The Phillies have a number of holes on their team and a lot of money to spend this offseason. They can upgrade through free agency or trades and add multiple players if they choose. However, in recent seasons they have been pressed tightly against their self-imposed salary cap (the luxury tax threshold) and that’s not likely to change in the near future.
While every significant move they make has long-term ramifications, the ones they make this offseason will likely shape the next few years of Phillies baseball and determine whether or not they return to playoff contention.
The Phillies need an outfielder (or two, or three), a third baseman and bullpen help. There have already been a lot of names mentioned.
Here is my take on the top five players the Phillies should avoid at all costs.
Ever since speculation broke that the Yankees had finally had enough of Alex Rodriguez, rumors have been swirling about where they could possibly deal him, and Philadelphia’s name has come up. With a hole at third base and a need for a right-handed power bat, this seems like a match made in heaven.
Until one takes off the blinders.
Throughout his career, Alex Rodriguez has been one of the best statistically performing players in major league history. Looking strictly at the numbers on the back of his baseball card, Rodriguez is a first-ball Hall of Fame player without a doubt.
However, Rodriguez comes with a significant amount of baggage, not all of it related to his steroid usage.
He’s had trouble staying on the field in recent seasons, and his production has dropped dramatically. It’s not surprising that a 37-year-old player is no longer playing the way he did in his prime, but he’s also owed (at least) $114 million over the next five seasons. Ouch.
Rodriguez might be an upgrade at the moment. He’s still better offensively than any combination of players the Phillies have to man third, but Rodriguez will be 42—42!—when he collects his last major league paycheck.
That is way too long to be paying a player on the severe downside of his career. No matter how much money the Yankees kick in—even an upfront check for the entire $114 million—the Phillies should steer clear of the circus that is Alex Rodriguez.
Up until the day he was suspended for using steroids, it seemed like a natural step for the Phillies to pursue Melky Cabrera to play center field. He was everything they could want: a young, defensively sound, switch-hitting outfielder only beginning to reach his prime years.
Finally, after five underwhelming seasons in the Bronx and then another miserable one in Atlanta, Cabrera had finally seemed to put it all together. He had a great season for Kansas City in 2011, and was off to an even better start in 2012.
Then a 50-game steroid suspension ended his season, and a lot of potential free-agent offers that would have come this winter.
Who is Melky Cabrera? Is he the player who was leading the league in hitting and had won the All-Star game MVP in 2012, or is he the below-average player he’s been throughout his career?
The steroid suspension probably cost Cabrera a lot of money, but there will undoubtedly be some baseball owner or general manager who’s willing to buy low (relatively speaking) and guarantee Cabrera two or three years. No one last year believed Prince Fielder would get $214 million, but he proved it only takes one team willing to dish it out to cash in. Let’s hope it’s not the Phillies.
It’s probably foolish to believe that the steroids that helped Cabrera along in his MVP-like first half in 2012 also didn’t have a positive impact on his 2011 season in Kansas City. It’s probably better to look at his first five years—when he slashed .267/.329/.380—than the steroid-induced most recent two.
Melky Cabrera in a Phillies uniform would be a mistake, no matter the (little) cost. He’s a below-average player, a fourth outfielder at best and an alleged clubhouse cancer. Let someone else have that headache.
Josh Hamilton is the biggest name and best player on the market. He’s the one guy who would truly transform any lineup he’s in and make the players around him better. For those reasons, he’ll have his choice of suitors this offseason, and just like Melky Cabrera will find someone to guarantee him more than most think, so too will Josh Hamilton.
And again, let’s hope it’s not the Phillies.
While Hamilton would have looked great in the middle of the Phillies lineup in recent years, in free agency you’re paying a player for what he will do for you in the future, not what’s he’s done in the past. Hamilton has had trouble staying on the field throughout his major league career—averaging just 129 games per year—and it’s likely that will only become worse. Players rarely become healthier as they age, and drug addictions have already ruined numerous careers, even after the player(s) stopped taking them.
The Phillies already have an aging core of overpaid players, and the last thing this team needs is another Ryan Howard-type contract
Stay away; stay far, far away...
Speedster Michael Bourn grew up in the Phillies organization, and it seems that the team has always missed him since they traded him away to Houston. In the years since, Bourn has blossomed into an outstanding base-stealer, the game’s best defensive outfielder and a productive leadoff hitter.
However, Bourn lacks power, plate discipline and strikes out far too many times. He also does nothing to offset the already left-handed leaning lineup, and with both Jimmy Rollins and Charlie Manuel a part of the 2013 Phillies, it’s unlikely Bourn would get to lead off much.
Scott Boras will find Michael Bourn a contract to their liking, something in the neighborhood of seven years and $100 million, which is far too much to pay for his skill set.
Michael Bourn is a good player, a terrific outfielder and young enough to live up to a six- or seven-year contract, but let him do it somewhere else.
BJ Upton is the player I believe is most likely to end up signing with Philadelphia this offseason. He’s everything they love—a “high-ceilinged” talent who hasn’t yet harnessed it all. Considering he’s a right-handed power bat and plays a solid center field, Upton fits the Phillies' needs to a tee.
However, he’s an overvalued talent. While Upton is younger and won’t cost nearly as much as signing Hamilton or Bourn will—arguably in the neighborhood of six years and $75 million—it’s hard to envision him living up to his full potential.
Upton has been criticized for loafing after balls in the outfield, and at times not giving a complete effort.
BJ Upton could come to Philadelphia, find Citizens Bank Park’s dimensions perfect for his swing and thrive. He could harness his power and become the right-handed threat the Phillies have lacked in recent seasons and guide the team back to the playoffs.
But with everything on the line this winter, it's too big of a gamble for a team to take on a career .255 hitter who strikes out 150 times per year. Upton will be a Philly, but the money could be better spent elsewhere, either on another player in free agency or in the future seasons.