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Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB 2020 free agent market

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Super agent Scott Boras again finds himself in the middle of much of the big Hot Stove season action

 

Welcome to the latest episode of the ‘Ring the Bell‘ podcast. For those simply reading this piece at the website, it doubles as the script for today’s episode.

As I discussed in yesterday’s episode which evaluated the Phillies current roster and payroll situations, the ball club has a number of important needs. General manager Matt Klentak will find himself increasingly under the glare of the spotlight as this Hot Stove season moves along and he attempts to fill those needs.

First, let’s take a minute to run down the list of what I see as those Phillies needs this off-season, in order of importance:

  1. Starting pitching
  2. Starting pitching
  3. Center field
  4. Bench
  5. Bullpen
  6. Third base (?)

That was not a typo in listing ‘Starting Pitching’ twice. It is simply that important, first of all. And also, the club needs two new proven winning veteran starting pitchers, at least one of whom should be an “ace” level rotation arm. Now, let’s take a look at who is available on the free agent market.

STARTING PITCHING

There are two big names here, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. They should and will be the Phillies top two targets in free agency. Principal owner John Middleton has made the addition of top-level starting pitching a priority for the team, and is prepared to spend top dollar to secure such an arm.

The problem is not going to be one of either money or will power. The problem for the Phillies will be that they are not the only team in search of this level of pitching talent, not by a long shot.

The world champion and division rival Washington Nationals and their World Series opponents, the Houston Astros, are not simply going to let Strasburg and Cole respectively walk away from their ball clubs without a major effort to retain them.

Also, it is publicly known that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels will be shopping aggressively for this type of arm as well. Speculation is that the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves are among any number of other teams with the desire and money to land one of these top two starting pitchers.

It’s hard to know what is going through Strasburg’s mind. There has been some speculation that opting out of his contract with the Nationals was purely a strategy to get more money from the only organization he has ever known.

The 31-year-old, 10-year veteran was due to make another $100 million over the next four years in Washington. Some have speculated that he could get another $50 million and another year, at least, on the open market.

While it would not be a surprise to see the Nationals and Strasburg announce a new deal at any point, that is far from a given. The longer he hangs out there on the market, the more clubs are going to his agent, Scott Boras, with interest.

Cole is also represented by the Boras Group. The 29-year-old is the biggest name on the free agent market this winter. I expect to see Boras take him on a tour of interested teams and cities, similar to what we saw happen last year with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Don’t expect to see Cole sign with anyone until February.

While the Phillies will be in the mix for both, their money and genuine interest making them legitimate contenders, they should not be considered the favorites for either pitcher. Cole, a native of Newport Beach, is said to be interested in either a return to SoCal or a spot at the top of the Yankees rotation. Strasburg, a San Diego native, may also go the SoCal route if he doesn’t return to D.C.

It is going to be curious to watch the Phillies pursuit of a top arm, because as I said, what the rotation really needs is two more experienced, proven, veteran starting pitchers.

The longer that Cole remains unsigned, and Strasburg as well for that matter, and the longer the Phillies genuinely believe that they are in the mix for one or the other, then it becomes a somewhat dangerous game.

There is a large group of talented starting pitchers just below the talent levels of Cole and Strasburg. Most if not all of those pitchers are going to sign somewhere earlier than at least Cole will be signing. The Phillies are going to have to commit to one of the next level of pitchers by Christmas, possibly even within the next few weeks.

The most obvious target would appear to be 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Turning 36 years of age two days after this coming Christmas, Hamels has already said that he would be open to a return to the club with whom he broke into the big-leagues and first became a star.

Judging by social media, Hamels remains popular with the fan base. And judging by his comments, the feeling is mutual.

MLB Phillies insider Todd Zolecki quoted Hamels earlier this week:

I know Philly is finally trying to make that push. They’re building their roster. If I fit on their roster and their plans, I’d love the opportunity to come back. It’s probably more on their end, though, to reach out and see if I actually do fit in their plans. It would be difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there, can you guys make it happen?’ But I’m always willing to play for that team and city and attempt to win a World Series. That’s where I am right now. I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.

Hamels then went on to say, according to Zolecki, that he would even be willing to play on a one-year contract:

I’m not there to handcuff somebody or an organization…I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play. I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around. Obviously, if the Phillies were interested in longer than one, I’d entertain that, too. But I think I want the opportunity to have as many opportunities to get to the postseason and try to win. I’ll go every year. I’ll prove myself. I don’t mind having my back against the wall. I think I perform better like that anyway. It just keeps me more accountable.

This just seems to make too much sense. Hamels is clearly interested in a return to the Phillies. The fans would love to have him back. He has the talent and experience that the club is looking for, and he has something else going for him – Hamels is left-handed. The club has not had a truly effective southpaw in their rotation since, well, since Hamels left in 2015.

No longer in his prime, this could absolutely work on a one-year deal with a club option for another year or two. The Phillies, as long as all the medicals check out, should waste no time with this decision. Klentak should be on the phone with Hamels agent today.

