With another disappointing season in 2019 for the club, it is time to move fully embrace change into the next era. Joe Girardi is now running up the Rocky steps, taking over for the much maligned Gabe Kapler, however a simple manager change will not put the team back to winning ways. After spending near $500 million dollars last offseason and the core of the club currently in their primes, the front office has no choice but to double down and go all in on 2020 and 2021. The Phillies won the fan base over in March of last year and reaped the rewards of the highest attendance increase of close to 10,000 more fans per game, but attendance died quickly when the team limped across the finish line for the second straight season.
An Identity Crisis
The Philadelphia Phillies have lacked an identity since the early 2010s. The organization has no general direction and little financial and roster flexibility thanks mostly in part to the decisions of the current front office. The current roster, coming off of a rebuild, is littered with extremely poor contracts for aging veterans (see: Arrieta, Robertson, Hunter, Neshek) and an insufficient prospect pool considering the lengthy rebuild. The international scouts over the past seven years have only found Adonis Medina, Seranthony Dominguez, and since traded Sixto Sanchez. First round picks Cornelius Randolph and Mickey Moniak haven’t developed into impact prospects, and the jury is out on Adam Haseley. The organizational structure from top down is a mess from the scouts to the player development coaches in both the minors and majors to the medical staff. Every elite team has an identity: the Dodgers and Rays player development, the Nationals pitching, the Yankees hitting, and the Astros all around excellence. Each one of the past World Series winners have had clearly defined organizational values such as the 2015 Royals defense and bullpen to the 2016 Cubs expending resources in the draft and free agency on mostly hitters. The Phillies have none of that. For every two steps forward it is one step back. The only players on the twenty-five man roster all year in 2019 that can say they improved were Scott Kingery and JT Realmuto. For all the ups of Zach Eflin’s hot months came a horrid 61 2/3 inning stretch from May 16th to July 27th where he had a 6.42 ERA. Take the rest of Eflin’s 123 innings and he had an ERA under 2.80. Gabe Kapler wasn’t the issue in Philadelphia either, but that is a debate for another day. The Phillies now have a well respected manager Joe Girardi and one of the biggest faces in baseball, Bryce Harper.
A Glimpse at the 40 man Roster
The following list of players will 100%, definitively be on the Opening Day Roster come April for various reasons (unless they’re not). Some are good, some are being paid too much to either trade or send down to the minors, and some are Jake Arrieta.
- Catcher JT Realmuto- Best catcher in baseball. Signing him long term should be the teams highest priority. More on him below.
- RF Bryce Harper- Worth even more than his $330 million contract.
- LF Andrew McCutchen- Was great (.380 OBP and 120 wRC+) as the lead-off hitter until he tore his ACL in May. Still a good player and locker room presence.
- INF/OF Scott Kingery- A 19.6% increase in hard hit rate from 2018 to 2019. That’ll certainly play. The team’s brightest young player and still under team control for 6 more years.
- RHP Aaron Nola- A bonafide ace. The only reliable pitcher on the entire staff.
- RHP Zach Eflin- See above. The inconsistency keeps him as a 4th or 5th starter instead of a #3.
- RHP Jake Arrieta- 5 straight years of decline in WAR, K%, and velocity. Being paid $30 million this year so you just hope he returns 25 starts of #4-5 starter type value.
- RHP Hector Neris- Team’s best reliever.
- LHP Jose Alvarez- One of the Phils best and most reliable RPs. One of Klentak’s best moves as GM is getting him for since DFA’d Luis Garcia.
Here is a list of players who will likely be on the Opening Day Roster with anywhere from 50-75% chance of wearing red pinstripes in 2020. Contained in this list is players with disappointing seasons, players with sunk cost values, or players the club could offer other teams in a potential trade that will get a lot of media buzz as rumors, but likely nothing more.
- C Devy Grullon- 23 years old impressed enough in AAA last year to earn a September call up. Only question is do the Phillies trust him enough to play 50 games a year or will they look to sign a veteran like Russell Martin.
- 1B Rhys Hoskins- Had a typical Rhys first half with a .401 OBP and a 140 wRC+, but the second half was very rough. Hopefully the DH in the NL comes sooner rather than later. Could also be moved for pitching, but I don’t see that happening.
- SS Jean Segura- After 3 years of a .300 AVG or higher and a 110 wRC+ or higher his bat declined pretty heavily. Started off well, but went missing for long stretches. Bat doesn’t play at 3rd, but could be moved to 2nd if the Phils get Gregorious or Lindor.
