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Phillies Nuggets: If not Machado, where do Phillies look for star?



Mike Trout (left) and Paul Goldschmidt (right) are two stars that some will connect the Phillies to in their search for a star. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t the only team in the city that’s “star hunting.” Though the Phillies made a play for Manny Machado this summer, they weren’t ultimately able to compete with the Los Angeles Dodgers offer, which was headlined by outfielder Yusniel Diaz.

General manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies are still widely expected to be a serious player for Machado in free-agency this offseason. Though he’ll finish the season with Dodgers, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported shortly after his trade to the Dodgers that Machado’s friends believe he still wants to end up on the East Coast this offseason. Could he fall in love with Los Angeles in the next few months? Could the Dodgers find a way to allow him and Corey Seager to coexist? It’s possible, but it does seem more likely than not that Machado will be a rental in Los Angeles.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle preventing John Middleton’s money from luring Machado to Philadelphia this offseason will be the New York Yankees. Though the Yankees don’t necessarily need Machado, there’s reason to think he would covet a chance to play in the Bronx. He and his wife’s joint Instagram account liked a photoshopped picture of him in a Yankees jersey earlier this month. His nephew, with him mere feet away, said at the All-Star Game that if his uncle couldn’t finish the season in Baltimore, he hoped he was dealt to the Yankees. And Salisbury added that Machado is believed to have “a thing” for the Yankees.

With Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, Brian Cashman may ultimately not be willing to compete with how much money the Phillies are willing to offer Machado this offseason. But if only for a moment, let’s pretend that Machado signs anywhere but Philadelphia this offseason. Where then can the Phillies look for a star? Here’s a look.

Bryce Harper

Free Agent: After 2018 season

Age When Free Agent: 26

While Machado had a down year in 2017 but is putting together the finest offensive season of his career in 2018, Harper’s the opposite.

While he didn’t have the best offensive year of his career in 2017, he was pretty damn impressive – slashing .319/.413/.595 with 29 home runs, 87 RBIs, 156 weighted runs created, a 34.9 offensive WAR and a 4.9 fWAR. And that was only in 111 games, as a freak-incident slipping on the first base bag at Nationals Park cost him six weeks of the season.

Harper was still an All-Star in 2018, much to the chagrin of some. His .226 batting average obviously doesn’t scream All-Star, although his .246 BABIP (he had a .356 BABIP in 2017) does suggest he’s been unlucky. His batting average, on-base percentage, weighted runs created and offensive WAR are all down considerably from a season ago, but he’s still not having a bad season. He has 25 home runs and 65 RBIs. His numbers are only bad by his standards.

One of the enticing parts about paying Harper (or Machado) in free-agency is that at 26, his peak could still be in front of him. This is someone that in 2015 slashed .330/.460/.649 with 42 home runs, a 77.7 offensive WAR and a 9.3 fWAR. Here’s a list of right fielders in the Hall of Fame or with Hall of Fame credentials that never put up a 9.3 fWAR in a season: Hank Aaron, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, Tony Gwynn, Larry Walker and Ichiro Suzuki. Harper did it when he was 22. Perhaps that season was a fluke (although even if he gets close to that he’ll be a Hall of Famer himself), but it’s hard to shake how good it was so early in his career.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things that would concern you about Harper. If you were to give him a record-breaking contract and have him perform like he has the past three seasons (2016-2018) – one great season, two down years (by his standards) – it wouldn’t be a very successful signing. He’s played in center field some this year, but even in right field his defensive metrics have slipped. And personally, I wonder how his body (particularly his lower back) will hold up as he ages because of the violent nature of his swing.

The guess here, as The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark suggested over the All-Star Break, is that Harper will re-sign with the Nationals this offseason, but sign a deal that allows him to opt-out after either 2019 or 2020. Maybe both.

Although, ESPN.com‘s Jerry Crasnick did note earlier this month that there are some in the sport that believe that managing partner John Middleton will attempt to court both Machado and Harper this offseason. And the Nationals willingness – even if it was only for a brief period – to listen on Harper just prior to the non-waiver trade deadline suggests they are aware of the possibility that Harper goes elsewhere this offseason. If the Phillies lose out on Machado, will that increase their interest in the 2015 National League MVP?

