With the annual Winter Meetings set to kick off on December 3, the rumor mill is about to shift into overdrive, and you don't want to be caught in the middle of the road when this thing gets going.
The meetings—designed to give each team's executives an opportunity to speak with not only each other, but some of the top free agents and their representation—have become a rumor bonanza over the last couple of seasons. The week leading up to the annual meetings is normally all about "laying the groundwork."
The Philadelphia Phillies are expected to be among the most active teams over the next couple weeks. They have a huge gap to fill in center field, and until they fill it, you can't count them 100 percent out on any given player.
They have the money. They have the need.
And that's only the biggest hole in this Phillies roster. They'll also be in the market for a third baseman and a setup man, as well as on other, smaller fronts, like the corner outfield market.
With the Winter Meetings quickly rounding into focus, you could call this the "calm before the storm," but if the rumor mill never takes on a single attribute, it's calm. Let this slide show serve as a tool of either debunking or confirming the hottest rumors coming out of Philly.
Each player will either be labeled fact (meaning the Phillies have a legitimate interest and an opportunity to acquire said player in a reasonable fashion) or fiction (bringing said player to town is outside the realm of possibility).
Lance Berkman to the Phillies is fiction, and it is easily the most fictitious thing on this list—and this is a list that includes the possibility of the Miami Marlins trading Giancarlo Stanton.
One thing that the Phillies are trying to do this offseason is "get younger." That's not a simple task, but you can see the philosophy reflected in their pursuit of 28-year-old centerfielder BJ Upton. Berkman, on the other hand, is now 36.
He is not going to play the outfield with any regularity, following yet another knee procedure, and some guy named Ryan Howard is currently playing first base and expected to be healthy.
So, if any out of position player is found roaming the outfield this season, my guess is that it is Darin Ruf and not Berkman.
I almost labeled this one as "fiction," but I think we all know that the Phillies are going to target Michael Bourn heavily if they are unable to sign BJ Upton.
It wouldn't be a good decision. In Bourn, we're talking about a solid on-base guy whose primary tool is his incredible speed—something that is likely to decline over the course of his next contract. For the Phillies, he'd be another left-handed bat that is nothing more than mediocre against left-handed pitching and another player with a career K% north of 20.
Now, some of those things can apply to Upton as well, but with Upton, we're talking about a 28-year-old centerfielder with all of the tools to become one of the game's elite at that position.
Without a doubt, Bourn and agent Scott Boras are going to be looking for a ton of money as one of the market's top centerfielders. I'm not sure he's worth it.
Jayson Stark recently posted a blog over at ESPN that had all of the usual offseason goodies, but another golden nugget as far as Phillies fans are concerned—the team has approached Roy Halladay about a contract extension.
If you think that the 2013 offseason has been an intriguing one for the Phillies, next year's winter is going to be a doozy. Along with Halladay, another pair of fan favorites—Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz—are set to hit the open market.
With that being said, it wouldn't surprise me to see all three sign new contracts before this season's trade deadline, and Halladay could be the first domino to fall. If he can prove that he is healthy, the Phillies will have no problem offering him an extension. The same could be said for Utley.
Ruiz's situation is a bit more complex because top prospects Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle are knocking on the door, but a one-year extension could make sense for both sides. Ruiz isn't getting any younger.
As far as Halladay is concerned, this is fact.
The Phillies are going to have some amount of interest in Josh Hamilton as long as he is on the free-agent market, and as his suitors begin to dwindle and his leverage starts to evaporate, you have to figure that the Phils will be lurking on the periphery.
To date, not many teams have shown a whole lot of interest in Hamilton, and even fewer are viable landing spots.
After purging some of their gigantic contracts last summer, the Boston Red Sox have come up in speculation, but do they want to go that route again? They also just signed Jonny Gomes to a two-year deal.
The Seattle Mariners just moved in their fences and would love to add a slugger of Hamilton's caliber, but probably can't afford him unless his price falls drastically. The Baltimore Orioles are another underdog looking to bring Hamilton aboard, but Buster Olney of ESPN reports that they're not expected to be "particularly aggressive" in pursuing him.