If they just can’t work something out, or don’t want Hamels for some reason, there are other interesting arms.

Available free agent left-handers include 30-year-old, 4x NL All-Star and former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner…32-year-old, 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel…33-year-old Korean native and 2019 NL All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu…29-year-old, 2017 NL All-Star Alex Wood.

Available right-handers would include 29-year-old, former first round MLB Draft pick Zack Wheeler…31-year-old, 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello…30-year-old, 2019 AL All-Star Jake Odorizzi.

There are a few dozen other possibilities as well. But frankly, anyone other than the pitchers mentioned already would be a disappointing addition.

The Phillies would be wise to take Hamels up on this word, and wrap him up to fill the 3-4 slot in their starting rotation for 2020. Then they can concentrate all of their efforts into trying to land one of the really big fish.

CENTER FIELD

There are a lot of Phillies fans who seem to think that the club is okay here with either Scott Kingery or Adam Haseley. Frankly, if you truly want to be a contending team, I think that is just crazy talk.

Kingery has handled himself admirably out there for someone who is not a natural outfielder. Haseley deserves much credit for rising from Double-A to a regular big-league role last season.

But neither is the answer for a contending Phillies ball club.

Kingery needs to be handed his natural second base position and allowed to play it every single day, barring some situational need or emergency. Haseley would be well served getting more everyday plate appearances at Triple-A or serving a fourth outfielder apprenticeship in 2020.

There has been some chatter on social media about the team bringing back free agent outfielder Corey Dickerson, who excelled with the Phillies following his arrival from Pittsburgh at this past season’s trade deadline.

Yes, Dickerson hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances with the Phillies. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and you have something like a 35 homer, 120+ RBI campaign.

However, the 30-year-old Dickerson is a free agent for the first time. He is going to parlay that performance into a nice, well-deserved payday. And he is, unfortunately, not a center fielder. Just 27 of his 571 big-league games in the outfield have been played in center.

If you are thinking of putting him in left field and having Andrew McCutchen slide over to become the everyday man in center field for the Phillies, you really need to think again.

McCutchen is now 33-years-old and has not played center field regularly in either of his last two seasons. He is coming off major knee surgery as well.

While he can spot-start or slide over temporarily during a situational or emergency need, as he did for 10 starts and 15 total games this past season with the Phillies, he is no longer the player who won a 2012 Gold Glove Award as a center fielder.

Roman Quinn is also not the answer. I love Quinn’s tool set and have been publicly in his corner for a few years now. But even someone who is as big a fan as I am has limits. Quinn has proven that he simply cannot remain healthy long enough to be a reliable starting option.

No, what the Phillies really need is a new center fielder, someone from outside the organization. Unfortunately, there really are not quality options available this year in free agency.

You have a premier defender such as Juan Lagares. There is pure base stealing speed in Billy Hamilton. There is an aging veteran such as 34-year-old, 5x AL All-Star, 4x AL Gold Glove Award winner Adam Jones.

None of those is a realistic option. Jones played just one game in center last year for the Dbacks, and two years ago with Baltimore he was rated as one of the worst regular center fielders in the game defensively by Fangraphs.

Lagares will turn 31-years-old in spring training and has just a .254/.297/.361 career slash line in 2,119 career big-league plate appearances. With a slash of just .242/.297/.326 over 3,089 plate appearances, Hamilton is even worse with a bat in his hands.

There is no answer available in free agency. If the Phillies want to improve in center field, it is going to have to come via trade.

During this past season, I wrote that a worthy trade target could be found in Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He turns 30 years of age early in the 2020 season and can become a free agent after next year.

If I’m Klentak, I’m on the phone looking to see if we can find a reasonable match in trade for the 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and ALCS Most Valuable Player.

THIRD BASE

Don’t count me among those who feel that the Phillies need a third baseman. Again, this is assuming the club does what I think it should do – give second base to Scott Kingery, and cut ties to Maikel Franco by not offering him arbitration.

If I’m running things, top offensive prospect Alec Bohm is starting at third base on Opening Day 2020. I let him know that right now.

When Bohm’s season ends following the conclusion of the Premier 12 tournament, at which he is Team USA’s starter at the hot corner, I tell him to go home and enjoy the holidays. Just keep working out and stay in shape. Don’t report to Clearwater until early February. And be mentally ready for your role as the Phillies starting third baseman.

Now, that’s me. The club could actually go in a number of directions. They could offer a contract to and bring back Franco as the starter, at least to begin the season. Then let him try to hold off Bohm for as long as he can.

Or the club could offer a contract to Cesar Hernandez, cut ties with Franco, give the third base job to Kingery, and fill center field some other way. Once Bohm is deemed ready, they could either slide Kingery back to center if no good option has emerged, or work out some king of position-sharing scheme involving the players. That option seems too messy.

Another option would be to cut ties with Franco and sign a free agent. There are a handful of interesting options if the Phillies try to take this route.

