Any time you put baseball's most prominent front office executives, owners, agents and free agents under the same roof, you can expect a storm of rumors—some believable, some not so much—to be tossed about the Internet like a rag doll.
Welcome to Major League Baseball's winter meetings.
The Philadelphia Phillies arrived in Nashville, Tennessee this week—site of baseball's winter meetings—with not a single need scratched off of their to-do list. Normally, that would be troublesome, but this is a deep free-agent market as far as they are concerned.
With Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan, Josh Hamilton and Shane Victorino still on the market, the Phillies are confident they can find a center fielder. Could Kevin Youkilis play third base? Will the Phillies find their setup man on the open market or attempt to swing another trade?
These are all questions that could be answered this week, so with that in mind, what better time to update you on the "fact or fiction" of all the latest rumors surrounding the Phillies?
I'm calling this "fact" because Peter Bourjos is probably the best trade option available for the Phillies right now, but there isn't much indication of any traction between the Phils and Los Angeles Angels on a possible trade, given that the Halos plan to use Bourjos as an everyday player.
Injuries and inconsistent playing time really took their toll on the speedy center fielder last season, but when Bourjos is on the field, he has all of the tools to be a pretty good player. He can be an above-average defender and solid contact hitter with good on-base skills. He also has the speed to steal quite a few bases.
I would be surprised if the Phillies and Angels don't talk about Bourjos pretty extensively. Even after trading Jordan Walden and acquiring Tommy Hanson, you have to figure that the Angels would be interested in some of the Phillies' available pitchers, both starters and relievers.
Could the Phillies pry Bourjos out of Los Angeles for a package that included Vance Worley and/or a top reliever (Phillippe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, etc.)?
As the options begin to dwindle in center field, it would be foolish to cross any center fielder of note off the Phillies' wishlist.
Michael Bourn isn't the ideal fit for the Phils, but if they don't overpay for him by a ton, he could be an excellent signing. One of the most undervalued aspects of the game is speed and defense, and Bourn is among the best in both of those areas.
Is he a fit for the Phillies? Sure—especially if they are going to get him at a bargain rate. Scott Boras has a tendency to make general managers nervous with his hard line stance, but the Phillies are one of Bourn's best suitors remaining, if not the best.
Bourn can be a great fit for the Phillies if they get him at a good rate. They would probably like to add some power from a different player as well.
Chone Figgins on a minor league deal could be one of the best things the Phillies do this offseason.
Admittedly, I haven't had much of an opportunity to watch Figgins as a member of the Seattle Mariners, outside of the low-lights that seemed to make it on to national television with a bit too much frequency.
Looking at the numbers though, you have to imagine that there is substantial room for improvement for a guy like Figgins. While he is 34 years old, Figgins is a switch-hitter who hasn't posted a BABip above .237 since 2010 (career .326 BABip) who can play multiple positions.
On a non-guaranteed deal, he could be the Phillies' next Juan Pierre—the difference being he can play third base and the outfield and do so capably.
Dexter Fowler isn't the worst option for the Phillies in center field on the trade market, but he is far from being the best option as well. For a detailed explanation on why this is the case, I strongly suggest you check out this excellent piece from Bill Baer and Crashburn Alley.
The big concern about Fowler is his drastic home and road split from the 2012 season, and in that article, Baer explains why it is more than just being more successful in the hitter-friendly Coors Field and unsuccessful on the road.
The Colorado Rockies would also be asking for quite a bit from the Phillies. Any deal for Fowler would likely involve Vance Worley and one of the Phillies' top right-handed starting pitching prospects (Trevor May, Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin).
The price is probably too steep for them right now, but they are definitely interested. This is a fact.
The two best fits for the Phillies in center field, BJ Upton and Angel Pagan, have already signed with other teams. Now, the Phils are going to have to get creative to fill their outfield void.
Josh Hamilton is not the answer in center field. His defensive metrics are abysmal from last season and any team that signs him is going to want to keep him healthy. Playing one of the corners, especially in Citizens Bank Park, would keep him healthier.
And that's the big tease. I think that the best option for the Phillies now is to target an above-average to elite defensive center fielder that can cover a lot of ground for cheap and throw a ton of money at Hamilton on a short-ish (four to five years) deal.
How do you get that cheap, defensive-minded center fielder? There are a few options on this list, but more likely than not, and despite the Phillies' wishes, they'll likely have to come in a trade.
He may be a long shot at this point, but Hamilton could actually be the best bet for the Phillies this winter.
Now that the Phillies' options are shrinking in the free-agent market for center fielders, the club could look to get a bit more creative as they attempt to fill a couple of voids in the outfield. One potential idea is to take the 2012 Oakland Athletics approach and fill multiple positions with platoons.
While Cody Ross could likely stand alone as an everyday player, he is much better suited to play as the right-handed half of a corner outfielder platoon. Check out his splits from the 2012 season.
