It’s been the worst-kept secret in baseball for the better part of the last half-decade that the Philadelphia Phillies plan to be aggressive bidders for Manny Machado and Bryce Harper in free-agency this offseason. While the market appears to have lined up about as well as possible for the Phillies to walk away with one of the two 26-year-old superstars, Matt Klentak and company appear likely to check in on all major free-agent targets this offseason.
In fact, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic says that in addition to being a serious suitor for Machado and Harper, the Phillies are likely to make a push for LHP Patrick Corbin in free-agency:
The Phillies, operating in the sweet spot of burgeoning local TV money and few existing contractual commitments, are expected to be a major player for Machado or Harper and the top starting pitcher in free agency, Patrick Corbin.
Corbin, who celebrated his 29th birthday in July, is coming off of the finest season of his major league career. Overshadowed by Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola in the National League, Corbin posted a 3.15 ERA, 2.47 FIP and 6.3 fWAR in 200.0 innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018. The Diamondbacks are viewed as a long-shot (if they have a shot at all) to retain Corbin, who was an All-Star for the second time in 2018.
In his postseason press conference, Phillies president Andy MacPhail talked about a desire for the Phillies to become more left-handed. Ranger Suarez made his major league debut in July, making him the first left-hander to start a game for the Phillies in 267 games. Even with future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw now off the market, this offseason is rich with potential left-handed starting pitching options, with Corbin at the top of that list.
The Diamondbacks, in anticipation of losing Corbin in free-agency, did issue a one-year/$17.9 million qualifying offer to Corbin. Though more players have accepted qualifying offers in recent years – Jeremy Hellickson accepted the Phillies qualifying offer for the 2017 season – it’s only a matter of time before Corbin declines the qualifying offer. The Diamondbacks are a revenue sharing recipient and Corbin’s free-agent deal will surely be in excess of $50 million, so the Phillies would have to surrender a pick in the round that follows the first-round of the 2019 MLB Draft. If the Phillies were to sign Corbin and Harper, they would lose their second and third highest 2019 MLB Draft selections and $1 million in international bonus pool money. There would be no penalty for signing Machado, because he didn’t play the entire 2018 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, so they weren’t able to issue a qualifying offer to him. (If you’re still confused, here’s a great post to help clear things up.)
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to signing Corbin is that the New York Yankees appear to have him No. 1 on their list of targets this offseason. And the feeling may be mutual. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported last month that the Yankees intend to make a push for Corbin. Corbin, a former second-round pick, told Bob Nightengale of USA Today in April that it “would be great” to play for the Yankees, who were his favorite team as a kid. It doesn’t appear the Yankees have serious interest in Harper, and it appears that unless Machado’s price drops drastically from some of the speculated numbers, the Yankees would prefer to spend on someone like Corbin.
An unnamed National League executive told The Athletic‘s Zach Buchanan in September that he would be “shocked” if Corbin didn’t receive a contract in excess of $100 million this offseason. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projected at the outset of free-agency that Corbin would receive a six-year/$129 million free-agent contract. $129 million may not be what it once was, but it’s still a hefty sum to give to a pitcher that’s already had Tommy John Surgery once. A team like the Yankees, who won over 100 games in 2018 and are looking to catch the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, would be more motivated to spend that type of money on a pitcher that will turn 30 next season than the Phillies, who went 80-82 in 2018.
There is something to be said for the aggressive nature that the Red Sox showed in pursuing upgrades to help them win 108 regular season games and a World Series in 2018. They traded for a generational talent in Chris Sale. They took a pretty big risk and signed David Price – who has been a very mixed bag in his time in Boston – to a seven-year/$217 million deal. They signed American League MVP candidate J.D. Martinez to a lucrative five-year deal last offseason. Perhaps some teams around the league – especially ones like the Phillies, who can compete with the Red Sox financially – will follow that blueprint.
At the same time, the Red Sox will pay Pablo Sandoval $18 million not to play for them in 2019. Rusney Castillo, who has played 99 major league games in his career and none since 2016, will make $11 million in 2019. Dustin Pedroia, a franchise icon limited to just three games in 2018, made $16 million to largely watch from the dugout during a historically dominant season. Hanley Ramirez, who was released in June, collected $22 million to sit at home during the bulk of the Red Sox season. Sure, the Red Sox have tremendous financial wherewithal. But they also internally developed a team of stars in Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi. The Phillies have Aaron Nola as a superstar, and Rhys Hoskins as an offensive star that is very limited defensively.
So while the aggressive nature of the Red Sox is enviable, it was made possible by tremendous talent development. The Phillies, without as many internal talents, can’t afford to swing-and-miss in free-agency as frequently as the Red Sox have, making it crucial that they get a potential pursuit of Corbin, or any major free-agent, right.
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