In order of talent, those free agent options would be Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Moustakas.

Rendon will be expensive and would tie up the position for years, meaning that the Phillies would either be banking on the NL getting a DH as soon as the 2021 season, or they would be considering a trade of either Bohm or Rhys Hoskins. I love Rendon as a player, but with Bohm nearly ready, this just doesn’t seem like the right move.

Donaldson just played on a one-year deal with Atlanta at a $23 million salary. He’ll turn 34-years-old a month from today. Perhaps the Phillies could lure him with a similar one-year offer? That would mean Bohm at least starts the season back at Triple-A.

The 31-year-old Moustakas is a bit trickier. He played with Milwaukee this past season at $7 million and received a $1 million buyout of his contract for next year, rather than the Brewers committing to his $11 million mutual option.

Moustakas is going to be seeking a multi-year offer from some team. He is still young enough that someone is likely to make that kind of offer in order to add a 35-homer bat to their lineup. I am betting it won’t be the Phillies.

Again, my choice here is to give the job to Bohm, spend your free agent money on pitching, and move on from the old, losing Franco-Hernandez infield combination.

BENCH

Putting together a bench group that includes at least a few veteran options for new manager Joe Girardi, preferably options that can hit the ball, will be another Klentak challenge.

The Phillies are already slated to have Jay Bruce return. He should help out as a pinch-hitter, on the outfield corners, and could even turn out to be a lefty-hitting backup first base option, giving Hoskins a blow against a few tougher right-handed pitchers. Girardi should be able to get him plenty of at-bats to keep him sharp and happy.

Assuming the Phillies move on from both Franco and Hernandez, as well as Odubel Herrera, that leaves other outfield depth options as Roman Quinn and Nick Williams. The infield would need help. There are a bunch of interesting options who could fit the bill:

The club could try to re-sign 30-year-old Brad Miller, who appeared in 66 games with the Phillies this past season. Miller played four different positions, mostly at third base and in left field, and produced a dozen homers in just 130 plate appearances.

38-year-old Ben Zobrist can play second base and an outfield corner. He even covered shortstop for one game last season with the Cubs.

Starlin Castro turns 30 at the end of spring training. He played both second and third this past year with the Marlins, and even held down shortstop, where he was a former starter, in three games.

At age 36, Howie Kendrick showed just how valuable he can be in a part-time role while helping the Nationals win their World Series. Kendrick, who played in 39 games with the 2017 Phillies, saw time at first, second, and third this year in Washington.

30-year-old Derek Dietrich ripped 19 homers in 306 plate appearances while covering first, second, and left field this year in Cincinnati. He even appeared in one game at the hot corner, and has played in 146 career games there.

33-year-old Eric Sogard hit .290 while playing five different positions between stops in Toronto and Tampa Bay this past season.

Former popular Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence turns 37 in April, and enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in which he was named to the American League All-Star team. His bat, outfield glove, and infectious enthusiasm could be a perfect mix for this team’s bench group.

The Phillies could use a reliable backup catching option, and yesterday I mentioned one of their former prospects as a possibility. That would be 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, who finally stayed healthy this past season and showed off his fine combination of offensive and defensive skills.

More veteran backstop options who could add an alternative to Andrew Knapp include 37-year-old Russell Martin, 34-year-old Matt Wieters, 32-year-old Bryan Holaday, 36-year-old Robinson Chirinos, 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy and a half-dozen or so others.

These are just a representative sample of the dozens of names who could fill out a veteran bench for the Phillies.

BULLPEN

As I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, assembling a bullpen is a tricky proposition from year to year. The Phillies pen was decimated by injuries this past season, but most of those arms should be back in 2020.

They could do nothing, and still end up with an effective group. However, adding someone as a strong, veteran back-end option couldn’t hurt. Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Steve Cishek, Will Harris, and Pedro Strop are just a few of the couple dozen veteran relievers available.

And how about this possibility: lefty Jake Diekman? Wouldn’t it be sort of ironic if the Phillies brought back both Hamels and Diekman, who they traded away together in 2015, in the same off-season? Diekman turns 33 in January, and struck out 84 batters over 62 innings this past season as a southpaw out of the pen.

Again, as with third base, I don’t feel this is an area of desperate need. But if the Phillies want another bullpen arm, there are plenty from which to choose.

WRAPPING IT UP

Well, that’s a look at the free agent market. The Hot Stove season is officially underway. Free agents can sign with any team at this point, though signings of the bigger names are likely to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

And those free agent ranks are only going to swell when the December 2 deadline passes for teams to offer arbitration, which is the decision that the Phillies will need to make on Franco and Hernandez.

As we move through the off-season, this podcast will focus occasionally on rumors regarding the club, and I’ll certainly be talking and writing about any big signings.

I hope you’ll come back tomorrow, when I’ll be talking about the MLB Award winners to this point, as well as the nominees for the major awards to be handed out next week, including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in each league.