Could Ross play everyday? Sure. But if the Phillies really want to get creative—and they may need to before all is said and done—he could be one hell of a platoon guy if he buys into the role. The Phillies could pair him with Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix or a free agent.
Another fact, which probably says more about the Phillies' desperate search for an outfielder than the quality of rumors for this week.
In a lot of ways, Alfonso Soriano is the kind of hitter that fills a few needs for the Phillies. He is a right-handed hitter with some power that would slide nicely into the fifth spot of their order. He's been a butcher defensively in recent seasons, but you have to imagine that left field in Citizens Bank Park is much easier to play than any outfield position in Wrigley Field.
I'm sure the Phillies have plenty of interest in Soriano, but the reality is that they're not going to acquire him unless the Cubs are practically giving him away—something that I wouldn't put past Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and company at this point.
With two years and $36 million remaining on his contract, the Cubs would have to eat most of his salary and take back a mid-level prospect for the Phillies to even consider this kind of deal.
I haven't seen anything to confirm my speculation, but I would assume that the most comfortable deal for the Phillies is one that sees them paying $10-13 million of Soriano's salary and sending a relief pitcher they don't have big plans for in the future back to the Cubs.
Is that realistic? Who knows.
But I think it's a long shot.
I'm sure that the Phillies like Nick Swisher quite a bit because he could certainly help them offensively, however, a lot of teams with more money to spend on a corner outfielder and a bigger need feel the same way about him.
Swisher is kind of like the poor man's Josh Hamilton of this market. He isn't going to cost as much, but whatever team signs him will get a nice little boost in the middle of the order. He is a solid defender that is going to help out a contender.
Will that contender be the Phillies? It could happen, but I think that they'll focus on other options first.
Ichiro Suzuki is an interesting fit for the Phillies, but personally, I haven't decided whether or not that's a good kind of interesting or not just yet.
His 2012 season can be broken down into two parts. With the Seattle Mariners, he looked like an aging veteran on a bad team—at the end of his rope with no shot at the World Series. The trade to the New York Yankees seemed to rejuvenate him, and the numbers reflect that.
Ichiro was a great pickup for the Yankees down the stretch last season and he could help the Phillies in 2013, but how he could help isn't exactly clear. From a platoon perspective, he is a left-handed batter that walked more and struck out more against right-handed pitching than he did against lefties.
While the batting averages are similar (.284 vs. LHP, .283 vs. RHP), Ichiro reached base at a higher clip (.291 OBP vs. LHP, .316 OBP vs. RHP) and hit for more power (.358 SLG vs. LHP, .408 SLG vs. RHP) against right-handed pitching.
He could be part of an interesting platoon with a guy like Cody Ross, or in-house options like John Mayberry Jr. and Darin Ruf, but would have to come cheap.
I considered calling this "fiction" because I really don't see how the two sides match up, but Justin Upton is definitely everything that the Phillies have been dreaming for in a right fielder.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been shopping Upton for what seems like an eternity, but to date, have yet to pull the trigger on a deal. With rumors swirling (and then promptly shot down) that they had been in contact with the Phillies about Cliff Lee, is this a possibility?
Maybe it's not even Lee that's moving. Maybe the Phillies are sending the D'backs a package of top positional prospects. Then again, the Phillies don't have many of those anyway. Maybe they're talking about different players all together.
I see one thing as being certain—Upton is the right-handed power bat that the Phillies find themselves drooling over. If he is within their reach, they'll acquire him.
Kevin Youkilis is a shell of his former self and yet that shell is still better than what the Phillies have in-house as options at third base.
The market, to date, has been pretty quiet for Youkilis with the Phillies and Chicago White Sox garnering the most attention. Youkilis would bring a different kind of approach to the Phillies with a little more patience and would obviously address their need for a right-handed power bat.
The key to any deal with Youkilis is going to be about getting him at the right price. Since it looks as though the San Diego Padres will hang on to Chase Headley and the market for third baseman is bleak both this year and next, I would have no problem giving Youkilis a deal in the two-year, $12-16 million range.
Any more is a gamble.
This rumor comes up every winter and never happens. It's the same old song and dance at this point.
Why does it continue to come up? Well, that's simple. The Phillies are in desperate need of a third baseman and the Texas Rangers, with Adrian Beltre firmly cemented at third, have a super utility guy that used to play third in Michael Young to spare.
It's a natural fit on the speculation front. Young could come over to the Phillies, get nice and comfortable in an everyday role and see a nice little rebound in his numbers.
I just don't think that's going to happen. At this stage of his career, Young is a bad defensive third baseman with little range whose offensive numbers took a big tumble last season and don't show many signs of future improvement.
Could a deal still happen? Yes. I'm not calling it an impossibility—just a long shot (and a bad fit for the Phillies). For the sides to swing a deal, Texas would have to be willing to eat most of the $16 million remaining to Young and take back a no-name, fringe prospect from the Phillies.
For what it's worth, however, Bill James does project Young to hit .294/.343 /.416 with 13 home runs next season, which would obviously help the Phils. I doubt that happens though.