Jonathan Papelbon and Kyle Kendrick are on the trading block for a reason, and that reason's name is Nelson Cruz. The Philadelphia Phillies are looking to find wiggle room financially so they can land another high-priced free agent or two.
Early speculation has the Phillies in on Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. With up to $26 million already available to be spent, deals involving Papelbon ($13 million) and Kendrick (projected $7 million) could free up another $20 million so long as the Phillies don't have to consume any portion of Papelbon's remaining deal.
The notion of having close to $46 million available to spend while we head into Major League Baseball's winter meetings is appetizing for Phillies nation. With none of the aforementioned trio of pitchers expected to land a deal worth more than $15 million annually, a $31 million void remains.
Let's suppose the Phillies do end up dealing Papelbon while swallowing $5 million of his annual salary. This would leave the Phillies with $26 million remaining before they encroach upon the luxury tax (after signing one of Garza, Santana or Jimenez, of course).
One major hypothetical question remains. Do the Phillies pursue Nelson Cruz?
Cruz's asking price rests at $25 million per season. He is looking for a four-year deal. Lofty expectations aside, Cruz is also backed into a corner because he rejected a qualifying offer. This means that nearly two-thirds of MLB's organizations will be reluctant to sign Cruz to any deal because they would then lose their first-round selection in the 2014 MLB Draft.
One team that wouldn't lose a pick is the Phillies.
Drafting seventh overall in next year's draft, the Phillies can't lose their first round pick by signing someone who was extended a qualifying offer because it is protected. This gives them a relative advantage over other organizations.
First, the Phillies have the capital to splurge on a riskier free agent like Cruz. Second, the Phillies don't have to worry about losing their pick in next year's draft. Finally, the Phillies are an organization that matches well with Cruz's skill set.
Thanks to declining power from Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, the Phillies are in need of some extra muscle at the plate. They signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal worth $16 million (plus a third-year option) but Byrd can't reasonably be expected to repeat his numbers from last year.
Domonic Brown emerged as a power threat at the plate, but he is a left-handed hitter. As every fan knows, the Phillies need some might from the right side of the plate.
With Carlos Beltran inking a deal with the New York Yankees for $15 million annually, one has to suspect that Cruz's asking price will come down as we tread further into the winter. No organization can logically sign Cruz for $10 million more per season than Beltran received, even if Cruz will be three years younger than Beltran.
While Beltran's deal makes Cruz more signable, many parts must move accordingly for it to work. With the organization tendering John Mayberry, the Phillies will have outfielders tripping over themselves.
Brown, Byrd, Ben Revere and Mayberry plus the addition of Cruz makes for a crowded outfield. Now let's not fool ourselves, we know what the pecking order would be.
Would the Phillies be willing to swallow their pride and realize the acquisition of Revere last winter was a mistake and move him? A lefty with no power in a lineup loaded with power deficient lefties makes no sense. Coming off of an injury makes Revere nearly untradeable though.
Domonic Brown simply cannot be traded. Despite some suggesting his 2013 emergence was a fluke, at 26-years-old, Brown is the only source of power the Phillies have under the age of 30, even if his production slows down moving forward.
The Phillies could look at moving Revere into a bench role and trading Mayberry for whatever they can get. This could open right field for Cruz. This is contingent on the Phillies trusting Byrd in center field. Byrd hasn't started more than 100 games in center since 2011 with the Chicago Cubs though.
Despite sounding like such, Cruz-to-Philadelphia is not blind speculation. The Phillies have been linked to Cruz for some time. The odds of landing him remain pretty slim though. Too many pieces have to be moved in order for a Cruz deal to work.
However, Beltran's deal does make Cruz's $25 million asking price look salty. If one thing is certain, it is that Cruz's asking price will come down somewhat. One thing that is not certain is whether or not the Phillies will dish out the juice to get him.
If the Phillies do sign Cruz, things will have to already have occurred or major changes will loom. First, Papelbon and/or Kendrick will have to have been dealt. Second, the Phillies would have moved or are planning to move Brown, Revere or Mayberry. Finally, the front office has to realize its lack of right-handed hitting power will not suffice in the near-term.
Switch-hitting Rollins, Byrd and Carlos Ruiz are the only projected 2014 starters who hit from the right side of the plate. Howard, Brown, Utley, Revere and Cody Asche all stand in the left batter's box. Something has to change. One change that could boost the Phillies offense would be the signing of Cruz.
As friendly as his asking price might be in the aftermath of the Beltran-to-New York deal, don't expect it to happen. There are too many moving parts involved.
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