Remember, you can follow any written pieces or podcast episodes through links at the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds @philliesbell. I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy. Until next time, God bless you and yours.

Philadelphia Phillies current roster and payroll evaluation

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How the Phillies choose to utilize Scott Kingery in 2020 will be the key at a few positions

 

Welcome to the second episode and the first original topic episode for the ‘Ring the Bell’ podcast.

Today, I’ll be covering a pair of topics. We’ll take a look at the Philadelphia Phillies current roster makeup with an eye towards the weak spots and any holes that the team may need to fill this off-season.

Along that same vein, a second topic will be the current salary budget situation as the club enters this important off-season, and how this might affect their pursuit of free agent talent.

There is a lot to cover, so let’s jump right into it.

POSITION PLAYERS

A look at the best possible starting lineup made up of players currently on the roster, from my perspective, would go like this:

1B – Rhys Hoskins, 2B – Scott Kingery, SS – Jean Segura, 3B – Alec Bohm, C – J.T. Realmuto, LF – Andrew McCutchen, CF – Adam Haseley, RF – Bryce Harper

Other position players currently being carried on the Phillies 40-man roster include infielders Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Arquimedes Gamboa. The club is also carrying outfielders Jay Bruce, Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn, and Nick Williams. Also on the 40-man are catchers Andrew Knapp and Deivy Grullon.

There are three major question marks which new manager Joe Girardi is going to need to answer, and likely answer prior to spring training. He may need help from general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies management group in finding those answers.

The questions come at the second base, third base, and center field positions on the diamond.

For a couple of years now, the Phillies have avoided handing over the everyday second base job to Scott Kingery, who won a minor league Gold Glove at the position during the 2017 campaign.

Kingery has proven a valuable and versatile asset while bouncing around from third to second to the outfield in his first two big-league seasons. But it has and remains my position that the Phillies are not getting, and will not get, the best they can from him until they give him the respect of settling into an everyday role on defense.

If Girardi hands the starting job at second to Kingery, that means the club will need to move on from Hernandez, who has been the starter at the position for the better part of the last five years. It solidifies the second base position for the next five years, but also opens up a couple of other situations that will need addressing.

Hernandez will turn 30 years of age next May and is due to become a free agent after next season. He is coming off a pair of mostly solid, if unspectacular, seasons.

Committing to Kingery at second means that center field is wide open. Are you comfortable with Haseley, the eight overall pick from the 2017 MLB Draft, as the starting center fielder for a club with championship aspirations? Frankly, I’m not.

I liked what I saw from Haseley, who turns 24 years of age in April, during a freshman campaign that saw him rise from Double-A to the big-leagues. But I did not see a player who was ready to be a key everyday regular on a World Series team. At least not right now.

However, let’s plug him in there as the starter for now. It would be nice if we could ever rely upon the dynamic Roman Quinn to handle the position. But that ship has sailed. He is simply too injury prone to ever count on at this point. About the best the Phillies could hope would be that the speedster and elite defender would somehow be healthy during September and into the postseason, when his skill set could prove valuable.

Another situation can be found at the hot corner. Franco, who has been the starter for most of the same time that Hernandez has been at second, clearly fell out of favor with former skipper Gabe Kapler.

While it remains unclear what Girardi or the higher-ups in the organization think about him, it might be a good time to say goodbye to Franco as well. He plays most of next season at age 27, arguably just entering his prime, and is under club contractual control for two more years.

The Phillies are likely going to have to make a call on both Hernandez and Franco very soon. The club has until December 2 to decide whether to offer salary arbitration to either or both. The call here would be to simply let them go into free agency. The other option would be to sign one or the other, or both, and then hope to cut a deal in spring training should everyone prove healthy and some other club have a need.

Moving on from Franco and giving Kingery the second base job means that you either hand the everyday role at third base to top offensive prospect Bohm, or you go after a veteran free agent. There are good reasons to go down either path.

Bohm appears ready to me. The 23-year-old has slashed .293/.368/.474 with 21 homers, 63 extra-base hits, and 98 RBIs across 698 minor league plate appearances during his first two seasons after being drafted third overall in 2018. He then starred in the Arizona Fall League and is currently the starting third baseman with Team USA in the Premier 12 tournament.

But if the Phillies brain trust wants to give Bohm most of another full season to consolidate his game in Triple-A, there are interesting free agent options available. We’ll look at those in a few minutes.

Another situation which needs resolution is that of Herrera. There is really no way that the Phillies fan base is going to accept his returning to the team after last year’s domestic violence incident. These are different times than even a decade ago.

Herrera needs to find a new home, and Klentak should be able to swing a deal, even if it’s just to bring back cash or a lower-level minor league prospect. If not, the team could just cut him. There are certainly justifiable baseball-only reasons, which is what it would take, to hand him his release. If it were up to me, he never steps foot in Clearwater.

The bench is a genuine area of concern. Saying a final farewell to Herrera, Hernandez, and Franco would cut ties with three key players from the losing teams of the last handful of seasons, but also creates depth issues.

