If this offseason has taught us anything, it's that baseball is unpredictable.
From the moment the regular season ended, the Philadelphia Phillies had a clear set of needs. In the post-Shane Victorino era, they needed a center fielder and were favorites to land a free agent from among names like Michael Bourn, Angel Pagan and Josh Hamilton.
Instead, the Phillies refused to overpay for a big name free agent and waited the market out, finally striking an eleventh hour trade with the Minnesota Twins to acquire outfielder Ben Revere in exchange for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May.
With their center field situation solved (and for cheap), the Phillies then turned their attention to adding a setup man, an affordable starting pitcher, a third baseman and a corner outfielder. While Michael Young appears to be in the Phillies' future, this is a club that still has some work to do.
Now that the Phillies have a few dollars to spend, the rumor mill is churning in full force once again. Who are some of the players that could legitimately wind up in Philadelphia? Which rumors are completely fabricated? Only one way to find out.
The Phillies have been trying to fill their void of an eighth inning setup man all winter long and almost had a deal with the Houston Astros to acquire Wilton Lopez before balking at his medical history.
Another guy with a stacked medical file is Mike Adams, but the Phillies have a considerable amount of interest in the right-handed reliever, and with good reason—when healthy, he is one of the best setup men around.
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 7, 2012
Adams, 34, underwent a procedure to treat the symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome earlier this offseason and should be ready for the start of the season. For the Phillies, this one will come down to risk versus reward.
Adams will likely receive a multi-year commitment. Can the Phillies afford to pay millions of dollars for setup man with an injury risk? I'm not so sure.
The Cleveland Indians have been shopping Shin-Soo Choo extensively this winter, but haven't found a suitable return just yet. A big reason for that is the fact that some of the market's big bats, like Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher, haven't signed yet.
If both of those guys go off the board, it isn't hard to imagine the Phillies calling about Choo. As a left-handed bat who struggles against left-handed pitching, he isn't an ideal option by any means, but Choo is coming off of a down year and could provide some power to the middle of a club's order.
If the Indians are willing to lower their demands once the offseason progresses, the Phillies will have interest. Choo is a Boras client with one year remaining on his contract, so he should not be incredibly expensive in terms of prospects.
After trading Vance Worley to the Minnesota Twins as part of the package for Ben Revere, the Phillies suddenly find themselves in need of a back of the rotation starting pitcher, and Ryan Dempster is a bit more than that.
The problem with filling this role is going to be money. The Phillies are going to spend most of their available funds adding a quality power bat for the outfield and a setup man. Whatever is left could be used to add some starting pitching depth.
Dempster is a guy who would fit nicely for the Phillies. He is a groundball machine that—despite his age—is one of the safer bets left on the starting pitching markets. At the end of the day, however, he'll be too expensive for the Phillies' taste.
Chone Figgins is the kind of under the radar option that Ruben Amaro Jr. has explored over the last couple of seasons, and truth be told, he could be a solid addition for the Phillies.
With the Seattle Mariners paying him just to go away, the Phillies could easily offer him a no strings attached, minor league deal just to see if a change of scenery is going to do him any good in spring training.
If he's fried, you cut him loose. If it looks like there is still something left in the tank, you have yourself a solid bench player who can play an average defense at a couple of different positions or minor league depth.
How desperate were the Phillies to find a center fielder before they acquired Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins? According to Jayson Stark of ESPN, they asked the Los Angeles Dodgers about speedy shortstop Dee Gordon.
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) December 7, 2012
2012 wasn't a good year for Gordon. He battled with injuries and was just flat out bad when he was on the field. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances last season, Gordon's -1.1 WAR was the sixth worst in all of baseball.
Now, most scouts believe that he is playing out of position. With Jimmy Rollins playing at short, the Phillies' interest was most likely as a potential center field option. If Gordon packs on some muscle, I could see him playing center field for some club.
At this point, however, it is hard to envision him as an everyday player for anyone.
With the New York Yankees desperately trying to get under the luxury tax threshold, people have speculated that they could entertain offers for expensive center fielder Curtis Granderson. The Phillies shouldn't be interested.
While Granderson would bring some power to the middle of the order, he played miserable defense last season and was abysmal against left-handed pitching. One thing that the Phillies just can't afford is to let left-handed specialists run wild on the middle of an order that would feature Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Granderson.
