Philadelphia Phillies: Pursuing a Top-of-the-Market Starting Pitcher Is Wrong

Pete DymeckAnalyst IDecember 4, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - SEPTEMBER 20:  Ervin Santana #54 of the Kansas City Royals pitches during the 1st inning of the game against the Texas Rangers at Kauffman Stadium on September 20, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Philadelphia Phillies are a wet paper bag getting punched with a fistful of scissors.

If the direction of the organization is to field a veteran team with aging souls while rebuilding a bankrupt farm system, then it would behoove the Phillies to continue their stride towards the basement of the National League. 

If that is not the intent of the front office, then by any means, spend more money on a starting pitcher who will not give lasting production equivalent to his price tag.

On the other hand, stinking up the joint for a few years while building something comparable to what the Phillies had between 2006-11 would be well worth it. It wouldn't be cost efficient to splurge on another pitcher earning $10 to $16 million per annum, so long as the realistic ceiling of the Phillies is placing third in the division behind the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.

However, Philadelphia Daily News staff writer David Murphy, one of the gems of Philadelphia's media, is speculating that "indications" exist for the Phillies to consider "a bid" for Ervin Santana, Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez. 

While the Phillies have yet to splurge on any free agent, Murphy concludes the Phillies have "roughly $26 million to spend before reaching the $189 million luxury tax threshold." Admittedly, Murphy isn't so sure the Phillies want to tip-toe towards the threshold. 

With up to $26 million to spend, the Phillies could more than reasonably afford Santana, Garza or Jimenez. According to MLB Trade Rumors, contract expectations for the aforementioned three are as follows: 

  • Ervin Santana: five years/$75 million ($15 million annually)
  • Matt Garza: four years/$60 million ($15 million annually)
  • Ubaldo Jimenez: four years/$52 million ($13 million annually)

On the surface, contracts such as those aren't exactly appetizing for the Phillies. Signing one of the three would bring some level of excitement to the fanbase, but at the end of the day, either one of the trio could prove to be what we thought they were to begin with.

Santana is nearing his 31st birthday. He had three incredible seasons where he pitched lights out for the Los Angeles Angels. In 2006 the righty finished 16-8 with a 4.28 ERA and 4.29 FIP.

Two years later, Santana would re-emerge after a dismal 2007 to finish with a 16-7 record. This same year would be the pinnacle of Santana's career as a strikeout artist. He finished with a K/9 of 8.79. 2008 is still the only instance in his nine-year career that Santana has finished with a K/9 above 7.57.

In 2010, Santana finished a 3.92 ERA and 17-10 record. 

Other than the three previously mentioned seasons, Santana has finished with an average win-loss record of 9-11 and 4.53 ERA. FIP, which is a stronger indicator of how well Santana has pitched due to its fielding and defensive variables, has been less friendlier than Santana's ERA. For the right-handed pitcher's career, he has a 4.36 FIP.

Matt Garza's recent string of injuries seem to have no impact on his current market value. Garza has appeared in just 259 innings over the last two seasons. Historically speaking, Garza does provide stability on the mound, so long as he doesn't reignite the health concerns that have plagued him lately. 

Since his first full season in the majors, Garza has yet to finish with a 4.00 ERA or greater. His career K/9 of 7.62 is down below his average K/9 over the last three seasons (8.38 K/9). The bottom line is that the righty continues to strike out batters at a higher-than-average clip. On the other hand, Garza has pitched more than 200 innings just twice in his MLB career (2009 and 2010). 

At 30 years of age, Garza is a high-risk, high-reward signing. The Phillies have the financial ability to deliver on a $15 million per year contract, but for a right-handed pitcher with durability issues, it may not be a wise decision.

Finally, Ubaldo Jimenez is coming off of a 2013 campaign that was reminiscent of his 2010 NL Cy Young-worthy season. Unfortunately, the track record is not there for the soon-to-be 30-year old righty. He is a year removed from a 9-17 campaign where he finished with a 5.40 ERA. His FIP for 2012 sat at 5.06 so bad luck really didn't play a part in his atrocious season. The year prior, Jimenez was almost as bad, finishing with a 4.68 ERA though bad luck did play a role in his high ERA (3.67 ERA).

Still, Jimenez has sparkled just once since his 19-win season in 2010 with Colorado. His strikeout rate jumped to nearly 10 Ks per nine innings pitched in 2013, a career high. A cloud of excitement can't pervade everybody when discussing whether or not Jimenez is back to the level of pitching he exercised in 2008 through 2010. 

Regardless, the overall outlook for the Phillies looks dim. Sure, signing one of the three pitchers mentioned would arouse more interest for an organization with declining attendance rates. Aside from less fans filling out Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies still remain a heavily backed financial player in Major League Baseball. The question is whether or not one of these arms can help put the Phillies over the top.

Speaking in the short term, there is no doubt that the Phillies would be better with Santana, Garza or Jimenez. For the long haul though, an eventual decline will lead to hindsight provocation. After all, it's not like the Phillies are paying for an ace in either of these three. Rather, they are paying for a middle of the rotation guy, and the contract is likely to expand into his waning years as a pitcher.

It is a conundrum the Phillies face and must tackle head on. If they are poised to begin developing their farm system, it might behoove the Phillies to compete with what they have now and hope for some over-achievement on the field of play. If not, then the Phillies should pursue one of these three arms and hope they aren't regretting the decision to do so three years from now.