Depth in the outfield comes from Bruce, Quinn, and Nick Williams – the latter of whom could also end up as a valuable trade piece. It would also include Haseley if the Phillies can find a better everyday answer in center. But there is virtually no depth on the infield, and it would be nice if the club could add a better offensive player as a veteran backup catcher than Knapp.

Building a truly competitive bench group will be yet another tricky mission for Klentak this off-season. It will take a creative combination of brave trades and wise free agent signings. I’ll give some suggestions before we wrap this up.

PITCHING NEEDS

In order to become genuine challengers to the world champion Washington Nationals and the two-time defending division champion Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division, the Phillies must add two new starting pitchers to their rotation for 2020 and beyond.

Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Jake Arrieta appear to be reliable. However, the latter two would probably best slot in as the 4-5 starter in a contending rotation at this point.

What the Phillies really need is a genuine top-of-the-rotation ace to front the group, and then a proven veteran mid-rotation starter who would come a bit more inexpensively.

In a recent piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bob Brookover quoted GM Mike Rizzo of the Nationals: “Starting pitching is king….for the marathon that is the season you better have some starters that you can run out there and give you a chance to win each and every day.

Klentak must bring in a pair of proven, winning veterans if he wants to elevate the Phillies rotation to a contending level. It’s my bet that principal owner John Middleton has already made this the single biggest off-season mandate, and is willing to again open his substantial wallet to make it happen.

The bullpen is trickier. It’s possible that the Phillies could do little or nothing here and end up with a competitive group in 2020.

Slated to return, assuming health, are the following arms: Right-handers Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, and newcomer Robert Stock. The best left-handers on-board are Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez.

They probably cannot hope to get David Robertson back until August at the earliest, and probably not until September. If they actually contend and he is available for the stretch run and postseason, that would be a “found arm” bonus.

Also in the mix would be former or spot-starters Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, and Ranger Saurez. And organizational arms in righty J.D. Hammer and lefty Austin Davis remain.

Velasquez and Pivetta are particularly interesting as potential bullpen weapons. While either could end up as trade bait, either or both could be extremely valuable if they bought into the role fully, and if new pitching coach Bryan Price can work his magic with them.

The Phillies could shop for a more proven bullpen arm to bolster the group, but that should not be a priority from my perspective. There will be a strong arm who floats through the early stages of free agency and ends up being more affordable than he might appear at first blush. There are plenty of arms already on hand to make something competitive work.

None of that discussion of the pitching takes into account either of the Phillies top two pitching prospects, Spencer Howard and Adonis Medina. The latter is already on the 40-man roster and is likely to be ready at some point in the second half of the 2020 season.

Howard could actually push for a role in the starting rotation as early as spring training, and looks like the most talented arm developed by the farm system since Cole Hamels.

SHOPPING LIST AND BUDGET

So, for me anyway, there is a lengthy “To-Do List’ for Matt Klentak this off-season, if the Phillies truly want to contend for a deep October 2020 postseason run.

Two starting pitchers and a starting center fielder. At least three proven veteran bench players – two infielders and a catcher – at least two of those with extra-base pop. And possibly a third baseman and bullpen arm. It’s a daunting task, but it’s what needs to be done in order to catch and pass Atlanta and Washington.

The Phillies currently have $108 million in 2020 salary commitments. Cot’s Contracts projects the club’s 40-man payroll hit for Competitive Balance Tax purposes at $131 million. This would leave them some $76 million below the $208 million CBT threshold.

While there are a few roster machinations which could slightly elevate those financial commitments, those are not substantial. The Phillies have a lot of money to spend if they want. The problem is that they have a lot of needs as well, and with veterans, those needs won’t come cheap.

There will be tremendous competition for Gerrit Cole, the best starting pitcher on the free agent market. With Scott Boras as his agent, you can expect Cole to remain unsigned through a lengthy winter process of shopping and city/team visits, similar to what we saw last winter with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

The Phillies will be in the hunt for Cole, but so are other big spenders like the Yankees, Angels, Padres, Astros and perhaps even the Dodgers.

Perhaps the more likely “Cole” that the Phillies could bring in would be former 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. The lefty turns 36 years of age just two days after Christmas and is clearly past his prime. However, he knows how to pitch in Philly and remains popular with the fan base, is a proven veteran winner, and is a southpaw. On a reasonable three-year deal, he could slot into that #3-4 starter role.

Other starting pitching names the Phils will look into should include Stephen Strasburg at the top of the market, and mid-market arms like Zach Wheeler, Jake Odorizzi, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Rick Porcello. Perhaps even veteran lefty Madison Bumgarner.

Longtime Yankees reliever Dellin Betances might make for an intriguing addition as a new closer with the Phillies.

If the Phillies decide to go hard after Anthony Rendon as their new third baseman, they would likely be betting heavily that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will include the National League going to a Designated Hitter as soon as the 2021 season. This would allow for the club to fit in all of Rendon, Bohm, and Rhys Hoskins to their lineup.