- INF Brad Miller- .565 SLG and a 126 wRC+ since acquired from the Yankees. A perfect left handed bench bat, just not officially under contract yet so he isn’t in the list above.
- INF Phil Gosslein- From here. Right handed utility bench bat. Fills a need.
- LF Jay Bruce- Really interesting player and a good 4th OF. The .260 OBP is canceled out by a .575 SLG (excluding September). Another bonus: the Mets are paying $18 of the $21 million he’s owed in 2020.
- CF- Adam Haseley- Former 1st round pick and mid-season call-up. Finished out the year on a high note with a 107 wRC+. Could get traded for pitching or a star hitter.
- CF- Roman Quinn- Had another typical Roman Quinn season; showed flashes, got injured, showed more flashes, long slump, and the final product often worse than you’d like. Probably has one more year as a pinch runner.
- RHP Vince Velasquez- Good stuff, but very inconsistent and can never put it all together. Would be a great 4-5 inning pitcher who would thrive with the Rays, but unfortunately for him he plays in Philadelphia. Probably still makes the roster as a long reliever/ insurance starter as the 26th man.
These are the unlikely’s. Nothing greater than a 40% chance to make the team, but also not quite out of the picture.
- 2B Cesar Hernandez- WAR decreased for the 4th straight year. wRC+ lowest since 2014 and trending down. Walk rate fell from 21% to 15%. What isn’t going down is his contract; he hits the final year of arbitration around $11 million. Look for Kingery to play 2nd full time next year or move Segura over.
- 3B Alec Bohm- Team’s top overall prospect. Hits for average and power. Likely called up in May or June after a little more seasoning in AAA and time service manipulation. Could also be traded for an impact arm or bat.
- CF- Odubel Herrera- Accused and found guilty of domestic violence. Should be out of baseball forever, but some teams don’t have moral values. Looking directly at you Astros, Cubs, and Yankees.
- LF Corey Dickerson- A great deadline acquisition, but likely signs elsewhere as a free agent with guaranteed playing time as McCutchen returns from an ACL injury.
- RHP Seranthony Dominguez- Unknown injury, but opted not to have TJ surgery. 2020 prospects are in the air, but one of the best relievers in baseball when healthy.
- RHP Nick Pivetta- Popular breakout candidate in 2019 after good underlying number two years ago. Throws hard with one of the best curveballs in baseball. Price and Girardi can not do much worse in terms of tapping into his skills than Chris Young and Gabe Kapler did. Can be a fantastic bullpen piece, but stays adamant he wants to remain starting.
- RHP Spencer Howard- Consistently hits the high 90s on the fastball with plus offs peed pitches. Team’s best pitching prospect. Like Bohm a call up in May-June a lot likelier than Opening Day.
- LHP Adam Morgan- I doubt the lefty specialist makes it through arbitration. May be back as a last resort option or if the team is money tight, however.
- LHP Ranger Suarez- Young and not arbitration eligible which works in his favor. Probably considered a full time reliever at this point, but his numbers against RHH .310/.353/.468 limit him from being anything more than a lefty specialist.
This last grouping will under any circumstance not be on the Philadelphia Phillies in 2020. Most of these players are not major league quality, are hurt, or have run their due course in Philadelphia. Or a combo of all 3. Notice the length of this list and it will become perfectly clear why there is no direction of this franchise.
- C Andrew Knapp- Over the past two years he has 118 hits and walks. He also has 126 strikeouts in that same time period.
- 1B Logan Morrison- A slugging first baseman who can’t slug anymore or get on base. Yikes.
- 3B Maikel Franco- Had a higher AVG, OBP, SLG, HRs, wRC+ through the first two weeks of 2019 than Alex Bregman, Anthony Rendon, and Nolan Arenado. Unfortunately for Maikel, the rest of the season counts as well. Former top 25 prospect and supposed franchise cornerstone who has run out of favor and opportunities.
- INF/OF Sean Rodriguez- Lashed out at fans for booing. In Philadelphia, that means its over. A .223/.348/.375 slash line won’t help either.
- OF- Jose Pirela- Hit .182/.250/.364 in 2019. Makes Andrew Knapp look like a hall of famer at the plate.
- RF Nick Williams- Showed promise in 2017 with a .288 AVG and a 110 wRC+ as a rookie, but Bryce Harper is better. Was then relegated to a bench role and struggled through a 2019 season on and off the field. Would be a prime reclamation project for a rebuilding team and I hope he finds success at his next club and in life.
