Why the Phillies are in for another busy hot stove -- one that should involve smart moves and 'stupid money'
The Phillies have a new manager, now they need to improve their roster
Last offseason Philadelphia Phillies owner John Middleton famously said his team was planning to spend money, and "maybe even be a little bit stupid about it." That led the Phillies to Bryce Harper, who inked a 13-year contract worth $330 million. The end result was an 81-81 season and an eighth consecutive October spent at home rather than in the postseason.
Harper did his part -- he smacked 35 homers with approached 5 WAR -- but ultimately the disappointing season cost manager Gabe Kapler his job. The Phillies replaced him with veteran skipper Joe Girardi, the surest sign the team is ready to win and win big. You don't sign Harper or hire Girardi when you're going through a rebuild. Those are win-now decisions.
"I am truly excited to be here. This is a special place," Girardi said at his introductory press conference. "... I know the importance of winning here. This is what we all want to accomplish. We want to win here."
The .500 record and fourth place finish suggest the Phillies need more than a few tweaks to contend for an NL East title next year, or even just a wild-card spot. They do have a strong core in pace though, and that's a good start. Here's a primer on Philadelphia's upcoming offseason.
2020 Payroll Situation
Philadelphia is one of the largest markets in the sport and we know this team can support a high payroll because we've seen it happen. Their Opening Day payroll was in the $170 million range every year from 2011-14. Last year it was $140 million. Here's what the Phillies currently have on the books for next season:
- Guaranteed contracts (9 players): $109.275 million (via Cot's Baseball Contracts)
- Arbitration-eligibles (9 players): $46.8 million (via MLB Trade Rumors projections)
Jake Arrieta has already exercised his $20 million player option and there's a good chance Cesar Hernandez (projected $11.8 million) and especially Maikel Franco (projected $6.7 million) will be non-tendered or traded this winter, freeing up even more cash.
Right now the Phillies have about $156 million tied up in 18 roster spots, Hernandez and Franco included. That has them well below the $208 luxury tax threshold and suggests they have real money to spend this offseason, even if they don't push payroll right up to the threshold.
Truth be told, the offseason shopping list is longer than it probably should be for a would-be contender. First and foremost, the Phillies need pitching, both starters and relievers. Their current rotation and bullpen:
- Aaron Nola
- Jake Arrieta
- Zach Eflin
- Vince Velasquez
- Nick Pivetta
Key relievers: Hector Neris, Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Seranthony Dominguez
Not great! David Robertson, last offseason's big free agent bullpen addition, will miss 2020 as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. Dominguez rehabbed a ligament tear of his own and is trying to avoid Tommy John surgery, so he's a bit of an uncertainty. Pivetta and Velasquez were both demoted to the bullpen this summer. There's a clear need for multiple arms here.
The Phillies also need to figure out third base this offseason. Franco has played himself out of a job -- since his 2015 breakout he's hit .247/.299/.427 in more than 2,000 plate appearances with subpar defense -- and Scott Kingery is best used as a super utility guy who plays all over. Finding an everyday third baseman should be on the agenda this winter. The Phillies may also need to bring in a second baseman depending on what happens with Hernandez.
GM Matt Klentak and his staff will focus this offseason on bolstering a pitching staff that needs at least one and likely two starters, and possibly as many as five relievers. Revamping the infield around first baseman Rhys Hoskins and shortstop Jean Segura may be in the cards as well. Lots to do. Lots and lots to do this offseason.
Baseball America ranked Philadelphia's farm system 25th in baseball following the trade deadline. Top prospects Alec Bohm and Spencer Howard are presumably off-limits -- Bohm is the third baseman of the future and Howard could join the rotation at some point in 2020 -- but others like righty Adonis Medina, shortstop Luis Garcia, 2019 first rounder Bryson Stott, and fading 2016 No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak are presumably in play.