Landing Rendon would likely take them out of the running for Cole or Strasburg, and perhaps put their pitching focus on a combination like Wheeler and Hamels, or any two of the more mid-market arms previously mentioned. Other potential third base targets would be Mike Moustakas and Josh Donaldson, each of whom would come far cheaper than Rendon.

An interesting outfield depth piece would be Corey Dickerson. The Phillies would certainly love to have him back, and judging by social media posts, so would the fan base. However, Dickerson is not an everyday center fielder. Neither is McCutchen at this stage of his career. So Dickerson would be more of a fourth outfielder. He will likely command too much money and will get an everyday role offered from someone.

An interesting catcher option could be former Phillies prospect Travis d’Arnaud. Turning 31 in February, he has the combination of offensive and defensive skills the club needs from a backup, and finally stayed healthy in 2019.

There really are no interesting center fielders on the free agent market this off-season, so if the Phillies do want a better option there, they are likely going to have to trade for it.

However, one roll-of-the-dice name could be Japanese free agent Shogo Akiyama. A star with Seibu in the Japanese Pacific League for the past nine years, Akiyama turns 32 years of age in April. He is a solid hitter with a career .301 average, and is a power-speed combination guy. The dice roll, of course, would be how his talent translates to America, especially considering he is moving past his prime.

Among the interesting veteran bench options in free agency, former Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence and an infielder who proved to be a Phillie killer a year ago, Starlin Castro. Also among free agent infielders are Jonathan Schoop, Eric Sogard and Jose Iglesias.

THE WRAP

There is much to be done this winter. But the mandate from Middleton and the fan base is clear: the 2020 season cannot be another .500, or God forbid, losing campaign. It is time to win, and Klentak knows it. His job is now squarely on the line.

Join me tomorrow when I’ll take a much more detailed look into the free agent market. We’ll go over specifics on those mentioned today and even more names who could slot into Phillies positional needs.

I hope you’ll come back and listen then. And in the meantime you can visit the @philliesbell sites on Twitter and Facebook for continuing Phillies information. Talk to you next time, and until then, God bless you and yours.

Phillies once dealt top prospect pitcher Kyle Drabek to help land Roy Halladay

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Kyle Drabek was the key piece in package to bring Roy Halladay to the Phillies

The Philadelphia Phillies completed a big trade this afternoon, landing all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins. As part of the package sent to Miami, the Phillies gave up their top prospect, pitcher Sixto Sanchez.

As with most deals in which a team parts with its number one prospect for a veteran, there was a segment of the Phillies fan base who vocally lamented the inclusion of Sanchez in this trade.
What those fans need to remember is that prospects are one thing and one thing only – an asset for a Major League Baseball organization. That asset could one day come up to the big club and help the team win directly. They could also be utilized as a chip in a deal to help improve the big club. Both are legitimate uses of prospect talent.
A decade ago, the Phillies dealt away another top pitching prospect in a big trade for an all-star. That pitching prospect was named Kyle Drabek, and he was used as a piece to acquire a veteran pitcher named Roy Halladay.
One comment that I read today opined that the talent levels of Drabek and Sanchez were completely different. I also saw someone make the argument that Drabek was dealt for a “Hall of Famer”, while the Phillies “only” got a modest catcher upgrade for Sanchez. I think those arguments are specious and ignore the actual facts and talent levels of the players involved at the time of the respective deals.
Let’s travel back nearly a decade in time. When Baseball America released their 2010 Prospect Handbook, one of the most respected prospect reports in the game, Drabek was rated as the Phillies #2 prospect behind outfielder Domonic Brown.
While some Phillies fans might scoff at that, the fact remains that back then, Brown was considered one of the very top prospects in the entire sport. In fact, Brown would reach a point where he was ranked as the #1 prospect in all of baseball. Three different evaluators from Baseball America released their individual Top 50 Prospects lists in that publication.
Jim Callis ranked Drabek as the #18 overall prospect in the game and the fifth-highest ranked pitcher. John Manuel had Drabek at #16 overall, and the sixth-best overall pitching prospect. Will Lingo placed Drabek at #30 overall and the game’s ninth-rated pitching prospect.
In his scouting report, the son of 1990 NL Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek was said to possess “the organization’s best curveball, a power downer that he can bury or throw for strikes.” There were scouts that gave the pitch a 70-grade. He also threw a fastball that usually ran in the low-90’s with “solid-average life.
Drabek’s athleticism, coordination, and competitiveness were all considered at the top of the charts. In short, the right-hander selected at 18th overall in the first round of the 2006 MLB Amateur Draft by the Phillies was considered as close to a can’t-miss prospect as you can get.
To say that Halladay was a Hall of Famer is disengenous, because he was not one at the time of this deal. At that time, Doc was already 32-years-old and had pitched parts of a dozen seasons with Toronto. He had 148 wins and 1,495 strikeouts, had won a Cy Young Award, and had six AL all-star honors on his record.
That is a strong career, but there are many pitchers with a similar resume who never reach the Hall of Fame. Trying to gauge what a pitcher is going to accomplish after age 32 is a risky proposition at best.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can of course understand how Halladay was elected to the Hall of Fame last month in his first year on the ballot. But at the time of the trade, no one knew that he was going to win an NL Cy Young, finish runner-up the following year, pitch a perfect game, and toss a playoff no-hitter with the Phillies.
Drabek was not traded for a “Hall of Famer”, he was traded as part of a three-prospect package for one of the top starting pitchers in the game, one who was arguably exiting his prime. In fact, Halladay would pitch for just two more full seasons with the Phillies and parts of two more.