- RHP Jerad Eickhoff- Like Williams, the last remaining piece of the Cole Hamels trade. Was a legitimate rotation piece in 2016 with a 3.60 ERA in 197 innings, then the injury bug hit badly. Now 29 years old he may not get another major league shot.
- RHP Jared Hughes- Ground-ball pitcher who can’t keep the ball on the ground. Now that is a bold strategy cotton. Gave birth to a viral meme.
- RHP Mike Morin- Another mid-season acquisition from the waiver wire who was thrust into high leverage innings. The best of this group of four, but that says more about the others than himself.
- RHP Blake Parker- Yet another midseason waiver wire pickup with an ERA in the mid to high 4s and low velocity.
- RHP Nick Vincent- Rinse and repeat. This list is like watching Groundhog Day. Shout out to noted baseball fan Bill Murray.
- RHP Tommy Hunter- The Phillies paid him $9 million dollars to pitch 5.1 innings this year.
- RHP Pat Neshek- See Tommy Hunter. This is a never ending list.
- RHP David Robertson- recently had TJ surgery after pitching a total of 6.2 poor innings in red. Another wasted big money contract on an ageing reliever.
- RHP Juan Nicasio- A throw in for salary reasons in the Jean Segura trade. Boringly average reliever who gets worse in high leverage situation.
- RHP Victor Arano- 2018 feels like so long ago for Arano. Completely undid any positive momentum last campaign. The hope is Bryan Price and the minor league pitching staff can help him turn it around.
- RHP Edubray Ramos- see Juan Nicasio but with diminishing velocity and strikeout rates
- RHP Enyel De Los Santos- Former enticing prospect as recently as two years ago. Now converted into relief, he doesn’t seem to have much of a future with the club.
- RHP Edgar Garcia- Throws fast, great slider, but gives up 6 walks per 9. Still just 23 and could be a mid-season call up.
- RHP JD Hammer- Good hair. Better Name. Still young, but had a 14.49 ERA since being demoted to AAA in July.
- LHP Austin Davis- 6.53 ERA and 7.13 FIP in 2019 accompanied with a 45.6% hard hit rate against. No wonder this team was only .500.
- LHP Jason Vargas- Phillies already declined his $8 million club option. Exceedingly mediocre, but will probably still get another major league job.
- LHP Cole Irvin- Like Jason Vargas just with even worse numbers. Quad A type player. Touched 94 mph as a reliever in September which may be his best path to succeed here.
- LHP Drew Smyly- Wasn’t terrible. Wasn’t good either. Absolutely can not be the number two starter on a team with playoff hopes.
- Extend J.T. Realmuto- 5.7 WAR even with a relative down season at the plate. Has given plenty of indication that he would like to re-sign here so it is up to Klentak and co. to put money on the table. It is best for the organization to not let him get to free agency next year. Will command 150+ million and he is worth every penny.
- Find Starting Pitching- The Phillies need a 2 and a 3. There are plenty of options out there. While the high end options are unlikely (Cole and Strasburg) there are others out there either by trade or free agency a whole lot better than what they have (Wheeler, Hamels, Kluber, Ray etc).
- Find Relief Pitching- Neris and Alvarez are the only reliable relievers on the current roster. Need at least 2-3 guys who can be trusted in the late innings. Maybe Dominguez comes back, but you have to plan for 2020 without him.
- Find an impact bat- Right Field, Catcher, and First Base are already set, but the rest of the roster is versatile enough to adapt to any other positional addition. Just like the starting pitching market there are superstars at the top (Betts, Lindor, Bryant, Rendon) and other players a tier down, but would still help out the ball club a lot (Donaldson, Moustakas, Gregorious).
- New Red Alternate Jersey- The Phils have the white pinstripes, road greys, Sunday afternoon creams, and the throwback Thursday sky blue’s. It’s time for either the Maroon to be a full time alternate or a fresh new bright red. It’s (hopefully) a new era of Phillies baseball and we need a new jersey alongside it.
