Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Phillies jump-started both their offseason and that of the entire major leagues, striking first to sign outfielder and former Phillie Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract. Byrd, who hit 24 home runs in 2013, is one of the less expensive sources of right-handed power, and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. felt compelled to sign him quickly for that reason.
What Amaro may not have considered as much was that Byrd is 36 years old and is coming off a season that is hard-pressed not to be deemed an anomaly at this point. Given that Byrd was terrible in 2012 and was suspended 50 games for a banned substance, $8 million a year for two seasons—with a third-year option—is a bit excessive, to say the least.
Each free agent has his pros and cons, and it's Amaro's job to judge them before pursing a player extensively. Whether he did that with Byrd is immaterial now, but he can make sure that he does his due diligence before signing any more free agents to major contracts.
With that in mind, here are the pros and cons of five top offseason targets for the Phillies.
Carlos Ruiz has been a Phillie his entire career. He's well-known and incredibly admired by the Phillies pitching staff. Roy Halladay couldn't stop gushing about him after each of his two no-hitters in 2010, including a perfect game on May 29 of that year. He's been a decent hitter throughout his career, putting up a lifetime .274 batting average with a .770 OPS. Not bad by any stretch.
Ruiz is also hailed as one of the game's better defensive catchers and is especially revered for his game-calling skills. Even after a slow start to 2013, Ruiz picked it up in the final month and a half, especially in August, when he batted .333 with a .933 OPS. Ruiz still has something left to offer on both sides of the plate, and even though his market is strong, Ruiz shouldn't be overly expensive this winter.
It's difficult to ignore that Ruiz did have a bad start to 2013. He missed the season's first 25 games due to a suspension for unauthorized Adderall use, and after returning for 16 games, he hit the disabled list for another month with a hamstring ailment. Ruiz caught only 92 games in 2013 and when he was playing, his offense was primarily subpar. Given that he's also soon to be 35 years old, can Ruiz be depended upon to catch enough going forward?
From the Phillies' perspective, it also hurts that Ruiz is seeking a two-year deal, if not one longer than that. MLB.com's Todd Zolecki validated an earlier report that Chooch had received a two-year, $20 million offer by sparking his own speculation that the unknown team who made said offer might have been the Phillies.
In the end, Ruiz might still be the Phillies' best option at catcher, but he'll come with a slightly higher price tag than initially thought.
Matt Garza is one of the better starting pitching free agents this offseason, and what makes him more attractive from a signing perspective is that he doesn't have a qualifying offer attached to his name. Because the Chicago Cubs traded Garza midseason to the Texas Rangers, the Rangers are ineligible to receive draft pick compensation should Garza sign elsewhere.
Even though the Phillies' first-round pick is protected, they would keep their second-round pick or could lose it to sign someone else in addition.
Garza isn't necessarily a model of consistency, but he's been good enough when pitching throughout his career. His three-year stint with the Cubs saw him pitch to a 21-18 record with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP, so Garza's certainly capable of some form of dominance.
Garza missed most of the 2012 season and the first two months of the 2013 season due to some elbow and triceps issues. However, they've healed and are generally thought to be isolated incidents; no damage exists at the locations where Garza had his health issues.
However, Garza's performance throughout his career likely won't justify the contract he will receive. His career ERA is 3.84, and his 2013 was right in line with that at 3.82 between the two teams. Garza's career WHIP is also 1.28, a below-average number, especially for a guy who might make upward of $15 million a season for four or more years.
The Phillies would have to decide what to prioritize here: their draft picks or their current rotation. If they choose the former, Garza is a fit. If it's the latter, they should stay away, plain and simple.
Even with Marlon Byrd signed to a contract with the ink barely dried, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the Phillies aren't out of the Nelson Cruz bidding just yet. Cruz is still arguably the best right-handed power bat, and just because Byrd was signed doesn't mean the Phillies are necessarily done adding such a profile to their lineup.