Sixto Sanchez becomes the latest top pitching prospect used as a trade chip by the Phillies. (Baseball Betsy)
Also going to Toronto in that trade were another pair of highly-considered prospects, Michael Taylor and Travis d’Arnaud. Those two were considered the Phillies #3 and #4 prospects respectively. Manuel had Taylor as his #23-ranked overall prospect, and the outfielder was in the Top 50 of both Callis and Lingo.
So the Phillies did not “get a Hall of Famer for Drabek” – they got a strong veteran pitcher for a premium prospect package, three of the club’s top four prospects at that time.
In his first season with the Toronto organization, Drabek continued his ascent up the rankings. He became the Blue Jays top prospect by 2011 following a 2010 campaign in which he went 14-9 with a 2.94 ERA and allowed just 126 hits over 162 innings. For that performance, Drabek was named the top prospect in the Double-A Eastern League.
Unfortunately, Drabek’s career from that point out would be derailed by injuries and inconsistency. He would pitch in parts of seven big-league seasons with the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Dbacks compiling just an 8-15 record. Drabek produced a 5.26 career ERA and 1.698 WHIP, allowing 188 hits over 179.2 innings across 43 games, 30 of them starts, with a horrendous 123/117 K:BB ratio.
Taylor played in parts of four big-league campaigns from 2011-14 with the A’s and White Sox. He slashed just .167/.254/.216 with one career home run in 114 plate appearances across 37 games in Major League Baseball.
The lowest-ranked prospect in the deal, d’Arnaud has had the best career. He was dealt by Toronto to the Mets in December 2012 along with Noah Syndergaard and two others in exchange for veteran pitcher R.A. Dickey and two prospects. d’Arnaud has played in parts of six injury-marred seasons, two of those as the Mets primary catcher.
In this present-day deal the Phillies have given up their top overall prospect. Sanchez was ranked as the #13 overall prospect in the game by Baseball America and the #21 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline. They also gave up a 25-year-old catcher with upside potential. The other pieces are, at least at this stage, to be considered negligible.
Maybe Sanchez will turn into Fergie Jenkins, the young pitcher dealt away to the Cubs in spring training of 1966 who turned into a Cy Young winner and Baseball Hall of Famer. Maybe he’ll turn into Carlos Carrasco, traded to the Indians in the Cliff Lee deal in summer 2009 who has gone on to win 79 games and is still going strong today. And maybe he’ll follow in Drabek’s footsteps, never reaching the lofty potential of his present talent.
The point of all of this? Phillies fans should stop sweating the surrender of Sanchez in this deal. Prospects are just that, prospects. The Phillies just used one to land the best catcher in the game today.
Nobody expects Realmuto to pull a Halladay and become a Hall of Famer. He doesn’t need to do that. He does have to give the Phillies two, and hopefully more, quality seasons behind the plate, helping the team return to the perennial contender status which they enjoyed during the days when they dealt away Drabek.

Baseball Hall of Fame ready to welcome Roy Halladay

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Halladay appears to be cruising towards baseball immortality

At some point just after 6:00PM EST on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 the world will learn the names of any individuals elected for enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The MLB Network will broadcast the announcement “live” with a simulcast at MLB.com also available.
Based on the latest tracking of the publicly announced Baseball Writers Association of America votes, three players appear to be shoo-ins for election.
One of those, former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, has been named on 100% of the public ballots to this point.
Since no one – not Babe RuthHank AaronWillie MaysTy Cobb – has ever been elected unanimously the odds against that holding up are great. But Rivera will be elected, that much is sure.
Also faring well on the public ballots is the greatest Designated Hitter in baseball history, Edgar Martinez. After falling just a bit short of the required 75% of the voters a year ago, it appears as if Martinez will get in now in this, his final year on the writers’ ballot.
The third man who appears to be easing into the Hall of Fame is someone near and dear to fans in Phillies Nation. That would be former Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays ace starting pitcher Roy Halladay.
‘Doc’ currently has been named on more than 92% (199) of the 210 ballots made public to Ryan Thibodaux’s (Twitter: @NotMrTibbs) “Tracker Team”, which has become perhaps the most respected compiler of such information.
Halladay was tragically killed in a crash while piloting his private plane over the Gulf of Mexico on November 7, 2017. Just months earlier he had been asked about the possibility of this honor. Matt Breen of Philly.com tweeted out the response of the big right-hander earlier today:
Halladay came to the Phillies in a December 2009 trade from Toronto in exchange for Kyle DrabekTravis d’Arnaud and Michael Taylor. He would pitch for the Phillies for parts of four seasons, tossing both a Perfect Game and a playoff no-hitter during his NL Cy Young Award-winning 2010 campaign.
Overall in his 16-year career in Major League Baseball with the Phillies and Blue Jays, Halladay compiled a 203-105 record with a 3.38 ERA, 1.178 WHIP, and 3.39 FIP. He pitched 2,749.1 innings over 416 games, 390 of those as a starter, and struck out 2,117 opposing batters.
Halladay also registered 67 complete games and 20 shutouts during an era where such feats were growing rare. In addition to his NL Cy Young, he also won the AL Cy Young Award with the Jays in 2003, had a season in both leagues where he finished as the runner-up for the award, and was an eight-time MLB All-Star.
Just last summer the Phillies honored Halladay by enshrining him in the franchise Wall of Fame. He thus became the first post-2008 World Series championship individual so honored. The Blue Jays retired his uniform #32 in a ceremony prior to their home opener last March.

