Analysis

Offseason Preview: Let’s fix the outfield



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This week we’re looking at the Phillies’ biggest holes in anticipation of the offseason. How will they fill the holes? That’s what we’re after in the offseason preview.

Fixing the outfield

Disregard Odubel Herrera and you get a combined .220 average with 22 home runs and 110 runs batted in from the Phillies outfielders. That’s good for one player, but you know, we would need two players to fill the outfield.

So, yes, the Phillies had poor outfield production in 2016. Moreover, none of the outfielders – sans Herrera – stayed put throughout the season. An opening-day lineup including Peter Bourjos and Cedric Hunter gave way to numerous configurations as nobody staked his claim. By the end of 2016 the Phillies used a total of nine outfielders, plus cameos from Darin Ruf and Emmanuel Burriss.

Nothing worked.

Heading into 2017, manager Pete Mackanin has expressed the need for an established bat, and the outfield is the best landing spot for that bat. So the Phils will likely be in the outfielder market, right?

Let’s go through what’s here already:

Locks

Odubel Herrera

There’s an alternate reality where the Phillies trade Herrera for prospects, but it’s not likely. Herrera, who will be 25 in 2017, is an above-average hitter still learning in the outfield. He raised his OBP 17 points in 2017 and doubled his home run production. He’s on an upward trajectory and the only sure thing in the offense; dealing him would only set the Phils back quite a bit.

Bubble

Aaron Altherr
Roman Quinn
Cody Asche

This would’ve been easier if Altherr looked like his 2015 self last year; instead, the speedy German who will be 26 in 2017 looked terrible returning from a wrist injury (.202/.304/.293). There’s still hope Altherr can turn it on in 2017, but the Phils may decide not to take the risk.

Quinn, meanwhile, turned heads upon his promotion in September (.263/.373/.333, 5 SB), but he suffered an oblique injury, ending his season prematurely. Like with Altherr, the Phils may decide starting Quinn in the majors is too big a risk. But one of these two will probably get a shot out of spring training; early money is on Quinn, with Altherr either being demoted or earning an MLB bench spot.

Asche is in line for arbitration this offseason, and it should be a minimal salary below $2 million. The Philles may come to terms with him and invite him to spring training. At that point, though, it’s hard to see where Asche fits in. Maybe he’s a fifth outfielder with some infield ability, but the Phils may not want to dedicate a 40-man roster spot to him going forward.

Next Level

Tyler Goeddel
Nick Williams
Dylan Cozens
Andrew Pullin

It seems obvious that the Phillies will send Goeddel, last year’s Rule 5 pick (.192/.358/.291), to the minors to get everyday time. One can argue Williams regressed in 2016 (.258/.287/.427, 13 HR, 64 RBI); the Phils will hope the top prospect rebounds early in 2017 and earns a trip to Philly by midseason. Cozens was ridiculous in Reading (.276/.350/.591, 40 HR, 125 RBI), while Pullin also hit well after a midseason promotion to Reading (.346/.393/.559, 10 HR, 32 RBI).

The Phils could hold Pullin back in double-A to start 2017, but it’s clear there’s an outfield crunch in the highest levels. Something will have to give.

BeltranWhat’s the fix?

If the Phillies decide to give Quinn a starting job, moving Altherr to the bench and either giving Asche one more shot or opting for an outside veteran out of spring training, that means there’s a spot open. And as we said, Mackanin wants a spot open for a veteran hitter. So who could it be?

Let’s rank the free agent options.

The Bench Bats

Maybe a fifth outfielder here, but that’s it.

T17. Alejandro de Aza
T17. Coco Crisp
T17. John Jay

T17. Logan Schafer

The Mets gambled on de Aza, and he did exactly what most people thought he would do (high strikeouts, no average, a few home runs). Crisp at this point is nothing more than a bench player who can steal a bag. Jay and Schafer, though they can play all outfield positions, are bench bats at most.

The Undesirables

The following players have too many flaws to be a top choice for the Phillies.