Franco and Hernandez are non-tender candidates and that means their trade value isn't all that high. Hernandez is a solid player and he might fetch a decent prospect or two, but teams know he's a non-tender candidate, so they'll want to see whether they can simply sign him as a free agent in a few weeks rather than trade a prospect(s) for him now. Franco? Forget it. No team is giving up anything of value for him at this point.
Kingery is part of the solution, I believe, but he's also not someone who should be a dealbreaker in a potential trade for an impact piece. If there's a chance to bring in, say, Kris Bryant, are you really going to say no to including Kingery? Of course not. Odubel Herrera has no value coming off his domestic violence suspension, and guys like Velasquez and Pivetta are change of scenery candidates more than trade headliners.
The best trade chip the Phillies have right now is money. They should be -- and I'm sure they will be -- very willing to trade some good ol' American dollars for free agents. That allows them to keep their best prospects, Bohm and Howard specifically, while strengthening the roster.
Last year the Phillies chased after Harper and Manny Machado. They dived right into the deep end of the free agent pool. My guess is they will try to do it again this year. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are the top free agent starters, and beyond them there are other solid options like Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. What about a Cole Hamels reunion? Giving him a one-year deal to be the third starter would be a perfectly fine move.
Give the Phillies a truth serum and this is what I think they would tell you want to do this winter:
- Plan A: Sign Cole or Strasburg and one of Bumgarner, Ryu, Wheeler, and Jake Odorizzi.
- Plan B: Sign two of Bumgarner, Odorizzi, Ryu, and Wheeler.
- Plan C: Sign one Bumgarner, Odorizzi, Ryu, or Wheeler and either Hamels or Dallas Keuchel.
- Plan D: Sign Hamels and Keuchel.
The Phillies need a second impact starter to pair with Nola. That's what they thought they were getting with Arrieta, but that didn't work out. They need someone who could slot in alongside Nola atop the rotation, and someone to push Arrieta and Eflin down into fourth and fifth spots, and Velasquez and Pivetta into depth roles.
As for the bullpen, even if the Phillies were willing to spend huge on a closer, there is no one to spend that money on. Will Smith is the best free agent reliever available and he's not going to command Craig Kimbrel money. Rather than spend big on one reliever, the Phillies could spread the money around and sign multiple relievers to smaller contracts. Think Steve Cishek, Chris Martin, Craig Stammen, and Pedro Strop rather than Smith and Will Harris. Four $5 million relievers over two $10 million relievers.
On the infield, the two big names are Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon, and either would look spectacular at third base. May I present an alternative: Mike Moustakas and Didi Gregorius. Put Gregorius at short, slider Segura over to second (a position he's played in the past), install Moustakas at third, and the infield defense improves tremendously. Also, it adds two low strikeout hitters to a lineup that had a little too much swing-and-miss at times last year. Consider the possible lineup:
- LF Andrew McCutchen
- C J.T. Realmuto
- RF Bryce Harper
- 1B Rhys Hoskins
- 3B Mike Moustakas
- 2B Jean Segura
- SS Didi Gregorius
- CF Odubel Herrera
That's a real deep lineup with power and left/right balance. Girardi knows Gregorius from their time with the Yankees and Sir Didi could be looking at a one-year prove yourself contract after missing half of 2019 with Tommy John surgery. Moustakas has taken one-year contracts the last two offseasons and I see no reason to think that will change. He's the same player except older.
If the Phillies are willing to splurge for Rendon or Donaldson and the pitching they need, great. More power to them. That seems unlikely though. Gregorius and Moustakas would be affordable infield stopgaps -- Moustakas on a one-year deal would leave third base open for Bohm long-term -- and also ensure the Phillies have more than enough money to spend on pitching.
Beyond possible additions, the Phillies would also benefit greatly from their current players taking a step forward, something that didn't really happen this past season. Kingery was good and Eflin was solid, but Velasquez and Pivetta becoming reliable would help, ditto some relievers having staying power in the bullpen. This should be another busy offseason for the Phillies. Girardi was only the start.
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