There will be more coverage of the Baseball Hall of Fame announcement at Phillies Nation on Tuesday evening, with special emphasis on coverage of Halladay’s election results.

Phils Fans Follow Former Heroes in Postseason

If my Twitter timeline is to be trusted, and with hundreds of Phillies fans, it usually can be, then there remains a great deal of baseball interest among that fan base despite a 4th consecutive season out of the playoffs for the Fightins.
A number of ex-Phillies players are participating in this year’s MLB postseason, and that includes a handful of the 2008 World Series championship team.
As most everyone is already aware, both Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are now in the NLDS with the Los Angeles Dodgers. JRoll played 15 seasons in a Phillies uniform, Utley played parts of 13 seasons in red pinstripes. They were the starting MIF together in Philly for over a decade.
They are taking on the New York Mets, whose starting catcher is Travis d’Arnaud, the Phils’ 1st round pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft. He was dealt to Toronto as part of the package for Roy Halladay in December of 2009.
The Dodgers knew they were acquiring older players who had their best years in the rear-view mirror when they took on Jimmy and Chase. But they got those players specifically for October play, hoping their long, winning experience would help get the team over the top in postseason play. 
That kind of tough, no-fear play was on display yesterday, when Utley’s key play accounted for a pair of difference-making runs in evening the series.
Over in the American League, the Texas Rangers hold a 2-0 lead in their ALDS with the powerful Toronto Blue Jays. 
One of the Texas keys has been former Phillies’ ace lefty Cole Hamels, dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline for a 5-player package.
Hamels pitched for the Phillies for parts of 10 seasons before being dealt as a key piece to the current rebuilding process. 
He was 7-1 down the stretch for Texas, with a 78/23 K:BB ratio over 83.2 innings in which he allowed just 77 hits. Hamels got a no-decision in Texas’ huge Game 2 win on Friday.
Jake Diekman went with Hamels in that Texas trade, and he really got his act together with the Rangers. 
In 26 games with Texas over the final two months, Diekman recorded 10 Holds with a 2.08 ERA and .169 batting average against. 
In 21.2 innings he allowed just 13 hits, with a 20/7 K:BB ratio. He has pitched 2 innings in both LDS games, allowing no baserunners.
The Blue Jays have Ben Revere in left field. Revere hit .319 with a .354 on-base percentage in his two months with the Jays since his own trade deadline deal. 
In the 56 games that he played with Toronto, Revere scored 35 runs and stole 7 bags. Thus far, in his first postseason experience, he has gone 3-10 with a run scored and an RBI.
In the other ALDS, the Astros have righty Chad Qualls in their pen. Qualls spent 35 largely ineffective games with the disappointing 2012 Phillies. 
They also have Jonathan Villar, signed by the Phils out of the Dominican Republic back in 2008 and traded to Houston as part of the Roy Oswalt deal in 2010.
Playing a more important role in that ALDS should be the lone Royals ex-Phil, and along with Hamels, Utley and Rollins, the only other 2008 World Series hero left in action. That would be reliever Ryan Madson, who made an amazing comeback this season.
Madson, who hadn’t pitched in the Major Leagues since leaving the Phillies following the 2011 season, signed with both the Reds and Angels as a free agent. But injuries kept him from returning, and appeared to be ending his career.
But the Phillies’ 9th round pick in the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft got it back together with the Royals this year, and has been better than ever out of their pen. 
In 63.1 innings across 68 games, Madson allowed just 47 hits with a 2.13 ERA, 0.963 WHIP, and a 58/14 K:BB ratio.
How crazy would it be for Phillies fans to watch a key World Series game in a couple of weeks where Utley and/or Rollins steps into the box in a key moment against either Hamels or Madson? Now that would blow up Philly-area Twitter for sure.