Even though baseball's 2013 winter meetings may be nearing their conclusion, there's still time for both players and teams to strike deals with one another. Many of the offseason's top free agents, including Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, are now off the table, but plenty of other options remain.
The starting pitching market is especially abundant for this time of year, and most of the blame goes to Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka is highly regarded by many as the top (potentially) available starter this offseason, but with new provisions soon to be enacted regarding Nippon Professional Baseball's posting system, Tanaka's team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, may be hesitant to post their ace.
Consequently, Tanaka's posting status is up in the air, but whether or not he is posted, the starting pitching market should be taking shape sooner rather than later. Players and teams can only wait so long before standstill talks gain steam. That time lurks in the near future.
For the Philadelphia Phillies, this starting pitching bounty bodes well for them. Considering that the only locks for the rotation are Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, another veteran starting pitcher is needed behind the other two, especially if one of the "silly" rumors, according to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (via the Philadelphia Daily News), regarding their trade availability actually materializes.
Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported that the Phillies are seeking rotation and bullpen help, and while trades are possible, free agency is the likely route. With that in mind, here are five candidates still available on the open market within the Phillies' reach—and resources.
Joaquin Benoit wasn't always a top reliever, but he's transformed himself over the last few years of his career. As a member of the Texas Rangers, Benoit had a 4.79 ERA and 1.42 WHIP over eight seasons. Since then, in one year with the Tampa Bay Rays and three with the Detroit Tigers, Benoit has posted a 2.53 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, resulting in a 164 ERA+.
It doesn't get much better than that.
After becoming a dominant setup man with the Rays in 2010 as a reclamation project, Benoit showed that he was no flash in the pan, continuing the trend with the Tigers. And when Jose Valverde was let go after the 2012 season, Benoit was more of a contingency plan to close than the go-to, yet he pitched as though he had been in the ninth-inning role for years, racking up 24 saves to go with a 2.01 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.
The biggest downside to Benoit, aside from the fact that he's marketing himself as a closer, is that he's 36 years old and seeking a multi-year deal. What's even worse is that he's likely to get one. But if a team like the Phillies can find a way to pay him no more than $5 million a year over two seasons, he'd be a bargain signing.
Benoit has the ability to change a bullpen, though it remains to be seen whether he would thrive in a hitters' environment at Citizens Bank Park after struggling mightily for years in Arlington. It's a signing that would either work out terrifically or terribly.
But if the price is right, the Phillies may have no choice but to take a flier, and Benoit's price range is certainly within reach as long as he doesn't escalate to over $7 million a year at most.
Jesse Crain has long been one of baseball's most underrated setup men. And when he finally earned his dues in 2013, he injured himself for the rest of the season and comes with slight baggage as a questionable free agent.
Crain arguably pitched better than anyone else in the first half of the season, pitching to a 0.74 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. At the time, he was a member of the Chicago White Sox and aptly earned his first All-Star nod. Then, soon after the All-Star break, Crain injured his right shoulder, an injury which would result in his shutdown for the remainder of the season.
Nevertheless, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Crain just before the July 31 trade deadline, though he never threw a pitch for them. Crain's talent level makes him one of the most appealing relievers on the market, though his shoulder injury is bound to scare off teams, possibly including the Phillies.
Is he worth taking a risk on? Again, if the deal isn't exorbitant, it's a possibility. Crain would slot in nicely in the eighth inning before Jonathan Papelbon, assuming he's still around by Opening Day. It'd likely be a one-year deal, though a club option or vesting option could be tacked on to keep Crain around if he stays healthy.
Matt Garza has played for many teams throughout his career: the Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. He's been traded three times in three high-profile deals. Will he finally land with a team on a long-term deal and find some long-term security?
That only comes anymore with a no-trade clause, but that's beside the point. According to a tweet from ESPN's Jayson Stark, Garza could sign within the next day or so. Could the team that signs him be the Phillies?
Quite possibly, yes. Garza is the best remaining starting pitcher without any draft-pick compensation attached to him thanks to his trade to Texas before the July 31 trade deadline. Such impending free agents traded midseason are ineligible to receive qualifying offers from their new teams if acquired after the season starts under the new collective bargaining agreement signed two winters ago.
Garza is a decent right-handed option who shouldn't cost much more than $13-14 million per season over four or five, and depending on how much the Phillies are willing to spend on the rotation, he's a potential fit. He'd slot in as the No. 3 starter behind Lee and Hamels, and he'd probably do quite nicely there. But will the Phillies overpay Garza, a pitcher with a career 3.84 ERA? That remains to be seen.
Is Ubaldo Jimenez a viable option for the Phillies? If this were the 2010-11 offseason and Jimenez were a free agent, then probably not. But times are different now, and thanks to the qualifying offer, Jimenez's market has yet to unfold.
Jimenez famously had a first half for the ages in 2010, but after faltering in 2011 and being traded to the Cleveland Indians at that year's trade deadline, he hasn't been the same pitcher. 2012 was more of the same, and 2013 was expected to continue this declining trend of escalating ERAs—from 4.68 in 2011 to 5.40 in 2012, to be exact.
It's not like Jimenez was spectacular in the first half of the 2013 season, but he was one of the majors' best starters post-All-Star break. It resulted in a season 13-9 record, 3.30 ERA, 194 strikeouts and 1.33 WHIP, all Jimenez's lowest marks since his fairy tale 2010 season. Is this a sign of progress to come, or did Jimenez just have a lucky break?
Many teams hold reservations on Jimenez for this reason, and it has resulted in minimal interest in the soon-to-be 30-year-old. If the Phillies were interested in the righty, it probably wouldn't take all that much to pry him from free agency given the lack of interest, though it would mean the Phillies had to surrender their second-round draft pick next year.
If they deem Jimenez worth that trade-off, he could easily don Phillies pinstripes next year on a three- or four-year deal worth anywhere between $12-15 million per season.
Masahiro Tanaka's placement on this list is no mistake. Granted, his market still has yet to take shape as the new posting system is still not official, but if it's indeed ratified, maximum posting bids will be set at $20 million for any Japanese players, Tanaka included.
This development was much to the Rakuten Golden Eagles' chagrin, Tanaka's current team in the NPB. With the Golden Eagles last year, Tanaka went an astounding 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 183 strikeouts in 212.0 innings. He was well-used, racking up high pitch counts in many of his starts, which concerned many potentially interested MLB teams. However, it's not ultimately expected to deter Tanaka's market.
The $20 million-posting-fee revelation could be a bonus for the Phillies, who are both inclined to spend as little as possible whenever possible yet have a huge TV deal on the horizon. Money from said TV deal could go toward the posting fee, which would give the Phillies either a clear win if they posted $20 million and no one else did, or at least the chance to negotiate with Tanaka if other teams match that amount.
Of course, the amount it would take to sign Tanaka in years and dollars will be high. He could attain as much as $15 million a season for five or six years. But for a 25-year-old who has proven his worth in Japan, Tanaka is as worth it as anyone. And for the Phillies, not having to surrender a draft pick while acquiring young, proven pitching is too good of an opportunity to pass up.