Other teams will get involved, but the Phillies could throw a ton of money at Hamilton on a shorter contract (three or four years) and theoretically be the best option for him.
The Phillies are so desperate for a third baseman that it seems they've been linked to every capable warm body this offseason. On some levels, Jeff Keppinger makes a bit of sense for the Phils. On most other levels, he is Kevin Frandsen.
Let me explain.
Keppinger is a solid contact hitter. He is a career .288 hitter with little power, but the flexibility to play three different infield positions, including third base. That makes him valuable as a utility man. He also handles left-handed pitching with ease, making him a solid platoon player.
Now, take most of those attributes and apply them to Frandsen, who recently agreed to a one-year deal with the Phils, avoiding arbitration. Same kind of player.
If the Phillies really feel as though this is the direction they are going in at third base, I expect them to leave Keppinger to his own devices and ride Frandsen's bat.
The Phillies need to fill their void of an eighth-inning setup man, and Ryan Madson, who has excelled in that role in the past, would certainly help. But questions continue to linger about Madson's interest in joining the Phillies after last offseason's fallout.
Rightfully so, Madson also has an eye on closing this season in an attempt to rebuild his value, and while pitching out of the bullpen may not be a deal breaker, it certainly isn't a preference.
If the Phillies do want to sign Madson, one team they'll be competing with is the Los Angeles Angels, and things seem to be heating up out West.
Doesn't look like Ryan Madson will be a Phillie. Hear things are hot with Angels. #Philliestalk
— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyCSN) November 25, 2012
Madson to the Phillies is fiction right now.
In the Phillies' search for a centerfielder, it is apparent that they are looking for a dynamic, game-changing type of talent. While speculation is abound that Pagan could be a more affordable player of that mold, I don't see it.
Pagan had an excellent season in 2012—one that ended with a World Series title and his price skyrocketing.
But you have to wonder if a team like the Phillies can afford to take a risk on Pagan and give him a multi-year deal coming off of a career year. The 31-year-old outfielder has played three full seasons—two good ones and a mediocre one.
I think the Phillies are looking to add some bang to the lineup as well as an elite defensive centerfielder, and that's also the reason that I believe the rumors surrounding their interest in Pagan to be fiction. They'll wind up with one of BJ Upton and Michael Bourn.
The Phillies are going to have some interest in corner outfielders this season, but seeing as how they're still in need of a centerfielder, third baseman and setup man, funds for a corner outfielder may be stretched thin.
Any option that the Phillies target is going to have to be affordable, and Cody Ross is affordable. He may not get the three-year deal that he set out looking for, but Ross should have no problem landing a two-year deal that pays him $16-20 million.
And while the Phillies will have interest in Ross at that price range, I believe that they will ultimately pass. They're not operating on an unlimited budget and, at the very least, can build a solid platoon out of Darin Ruf, Nate Schierholtz, John Mayberry, Jr. and Laynce Nix.
This one is barely fact.
In theory, Marco Scutaro fits the Phillies' needs. In reality, the Phillies' needs don't fit Marco Scutaro.
What the Phillies really need is a third baseman. Scutaro is a career middle infielder that would be behind both Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley on the depth chart. He doesn't have the bat to play third base regularly and isn't nearly the defender that Placido Polanco was.
Scutaro, who just won the World Series as the starting second baseman for the San Francisco Giants, isn't going to play second fiddle for the Phillies as a utility man, and for the price, the Phillies can do better at third base.
I don't see the fit here. Fiction.
The Phillies—like every other team in the game—will have some interest in Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton if he is made available. I'm in the small minority that believes that the Phillies can swing a deal for the right fielder.
But he won't come cheap.
If I am the Marlins, any deal with the Phillies has to hit them where it hurts. That's why I'd start by asking them for both Vance Worley and Domonic Brown in any package. Both players are under team control for a long time. In Worley, you have a middle-of-the-rotation starter with upside, and in Brown, you have a former top prospect waiting for a breakout season.
Now, how do you sweeten the deal?
The Marlins could go in one of two directions here. While the Phillies likely won't part with top prospect Jesse Biddle, they would be almost foolish not to move one of their top right-hand prospects—Trevor May and Jonathan Pettibone—if the return was Stanton.