Nolan Arenado

Free Agent: After 2019 Season

Age When Free Agent: 28

Earlier this month, I brought up the idea that if the Phillies aren’t able to land Machado or Harper this offseason, they could pivot to Arenado. When I said that, the Colorado Rockies were 41-43 and Arenado had just spoken to Bob Nightengale of USA Today about his frustrations with the Rockies inability to become a consistent playoff team during his tenure with the team. Since then, the Rockies have gone 17-6, putting them in the thick of heavily contested races in the National League West and the National League Wild Cards.

The Rockies could very easily make the playoffs in 2018 and work out an offseason contract extension with Arenado, one of the five best players in the history of their organization. However, they could very easily miss the playoffs in 2018, marking the fifth time in Arenado’s six seasons that the team missed the playoffs. If they approach him about signing an extension this offseason and he’s non-committal about his future in the Mile High City, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich may be forced to at least pick up the phone when teams call on the four-time All-Star.

It’s unclear what it would take to get the Rockies to part with Arenado, who will turn 28 early in the 2018 season. If the Phillies weren’t willing to part with Sixto Sanchez to acquire a 25-year-old Manny Machado with a year of control left, it’s difficult to imagine them doing it with Arenado, who is a bit older. It’s also unclear if Arenado would be willing to sign a long-term extension with the Phillies upon completion of a trade, just a year away from free-agency. That would go a long way in determining what the Phillies would be willing to trade to acquire his services.

But Arenado would fit perfectly into the middle of the Phillies lineup. He’s slashing .308/.392/.596 with 55 walks, 28 home runs, 80 RBIs and a 23.2 offensive WAR. He’s not too bad in the field either, having won a Gold Glove Award every season of his career. I’m not sure if he’s the greatest fielding third baseman ever, as some have suggested, but I do know that he’s one of the most underappreciated superstars the game has ever had. And there’s a chance he could be had.

If not in a trade this offseason, the Phillies could potentially sign Arenado next offseason if they haven’t made a major acquisition in the meantime. He could even be someone the Phillies target at next summer’s non-waiver trade deadline, again, assuming the Phillies haven’t made a major signing or trade in the meantime.

 

Mike Trout

Free Agent: After 2020 Season

Age When Free Agent: 28

For those of you who have read my work for some time, you know that I’ve probably lost years off of my life explaining why Trout ending up with the Phillies in the coming years isn’t likely. I still largely believe that, though with each passing year the Los Angeles Angels don’t contend with one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, I suppose it becomes more likely.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler did his best to put a contending team around Trout this offseason: he re-signed Justin Upton, traded for Ian Kinsler and signed two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani to a lucrative contract. Upton, who has 21 home runs and 61 RBIs, is having a very good year. Kinsler – still an elite fielder, but not the hitter he once was – was dealt to the Boston Red Sox before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Ohtani has been very good offensively, and very good as a pitcher, but hasn’t pitched June 6 because of a Grade 2 UCL sprain. For the time being, he’s DHing and the Angels hope that platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections will allow him to eventually pitch again without needing Tommy John surgery. If he did need Tommy John surgery, it’s unclear what that would mean for his future as a two-way player. If he needs Tommy John surgery, he likely couldn’t play in the outfield without having the surgery either. At 24, if Ohtani needs Tommy John surgery, it would probably be best for his long-term future to have it. But missing an entire year may hurt the Angels’ chances of retaining Trout.

What’s also hurting the future of Trout in Los Angeles is that the Angels play in one of baseball’s best divisions. The reigning World Series champion Houston Astros aren’t going anywhere. Even without Robinson Cano, the Mariners are tied for the second American League Wild Card spot, giving them a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since Ichiro Suzuki was a rookie and Pat Gillick was their general manager. The Oakland A’s are tied with the Mariners for the American League’s second Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, the Angels haven’t had a winning season since 2015.