You also have to consider the price. While the Yankees would likely eat a considerable amount of Granderson's deal, this sounds more like a contingency plan in the even that they sign an expensive bat, and they haven't done that yet.
The Phillies are the kind of club that loves to pursue their free agents in stealth mode. Just thinking back over the last few seasons, a pair of names come to mind to illustrate that: Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon.
The pursuit of Lee is one that people will remember for a long time. The Phillies jumped in at the eleventh hour to steal him away from the Texas Rangers or New York Yankees.
With Papelbon, the Phillies used the shroud of a near-agreement with Ryan Madson to stealthily sign a contract with former Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon.
And those are just a pair of instances. Could the Phillies be flying under the radar once again in a pursuit of Josh Hamilton? My gut feeling is "yes," and apparently, I'm not alone.
Source believes Phillies still primed to do something "big." Anything from pursuing Hamilton to a late Greinke run to trade for outfielder.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 8, 2012
Now that Zack Greinke is a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies are obviously out of that race, but he never made much sense sense for the Phils anyway.
Hamilton makes more sense. Ruben Amaro Jr. has been bargain shopping all winter with savvy additions like Ben Revere and Michael Young. Now he needs to make a splash to create some runs for his expensive pitching staff.
I think they wind up with Hamilton. It makes a ton of sense.
There have been rumors that the Milwaukee Brewers could show interest in trading Corey Hart, and you have to imagine that if they made him available, the Phillies would certainly give the Brewers a call.
#brewers will listen on corey hart, but one issue is limited no-trade that includes 15 of 29 teams. wants spring in AZ
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 6, 2012
Assuming he could still play right field and the limited no-trade clause can be negotiated, Hart is a guy that would fit nicely into the middle of the order. He is a powerful, right-handed bat with a year remaining on his contract that wouldn't cost the Phillies a ton—likely, a decent pitching prospect.
I expect them to show some interest.
After trading Vance Worley to the Minnesota Twins, the Phillies are in the market for a back of the rotation starting pitcher and Edwin Jackson could be a name to watch.
Jackson, 29, spent the 2012 season as a member of the Washington Nationals rotation, winning 10 games for the National League East champions. Spotty control has been the bane of Jackson's career to date—an issue that several teams have tried to tackle with various levels of success.
But even at 29, it is the raw talent that keeps teams coming back. Jackson has been very durable throughout his career, which should land him a multi-year deal this winter. He has a wide repertoire that consists of three variations of the fastball (four-seam, two-seam and cutter) as well as three different off-speed pitches (slider, curveball and changeup).
He could be a solid, back of the rotation option for the Phillies.
The Phillies still need a big bat to plug into the middle of their order and those cost quite a bit of money. So, with limited funds to spend on the starting rotation, many people expect the Phillies to go bargain shopping and John Lannan is a quality, buy-low option.
Lannan, 27, may sign with the Phillies just so he never has to pitching against them again. He is 3-13 with a 5.53 ERA against the Phillies for his career. He fell out of favor with the Nationals last season and was non-tendered this offseason.
Statistically speaking, Lannan is pretty much a left-handed Kyle Kendrick. He posts low strikeout rates, a walk rate that needs to improve and an ERA in the four - 4.50 range. If he's cheap enough, he could be a solid option for the Phils, but I expect them to look for a bit more quality.
I want to call this fiction, but some team is probably going to overpay for Kyle Lohse, who posted pretty peripheral statistics like a 16-3 record and a 2.83 ERA.
Beyond the traditional statistics, there is cause for concern. Lohse's .262 BABip in 2012 suggests that he had some luck on balls that were put into play (career .297 BABip). His strikeouts were up and walks were down, but that appears to be an aberration.
But Lohse has won 30 games for the St. Louis Cardinals over the last two seasons and he is going to want to be paid as a top of the rotation starting pitcher. Given the state of the free agent market, some team is probably going to make him happy.
The Phillies need a starting pitcher and have some familiarity with Lohse. If they can get him on a contract that suggests he is a middle of the rotation pitcher, then there could be some common ground.
As the purge of the Houston Astros continues, one player that I personally expect the Phillies to express some interest in is right-handed starting pitcher Bud Norris. The Astros are expected to make him available now that Zack Greinke has signed and the Phillies and Astros have had extensive trade talks (re: Wilton Lopez) this offseason.
