Happy New Year to one and all, and with that comes the latest update of Philadelphia Phillies rumors over this 2013-14 offseason.
With just over a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, one might presume that the offseason is winding down for the majority of Major League Baseball. However, thanks in large part to Japanese-posted right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, the polar opposite is true.
At a time when the amount of high-profile free agents remaining usually would be countable on one hand, free agents—especially starting pitchers—still abound.
Even though free agency still has a long way to go, there aren't too many rumors out there involving the Phillies. Over the last two weeks, the Phillies have really been connected to three players, and one of those names became known in the infancy of this new year.
The big question burning on the minds of Phillies fans is this: Is the current roster what general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Co. plan on going with come Opening Day, or is another move—even a low-profile move at that—in store?
While that answer is never known for sure, we'll do our best to clear up the situation. Here are the latest rumors around baseball involving the Phillies. We'll either buy or sell on them, depending on the viability of them happening.
Let's get to it.
Rumor: On December 24, CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury reported that the Phillies and reliever Ryan Madson have mutual interest in a potential contract.
Flash back to the 2011 season. Oft-injured Brad Lidge was the Phillies closer, and once again, injuries ravaged his season. Jose Contreras stepped in to fill the void, but he hurt himself by the end of April. Then came Madson, the next-best option. Madson had proven himself as an elite setup man, but did he have the goods to be an effective closer?
In limited save-opportunity action prior, Madson had been largely unsuccessful. However, he quickly came into his own, and by season's end, Madson had racked up 32 saves, a 2.37 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. As an impending free agent, Madson had done well to position himself for what would be a free-agent market heavy with closers.
By now, what happened next is somewhat infamous amongst Phillies fans. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and Madson's agent, Scott Boras, had allegedly agreed to a four-year deal that would have paid Madson $44 million in guaranteed salary, but within days, Amaro claimed that no agreement was in place. He instead turned his attention to Jonathan Papelbon, formerly of the Red Sox, and made him the highest-paid reliever in MLB history with a four-year, $50 million contract.
This was the only the beginning for Madson. After signing with the Cincinnati Reds on a one-year, $8 million deal late in the offseason, Madson tore his UCL in spring training, requiring Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2012, and after signing another one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last offseason, setback after setback resulted in yet another lost season. Madson has not pitched in the majors since he was a Phillie in 2011.
With nothing to lose and a familiarity with the Phillies front office and staff, Madson could very well be a fit on a minor league deal in Philadelphia. Given that the Phillies lack extensive experience in their bullpen, a healthy Madson could be worth a shot. At worst, he's a good mentor for the younger relievers. This one could happen, and it may happen sooner than later.
Buy or Sell: Buy
Rumor: According to Justin Klugh of Philly.com, the Phillies will likely "take a flyer" on Japanese ace starter Masahiro Tanaka, but probably won't do much more than that.
In terms of ability, the Japanese ace is leaps and bounds better than Daisuke Matsuzaka, but not quite at Yu Darvish's level. In terms of money, though, Tanaka could make more than Dice-K and Darvish's contracts combined.
With an amended NPB posting process taking shape this offseason, all a major league team has to do is bid a maximum (and likely prerequisite) $20 million to negotiate with Tanaka. No more are the days of an anonymous 30-day posting window with a winner announced at the end. Under the new system, all posting bids to discuss a contract with a Japanese player are made over the course of 30 days, and by the end of that period, the player will either have agreed to a contract with one of the posting teams, or he will return to Japan.
In Tanaka's case, the signing window ends on January 24, which still provides ample time for a team to place a bid. But will the Phillies be serious contenders for Tanaka's services? Both Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe and Joel Sherman of the New York Post listed the Phillies as an interested party, but neither went much further.
The Phillies certainly could use Tanaka, as their rotation currently lacks reliable right-handed options. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez could be good, but until he takes his place on a major league mound, speculating upon his potential success is a crapshoot. Add in Kyle Kendrick, who is an annual crapshoot himself, and you have the bulk of the Phillies' rotation righties.
Not too encouraging, is it?
Realizing this makes Tanaka that much more appealing, but it doesn't come without its problems. He's going to cost teams a pretty penny, possibly as much as $17 million per season, which USA Today's Bob Nightengale tweeted back on December 27.
The fit is there, but the question remains: Will the Phillies pony up the cash it takes to get into the thick of the Tanaka sweepstakes? Probably not, though their now-finalized new TV deal should give them enough money to jump in if they want to, according to Philly.com's David Murphy. Will the Phillies do more than "take a flyer" on him?
Again, probably not. We're buying this report until further notice.
Buy or Sell: Buy (that the Phillies will NOT be final contenders for Tanaka)
Rumor: National baseball reporter Peter Gammons recently wrote on his website GammonsDaily.com that the Phillies have "made a run" at New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner at some point this offseason.
It's not surprising that the Phillies are interested in an outfielder such as Gardner. He's got speed, hits for decent average, gets on base and is an outstanding defender in the outfield, especially in center.
What is surprising about the Phillies' interest in Gardner is the fact that he's going to be a free agent after 2014. Even though Gardner is only 30 years old, his impending free agency would, in theory, turn off a team like the Phillies, which can't afford to trade prospects for a player who may not be in the fold for very long.
On a separate note, it's noteworthy that Amaro considered acquiring a center fielder even with Ben Revere already in tow. It could signal that Amaro lacks faith in Revere coming off his fractured foot, or more significantly, that he's not done in this quiet Phillies offseason.
But in comparing Gardner with Revere, there aren't many differences between the two. Gardner's arm and glove are better, but both are speedy offensive leadoff types and plus defenders. There is an advantage for Gardner in that he gets on base at a higher clip than does Revere, but past that, the differences are slight at best.
Revere's not bad enough that Gardner would be a significant upgrade, unless someone like Domonic Brown is imminently on his way out and the Phillies needed an adept replacement.
Let's put it this way: Could the Phillies be interested? Sure. He's probably a better leadoff type than Revere, though unless he's extended upon the completion of a trade, it's not worth it for the Phillies to consider a Gardner deal.
This kind of report isn't shocking, though it is surprising. But the chances that a Gardner deal involving Philadelphia occurs are slim to none. We're buying that a trade was discussed, but we're selling a trade as the outcome all the way.
Buy or Sell: Sell