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Phillies Nation Mailbag: What under-the-radar free-agent options should be considered?

Brett Gardner figures to leave the Yankees in free-agency. (Keith Allison)

For years, Phillies fans have looked at this offseason as one in which the Phillies could potentially sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. But what are some smaller options the club could consider to supplement the team? – Jesse in Media

This is a good question, one that will probably get lost in the Machado/Harper/Patrick Corbin free-agent buzz. This will mark the fifth Phillies offseason I’ve written about. A few years ago, I imagined it being the easiest one to write about, because the storylines write themselves in many senses. But as I wrote last month, the Phillies expected pursuit of Machado and/or Harper will be just the start of what may be the most crucial offseason in Phillies history.

Perhaps the hardest part of the roster to sort through will be the outfield. You don’t know if an addition like Harper will be made. The Phillies seem committed to moving Rhys Hoskins back to first base primarily, though that seems to be contingent on either trading Carlos Santana or moving him to third base. Nick Williams could open the season as a starter in either right or left field, though he was very effective early in the season as a pinch-hitter and has graded out poorly in the field in his young major league career. While the Phillies still sound intrigued by Aaron Altherr, the 28-year-old slashed .181/.295/.333 in what many expected to be a breakout 2018 season. Instead of breaking out, Altherr spent over five weeks at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

And that trio (not including Harper, of course), aren’t even the hardest outfielders for the Phillies to evaluate.

The oft-injured Roman Quinn had an electric 50-game stint at the conclusion of the 2018 season. The 25-year-old stole 10 bases, and from an eye-test perspective, seemed to be the Phillies best defensive outfielder. The problem is, Quinn excited the Phillies in 15 games he played for them in September of 2016. Then Quinn was limited to just 45 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2017.  He missed over five weeks early in the summer at Triple-A Lehigh Valley due to a torn finger ligament on his throwing hand. And even when he finally made it back to the majors in 2018, Quinn dealt with a mild hamstring injury and a broken toe. If he’s available, Quinn will likely start in center field for the Phillies. But it’s hard to bank on his health.

Odubel Herrera was an MVP candidate through the first two months of the season. By the All-Star Break, Herrera’s 45-game on-base streak that he opened the season with was long in the rearview. So too were his aspirations of being an All-Star for the second time in three years. In 187 at-bats after the All-Star Break, the 26-year-old slashed just .214/.279/.342 with an OPS of .622.  Once a defensive sabermetric darling, Herrera’s defensive metrics fell off a cliff in 2018. Between 2015 and 2017, his first three years as a center fielder, Herrera graded out as the fourth best fielding center fielder in baseball. In 2018, Herrera posted a -10.5 ultimate zone rating, -11 defensive runs saved and graded out as the third-worst qualified center fielder. If you got the feeling late in the season that you may be watching Herrera’s final games with the Phillies, you weren’t alone.

However, Herrera’s contract remains extremely team-friendly. Despite struggling for more than half of the season, Herrera’s production in 2018 was worth $7.5 million, per FanGraphs. Herrera made just $3 million in 2018 and is only due $5 million in 2019. You won’t get someone with his type of upside for what he’s making. With Quinn’s health history, Herrera may not be a bad insurance policy to have on hand. The Phillies could also put together a pretty formidable lineup if Quinn was healthy and Herrera was clicking at the plate at the same time.

So as I wrote late in the season, it’s anyone’s guess where the Phillies go from here with their outfield.

One of the smart things that Howie Roseman did prior to the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl season was supplement young talents like Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor with established veterans like Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount and Torrey Smith. Not only did the latter trio add extra production to the Eagles offense, but it allowed the former trio to have the finest seasons of their young careers. And we know how that season ended for the Eagles.

The Phillies outfield (and lineup as a whole) has a lot of talented young pieces that may or may not fulfill their potential. From here, the Phillies could stand to add a stable veteran into that mix.

Though Brett Gardner found his way into Game 1 of the ALCS because of an injury to Aaron Hicks, the 35-year-old has fallen out of favor in the Bronx. In his defense, the Yankees have Hicks, Aaron Judge, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton as outfield/DH options. Gardner, a fan-favorite in New York, has fallen out of favor only because he plays on one of the deepest teams in the sport. Gardner has done a bit of everything during his 11 seasons with the Yankees: he was an All-Star in 2015, won a Gold Glove Award in 2016, led the American League in triples in 2013, led the league in stolen bases in 2011 and was a second-year player when the Yankees defeated the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. Even in a down-year in 2018, Gardner posted a 2.5 fWAR.

It seems fairly likely that Gardner will leave the Yankees in free-agency this offseason. Given that as recently as 2017 he hit 21 home runs, stolen 23 bases and posted a 3.9 fWAR, he may garner a multi-year deal or want to be guaranteed that he’ll be a starter. If that’s the case, he may not be a great fit for the Phillies, who don’t necessarily want to block Quinn or Herrera from starting if that’s what’s best for the team. But the former third-round pick could make quite a bit of sense for the Phillies if he’s looking to sign a one-year deal to rebuild his value – he’s an excellent fielder that can play all over the outfield. His balls-to-the-wall style would make him immediately popular in Philadelphia.

Perhaps a more realistic option is journeyman Jon Jay, who always seems to find himself on a team competing for the postseason in August and September. Jay proved to be a disappointing addition for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who missed the playoffs in a crowded National League West after going 8-19 in September. Still, Jay had slashed .307/.363/.374 in 59 games for the Kansas City Royals prior to being traded to the Diamondbacks. He slashed .296/.374/.375 for Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs in 2017. Jay also had seven defensive runs saved in 2018, and can move around the outfield. Considering he made just $3 million in 2018, it wouldn’t take much to land Jay’s services.

Again, there are quite a few moving parts in the Phillies outfield. But injecting a stable veteran into the mix could be one of the best things that general manager Matt Klentak could do this offseason.

More From Phillies Nation

  1. Andy MacPhail On Free-Agency: You’re Not Going To Throw Every Resource At This Year
  2. Klentak: If Change In Rotation Makes Sense, We’ll Explore It
  3. Klentak: Gabe Kapler Learned This Year That Perception Matters
  4. Kingery, Franco, Alfaro And The Delicate Balance Between Potential And Performance
  5. Manny Machado Asked Carlos Santana About Phillies, Has Some Interest In Signing With Club
  6. For Phillies, Machado/Harper Free-Agency Will Just Be Start Of Crucial Offseason
  7. Rival Executives View It As A Near Lock That The Phillies Land Harper Or Machado, Both Possible 
  8. Phillies Reportedly Open To Trading “Just About Anyone,” Santana Deal Not Likely
  9. Phillies Expected To Make A Push For Japanese Southpaw Yusei Kikuchi
  10. Rhys Hoskins: As Long As I Get To Hit, I Don’t Care Where I Play

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