguably the best in baseball.
Even if the Phillies don’t compete in 2018, the willingness to spend on free agents (they also signed Carlos Santana earlier this offseason), paired with their very low payroll, should be an alert to upcoming free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The Phillies signing the former Cub Arrieta is very reminiscent of when the Cubs signed Jon Lester in 2014, which was a springboard to help them win their first championship in 108 years.