Free Agency Outlook
Usually the best strategy in baseball in recent years has been to zig while others zag. Following other successful teams blueprints has not been a viable method. More teams are tanking such that nine teams lost more than 90 games and building through the draft isn’t as fruitful as when the Cubs and Astros tanked. The Boston Red Sox are cutting payroll; seriously read that again. The Los Angeles Dodgers will not give out long term, high AAV contracts to free agents. The New York Yankees were not in on Manny Machado or Bryce Harper at their prices, and reports say they won’t engage in a bidding war for Gerrit Cole. The three biggest, financially mighty clubs in baseball are not flexing their money as much as they could. Here is where John Middleton comes into the mix. The Phillies have money. What the Phillies don’t have is a deep prospect pipeline. The Braves have won the division comfortably the past two years and already got much better this offseason. Acuna, Albies, and Freeman aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The Nationals just won the world series and the Mets are a good team who have already made their intentions to contend in 2020. Every single move made should heavily consider the effects of each of their division rivals in mind.
Gerrit Cole: 212.1 IP, 2.50 ERA, 13.82 K/9, 7.4 fWAR
This is the year of Gerrit Cole. Cole is the best free agent starting pitcher since Max Scherzer hit the open market and Cole is the same age as Scherzer once was, 30. Cole is undeniably a top five pitcher in baseball with a strong case to be made for number one. He is perfect for the modern game; he throws fast, his offspeed in unhittable and he misses bats at an elite rate. Cole is going to get paid 275-300 million. The big question is whether Middleton will open the checkbook to a second player making 300 mil. Much has been made about Cole going to the Angels or Yankees since he grew up in Southern California and was a noted Yankee fan, but as Philly and New York fans should know that means nothing. Mike Trout is in LA, not Philly. Manny Machado is in San Diego, not New York, and according to the media Bryce Harper “hated” Philadelphia. Cole will go where the most money is on the table. Still, with that being said, Cole will not be in Phillies red come April. This roster has too many holes to shell out $300 million for one player instead of spreading it out over multiple positions. As I am writing this, The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal has said the Phillies are in on Cole and he predicts them to be his landing spot (I am very in on Cole, I just think the overall money can be spent wiser).
Stephen Strasburg: 209 IP, 3.32 ERA, 10.81 K/9, 5.7 fWAR
The former number one pick has cemented himself as one of the game’s most consistent pitchers of the last seven years, culminating in his postseason heroics this past year. Remember how I said every single move the Phillies will make has to have their three big divisional rivals in mind? How great would it be for the Phillies to sign Bryce Harper and then Strasburg in back to back years, directly weakening their competition. It is for this reason, I believe Strasburg makes more sense for the Phils to pursue over Cole. Just adding Cole is a swing of about 7 in the Phillies favor, adding Strasburg is a 10 plus fWAR swing in favor of the Phils over the Nationals. The 32 year old should command near $175-180 million likely over 5-6 years.
Zack Wheeler: 195.1 IP, 3.96 ERA, 8.98 K/9, 4.7 fWAR
Just like Strasburg, a Wheeler signing is not only a win for the Phillies, but a loss for the Mets. Ideally, Wheeler would slot in as a good number 3 starter, but unless Klentak pulls off another move for a big starting pitcher, Philadelphia is not afforded that luxury. Maybe Girardi and Price push the right buttons, as he has ace quality stuff, but even just staying at his career norms would be a huge addition. Wheeler is the single player who makes the absolute most sense for the Phillies this off-season, but as other teams talk themselves out of the Cole/Strasburg price tag, Wheeler is the next best option. There will be a lot of other suitors. The Phils should be all over Wheeler at $20-25 million AAV over 4 years.
Cole Hamels: 141.2 IP, 3.81 ERA, 9.08 K/9, 2.5 fWAR
Hamels’ 2019 was a tale of two halves. In the first half he spotted a 2.98 ERA and a 3.59 FIP. Then he had shoulder issues which landed him a spot on the injured list after having a 5.59 ERA and a 5.29 FIP in the second half. This is bound to be a controversial statement, but I would not sign Hamels. Hamels is the Phillies best homegrown lefty since Steve Carlton. He was the ace of the 2008 World Series team. He is beloved here forever, but the past is the past. The next era of Phillies baseball should be focused on the present and the future. The Phillies already gave out multi year contracts to Robertson, Neshek, Hunter, and Arrieta the past few years; supposed reliable veterans who are innings eaters. How has that since worked out? Cole Hamels is still a good back end of the rotation starter, but the Phils already have Arrieta and Eflin to be the 4/5. Just like with Wheeler, he is significantly cheaper than the top options in the market and is expected to have many suitors. For the Phils to get both Wheeler and Hamels, they will likely have to grossly overpay one or both. One thing of note, since the Cubs did not offer him the qualifying offer, there are no draft pick in a potential signing, and Hamels should benefit from that getting a two year deal worth $30 million from some team, just hopefully not the Phillies.