So is it possible the Angels, realizing Trout is a couple years away from potentially leaving in free-agency, listen to offers for Trout this offseason? Sure. Next offseason might be more realistic, because if at all possible, the Angels would like to retain the seven-time All-Star. It’s not as though owner Arte Moreno has ever been hesitant to spend money. But Trout’s too valuable to let get anywhere near free-agency.

Here’s the problem with trading for him: it would take a package the likes of which the sport has never seen. If Matt Klentak, who was the Angels assistant general manager from 2011-2015, were to call Eppler about acquiring Trout, it’s hard to imagine what the Angels wouldn’t ask for. No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez, the one who has drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez, might not even headline a deal. Acquiring Trout might be the only way to get the Phillies to part with Sanchez. On top of that, it’s hard not to imagine the Angels insisting on Rhys Hoskins. And even a package with those two, which could seemingly acquire any player in the sport, might not give the Angels production equal to Trout.

In theory, yes, you would part with Sanchez or even Hoskins for Trout. You would part with anyone short of 2001 Barry Bonds for Trout. But the goal of trading for a star like Trout would be for him to play with Hoskins, Sanchez and Aaron Nola. If the Phillies had to trade a franchise-altering package of players for Trout AND sign him to a record-breaking contract extension, boy is it hard to imagine that being the formula for winning a World Series. Trout has put together one of the greatest seven-year stretches in baseball history and has yet to win a single playoff game.

Additionally, even Trout likely won’t be immune to aging. If the Phillies were to acquire Trout at age 27 or 28, they would likely have to guarantee him a contract through his late 30s. He would be signing his megadeal at a younger age than either Alex Rodriguez (the second megadeal) or Albert Pujols did, but there was a time where the “well if you are going to risk giving a deal to anyone into their 40s, he would be the guy” argument was made for both of those two. It feels like Rodriguez’s 10-year/$275 million deal that he signed in 2007 lasted 50 years, but it was scandal-ridden and largely unsuccessful. Pujols signed a back-loaded 10-year/$240 million deal with the Angels prior to the 2012 season. That deal, which runs through 2021, has prevented a major market team like the Angels from putting a better team around Trout, which is one of the many reasons it may ultimately be viewed as the worst contract in baseball history, even though Pujols is an all-time great player.

So landing Trout might be a bit more realistic than it seemed a few years ago. But at what cost?

Anthony Rendon

Free Agent: After 2019 Season

Age When Free Agent: 29

Bryce Harper isn’t the only Washington Nationals star that Phillies fans should have their eyes on.

Rendon, the Nationals third baseman, slashed .308/.374/.535 with 24 home runs, 92 RBIs and a 6.3 fWAR in 2018. That comes a year after he slashed .201/.403/.533 with 25 home runs, 100 RBIs and a 6.8 fWAR, which was fifth among all qualified players in 2017. And though he’s never won a Gold Glove Award, FanGraphs says that since 2015, he’s been the best fielding third baseman in baseball.

Though it’s still unclear how the Phillies front-office thinks Maikel Franco fits into their future, he’s still just 25 and July was one of the best months of his career. And while J.P. Crawford is a natural shortstop, in his brief major league experience, he’s graded out better as a fielder at third base than shortstop. In a perfect world, the Phillies will add a star that’s at least capable of playing shortstop. But if given the chance to sign Rendon, the Phillies could make it work.

In many ways, Rendon’s long-term future in the Nation’s Capital is dependent on whether the Nationals retain Harper or not. If the Nationals retain Harper past 2019 (meaning he signs a long-term contract and doesn’t opt-out if he has a bounce-back season in 2019), it’s hard to imagine them also re-signing Rendon. However, if Harper opts to sign elsewhere either this offseason or next, Rendon spending the bulk of his career with the Nationals becomes a more realistic option.

In any event, it feels unlikely that the Nationals would trade Rendon this offseason. If they re-sign Harper, keeping Rendon for 2019 would give them a chance to be a contender in the National League. If Harper leaves, they still, in theory, are a team that could contend in 2019. They may need to retool in the coming years, but Rendon would presumably be part of that retool. The Phillies best route to Rendon likely would come in free-agency after the 2019 season, though the Nationals could shop Rendon at the 2019 trade deadline if they fall out of contention.

