Yu Darvish? Jake Arrieta? Phillies need to spend big bucks on a free-agent pitcher

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Phillies’ owner John S. Middleton (left) and GM Matt Klentak need to reel in a starting pitcher this offseason.

Record alone would tell you it is too soon for the Phillies to delve heavily into the free-agent market. They are, after all, going to finish with one of the worst records in baseball and have already lost more games in 2017 than they did in 2016, so why spend an exorbitant amount of money now on a player who cannot help them get to their desired destination until much later?

The eye test tells us something different. At the beginning of this month, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told me he had never felt better about the state of the organization during his first two seasons. He had watched the steady influx of young position players and determined that the Phillies are on the verge of something good.

Camera icon MATT SLOCUM
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish is among the free-agent pitchers the Phillies could target this offseason. Two others are St. Louis’ Lance Lynn and Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A 14-12 record in September, including a 6-5 mark against division winners Los Angeles and Washington, combined with the improved work of the bullpen should have the general manager feeling better than ever about his ballclub. Now it is up to Klentak to accelerate things. The best way to do that is by diving into the deep end of the free-agent pool.

No more flirtations with the likes of Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton or Michael Saunders. It is time to look at the big-ticket merchandise and the search this offseason should start in the pitching department for a number of reasons.

It is not uncommon for teams in similar situations to the one the Phillies are in now to spend big money on free-agent pitching. The 2006 San Francisco Giants, for example, went 76-85, but signed free-agent lefty Barry Zito to a seven-year deal worth $119 million after the season. Zito, of course, turned into a disaster for the Giants, but that one bad investment did not prevent them from winning two World Series during his tenure and another the year after he left.

The point being that you can get something wrong for the right reason and still have things turn out OK. Former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick used to talk all the time about not being afraid to make a mistake because they are inevitable when you are dealing with human beings.

The Chicago Cubs lost 89 games in 2014, but still spent $155 million over six years on lefthander Jon Lester in the offseason. It was a move that helped the Cubs become division champions in 2015 and World Series champions last season.

The Boston Red Sox were not afraid to spend $217 million over seven years on lefty David Price after consecutive last-place seasons in 2014 and 2015 and they won the AL East last year.

What the Phillies have most in common with the Giants, Cubs and Red Sox is that they are all big-market teams and there is no doubt that managing partner John Middleton wants to rejoin the big spenders as soon as possible. Naturally, manager Pete Mackanin is in favor of adding a big-ticket free agent.

“Managers always want more,” Mackanin said. “More hitting, more pitching, more everything.”

Asked in what department he’d start the shopping, Mackanin said pitching.

“Let’s put it this way, I’d like to see somebody you know you can count on,” Mackanin said. “For various reasons, nobody has been that guy other than [Aaron] Nola [this season].”

You can wish on Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and quite a few others, but there is nothing like a proven track record and there are three difference makers in the upcoming class of free agents: Yu Darvish (56-42 with a career 3.42 ERA), Lance Lynn (72-47, 3.39) and Jake Arrieta (88-56, 3.57).

Add any one of the three and you have the makings of a strong rotation because it is not unreasonable to think that one of the other young pitchers in addition to Nola will come through with a strong 2018 season. Yes, it will cost the Phillies some serious money, but we all know the Phillies have the cash.

Sign a top-notch starting pitcher this offseason and the Phillies can allow their collection of promising young position players to grow for another year. And then the free-agent class after next season includes Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon and Manny Machado. Sign one of them and start selling tickets.

Ignore this year’s record. It is suddenly not that difficult to see how this team can be good again.