In the span of about 25 minutes last Thursday, the Milwaukee Brewers completely shifted their 2018 plans. A team that was designed to possibly hover around .500 is making a play for real contention after adding outfielder Christian Yelich (via trade) and outfielder Lorenzo Cain (via free agency). An outfield that in 2017 was worth about 5 WAR will now be worth roughly 9.5 WAR, at minimum.
Now the Brewers are apparently in the mix for free agent pitcher Yu Darvish, and they can use pitching, as they can only count on two starters at the moment – Zach Davies and Chase Anderson – at being above average, while you don’t know what you’re getting out of Jhoulys Chacin.
If they get Darvish, the Brewers figure to be right in the mix for one of two wild card spots in the National League, with an outside shot at upending the Cubs (and probable division contenders the Cardinals) for the NL Central flag. What was about an 80-83-win team looks more like an 88-92-win team.
So let’s turn this back on the Phillies. They were rumored to be interested in Yelich since midseason 2017. They also seem to want a starting pitcher, and Matt Klentak did say they were doing their due diligence in regards to all types of starters. They added Carlos Santana, as much a slam dunk at 3 WAR as you can get, then two relievers in the matter of days. They also traded Freddy Galvis. It seemed as if the Phils were making big moves this offseason, positioning themselves for even bigger gestures. But instead, we’ve seen almost nothing. The biggest news the Phils made recently was signing Francisco Rodriguez to a minor-league deal, causing people to think K-Rod is actually in the team’s 2018 plans (unless there’s a dramatic turnaround, he’s not). In short, they could be done, and quite a few fans would say they missed a real opportunity by not acquiring Yelich.
So should the Phillies have operated this offseason like the Brewers?
Let’s imagine they did, and we’ll start this from after the first couple deals. So Santana is here, as are Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. The Phils have about 35 WAR on its most likely 25-man roster, though it’s noisy and provides a lot of margin. More suitably, the Phils look like a 74-77-win team right now. Then they add Yelich.
- Phillies acquire Christian Yelich from Marlins for OF Nick Williams, 2B Scott Kingery, SP JoJo Romero, OF Roman Quinn
The Marlins seem to want players who can contribute right now, which is why this deal leads with Williams and Kingery. For the Phils it wouldn’t change the 2018 configuration, as Cesar Hernandez suddenly becomes an extension candidate and they still have four players capable of starting in the outfield. They’d add about 3 WAR at minimum with this deal, as Yelich is worth 4 WAR on average and Williams only projects to about a 1-WAR player next year. Kingery, Romero and Quinn don’t factor into the projection.
So now the Phils are at 38 WAR. Probably a 76-79-win team now.
Now the Phillies add a free-agent whose WAR is around 3.5, which is what you can pencil in for Cain next season.
- Phillies sign Lance Lynn to three-year, $54 million contract
Lynn was worth 3.1 WAR last year and could spike to 3.5. To be honest, the market at this point is not in the Phils’ favor, as the only free agents beyond 3.1 WAR are in positions where the Phils don’t need help.
That puts the Phils at 41.5 WAR (being generous), giving them a projection of about 78-82 wins.
Now let’s add Darvish.
- Phillies sign Yu Darvish to five-year, $125 million contract.
So now the Phils have an injury-prone starting pitcher locked up for five years, along with another locked up for three. They join Nola in the rotation with two spots open, ostensibly to go to Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff for the moment. Darvish adds about 3.5 WAR to the team, putting the Phillies at 45 WAR.
And that makes them worth about 80-84 wins. There’s definitely more opportunity for them to slide into the high-80s, since there’s still plenty of noise here, but they’re also a Darvish injury and a Lynn meltdown away from being a 75-win team again.
The Brewers are a few steps ahead of the Phillies. They didn’t rebuild from the bottom up; instead, they scraped a couple layers off and filled in the top with unknown quantities who stepped up in 2017. They also got lucky. The Eric Thames addition gave them a middle-of-the-order threat. Travis Shaw took a leap. Domingo Santana stayed healthy and produced. Chase Anderson stopped surrendering home runs. Jimmy Nelson turned into a solid rotation piece.
In essence the Phillies could see the same things happen in 2018. Eric Thames? That’s Carlos Santana. Travis Shaw? Hello Maikel Franco. Domingo Santana is Aaron Altherr. Chase Anderson is Nick Pivetta and Jimmy Nelson is, well, take your pick.
The Brewers also had a deep farm system already, allowing them to scrape from the top and not necessarily bottom out, in the way the Phils did from 2015 to present. The cost of trades and free agent contracts was too high for the Phils to quickly reconfigure.
So while Milwaukee is now aiming for the postseason, and we might be lamenting the things the Phillies haven’t done this offseason, know that an example of how it’s done is right in front of us. So by this time next year, we could be talking about all the things that went right for the Phillies in 2018, and the newest arrivals primed to make the team a real contender.