One area that the Phillies do have some depth in is at catcher. Tommy Joseph—acquired in last season's Hunter Pence trade—is their best position prospect in the system (right now). Sebastian Valle is another near-limitless pool of catching talent, especially if he can learn to take a walk. I'd ask for one of them.
But the Phillies prospects with the highest upside are still years away, and that might actually fit the Marlins' plan a bit better. While it would be bittersweet for the Phillies to part with Maikel Franco, he could be the piece that seals the deal. Carlos Tocci is another high-ceiling prospect, but at just 17 years old, he is still a relative unknown.
And that's 283 words to say this: If the Phillies want to pry Stanton out of Miami, it is going to take a lot.
At that point, it's all about weighing risk against reward. If the Phillies were to offer Vance Worley, Domonic Brown, Trevor May, Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco to the Marlins for Stanton, how could they say no?
But if I'm the Phillies and I find myself willing to part with all of that potential, I may reconsider and get the San Diego Padres on the phone to talk about Chase Headley. Maybe I could save a few players.
Can Nick Swisher play center field? I didn't think so.
That's not a knock against Swisher, but more along the lines that the Phillies have three big holes to fill on their roster, and "corner outfielder" isn't one of them.
In that light, Swisher is going to be one of the most sought after bats on the market once the big domino (Josh Hamilton) falls. Teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners—clubs who love Hamilton but can't necessarily afford him—will be drooling all over the thought of adding Swisher.
Is there a way he ends up with the Phillies? Sure. Maybe both BJ Upton and Michael Bourn sign elsewhere and the Phils decide to reallocate those funds into two different positions—an inexpensive centerfielder (Shane Victorino?) and a guy like Swisher.
But I don't see that happening. The Phillies will end up with one of the market's prizes, and that's not Swisher.
Part of me wants to call this "fiction" because the Phillies never seem to be in the mix for under-the-radar guys like Koji Uehara, but he would fit their eighth-inning bullpen role perfectly.
Uehara was absolutely dominant for the Texas Rangers last season, and the Phillies are looking for a right-handed reliever who could add some reliability in the later innings. Along with the left-handed Antonio Bastardo, Uehara would give the Phillies a dynamic setup tandem ahead of closer Jonathan Papelbon.
He may not be Ryan Madson or Joakim Soria, but Uehara could be the best setup man on the market.
At this point in the offseason, there isn't much doubt remaining that BJ Upton is the Phillies' top target, and with good reason.
Upton is 28 years old. He is a right-handed bat with some pop that would help change the dynamic—or at least the look—of the top of their order. He could step right in and be one of the best base runners on the club, and watching him hit between Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley would be exciting.
With a guy like Upton, however, it's all about price. Any team that takes a chance on him is paying for his future potential—something that he's shown a lot of, but much less in the way of results.
He'll likely command a five-year deal—at the least—and a salary that ranges anywhere from $13-16 million a season. Is Upton worth a five-year deal at $65-80 million? How about a six-year deal worth anywhere from $78-96 million?
With the Atlanta Braves also giddy about the prospect of signing Upton, this one could become a small bidding war.
It seems like the Phillies want to give the top of their lineup a new look, and it is hard to do that by bringing in a familiar face, but all things considered, Shane Victorino is about as solid a Plan B as you can plan for.
The Phillies dealt their longtime centerfielder to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline, and there have been no indications from either side that a reunion is impossible.
While the Phillies seem focused on new targets like Michael Bourn and BJ Upton, Victorino would be a nice fall back option (and a cheaper one) should they sign elsewhere. That could also allow the Phillies to pursue a corner outfielder like Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher.
But only if the price is right.
Without a doubt, teams are going to be wary about Kevin Youkilis' 2012 season, where he declined significantly in nearly every offensive category. Some teams won't have interest in him for that reason alone.
Other teams are desperate for a third baseman and willing to take a look. They'll hope that he was unlucky both on the field (.268 BABip in 2012 vs. .322 BABip career) and off of it, caught up in the drama that was the Boston Red Sox.
So while a one-year deal is preferable, teams will take a chance on Youkilis as a short-term option on a two-year deal provided that the price is right.