Free Agents the Philadelphia Phillies Should Pursue in the Offseason
It's been a season of flux for the Philadelphia Phillies this year, to say the least. Last year, though eliminated in the NLDS by the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phillies were the best team in baseball with a 102-60 record. This year, the tides have changed.
After having posted nine consecutive winning seasons, the Phillies are in jeopardy of not achieving their tenth straight season with a record above .500. If they plan on doing so, they have to win two of three in their upcoming series in Washington against the Nationals. Anything less, and it's either .500 or a losing record, and either of the two ends the streak, which is the third-longest (second-longest if it persists) of its kind in the majors.
The attitude around Philadelphia concerning the Phillies has ostensibly changed. Last year, it was win the most games in franchise history and then the World Series. Now, it's just to finish the season with a winning record.
However, there is one thing about the Phillies that has remained constant from last year to this one: they're still a big market team. The Phillies have recent winning seasons on their side and their lack of a playoff appearance this year can at least somewhat be attributed to injuries to Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Whether or not any baseball fans can be led to such persuasion is one thing, but perhaps baseball players looking to sign somewhere, such as Philadelphia, will feel the same as I've mentioned.
The Phillies' free agency shopping list is no doubt comprised of the following: center fielder (possibly a corner outfielder as well), third baseman, and potentially a relief pitcher. A starting pitcher could also see his way into the fold, though that's less likely given the Phillies' internal options of Kyle Kendrick, Tyler Cloyd and possibly even Jonathan Pettibone. This list will focus on some options at those positions who will be free agents this offseason and could be a fit for the Phillies.
Let's get to it.
Honorable Mention: Dan Haren
Like I said, the Phillies' need of a starting pitcher isn't a gaping hole, but should they decide to go that route, 32-year-old Dan Haren could be a great fit. But it would require a number of circumstances to occur.
First, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Haren's current team, would have to decline his $15.5 million club option for 2013 and instead pay him a $3.5 million buyout. Last season, the option would have been a no-brainer to exercise. But with Haren hitting the DL for the first time in his career this season due to a nagging back injury in addition to some struggles when he has pitched, that option is more likely to be declined now, according to MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez, due to the fact that the Angels are more likely to make a push to re-sign free agent starter Zack Greinke.
Second, Haren's price would probably need to be relatively low. That's not nearly as likely to happen. Sure, Haren has regressed this year, but his career numbers are still relatively good. In fact, for his 162-game season average, Haren would have a 14-11 record with a 3.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 185 strikeouts. In fact, he'd even average 219.0 innings. But also keep in mind that, aside from this year, Haren hasn't posted an ERA over 4.00 since 2006. That's pretty darn good.
Haren will likely earn either a one-year deal worth roughly $13 million or a four to five-year contract with roughly the same amount for an average annual value. If the Phillies decide that a starting pitcher is tops on their priority list (which it shouldn't be), Haren's a great fit and a solid number two to have once Halladay and Lee are off the books. But he's surely expensive, and it wouldn't behoove the Phillies to allocate a majority of their budget towards their already-strong rotation.
Could it happen? Sure. Anything can happen. But are the chances good? Absolutely not. And as much as I love Dan Haren, I wouldn't sign him to a multi-year deal worth that much money right now.
This will be the first player whose abilities I'll have to put ahead of my bias in this slideshow, but it certainly won't be the last.
I'll say it bluntly: I don't like Cody Ross. I resent that he slugged two home runs against Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the the 2010 NLCS and that he beat the Phillies en route to a World Series championship. But I will say this: after not believing that he'd be much more than a platoon outfielder as a Florida Marlin, I do respect how much he's improved as a player. And for that reason, I would not be opposed to the Phillies signing him to a contract this offseason.
Ross, after finding the free agent market unfavorable to him last offseason, had to settle for a one-year, $3 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. At the time, I imagine that most thought he'd be worse than the Red Sox as a team. On the contrary, he's arguably been the team's best player this season.
On the year, Ross has a .269 average with an .818 OPS, 22 home runs and 79 RBI in 127 games played. He's also hit 34 doubles this season, which is by no means a small feat. Signing as just as I mentioned, a platoon outfielder, Ross worked his way into a starting role thanks to injuries of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. Now, the Phillies—or much more of baseball, for that matter—may be looking to pay him like a starter, and according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, they're already interested.
