Each week, Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly will answer reader questions as part of the Phillies Nation Mailbag. Questions can be submitted by tweeting at @PhilliesNation, @TimKellySports or e-mailing your question to TSK@TimKellyMedia.com. Let’s get to this week’s question.
Assume the Phillies don’t sign either starter [Bryce Harper or Manny Machado], would you go heavy after pitching adding a starter and maybe Craig Kimbrel? You could then look to trade for a bat at the non-waiver trade deadline. – Marty Focht, via Twitter
It’s funny, almost every week I tweet asking for non Harper or Machado questions for the Phillies Nation Mailbag. This type of question, which still largely centers around Harper and Machado, isn’t exactly what I meant. But, it is a very important question to ask, because if this scenario unfolds, the Phillies will have to pivot quickly.
Let me first say, I still struggle to see a scenario where one of Harper or Machado doesn’t end up in Philadelphia. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, among major market teams, aren’t believed to be involved to any degree in the pursuit of either. The New York Yankees may still be monitoring the market for Machado, but they’ve added Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu, suggesting they don’t plan for Machado to be on their team in 2019. Perhaps if his price drops under $200 million, they would swoop in, but Dan Lozano, Machado’s agent, balked at the idea of a seven-year/$175 million offer, so it’s hard to see that happening.
Maybe one of the two goes to a wild card option like the Chicago White Sox or San Diego Padres. It would take a major financial commitment from ownership, but I’ve never ruled out the possibility of Harper returning to the Washington Nationals. But it’s still difficult for me to see how the offseason ends with neither player in red pinstripes.
But, in the scenario that the Phillies don’t land either, I don’t believe that it’s especially likely they turn around and sign former American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel. Bob Nightengale of USA Today and Jon Heyman of MLB Network both floated the idea of the Phillies pursuing Dallas Keuchel and/or Craig Kimbrel after they secured either Harper or Machado. That doesn’t feel like a coincidence – both are in the early 30s, so signing either would signal that the Phillies feel they are ready to be a team that makes noise in the postseason in 2019 and 2020. Without the addition of Harper or Machado, that may not be the case. Frankly, even with Harper or Machado, Keuchel or Kimbrel would be a risky investment at this stage of their respective careers.
That doesn’t mean the Phillies won’t make any other transactions before the 2019 season if they don’t sign Harper or Machado, though.
The feeling here is that the Phillies don’t currently employ their starting third baseman for the 2019 season. If it’s not Machado, Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported last month that the Phillies are keeping tabs on the market for free-agent third baseman Mike Moustakas. The Phillies were reportedly interested in Moustakas, who has played in the World Series twice, last summer, before he was ultimately traded to the Milwaukee Brewers. The 30-year-old slashed .251/.315/.459 with 28 home runs and 95 RBIs in 2018, a season he split with the Kansas City Royals and Brewers.
Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported in November that Maikel Franco was “pretty much a sure bet” to be traded. Trading the frustratingly talented 26-year-old wouldn’t come without risk; the Phillies stuck with Franco through some lean years and his incremental improvements in 2018 didn’t go unnoticed. But he’s never graded out well in the field, and the Phillies have worked to improve defensively this offseason. And for as much as he’s flashed star offensive potential on occasion – he hit .330 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs last July – he’s more often been a replacement level player.
Elsewhere, while new Phillies pitching coach Chris Young may be confident in the team’s current crop of starters, four-fifths of the Phillies rotation posted ERAs north of five after the All-Star Break. Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Nick Pivetta will be in the team’s rotation to open the season. Adding a veteran like Gio Gonzalez, who posted a 4.16 FIP and 2.0 fWAR in 171.0 innings in 2018, probably wouldn’t be the worst idea. If not Gonzalez, the Phillies may not be interested in a couple of the other noteworthy veteran free-agent starting pitchers; former Phillies Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz. But adding another starting pitcher, with or without Harper or Machado, is still within the realm of possibilities.
There’s no doubt that Phillies fans will be a disappointed if the offseason doesn’t end with either Harper or Machado signing with the Phillies. The Phillies should improve in 2019, after adding veterans Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson and Jean Segura. Backup catcher could still be an area that they make a move at before the 2019 season begins. But any additions that aren’t Harper or Machado (without being in addition to Harper or Machado) will feel underwhelming, and therefore disappointing, in an offseason where the Phillies have been expected to walk away with one of the two 26-year-old stars.
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