Raising Questions

Should the Phillies hand out a big contract extension this offseason?

The blessing of having homegrown, young talent in baseball is that if you want those players, they’re yours for what usually amounts to half of their careers, no questions asked. And you have them for super cheap, because while free agent player contracts have grown exponentially, early-year contracts have been stagnant.

Right now, the Phillies have that homegrown, cheap, young talent. But it doesn’t last forever.

Within three, four or five years, the first wave of young Phillies players entering free agency will be upon us. So the Phillies have a choice. They can offer early contract extensions to those players, or they can assess those players each offseason and sign them to one-year deals.

From the team’s perspective, offering early contract extensions accomplishes three things:

  1. Keeps goodwill between the player and team.
  2. Eliminates potentially nasty arbitration battles from the equation.
  3. Gets what still may be a bargain if the player reaches superstar status.

From a player perspective, it offers security during a time in their careers in which they have none. If Aaron Nola, who has yet to sign a contract extension with the Phillies, blows out his arm in spring training next year and never pitches again, he receives no compensation past whatever contract he signed with the Phillies in the offseason – which would likely be a one-year, $1.5 million (or so) deal. If the same thing happened to Odubel Herrera, who signed a contract extension before the 2017 season, he’d be owned the remaining money on that contract, almost $30 million. That’s security.

But do the Phillies even want to extend this next group? Let’s break it down and figure out who might be the next player the Phillies extend … if there’s anyone at all.

CESAR HERNANDEZ

Contract status: Second year being arbitration eligible. Under team control through 2020.

The case for: Those who said, “Let’s see what he does in 2017” following his surprising second half of 2016 are nowhere to be found now. He basically repeated that performance for all of 2017, exhibiting consistency and long-term value, leading the offense with a 3.1 WAR (second only to Nola’s 4.5 on the team). He looks the part of a valuable cog on a good team, and his .794 OPS at second base will play anywhere.

The case against: After a very good defensive year in 2016 (12.6 UZR), he appeared to fall off in 2017 (3.1 UZR). The Phillies haven’t figured out their 2018 infield yet, with no less than five guys trying to fit into three spots. Why would any of them get a long-term extension when we don’t know what their 2018 role will be, let alone their 2020 role?

Decision: The same as it will be for any member of the infield: don’t extend. But just for giggles …

FREDDY GALVIS

Contract status: Last year of arbitration. Free agent after the 2018 season.

The case for: The Phillies asked, and he obliged. He bumped his on-base percentage from an “unplayable” .274 in 2016 to a merely “bad” .309. If he can improve that even more in 2018, he’ll make himself more valuable. He made what seemed to be a concerted effort to play in every game this year, even taking two different turns in the outfield to make way for J.P. Crawford, his heir apparent at shortstop. That’s an average of 157 games in the last three years when the rest the players on your team always seem to miss at least a month or so. He’s established himself as the clubhouse leader.

The case against: While he certainly passes the eye test, Galvis went from a 15.1 UZR in 2016 to a 3.6 in 2017, a major drop-off in the ground he covers. On even a decent team, the only place he can hit is eighth since he can’t get on base with any consistency and can’t make enough contact to hit second. While his approach at the plate is improved, it was starting at such a low point that anything less than a massive, massive improvement probably isn’t playable on a good team. If you extend him this offseason, it will be at starting shortstop money, when there is a 50/50 chance (generous) that’s not his future role with this team or any other, as soon as next year. And, again, the crowded infield.

Decision: Don’t extend unless he’s ready to take a super utility-type role, which would only cost about three years and $10 million to keep him through 2020. Even that’s a stretch.

MAIKEL FRANCO

Contract status: Arbitration eligible for the first time. Under team control through 2021.

The case for: Buying low?

The case against: Everything else. While some organizations are big on buying out player arbitration years early on with extensions that curry good favor into free agency years, Franco is probably the poster boy for why you shouldn’t. After his abbreviated 2015 season, there probably wasn’t a person in town who wouldn’t have agreed to extend him and keep him as a franchise cornerstone. Twenty months later, fans seriously entertained the thought of cutting him. And they weren’t wrong to do so.

Decision: Don’t extend.

AARON NOLA

Contract status: Eligible for arbitration in 2019. Under team control through 2022.

The case for: He’s emerged as the only watchable pitcher in the starting rotation. That’s not exactly a high bar, but just calling him “watchable” is quite the understatement. He missed some time (again) but got back on track and established himself as a legit No. 2 starter, and on a really good day, a low-end No. 1. Easily led the team with a 4.5 WAR. You want to be in his good graces.

The case against: He missed some time (again). That’s two trips to the DL in his last two years, the trip in 2016 causing his season to end after only 20 starts – the last five of which probably shouldn’t have been made since he was obviously hurt. But instead of using that injury history as a reason to wait, maybe the Phillies should use that as an in to buy lower than they would after a really big season – which could be coming.

Decision: EXTEND

AARON ALTHERR

Contract status: Eligible for arbitration in 2019. Under team control through 2022.

The case for: Finally given a starting role and flourished. He finished the year leading the team in slugging percentage (.516) and played everywhere in the outfield.

The case against: Another year, another injury for Altherr, as he only played 107 games. He wasn’t thought of enough to earn a starting outfielder job at the start of the year. It wasn’t until a late-April/early-May tear combined with the Phillies realizing how truly useless Michael Saunders had become before they made Altherr a starter. His home/road splits were galling (.954 OPS in Philly, .756 on the road). He really slowed in the second half after coming back from his latest injury, with an on-base percentage under .300 in his 29 second-half games. Maybe he came back too early to fend off completely losing his job to Rhys Hoskins, but whatever it was, he wasn’t the same player. There is time to see more of Altherr to see if deserves an extension.

Decision: Don’t extend.

RHYS HOSKINS

Contract status: Likely under team control through 2024 (official service time to be determined in the offseason).

The case for: Really?

The case against: He’s only here on this list because someone is going to ask, “Where’s Rhys Hoskins???” But if the Phillies extended Hoskins, it would be the earliest this team has EVER extended a player. It hasn’t happened, it doesn’t need to happen, it won’t happen, neither team nor player nor agent expects it to happen … it’s not happening. And that’s fine. We’ll talk in two years.

Decision: Don’t extend.

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