Ross would be a pretty good fit for the Phillies, as the team lacks a right-handed power hitter now that the occasional power-hitting Hunter Pence is a San Francisco Giant. Most likely to be signed as a right fielder, Ross' UZR/150 stands at 9.3 at the position he most often plays, whereas it's in the negatives at the other outfield positions. He'd be a nice fit in the middle of the Phillies' lineup, and costing maybe all of $7 million a year or so, he'd only be 34 years old at the end of a three-year deal if that's what he commands.
Maybe the most logical fit for the Phillies, 31-year-old San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan is an interesting option.
Aside from his name being a complete oxymoron, Pagan's seen his fair share of the Phillies. A New York Met from 2008 through 2011, Pagan's seen the Phillies a good amount, and of his 41 career home runs, five have come against the Phils. That, and he's hit .260 in 58 games against them. Not bad.
Known more for being a hitter for average than power, Pagan's seemed to have found something of a quasi-power stroke this season. On the season, Pagan's slugged eight home runs, the second most in a season for him in his career. But what's more astounding is that Pagan leads the majors in triples with 15! So much for Shane Victorino leading the league in triples this year.
Additionally, Pagan's hit .287 on the year with a .775 OPS, and along with 36 doubles and 29 steals, is pretty well-rounded. Not that he's the best defender out there, as his -0.4 UZR/150 suggests that he's far from great, but he's posted a UZR/150 of 13.3 in center field as recently as 2010. As for the dramatic change in so little an amount of time, I can't answer that. But Pagan was once one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball, and he's still solid.
What's more appealing about Pagan is that he's not going to be extremely expensive this offseason. He'll likely cost somewhere around $10-11 million a season, and a two-year deal in that range could be the best offer he receives this offseason. If that offer comes from the Phillies, he could be manning center field in Citizens Bank Park. And even if the deal doesn't work out, hey, it's only two years. It's been said that there's no such thing as a bad one-year contract. I don't think a two-year deal for Pagan would be terrible, either.
As is the case with Cody Ross, I'm not the biggest fan of Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton. But I'll at least argue that I've got more reasoning for my disliking Upton than Ross.
Upton, the second-overall pick in the 2002 draft, has not exactly lived up to his billing. His career average stands at just .255, his career OPS is .758, he hasn't hit above .250 for a season since 2008, and has an OBP under .300 this year with most of the season under his belt. Oh, and did I mention that he strikes out in over a fourth of his at-bats? And his UZR/150 is -3.4. Not the ideal fit.
Or is he? Of the free agent class this year, Upton's the only high-profile center fielder who's on the right side of 30 years old and has two more years before he breaks even in that regard. Additionally, he's set a career high in home runs this year with 28 and can steal some bases, having swiped 31 bags this year and averaging 39 per season. Speed and power don't always come together, but with the 28-year-old Upton, they're both present.
Additionally, since he has been somewhat ineffective throughout his career, Upton could be a bit cheaper to sign than some of the other high profile options. No, he won't be cheaper than Ross or Pagan. But even though he could still command a contract for as many as five years, it could come at a rate of $13 million a year or so versus the $15 million+ per year that some of the other top free agent outfielders this offseason could make on a deal.
The best option to sign as the starting center fielder? In my blatantly obvious opinion, no. But if all else fails, you could do worse.
Will Michael Bourn come back to the place where he started his career?
Bourn, who will be 30 in December, preceded Shane Victorino as the Phillies' everyday center fielder. He held the role for one full season before being traded to the Houston Astros as part of a deal that netted the Phillies Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett. We all know what happened with Lidge in 2008, the season after the trade, and of course, what happened with the Phillies.
Meanwhile, Bourn's thrived and has become one of baseball's biggest basestealing threats over the years. Although he's slowed down a bit this year in comparison to years prior—Bourn's only stolen 40 bases in 2012 as opposed to at least 50 in each of 2009-2011 and over 60 in 2009 and 2011—but by no means is 40 stolen bases a minimalist effort. His biggest problem this year? 151 strikeouts.
Overall, Bourn has had a nice contract year, batting .276 with a .742 OPS, the highest of his career. He's also slugged a career-high nine home runs and has driven in a career-high 57 runs. And his defense? Elite. His UZR/150 stands at 22.7. That's insane.
Bourn could be a nice signing, but if the Phillies do ink him to a contract, they need to be careful. Bourn could obtain a contract worth well over $15 million per season, and if he's signed to five years or more, that's an expensive deal for an aging outfielder whose game relies on speed. Needless to say, the words "aging" and "speed" don't go so well together.