Cruz has hit at least 22 home runs every year dating back to 2009, and his career .268 batting average and .823 OPS are encouraging as well. While his .495 slugging percentage comprises a majority of his career OPS, Cruz's .327 OBP isn't a terrible number either.
There have been no signs of Cruz slowing down his offense and he should continue to hit home runs for years to come. Citizens Bank Park would be ideal for a hitter like Cruz, and the Phillies' lineup would be ideal for Cruz to be penciled in.
Cruz was connected to the Biogenesis scandal this past year and served a 50-game suspension to round out the 2013 season. Were any of his power numbers inflated by prior potential PED use?
The problem is also Cruz's age and corresponding contract demands. For a 33-year-old, Cruz could make more than $13 million-$14 million a season for as many as three or four years. Considering that Cruz's defense is horrible and his offense depends largely on his power, that's a lot of money to tie up in a guy who's something of an unknown commodity going forward.
Lastly, Cruz has a qualifying offer attached to him, meaning that the Phillies would lose their second-round pick in the 2014 draft if they signed Cruz. Whether Byrd was enough for the Phillies this offseason will become clear when Cruz signs, be it in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
Edward Mujica has had a career renaissance of sorts since his waiver trade to the St. Louis Cardinals in August 2012. His fastball has looked electric and his complementary offerings have been effective. Mujica also thrived in the closer's role for St. Louis for much of the 2013 season, proving that he's capable of handling both the eighth and ninth innings.
With the Cards, Mujica's ERA is 2.27 and his WHIP is 0.97. That's impressive for a reliever who's also only 29 years old, and turns 30 in May. He's as good as they come in terms of setup men, and the Phillies would be foolish not to consider him in light of Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan tweeting that the Phillies are seeking an eighth-inning reliever.
Mujica hasn't been quite this dominant for most of his career. Sure, he's been a good reliever, but 2011—the season just before his trade—was the first of Mujica's career in which his ERA was below 3.00 by the end of the season.
While Mujica had a dominant 2013 in which his ERA was 2.78 at season's end, his September was horrific and it, coupled with some potentially-worrisome shoulder issues, resulted in his being removed from the closer's role in the playoffs.
The dollars may also be in Mujica's favor this offseason, as he could make upward of $7 million a year. When you consider that the aforementioned tweet said the Phillies are willing to give three years to a reliever, that could be another heavy weight on the burden that is the Phillies' payroll.
There's no denying that the Phillies need a dominant setup man, but whether that guy should be Mujica is a different story.
Mark Trumbo is probably the Phillies' most realistic outfield trade target if they were to choose to go that route of acquisition. The Phillies have some young pitching depth to spare, so they and the Los Angeles Angels should match up quite nicely if talks were to ensue.
Trumbo is one of baseball's most powerful hitters from the perspective that he's just got natural, raw power. Now coming off his third full season in the majors, Trumbo has hit 29 home runs in all three years he's been a big leaguer, and he's slugged at least 32 home runs each of the last two seasons.
Trumbo's career batting average of .250 isn't awful and his .768 career OPS is serviceable, to say the least. And while he's not a sterling outfielder on defense, he's not a liability either.
What may be Trumbo's best aspect is his potential cost. He's entering just his first year of arbitration eligibility and shouldn't be overly expensive in the years preceding free agency. For a team like the Phillies that is tightly bound not to surpass the luxury tax threshold, Trumbo would be a perfect candidate.
The Phillies have had enough trouble getting on base in recent years, and Trumbo wouldn't exactly help out with that problem. His career OBP is .299, and it's been above .300 in only one of his three seasons in the major leagues. Trumbo's also coming off a season in which he batted just .234 with a .747 OPS, both of which were by far the lowest of his career in a given season.
Trumbo's home run total did increase in 2013 to 34, but with the only dependable offering being power, is he a fit for the Phillies? Again, it comes down to semantics. If they choose power and cost over anything else, Trumbo is their guy. If they want a hitter who actually hits for consistency, Trumbo is not the guy the Phillies should consider.