Teams are calling on Bud Norris, and the Astros are listening. Much of the interest depends on the cascade effect from Greinke signing.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 4, 2012
What kind of prospects would the Astros be interested in for a guy like Norris? Much of the speculation surrounding the proposed Lopez deal was the inclusion of Phillies catcher Sebastian Valle. There could be a common framework there.
Norris, 27, is under team control through 2015 and has a considerable amount of upside. His fastball sits comfortably in the low 90s and he expanded his repertoire to include a cutter and a two-seamer in 2012, to go along with his slider and changeup.
Norris could be another "buy low" option for the Phillies and Ruben Amaro Jr., who has made a number of savvy moves this winter.
By the time the winter meetings had ended, the Phillies' wishlist had changed quite a bit. They had added their center fielder in Ben Revere, but it cost them a starting pitcher in Vance Worley. They also added Michael Young to play third base.
So now, with Christmas rounding into view, the Phillies needs look something like this: a setup man, a power hitting corner outfielder, a starting pitcher and a partridge in a pear tree. And the partridge in a pear tree may be the simplest item to check off the list.
If the Phillies can't spend a ton of money on a corner outfielder, Cody Ross is a guy that could fit their plans. Ross mashed left-handed pitching last season, but didn't fare so well against right-handed pitchers.
If he's cheap enough, Ross would help the Phillies, but you have to imagine they'll explore getting more of an impact bat.
Anibal Sanchez is kind of a "throw-in" for this list because I've seen his name tossed around quite a bit in Phillies circles. The basis of my "fiction" argument against him is that he opened the offseason asking for $90 million over six years.
The Phillies do need a starting pitcher and Sanchez has plenty of familiarity with the National League East, but with other, more pressing needs (corner outfield, setup man) and teams more desperate for top of the rotation starting pitching, I just can't see the Phillies and Sanchez being a fit.
Ichiro Suzuki made some sense to me before the Phillies went out and traded for Ben Revere, but only because I thought they were a bit more desperate than they actually appeared to be. I had seen the idea of playing Ichiro in center field and, believe it or not, that sounded like a good idea.
That was the kind of creative, out of the box thinking that the Phillies were going to need to fill their center field gap, but with Revere aboard, there is less of a fit for a guy like Ichiro.
He was a gamble; another left-handed bat who surely looked to be in decline before he started playing his home games at Yankee Stadium. It was a gamble I would have taken, but Revere is the safer bet.
Fiction (for now).
Despite the obvious fit, there hasn't been much traction between the Phillies and free agent outfielder Nick Swisher, and a lot of people are having trouble figuring out why they haven't been more closely linked.
One possible explanation is that Swisher's wife, actress Joanna Garcia, prefers to live in the New York or California markets. The New York Mets and New York Yankees don't appear to be fits for Swisher, and the San Francisco Giants just added a ton of payroll in Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.
It should be noted that the free agent outfielder was born in Ohio and went to college in West Virginia, and that the Cleveland Indians have been one of his most aggressive pursuers. But the Indians aren't particularly close to competing and Swisher may only have interest in playing for a contender.
The Phillies may actually be the greatest fit. They have the money. They have the need. So if there hasn't been much chatter between Swisher and the Phillies, who do you think isn't showing the interest?
If Swisher's market dries up, he may come calling the Phils.
There is not a doubt in my mind that the Phillies would love to make a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks to bring Justin Upton to Philadelphia, but they just don't have the pieces to make this trade happen, especially if the Texas Rangers are involved.
The real problem here, at least for the Phillies, is that the D'backs don't have to trade Upton. In moving him, they're looking for a top shortstop prospect who is ready to step in at the MLB level and a number of other prospects, including pitching and a third baseman.
Realistically speaking, the Phillies don't have the prospects it would take to make this deal. Their best bargaining chip at this point is probably Cliff Lee, and they're not moving him.
If the Rangers are still involved with Upton, they have the top notch prospects. He'd be theirs to lose.
Speculation has been running rampant that the Phillies tried to convince the Minnesota Twins to part with outfielder Josh Willingham in a larger version of the trade that sent Ben Revere to Philadelphia, but obviously, that transaction never went through.
From a Twins' perspective, they got the pitching that they wanted (Vance Worley and Trevor May) in the Revere deal and probably didn't see much of a reason to trade one of their few remaining, MLB-ready outfielders.
But the Phillies would love to get their hands on a guy like Willingham. He has an affordable, short-term contract and would fit perfectly into their lineup as the right-handed power bat.
I wouldn't write this one off yet, but it's a long shot.