Whoever signs Bourn will be getting a nice player for a hefty sum. He's absolutely a fit in Philadelphia, but with other positions to fill, there may not be enough money left over if the Phillies plan on signing more players than a star outfielder.
Ladies and gentlemen, I promise that this will be the final slide with bias in this slideshow. I apologize for it throughout the article and hope that it did not severely detract from the main point. I will also warn you: of all the players in this piece, Nick Swisher is the one I dislike the most. And dislike is an understatement.
Bit I digress. A premier corner outfield option available via free agency this offseason, the 31-year-old Swisher will certainly be appealing to many teams out there, the Phillies included. After trading Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants this past July, perhaps the Phillies will want to focus on upgrading right field rather than center. In that case, aside from Cody Ross, Swisher is likely the best available option.
This season, Swisher's hit .268 with an .828 OPS, 24 home runs, 35 doubles and 92 RBI in 146 games. While his strikeout count of 141 is average at best, he has walked 73 times this year, which isn't terrible. Defensively, Swisher's only above average with a 1.5 UZR/150, but hey, you could do worse.
Even though I myself am not a huge fan of Swisher, there may be more reason not to sign him aside from my opinions. Apparently, he's out to seek a massive contract—as he should—but perhaps one in excess of $100 million, and even as far as one matching the seven-year, $126 million pact Jayson Werth signed with the Washington Nationals two years ago. That's simply not going to happen.
Would Nick Swisher be a difference-maker? Possibly. But if he's to be signed, it better be a deal; that's much more team friendly. $126 million just won't do.
Could the Flyin' Hawaiian actually find his way back into Phillies pinstripes?
Shane Victorino started his 2012 year with the Philadelphia Phillies and immediately has high expectations placed upon his shoulders. After finishing last season as an MVP contender, it was thought that this year—especially in a contract year—VIctorino would somehow be even better.
But of course, this is the Phillies we're talking about, and in 2012 things did not go their way in almost every sense of the word, including Victorino's production. This year, with both the Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers (the team he was traded to), Victorino's batting .256 with a .702 OPS, 11 home runs and 55 RBI to go along with 39 steals, 28 doubles and six triples in 152 games played. Much better with the Phils than the Dodgers, since the trade, Victorino's stats dropped considerably, and if you see the Phillies-Dodgers comparison, it's scary how bad he's been since the trade.
Defensively, Victorino manned center field for Philadelphia, but upon being traded to Los Angeles, the presence of Matt Kemp pushed him over to left field. Surprisingly, as a center fielder—whether full-time for the Phillies or part-time for the Dodgers when Kemp was hurt—Victorino's UZR/150 is a shocking -3.0, well below both average and his usual standards. But what's even more surprising is that his left field UZR/150 with the Dodgers is 23.7, which would put him in elite company.
So what will it be? Will Victorino market himself as a defensive whiz in left field now too in order to garner more interest? Will the 31-year-old have to settle for a platoon role after initially seeking a five-year deal? Or will he just return to Philadelphia, the city that collectively loved his style of play and his personality since he stepped on the field as a Rule 5 Draft pick?
Maybe it's one of those options, or maybe it's none of them. But if I had to put my money on one, it'd be that he's back in Philadelphia on the Phillies' terms.
What, you didn't think this would be a list of all outfielders, did you?
In all seriousness, third baseman/infield utilityman Maicer Izturis could be a nice fit for the Phillies. Although he's 32 years old, he's probably the all-around most valuable third baseman available in free agency this year. And that's saying something.
Izturis, who has played for the Angels his entire career except for his rookie year when he played for the Montreal Expos, has batted .254 with a .630 OPS this year. He's also slugged two home runs, 11 doubles, has swiped 16 bases and has driven in 20 runs in 99 games this year. Solid, but not fantastic.
Defensively, his UZR/150 at third is -4.9, but it is worth noting that his best position defensively is actually second base, and he's played as much there as he has shortstop. Third base still remains the position he plays most.
The big difference is that Izturis has spent his entire career as a backup infielder for the Angels. He's never played more than 122 games in a season and has only topped 100 games four times in the nine seasons he's played (five seasons if he plays today). If the Phillies were to sign him, it'd more likely be as a regular, if not a platoon split with a Kevin Frandsen or Freddy Galvis.
Nevertheless, even if he was to be the Phillies' third baseman, he'd be relatively cheap and would only have to act as a stopgap player for a year or two at best. With prospects Cody Asche, Mitchell Walding and Maikel Franco in the system and only about two years or so away from making a major league impact, unless we're talking David Wright here there's no reason for the Phillies to invest long-term in a third baseman. Izturis is a great choice.
