The Phillies just put on one of their worst offensive performances in years. In fact, they scored fewer runs in 2012 than any Phillies team since 1997—Scott Rolen’s rookie year. If not for a starting rotation led by two of the best pitchers in baseball, they may have finished much worse than 81-81.
Heading into the winter it’s no secret what the Phillies' needs are offensively—outfield help and a third baseman—and which players are on the market. The only thing we don’t know for sure is which player, if any, will join the Phillies when all is said and done.
Ahead I will look at the top five outfielders on the market, what each one brings to the club and analyze whether or not it’s worth the effort and cost.
For a while, it appeared that the Phillies had set their sights on acquiring B.J. Upton in free agency. Even before sportswriters like FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal began suggesting it, I saw their pursuit of Upton as a no-brainer—at least in terms of how the Phillies tend to think about and value players.
However, now that there is so much discussion in the media about Upton coming to Philadelphia—even the suggestion that the Phillies have hired two former Tampa Bay employees in an effort to court him (see reference above)—I'm starting to feel better.
I don't think Upton would make a great fit in Philly, and would rather Ruben Amaro turn his attention elsewhere. If Amaro’s tenure as general manager has taught us anything, it’s to never believe anything that’s reported until it actually happens. His offseason priorities typically remain quiet, and whatever is published is often a smokescreen.
Let’s hope that is the case with Upton, because like many others it would be a signing that is soon regretted.
Upton fits the Phillies' needs to a tee: he’s a talented, right-handed power-hitting outfielder. He plays good defense, has blazing speed and his potential is enormous. At just 28 years old, his best years should still be ahead of him.
While his cost has been projected to be less than some of his counterparts, Upton still won't come cheap. He strikes out too much and fails to get on base at an alarming rate. If the first seven years of his career are any indication, he may never live up to his abilities. And in order to sign him, the Phillies would have to surrender their highest draft pick in a decade.
Avoid at almost all costs. Unless Upton were willing to sign a very team-friendly contract (three years, $27 million, plus four low-cost team options that would keep him in Philadelphia throughout his prime), he is not worth the cost of the 16th pick in the draft.
Michael Bourn grew up in the Phillies minor league system, and then spent the 2007 season on the major league roster for the National League East champions. It seemed he would be their starting center fielder for the next decade or so, but then in the offseason he was shipped off to Houston in a package for Brad Lidge and developed into a quality player and leadoff hitter.
Now he’s a free agent, and a reunion with the team that originally drafted him may be in the cards.
He’s an outstanding defensive outfielder, has become a solid all-around hitter and is one of the best base-stealers in the business. On the right team, in the right situation, he could lead the league in stolen bases and runs scored, practically defining what it means to be a leadoff hitter.
Scott Boras is his agent, meaning he’s likely to ask for the moon—and wait until someone gives it to him. He would add another left-handed bat to an already heavily leaning left-handed lineup, and doesn’t hit lefties particularly well. He also strikes out at an alarming rate.
Bourn would be a nice signing to play center field and leadoff, but it would cost too much—in terms of both dollars and years—to bring him back to Philadelphia. When a player’s biggest asset is the first thing to usually go—speed—that’s never a good combination. He’s also not worth the cost of a valuable draft pick. Bourn’s only a fit for the Phillies if they can sign him on their terms and have additional moves up their sleeves to rework the lineup.
Josh Hamilton is easily the most dynamic player on the market. Everything about him has been over-analyzed already by sportswriters and bloggers everywhere, and there’s no need to rehash all of that. Hamilton would probably be a good fit for whatever team he signs with, but it’s a matter of evaluating risk verses reward in signing a player like him.
He’s arguably the best offensive player on the market, if not in the game, and would dramatically transform the Phillies' lineup. He’s also a legitimate triple-crown threat and has shown no signs of slowing down.
Cost, for one. CBS Dallas/Fort Worth reports that he wants seven years and $175 million, which would probably bust the Phillies' free- agency budget. And then his health is always a concern. Aside from his drug/alcohol addiction, Hamilton has shown no ability to make it through an entire season injury-free. Investing that many years in a player who had trouble staying on the field throughout his 20s is a dangerous proposition going forward.
It’s hard to imagine a team caving in to Hamilton’s contract demands, but stranger things have happened. (Someone became desperate enough to give Prince Fielder $214 million, so nothing is impossible.) Despite being another left-handed hitter, Hamilton hits lefties almost as well as he does right-handers, and would make the middle of the Phillies' order a force once again.
Perhaps the one player on the free-agent market worthy of surrendering that 16th pick for—if they don’t have to commit more than four years.
Nick Swisher has been one of the most consistent players in baseball for the last several seasons. Almost every team is sure to be interested in him, and he is reportedly seeking a “Jayson Werth-type contract” worth $126 million over seven years (according to CBS New York).
He’s dependable, a great clubhouse guy and someone who fits in everywhere. Whichever team signs Swisher will almost certainly get an offensive force in the middle of their lineup capable of hitting home runs and wearing out opposing pitchers. He’ll play 150 games, bat between .260 and .280 and slug at least 20 homers while driving in 90 runs.
He’s not a center fielder by trade nor an exceptional outfielder to begin with. He wants a lot of money and is on the north side of thirty.
Might be a player worth pursuing, but was also issued a qualifying offer by the Yankees and would require the forfeiture of the Phillies' first-round draft pick. The money and the years are one thing, but losing another potential player to build their future around is a deal breaker.
After being jettisoned to the west coast by the Mets last offseason, Angel Pagan responded with a career year. He gained valuable playoff experience winning a World Series with the Giants, and that's likely going to increase his stock this free-agency period.
Is a good defensively center fielder and a decent all-around offensive threat. He doesn’t bring home run power, but did produce 61 extra-base hits while leading the league in triples. Is more of a top-of-the-order hitter than the others on the list, but should fit in nicely and help balance out the lineup more.
Despite being a switch-hitter, he’s a much better from the left side than the right, leaving the Phillies susceptible to left-handed pitchers, and he’s really only been a starting player for three seasons. With his postseason success, both his cost and exposure has gone up, and it’s likely the Giants don’t want to let him go.
Pagan probably doesn’t fit into what the Phillies are looking to add to their team, but he makes a lot of sense. Of the top-tier players, he’s probably the most cost-effective and does not require the Phillies to lose their first-round draft pick.
The Phillies would certainly benefit from bringing Pagan aboard, but in all likelihood he stays in San Francisco to defend their title.
In all reality, while there are a number of big names on the free-agent market that can fill a void for the Phillies, none of the top-tier talents truly fit what the Phillies need at this point. Overreaching and bringing in someone like B.J. Upton or Michael Bourn would be a detriment to the franchise long-term.
The Phillies would be served best by staying away from the most expensive players on the market and looking to fill their outfield hole on a short-term basis with second-tier free agents. Bring back Shane Victorino or sign a veteran such as Torii Hunter or Cody Ross, players who can still produce for a year or two and give the Phillies a chance to reevaluate the market and their needs.