Madison Bumgarner: 207.2 IP, 3.90 ERA, 8.80 K/9, 3.2 fWAR
The greatest postseason pitcher of our generation has finally hit the free agent market, albeit after a few years of diminished velocity. Bumgarner quietly still was a workhorse for the Giants in 2019. Some (vocal) parts of the fan base have been adamant on not signing him. Bumgarner’s numbers were heavily inflated by his home park in San Francisco. He had a 5.29 ERA and a 4.51 FIP on the road. He also sported an extremely high 41.6% fly ball rate. These are not sustainable numbers at hitter friendly Citizens Bank Park. However, the two straight divisional champs Braves are the heavy favorites to sign him and we have already discussed the impact of making your team better while weakening a rival at the same time. So where do I stand? If any other team besides the Braves picks him up, the Phillies should stay out of it. If the Braves are the highest bidder and the Phils are not conifident in their abilities to lock up two other high quality starters, I would look at Mad Bum. Bumgarner should command a four year deal worth $70-75 million.
The Best of the Rest
- LHP Hyun Jin Ryu- Great when healthy, but major durability concerns and already 33 years old
- LHP- Dallas Kuechel- Soft thrower who doesn’t miss bats (ie: not a fit at CBP). Likely doesn’t come to Philadelphia after the Phils declined to offer him a deal last year.
- RHP Kyle Gibson- Doesn’t move the needle of mediocrity.
- RHP Michael Pineda- Not consistent for a team in dire need of consistency.
The Braves have already locked up LHP Will Smith and RHP Chris Martin to multi year deals. What was Matt Klentak doing? Why didn’t the Phillies get involved? Feel my anger. The Phillies need like three new reliable relievers, and that would have been a great place to start. Anyways here is a list of guys still out there…
- RHP Dellin Betances– An elite reliever from 2014-18 before dealing with injuries in 2019. Arguably has the best stuff for a RHP in basbeall. Betances could go for a one year $12-15 million prove it deal or could go for longer term security. Whatever the case is, I would be lining up to put him in red pinstipes.
- RHP Will Harris– Do not let Howie Kendrick’s game 7 HR distract you from the fact that Harris has been one of the games best RP posting a sub 3 ERA four of the past five seasons. The other season; a 3.49 ERA in 2018. The Phillies should be all over him at two years for say $12-15 million.
- LHP Drew Pomeranz- Somebody will pay Pomeranz after his second half resurgance with the Brewers, but I wouldn’t take that risk. Will Smith was a better option for the same price, but oh well. (Update: Pomeranz has signed a deal with the San Diego Padres)
- RHP Daniel Hudson- Like Pomeranz, came on strong towards the end of 2019 and was a key piece for the Nationals world series run. If you can get him for one year at say $8-10 million, pull the trigger.
3B Anthony Rendon- .319/.412/.598, 34 HRs, 154 wRC+, 7.0 fWAR
The prize of this free agency hitting market. Rendon is one of the best players in baseball period. He may be the best player to hit the free agent market since Barry Bonds. He is that good. Rendon has elite contact and power mixed with above average walk rate and defense at a premium position. He is significantly better than Machado and Harper were last year, but he hits the market at age 29, not 26. I don’t believe the Phillies will be in on Rendon, instead opting to use the same financial resources to pitching and maybe a hitter, but in a tier below the former National. Just like with Strasburg though, it is hard to have a bigger flex as an owner than John Middleton signing Bryce Harper and then Rendon/Strasburg in back to back winters. Rendon should surpass Arenado’s deal of eight years, $260 plus million and likely goes back to Washington DC, or to play for the Rangers in Texas.
The Next Tier
- 3B Josh Donaldson- .259/.379/.521, 37 HRs, 132 wRC+, 4.9 WAR
- 3B Mike Moustakas– .254/.329/.516, 35 HRs, 113 wRC+, 2.8 WAR
- SS Didi Gregorious- .238/.276/.441, 16 HRs, 84 wRC+, 0.9 WAR (82 gms)
- 2018 statistics: .268/.335/.494, 27 HRs, 122 wRC+, 4.7 WAR
- 2B/SS Jonathan Villar- .274/.339/.453, 24 HRs, 40 SB, 107 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR
This is the group in which the Phillies should pursue. The offense is still a piece or two away from being elite, and all of these hitters should come for relatively cheap compared to Rendon. Unlike the outfield, the infield for the Phils is littered with a ton of questions. There are no set positions going into 2020 besides 1st base (unless…). Kingery could play any of the other three spots, but second base seems like the best option. The club hopes Segura’s down year was an outlier, not permanent regression. He’s a good SS, but once again he could slide to 2nd sliding Kingery to CF or be included in a trade for pitching. Alec Bohm is almost a major league ready 3rd baseman with big pop and above average contact who could also slide to 1st or once again get traded. The bottom line is that the Phillies have a lot of options and it is impossible to predict exactly who is in the opening day lineup and any free agency additions opens up additional trade possibilities.