Will the Greek God of Walks be making his appearance in Phillies pinstripes next year? Given that he's already pulling off the move for the Chicago White Sox, maybe it's more possible than we think.
Kidding aside, Kevin Youkilis is really the only other free agent option at third base for the Phillies this year. Likely seeking a deal in the two-year range worth $9-11 million a season or so, the 33-year-old former All-Star third baseman could be a hot commodity if many teams needing third base help are willing to pay him.
After starting the season with the only club he's ever known, the Boston Red Sox, he and manager Bobby Valentine had somewhat of a fallout. Valentine accused Youkilis of having lost his love and care for the game, and at the time it came with considerable outrage from the players, most notably second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Youkilis was forced to change Sox when he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox on June 24, yet that might have been best for both him and his free agent stock. He's been given much more playing time as the White Sox's regular third baseman, and he's almost quadrupled his home run count from Boston in double the games played.
This year, Youkilis is batting only .235, but his OPS isn't awful at .745 and he's also hit 19 home runs, 15 doubles, two triples and 60 RBI. He's also got 51 walks to only 108 strikeouts. Defensively this season, he hasn't been so good, with a -7.2 UZR/150 at the hot corner. Despite this, for a player who's as injury prone as he is, he's been more than serviceable.
Youkilis would also be only a stopgap player. But perhaps he's the better option for that job. Maybe we will see the Greek God of Walks make his way into Philadelphia and give the Phillies their first legitimate third baseman since Scott Rolen.
Mike Adams would be a huge catch if the Phillies could net him. Granted, he'll likely be the most expensive relief pitcher on the market this offseason, but there is a way that he may be able to be signed for less. And while unfortunate, it's completely reasonable.
In 2011, Mike Adams was a wanted man. And when I say wanted, I mean by other teams. His ERA and WHIP were both microscopic through the first four months as a San Diego Padre, and as a result he was traded to the Texas Rangers for two of their top pitching prospects. This season Adams hasn't been nearly as good, though he's been pitching against American League hitting rather than National League hitters, and he's also not in the friendly confines of Petco Park.
But what may make Adams affordable is this: injury. Just recently, Adams had not been good, giving up three home runs to five of the batters he faced in a recent outing after only surrendering one the entire season. His ERA went up to 3.27 and his WHIP stands at 1.40. Petco Park aside, that doesn't sound like the usual Mike Adams.
That's because it isn't. On Sunday, it came out that Adams has thoracic outlet syndrome, which was the same injury that St. Louis Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter had that caused him to miss a majority of the 2012 season. It causes pain in the neck and shoulder areas and can make it incredibly difficult for a pitcher to properly grip his pitches. For Carpenter, it was so bad that he needed to have a rib removed to alleviate the pain.
So while Adams—who is 34 years old—has the track record and is becoming a free agent, he's also got this injury that won't be going away. It could scare teams off and will almost certainly drive his price down. Whether that means he can be affordable for the Phillies is a different story. But if he is, do they pursue him nonetheless?
I say yes.
Figured I had to include at least one surprising/controversial pick.
Moving around from closer to set-up man to middle reliever and back to closer in 2012, Brandon League has had his ups and downs, both this season and throughout his career. Acquired by the Seattle Mariners from the Toronto Blue Jays in a deal that saw Brandon Morrow go to the Jays, League quickly solidified himself as an above average closer with the M's, though needless to say he didn't get the greatest opportunity to save games all the time.
This year, though, League struggled out of the gate and was even taken out of the closer's role in favor of rookie Tom Wilhelmsen, who has now cemented the ninth inning role for Seattle. League went to pitching the eighth and even seventh innings and though he did get the occasional save in, the job was no longer his.
Having said that, he was traded to the Dodgers at the trade deadline where he was still a set-up man to closer Kenley Jansen, but once Jansen hit the DL for an irregular heartbeat and was lost for the year, League took over and has done a terrific job as closer. In the month of September/October, League has given up only one earned run in 14 outings and 15.1 innings, posting a 0.59 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in that stretch. Lights-out, if not far from it.
On the year, the still-only 29-year-old League's got a 3.17 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 35 saves and 53 strikeouts in 73 games (71 innings). Not bad for a guy who started out the season losing his closing job. Whether or not he'll be marketed as a closer once again this offseason or as a set-up man is still to be determined, but if he can be signed for a set-up man's price rather than as a closer, he could be a good get.