16. Angel Pagan

A poor man’s Herrera. Pagan went .277/.331/.418 with the Giants in 2016. He gives you that kind of line every season, with little power. I’d expect the Phils to want something different out of the third outfield position.

15. Matt Joyce

The Pirates signed Joyce to a one-year deal, and he turned in a good season (.242/.403/.463, 13 HR, 42 RBI) in 293 plate appearances, mostly as a pinch hitter and fourth outfielder. The Phils could offer him a sweet deal with the promise of a starting spot, betting on him to continue his career rebound, but he did struggle in the second half for Pittsburgh. That said, 2016 Joyce seems like the 2017 ceiling for Altherr.

14. Cameron Maybin

Maybin has a $9 million option, but it’s a club option, meaning the Tigers dictate the future. And it’s hard to say what the Tigers will do, but he’s a spotty offensive player whose career 2016 can’t necessarily be trusted (.315/.383/.418) on a multi-year deal. Otherwise, he’s basically what you’d expect from Roman Quinn.

13. Carlos Gomez

Talk about needing a change in scenery. Gomez found himself after being traded to Texas in 2016, finishing the season on a .284/.362/.543 clip in 130 plate appearances. Still, Gomez is an impatient player, and at this point – like Pagan – a poor man’s Herrera. Can’t see the Phils going in on him.

The Philosophical Misfits

If the Phillies value patience and defense, the following players – while better than those above – probably don’t work for 2017.

12. Mark Trumbo

Considering the Phils value defense and want a more patient team, adding Trumbo (a poor defensive player with a career .303 OBP) would be out of step. Plus he’s in line for a multi-year contract worth north of $18 million a year, and would likely cost the Phils an early-round pick, as the Orioles are likely to extend him a qualifying offer.

11. Brandon Moss

Remember our old friend Moss? The 33-year-old is in line for a two-year deal (or something of that ilk). He gives you a low average (.220s), some pop (47 HR last two seasons) and a lot of strikeouts. So he doesn’t seem to fit. But he plays outfield and first base, and is a left-handed hitter. He could spell Tommy Joseph at first against right-handed pitching while platooning with Altherr in left. While that could work, Moss still doesn’t seem like a great philosophical match. Plus the Cardinals may extend him the qualifying offer; if that happens, no thanks.

10. Colby Rasmus

The 30-year-old Rasmus can either be really good or really bad. In 2016 he was the latter, handing in a Phillie-esque .206/.286/.355 line for the Astros. He strikes out a ton, too. He may be a buy-low candidate, but the Phils don’t seem to value players like Rasmus. Probably better off.

9. Matt Holliday

Holliday will be 37 in 2017, and the Cardinals are not going to pick up his $17 million club option. He remains a decent hitter (.246/.322/.461) and could be worth the one-year pickup, but he’s a notoriously bad defender and baserunner, which doesn’t jibe with the Phils’ organizational philosophy.

jose-bautista-baseball-headshot-photo.jpgThe Commitments

The following players would command bigger bucks, and/or a long-term contract, and/or the likely loss of a draft pick, making them tough decisions for a rebuilding team.

8. Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes is probably the jewel of the hitting class this offseason, and his numbers merit it (.280/.354/.530). He may opt out of his contract with the Mets, which would open the doors for his free agency. He’d likely command a major contract (north of $20 million per year), which may not work with the Phils at this point of the rebuild.

7. Josh Reddick

Reddick will be sought by many teams as a backup option to Cespedes. He brings a decent eye (.345 OBP in 2016) and a little power (30 HR last two seasons), plus his average has gone up the last three seasons. He’s also a decent fielder. He’s been worth about three wins above replacement the last three seasons, which would make him a solid starting outfielder on a team desperate for one.

He is, however, an injury risk, playing more than 120 games just twice in his career. And against lefties, he’s … well … not even as good as Ryan Howard (.155/.212/.155).