Josh Donaldson is clearly the best of the three players above, but he is also the oldest and will command the most money (around three years for $60-70 million). The former AL MVP is no longer a 7-8 win player, rather a 4-5 win player. Keeping with the theme of knowing your competitors, Donaldson looks unlikely to go back to Atlanta, and just like Strasburg, this is a 8 WAR swing if the Phillies sign him. Say 2-3 of those inner division additions go to the Phils the playoff hopes become a lot less bleak than they are right now. If the Phillies are confident that Donaldson can give them two solid 4 win seasons than he should be signed immediately. Alas no one can predict the future.
Mike Moustakas should finally get a multi year deal. His left handed bat would be a major upgrade to any Maikel Franco memories. He can also play second base leaving Segura and Kingery open spots, and an open spot at 3rd. Versatility! Moustakas, written off by some as too inconsistent as a young player, has delivered a 123, 111, 113, 105, and 113 wRC+ in the last five years. Consistency! This organization badly needs players like Moose who probably won’t get a deal any higher than 2-3 years at $15 million per.
Didi Gregorius had two straight 4 win seasons before dealing with injuries and a prolonged slump in 2019. He is still a good player and Girardi knows him well from his Yankee days. There is a case to be made that Gregorius is the best fit for the Phillies on a 3 year $45-50 million dollar deal, but I am having a hard time seeing it. The other two are better hitters and fit the versatility of this team better right now, however if the other two got snapped up (or the Phillies traded for Bryant) I would absolutely be in on Didi.
Villar was a suprise non tender by the Baltimore Orioles and a late addition to this list. Villar, even with a breakout 2019 is still inconsistent. Unless the Phillies think that his production is the “new normal” instead of a statistical outlier I don’t see his fit over Kingery and Segura. The Phillies need consistent offense rather than a grab bag of potential from a free agent signing. Unless Villar comes in a lot cheaper than the others at say three years $30 million, I would guess he is not a Phillie come 2020.
The Phillies do not need to spend money on another Outfielder. Corey Dickerson was a good servant after his acquisition from the Pirates, but with McCutchen coming back from injury, there are too many chefs in the kitchen for Dickerson to get consistent playing time.
Trade Market Outlook
For some reason or another, some big names are on the trade block, with teams looking to shed salary, and the Phillies are in prime position to capitalize. Just like free agency, there is a top tier of stars and then options at a slightly lower cost. Any trade for the top tier (Betts, Bryant, Lindor) would start with Alec Bohm and/or Spencer Howard. The Phillies could trade either Kingery or Hoskins, but I don’t see them selling low on Hoskins or giving up Kingery’s versatility. Kingery is also the only regular aged 25 or under. There is also a scenario where they view Spencer Howard as the only untradeable piece. Howard has some of the best stuff in the minors and is viewed as having top of the rotation potential. The Phillies should flex their financial muscles and not hesitate to go over the luxury tax for 2020 as a first time offender because 42.6 million of “dead cap” (more on it below) comes off the books after next year. A first time offender has to pay an additional 20% over the $208 million baseline. So if they go $20 million over, it is only an additional $4 million penalty for 2020.
- RF Mookie Betts– .295/.391/.524, 29 HRs, 135 wRC+, 6.6 fWAR
- SS Francisco Lindor– .284/.335/.518, 32 HRs, 114 wRC+, 4.4 fWAR
- 3B Kris Bryant– .282/.382/.521, 31 HRs, 135 wRC+, 4.8 fWAR
This is the elite group on the trade market, but each are unlikely for separate reasons. The Red Sox, under new GM Chaim Bloom, would be foolish to give up on arguably the second best player in baseball. Betts is well worth the high price, but he would be a less than ideal fit in the already crowded outfield in Philadelphia. Lindor is the likeliest of the trio to actually get traded as Cleveland can’t re sign him, but he would also cost the most as he has two years of control left. However, I don’t see the Phils having enough pieces to entice Cleveland over other potential trade partners. The Phillies have a lot of needs and unless a SP like Kluber, Clevinger, or Civale is included, the Phillies shouldn’t trade the entire farm (not that Lindor isn’t worth it, he is).
