Philadelphia Phillies rumors: Team in “hot pursuit” of this veteran starter

With the MLB trade deadline now less than a week away, rumors are starting to heat up when it comes to the Philadelphia Phillies. All reports continue to suggest Dave Dombrowski is looking to “buy” at this year’s deadline, due to the NL East still being within striking distance.

While a lot of interest has been focused on improving the bullpen and the center field position, the Phillies have rather wisely been keeping their eye on a handful of starting pitchers who could be dealt prior to July 30th. It’s a weak starting pitcher market this summer, but the Phillies currently rank 17th in starting rotation ERA — it’s a rather large need at the moment.

With that under consideration, a recent tweet by MLB insider Bob Nightengale has connected the Philadelphia Phillies to the likes of Arizona right-hander Merrill Kelly, who is enjoying an impressive run of form over his past handful of starts:

The Philadelphia Phillies are reportedly in “hot pursuit” of Arizona Diamondbacks RHP Merrill Kelly.

A few things stick out when assessing Kelly as a potential trade target, with the most notable being the fact that he is under team control through at least 2024. Kelly has a club option worth just over $5 million for the 2022 season, and is then arbitration eligible in 2023 and 2024. The Phillies’ need for back-end starting rotation arms isn’t just exclusive to this season, they’re going to need to better fill out their staff over the next few years if they want to find themselves a consistent playoff contender.

Having Kelly around for the foreseeable future at least gives the Phillies some sense of stability behind the likes of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Zach Eflin.

The other main bit of information that sticks out when glancing at Kelly’s stat-line this season is his FIP. Despite possessing an ERA of 4.46 over his first 20 starts, Kelly’s FIP actually sits at a 3.88. The Phillies obviously aren’t known for their defensive capabilities (and it’s unlikely that Kelly would experience better defending behind him in Philly compared to Arizona), but it’s still a statistical figure that paints the picture of Kelly being a tad more productive than what his baseline ERA would suggest.

Kelly’s xERA (expected earned run average) is also a tick below his ERA, with it clocking in at 4.26.

The number that really intrigues me the most is Kelly’s innings pitched. Kelly has logged 117 innings pitched this season, which puts him at 5.85 innings per start. The Phillies have had a major issue with starters being knocked out of games early this season (most notably Vince Velasquez and Matt Moore), something that shouldn’t be as big of a problem for Kelly.

The only major point of concern when it comes to targeting Kelly is his age, as he’s set to turn 33 in October. Kelly doesn’t have a ton of wear-and-tear on his arm as he’s only made 57 career starts in the major leagues — but it’s still something to consider nevertheless. Those extra years of control are only valuable if Kelly is still performing like a #4/5 starter in his mid-to-late 30s.

Ultimately speaking, tossing out an offer for Kelly makes a lot of sense. The Phillies don’t have the ammo to target someone like Jose Berrios or Kyle Gibson, but they desperately need to make an upgrade to their rotation sooner rather than later — and Kelly’s current fWAR of 2.0 would instantly make him the Phillies’ fourth best arm.

As long as he can be acquired for a somewhat reasonable price, Kelly checks off all the boxes for Philadelphia. It’s nothing flashy, but it’s the type of depth move that would give the Phillies a slightly better chance at catching the Mets.