The Phillies entered the offseason with a clear need at a premium position and a number of players to choose from. These weren’t just stopgaps or part-time players, either, as the list of free agent centerfielders included Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino.
Including conceivable trade targets like Denard Span, Peter Bourjos, Dexter Fowler and Chris Young (prior to the Oakland deal) the Phillies had plenty of options. Their decision was going to boil down to available resources and the way in which they decided to allocate them among other perceived needs like third base, the corner outfield spots, and the bullpen. Everything was connected.
Signing Upton to a lucrative deal would likely rule out the additional signing of a corner outfielder. Signing Hamilton would help in the interim but would cost a pretty penny for an aging player who won’t play up the middle in two years. He would also cost a first-round pick and effectively rule out spending any money at third base or the bullpen.
Acquiring a centerfielder via trade would mean parting ways with prospects. That isn’t a big deal, but if one of those prospects is a starting pitcher close to major-league ready, the Phillies wouldn’t have them should one of the Big Three get hurt, should Kyle Kendrick turn into a pumpkin, or should the league catch up with Vance Worley.
Everything is connected, but the latter point is perhaps the most interesting. Despite the aforementioned uncertainties surrounding the starting rotation, none of myself, Corey, Pat or Ian discussed any related moves in our offseason plans. No starting pitchers were even mentioned, because the rotation is still quite strong, and there were more pressing needs elsewhere. We weren’t advocating a complete disregard of the rotation, but rather hoping that the front office solved the outfield issues, first and foremost.
Now that several players are off of the board, the entire landscape of the Phillies’ offseason has changed, and it seems that they may have missed out on some good opportunities as a result. The offseason is far from over, and the Phillies can still make improvements in various areas, but it’s hard to spin what has happened so far in a positive way.
Let’s recap what has happened. The Phillies reportedly made an offer to Upton for five years and $55 million. In no universe was that ever going to be enough, and he ended up signing with the Braves for five years and over $75 million. The Phillies were serious about signing Pagan but he re-upped with the Giants for four years and $40 million. Span was dealt to the Nationals for a return the Phillies easily could have competed with.
Though he still has value to provide, the Phillies apparently had no interest in Victorino, who signed for $39 million over three years with the Red Sox. My spidey sense tells me it would have taken a bit less for the Phillies to bring him back.
The Phillies reportedly worked out a trade to acquire Wilton Lopez from the Astros, only to see it fall apart and watch as the underrated reliever was dealt to the Rockies. In the process of almost acquiring him, it was revealed that one of the Phillies’ catching prospects — most likely Sebastian Valle — was included in the deal.
While Lopez certainly has value and would have helped stabilize the bullpen, the revelation that Valle was likely included somewhat deflates his value in future trades. If the Phils were fine sending Valle to acquire a 60-IP reliever, how could he possibly be the centerpiece of a bigger deal?
Simply put, the aforementioned centerfielders all signed for reasonable deals that the Phillies could have outbid to solve the situation, and the Lopez situation backfired in more ways than one. There is virtue in waiting the market out, as it seems Amaro is aptly doing, but the underlying idea there is that he would sign someone when the price was right.
The prices for Upton and Pagan qualified as ‘right’. This becomes problematic because of the interconnectedness of various moves. Because the Phillies missed out on Upton and Pagan and paid little interest to Victorino, they are left with the likely over-priced Bourn and the wild card splash that is Hamilton on the market.
A trade for Fowler or Bourjos would almost certainly include Worley, and that opens up a spot in the starting rotation that could have been filled by Dan Haren. Maybe Haren would not have considered the Phils but there was no evidence that the Phils were even remotely interested in him. Which is a shame considering he’s the best pitcher available on a short-term deal.
It would have made more sense to sign him to a pillow-contract and actively shop Worley than to end up forced to include Worley in potential deals and have to choose between Edwin Jackson or Ryan Dempster on a multi-year deal or one of Tyler Cloyd, Trevor May or Brody Colvin to fill the spot.
As Corey wrote at Beerleaguer earlier today, the Phillies can still salvage the offseason with a series of complementary moves. Moves that, on their own, don’t seem all that great, but put together with the returned health of Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, could help the Phillies legitimately compete.
The Phils are, as usual, in pursuit of Josh Willingham. Acquiring the very affordable right-handed power bat would leave him, Domonic Brown and John Mayberry in the corner spots. A Brown/Mayberry platoon in rightfield — or Brown alone if he can establish himself as an everyday player — with Willingham in left is a pretty enticing corner outfield combo.
Signing Michael Bourn to play center is probably the best bet at this point as well, assuming that his asking price is forced down into that Upton range. While I have my reservations about paying Bourn $15 million per year, his skills would help the Phillies, especially in conjunction to what Willingham brings to the table. These moves work well together.
The other centerfield options aren’t all that enticing. Fowler hits like Rajai Davis away from Coors Field, and while Davis is an adequate player capable of a .280/.320/.380 with solid fielding, he isn’t all that exciting. Bourjos is a favorite of mine but he is now slated to start with Torii Hunter‘s departure. It’s tough to envision the Angels trading him at all and it would certainly cost more if he’s going to start.
Hamilton is a sexy name, but do you really want to pay him $25 million per year and lose a first-round pick to field poorly and keep fans wondering if he’ll even stay on the field, for one reason or another? Plus, that still doesn’t solve the corner outfield issues, and that $25 million is better if allocated between Bourn and Willingham.
However, even the Bourn/Willingham plan has flaws or drawbacks. Acquiring Willingham would likely mean parting ways with Worley and May, meaning a spot opens up in the rotation. It wouldn’t be prudent to waste that spot with Cloyd when there is still a question mark regarding Kendrick’s abilities. The Phillies can’t have two questionable starters at the back-end of the rotation if Halladay’s health is still a potential concern. And the available starters — with guys like Haren and Scott Baker off the board — would require multi-year deals and material salaries in the $10-$13 million range.
There is still plenty of time to improve for the upcoming season and beyond, but the Phillies haven’t seemed to implement a concrete plan so far. It doesn’t mean they don’t have one, but rather that nothing we have heard about has tied together or made any type of cohesive sense. The offseason is long and there is clearly still time for the Phillies to make improvements, but this offseason has largely lacked direction, which isn’t indicative of the Amaro era, and which makes this perhaps the most interesting offseason of this recent Phillies run.