Bryant unquestionably makes the most sense for the Phillies. He is childhood best friends with Harper. He is under team control for two more years. He instantly fills the biggest need the Phillies have had since Scott Rolen manned the hot corner. He is considered to have the highest probability of re signing if traded here, due to the fact that the other two have both outright said that they will test the market. But, and you knew there was a but coming, the Cubs are in playoff contention and want to contend. The only way I see this trade becoming a real possibility is if the Phillies take on the entire contract of Jason Heyward. Heyward is due another $86 million over the next four years and he is already on the other side of 30. Heyward is still a league average player with a fWAR of 2.0 and 1.9 the past two years, but he would be playing CF, negating the value of his elite defense. Ideally, you would hope for him to maintain league average offense, while providing above average defense, but the chance he puts it together in his age 30 season is unlikely. There is a large potential to bust, and a small margin of error to work with, but getting Bryant would be worth it, while not trading the “entire” farm like Lindor would cost. Something like Bohm, Adonis Medina, Connor Seabold, and Enyel De Los Santos could work. The Cubs may instead want more major league pieces in Jean Segura or Nick Pivetta. The Phillies do the trade because they are getting a former NL MVP in his prime for two years at their worst position. The Cubs do this so they can re stock the farm system and free up money for a big pitcher like a Cole or Strasburg. This is the prime example where is where Middleton can use his money to “move the needle” for the Phillies.
- CF Starling Marte– .295/.342/.503, 23 HRs, 119 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR
- 2B Whit Merrifield– .302/.348/.463, 16 HRs, 110 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR
Both of these players come as plan B options if the Phillies miss out on the top tier. If the Phils decide to throw big money at free agents (see: Gerrit Cole) they could pursue Marte or Merrifield to bolster the lineup. Both are on very team friendly contracts and play for rebuilding teams. Both are over 30 meaning they will likely not be a part of the next contending group of Pirates or Royals. Marte will come cheaper because he is older, under control for two less years than Merrifield, and probably a slightly worse player. The Royals, for some unbeknownst reason have been hesitant to put Merrifield on the trade block, but that shouldn’t deter Klentak from calling and seeing if the sky high price has dropped.
- LHP Robbie Ray– 174.1 IP, 4.34 ERA, 12.13 K/9, 2.4 fWAR
- LHP Matthew Boyd– 185.1 IP, 4.56 ERA, 11.56 K/9, 3.3 fWAR
- LHP David Price– 107.1 IP, 4.28 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 10.73 K/9, 2.3 fWAR
Robbie Ray is entering his contract year, and should the Diamondbacks decide they want to get value from him now since the Dodgers loom large. Ray won’t cost a ton; just a few upside prospects, but not the major guys like Bohm or Howard. David Price is a guy the Phillies can acquire for pretty much nothing, just by taking on his bad contract which owes him $93 million over the next three years. Price has been very injury prone over the last three years, but he would still be the Phils second best starter when healthy. If rumors circulate that the Braves are close to a deal for Mookie Betts, it would be a good idea to swipe in and get Price, likely solving most of the Red Sox cap problems. Matthew Boyd will cost the most, by far, as he is the youngest and under control for three more years. At the trade deadline, the Tigers asking price was sky high, but Boyd struggled in the second half. Boyd is still the unlikeliest of the three as the Phils would rather keep the major prospect capital or spend it elsewhere.
- RHP Corey Kluber– 35.2 IP, 5.80 ERA, 4.06 FIP, 9.59 K/9, 0.6 fWAR
- 2018 statistics: 215 IP, 2.89 ERA, 9.29 K/9, 5.5 fWAR
- RHP- Chris Archer– 119.2 IP, 5.19 ERA, 10.75 K/9, 0.7 fWAR
- RHP Dylan Bundy– 161.2 IP, 4.79 ERA, 9.02 K/9, 2.5 fWAR
The Indians would be foolish to sell low on Kluber, who prior to 2019 had been one of the best pitchers in baseball for the past five years. Kluber is owed $35 million over the next two seasons, and with owners as cheap as the Dolans (sorry Indians fans), they may see upside in getting something for Kluber while they still can and save $35 million at the same time. Archer, like Kluber is coming off a disappointing 2019. He is a reminder of the Pirates giving up on Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, arguably the single worst trade of the 21st century. Like Kluber, the Phillies may find upside in Archer and the Pirates new front office may want to recoup value while they still can. Bundy is more so a plan D, last resort option. He is not very good, but still some team will talk themselves into his potential that got him drafted 4th overall. Maybe Bryan Price is convinced he can fix Bundy, and the Klentak/Macphail combo has inside information as they were the ones that drafted him in 2011. Still a no from me though; Bundy can not be the 3rd starter on a team wanting to “move the needle” and contend for a playoff spot.