Xander Bogaerts

Free Agent: After 2019 Season

Age When Free Agent: 27

The Xandy man can?

For years prior to the Phillies trading Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers in July of 2015, it was the worst-kept secret in baseball that the Boston Red Sox had interest in Hamels. Ultimately, though, Ben Cherington’s front-office was unwilling to part with much of the Red Sox young talent to acquire Hamels in his early 30’s. While some of those pieces – Blake Swihart and Henry Owens, for example – haven’t panned out how the Red Sox had hoped, that’s the nature of developing young talent. Other pieces that the Red Sox were unwilling to part with at that time, like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, have become core members of the World Series champion Red Sox.

So it would seem hard to imagine the Red Sox allowing a home-grown shortstop to leave in free-agency in the midst of his prime. And perhaps they won’t. But highlighted by David Price, J.D. Martinez, Rusney Castillo and Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox already have $92 million in financial commitments for 2020. Chris Sale, who is in the midst of a Hall of Fame caliber career, can be a free-agent after 2019. Mookie Betts, who is one of the five best position players in the sport, can become a free-agent after the 2020 season. The Red Sox may find a way to retain all three of Sale, Betts and Bogaerts, but even one of baseball’s deepest-pocketed teams doesn’t have unlimited funds.

So *if* the Phillies aren’t able to land Manny Machado this offseason and *if* Bogaerts reaches free-agency after the 2019 season, he could be a perfect fit for the Phillies. He’ll only be 27 years old. He has pop, draws a respectable amount of walks and has been an above-average fielder since he became an everyday player in 2014.

Of the names on this list, Bogaerts certainly isn’t the most likely to end up in red pinstripes. He’s also far from the least likely.

Paul Goldschmidt

Free Agent: After 2019 Season

Age When Free Agent: 32

On the surface, the idea of the Phillies acquiring Goldschmidt is one that many fans would be likely to get behind. But it may not be as natural of a fit as you may think.

First off, Goldschmidt is a first baseman, and while there are few as productive as him, it’s not exactly a position that the Phillies are short on options at. Carlos Santana is under contract through 2020, with a club option for 2021. While I would point to statistics such as BABIP to note that Santana was extremely unlucky in his first season with the Phillies, Goldschmidt would obviously be a massive upgrade. If the situation presented itself, the Phillies may even be able to eat the $17.5 million Santana is due in 2020 – or at least enough of it to facilitate a trade – opening up first base for Goldschmidt.

At that stage, the next question would then become if the Phillies were willing to continue playing Rhys Hoskins in left field, rather than his natural position of first base. Even for as much as Santana struggled at times in 2018, his bat in the lineup was an upgrade over having either Nick Williams or Aaron Altherr in the lineup together on an every-day basis. Despite a few fluky games, he’s a far superior first baseman to Hoskins. So the Phillies felt they were upgrading in the field at first, getting another productive bat in the lineup and still keeping Hoskins’ bat in the lineup every day. And from that sense, general manager Matt Klentak and Phillies brass probably weren’t wrong.

The problem is that based off of defensive metrics, Hoskins really struggled in left field in 2018. Hoskins may be best geared to be a DH, though unless there’s a drastic change between now and 2020, it would seem that the Phillies will be forced to wrestle with whether they would rather have Hoskins continue to play in left field or play at first base. Of course, the opportunity cost of moving Hoskins back to first – eliminating a position for another offensive weapon to play – will factor into that decision.

The other thing worth noting is that Goldschmidt will be 32 when he reaches free-agency. If he was willing to sign a four-year free-agent contract, perhaps the Phillies would be interested. However, if he’s looking for a deal in excess of five years, it’s hard to imagine him being a fit for the Phillies.

There seems to be a lot of moving parts to a potential Goldschmidt deal. While Goldschmidt would fit well in the middle of the Phillies lineup – and it appears possible the Diamondbacks listen to trade offers for him this offseason – the feeling here is that he’s not one of the more likely names on this list to actually end up in Philadelphia.

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