Clay Buchholz. Aaron Harang. Jerome Williams. A.J. Burnett.
The Phillies’ signing of ace starter Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract means so much to the revitalization of this once-proud franchise. As much as anything, it means that the Era of Slop is over.
Over the past five years, the Phils have aimed to stay marginally relevant by signing every has-been and never-was who could climb atop the mound to a one-year, incentive-laden deal, praying that maybe, just maybe, the guy could find a second life here. None of them succeeded – unless you want to count Charlie Morton, who shredded his hamstring running to first base in April 2016 and wasn’t heard from again until he wound up winning for the Astros in last year’s World Series.
Anyway, Sunday evening, the new Phillies announced their presence with authority. In adding Arrieta, principle owner John S. Middleton and GM Matt Klentak instantly upgraded the franchise’s 2018 status from “mildly interesting” to “must-watch compelling.” The Phils may or may not contend in the National League this season, but all the ingredients are here for a baseball revival.
Arrieta joins a team similar to the rebuilding Phils of the mid-2000s. There is young talent all rising at the same time – Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr and Scott Kingery. It’s always foolish to bank on more than half the prospects actually succeeding, but if three of them become stars, that’s a hell of a nucleus.
Carlos Santana adds a solid on-base threat to the lineup and veteran presence to the clubhouse. Laugh if you want, but I believe a team can win starting Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez (although he could soon be traded). As for Maikel Franco, well, it’s his last chance to prove he’s not a bust.
The Phils’ weak spot, of course, has been the rotation, which last year featured Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson (another of those castoffs), Manny, Moe and Jack. Arrieta can’t start 130 games himself, of course, but he and Nola form a pedigreed 1-2 force. If any one of the Bermuda Triangle Kids (Eickhoff-Pivetta-Velasquez) can find his way, and if ownership moves for a fourth starter, well, that’s not bad in this era of five-inning starters followed by a parade from the bullpen.
Arrieta gives this team more than an ace who’s averaged 18 wins and a 2.71 ERA the past three seasons. He’s a smart, serious competitor who has won five games in the post season. He can teach the kids how to be a professional.
There is concern that the Phils are getting him on the downswing; that the Arrieta who won the Cy Young in 2015 is already fading at age 32. While it is true that his overall stats were not dominant in 2017, consider this:
Through June last season, coming off the 2016 World Series, Arrieta had a 3.67 ERA, and slash line against him of .260/.328/.439.
He more than recovered in the second half of the season, with a 2.26 ERA, and slash line of .206/.276/.378. That’s 14 starts of Cy Young numbers.
For that, the Phils committed to a multi-year deal with a starting pitcher for the first time since. . . Cliff Lee in 2011. No more Joaquin Benoit. Henderson Alvarez. Sean O’Sullivan.
The franchise just got serious again.