- RHP Blake Treinen– 58.2 IP, 4.91 ERA, 5.14 FIP, 9.05 K/9
- 2018 statistics- 80.1 IP, 0.78 ERA, 1.82 FIP, 11.20 K/9
- RHP Ken Giles– 53.0 IP, 1.87 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 14.09 K/9
Both relievers are entering their last year of arbitration and are good candidates to be donning new jerseys come 2020. Treinen is priced out of the A’s budget as he is due $7.8 million. Treinen shouldn’t cost too much other than an upside arm or two in the lower levels of the minors. The Blue Jays will most likely look to get value for Giles, coming off an elite season, before he enters free agency next year. Giles will cost more, but he is also more reliable and has already pitched here in Philadelphia as a member of the Phillies.
Conclusion/My Ideal (Realistic) Off-Season
- Non tender Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. Release Odubel Herrera. Frees up $44 million under the luxury tax.
- Extend JT Realmuto for 6 years $140 million dollar extention kicking in next season after Robertson, Herrera, and Arrieta ($42.6 million) come off the books next year
- Sign RP Dellin Betances for 2 years $19 million
- Sign C Austin Romine for 2 years $5 million- Better than Andrew Knapp and has the trust of Joe Girardi.
- Trade OF Nick Williams ($500k) and RHP Connor Seabold to the Oakland A’s for RP Blake Treinen ($7.8 Million).
- Trade C Deivy Grullon, RHP Enyel De Los Santos, and RHP Edgar Garcia to the Arizona Diamondbacks for SP Robbie Ray ($10.8 million)
- Trade OF Jay Bruce ($14 million), RHP Nick Pivetta ($600k), 3B Alec Bohm, RHP Adonis Medina, and LHP Kyle Dohy to the Chicago Cubs for 3B Kris Bryant ($18.5 million) and OF Jason Heyward ($21.5 million)
Currently these moves leave the Phillies at $219.5 million dollars and $11.5 over the luxury tax, but the Phillies still need a #2 starter from free agency. The options are either Stephen Strasburg for 6 years $180 at a $30 million AAV or Zack Wheeler for 4 years $90 million at a $22.5 million AAV. Whichever route the Phillies go they will look to create a big signing bonus and a money deferred over the lifetime of the contact to lower the first year contract hit (see: Bryce Harper deal). If the Phillies really want to overtake the Braves and Nationals, Stephen Strasburg needs to be in red pinstripes, but I think here is where Middleton draws the line and opts for Zack Wheeler.
8. Sign SP Zack Wheeler for 4 years $90 million (with a salary of just $9.5 million in year one)
This leaves the Phillies at $228 million dollars in salary guarantees for 2020, exactly $20 million above the luxury tax. The Phillies would have to pay an additional $4 million dollars ($20 million times $20) as a first time luxury tax offender. This leaves total spending at $232 million dollars.
Opening Day Roster
- LF Andrew McCutchen
- 3B Kris Bryant
- RF Bryce Harper
- 1B Rhys Hoskins
- C JT Realmuto
- SS Jean Segura
- CF Jason Heyward
- 2B Scott Kingery
- OF Adam Haseley
- OF Roman Quinn
- UTIL Josh Harrison
- 1B Brad Miller
- C Austin Romine
- RHP Aaron Nola
- RHP Zack Wheeler
- LHP Robbie Ray
- RHP Jake Arrieta
- RHP Zach Eflin
- RHP Hector Neris
- RHP Blake Treinen
- RHP Dellin Betances
- RHP Vince Velasquez (Long Relief)
- RHP Seranthony Dominguez (if healthy)
- LHP Jose Alvarez
- LHP Adam Morgan
- LHP Ranger Suarez
If you are still reading this, shoutout to you. Please drop me a follow on twitter @JordanSkversky