Reddick could command a three-year deal at more than $15 million per year, and as he’s not eligible for a qualifying offer, wouldn’t cost any draft picks. But for someone who’s basically a platoon player … is it worth it? Maybe he’s a better fit than Moss (maybe he could platoon with Joseph at 1B and Altherr at RF), but for $45-$50 million?

6. Ian Desmond

Desmond turned in a good first season as an outfielder, hitting .285/.335/.446 for the Rangers. Texas is likely to offer Desmond a qualifying offer, so he’d cost the Phils an early draft pick and probably a minimum of $18 million per season. He’s a likely three-year contract candidate, but he’s not very patient and offers spotty outfield defense. Not the best fit, but not terrible.

5. Jose Bautista

Bautista would give the Phils an eye (.368 career OBP) and some power (62 HR last two seasons), but he’ll be 36 next year and will get a qualifying offer from Toronto. Maybe a one-year band-aid signing, and it would be fun having Joey Bats on board, but he’s probably not worth the loss of a draft pick at this point.

4. Dexter Fowler

Fowler has a $9 million mutual option for 2017. He has been one of baseball’s most underrated offensive talents (career .268/.366/.422); one would think the Cubs would love to bring him back for that low cost, but Fowler may want to test the market. That means the Cubs could extend the qualifying offer. Is Fowler worth the loss of a draft pick and a potential three-year, $55 million deal? Hard to say, but he’s the most tempting of the big names.

The Wild Cards

The next two wouldn’t cost the Phils too much (either in years or salary) and should supply at least one solid year of production. That may be the best strategy right now.

3. Carlos Beltran

Though he’ll be 40 in 2017, Beltran apparently wants to play one more season and really wants to return to Texas. So this probably isn’t even an option. That said, if he were to reach the market, he’s as steady (and good) as any 40-year-old you’ll ever find (.295/.337/.513, 29 HR, 93 RBI in 2016) and wouldn’t cost a draft pick. On a one-year, name-your-price deal, Beltran could be a solid fill.

2. Steve Pearce

The steady utility man went to Tampa in 2016, then was traded back to Baltimore for the stretch run, where he fell apart. Still, he has a good eye (career .333 OBP with a decent BB/K ratio), can hit a few homers (49 over the last three seasons) and can play almost any position on the diamond. The big downside is Pearce suffered an elbow injury in September, but should be ready for spring. On a two-year, $10-$20 million deal (again, without losing a draft pick), Pearce is the sneaky best bet.

The Alpha Dog

1. Michael Saunders

It’s a little less than 50-50 that the Blue Jays extend the qualifying offer to Saunders, who turned in a decent .253/.338/.478 line last season. Saunders, who will be 30 in 2017, could see a two- or three-year deal in 2017 at around $10 million per season.

Financially this would be the right fit. He’s also a left-handed hitter, so the Phils could pseudo-platoon him with Altherr in a corner spot, if they so choose.

That said, Saunders isn’t the most durable player and struggled mightily in the second half of 2016. Yes, there are flaws.

So while his track record isn’t the best, the potential for a solid hitter is still there. Thus, a two-year deal could be worth the gamble for Saunders, making the 2017 outfield Herrera/Quinn/Saunders/Altherr/fifth outfielder. A Williams promotion would force a decision in the outfield, but keeping Saunders for around $10 million in 2018 as a bench bat wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, and is absolutely better than finding a spot for, say, Desmond or Reddick. And Pearce could work just as well, and could more easily move to other spots of the diamond in the event of an outfield crunch.

Trade Targets

It’s hard to say who may become available during the offseason, but already Matt Klentak has showed he’s not afraid to pull the trigger on a big winter trade. Desirable outfielders that may be available in the offseason include A.J. Pollock (recovered from elbow injury, has potential as a well-rounded middle-of-the-order bat), Yasmany Tomas (another Diamondback and someone with tremendous power … but a terrible glove), Melky Cabrera (White Sox may not dangle him, but could be a good one-year band-aid), J.D. Martinez (a fantastic one-year option, but he may cost a little), Ryan Braun (but too many years left on the contract) and Mike Trout (well, you know, that’d be great, but …)

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