Phillies Still After Zach Britton, Hot on Andrew Miller's Trail, Sources Say

LAS VEGAS - The Phillies lost out on another starting pitching target Wednesday when J.A. Happ turned his focus on returning to the New York Yankees.

Happ, 36, was seeking a three-year contract and the Phillies were reluctant to do that.

Earlier this offseason, the Phillies lost out on Patrick Corbin when he spurned their five-year offer for a six-year deal with Washington.

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So what are the Phillies going to do to upgrade their starting pitching rotation?

Could they stand pat with the guys they have?

It's possible.

In that case, they would attempt to improve their "run prevention" by upgrading the bullpen.

According to sources, the Phillies remain very much in pursuit of accomplished left-handed relievers Zach Britton and Andrew Miller. Both pitchers are getting a lot of action from teams and the Phillies, according to sources, are right in the thick of the chase. Britton has been a longstanding target of the Phils, but two sources suggested on Wednesday night that the Phils were hot on Miller's trail, as well.

Stay tuned on that one.

The Phils would love to add a high-end lefty reliever because most of their back-end, high-leverage relievers (Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter) are right-handed.

Both Britton and Miller have closer experience. The Phils did not have a defined closer last season. Landing a Britton or a Miller could lead them to consider defining a closer.

"I think when you have a Mariano Rivera type on your team, you use him as a closer and that helps shape the rest of your bullpen," general manager Matt Klentak said. "I think if we have that guy, whether we develop that player or acquire that player from elsewhere, I think we would use a dedicated closer. We have a very deep and high-floor bullpen with a lot of players who have different strengths, complementary strengths. I think that lends itself to the type of bullpen management we implemented last year. I'm very open to having a closer but I'm not going to force that if the personnel doesn't dictate that."

Though he said it was not imperative that he add a starter, Klentak is going to keep trying to do that. He'd still like to get a lefty. Robbie Ray of Arizona remains a trade possibility.

"Our starting pitching was the strength of our team last year," Klentak said. "I know that it faltered at the end. I'm not trying to hide behind that. I know that they struggled late. But for most of the season, the starting rotation was the strength of the team. For us to make an acquisition, we have to be very confident that it is moving the needle and that it's a sound investment. I'm not certain where we'll wind up on that.

"There's always been some chance that it comes through a trade. But I'm hesitant to say it's likely. There's still a bunch of free-agent starters available. There's still several guys on the trade block. And I'm still pretty comfortable with the group we have."

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