While Houston Astros RHP Gerrit Cole and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon figure to be the offseason’s most coveted free-agents, the real prize of the offseason may prove to be Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts, the reigning American League MVP. ESPN‘s Jeff Passan noted in August that there are some executives that believe the Red Sox will seriously consider trading Betts, who can become a free-agent after the 2020 season.
Betts, who is celebrating his 27th birthday Monday, is a four-time All-Star that hit .346 and posted a staggering 10.4 fWAR in 2018. In what felt like a down season compared to 2018, Betts was still one of the best players in the sport, slashing .295/.391/.524 with 29 home runs, 80 RBIs and a 6.6 fWAR in 2019. His career is on a Hall of Fame track, which makes the prospect of trading for him and potentially extending him very appealing.
Monday, Mark Polishuk of MLB Trade Rumors wondered whether the Phillies could be a match for Betts in a deal. As intriguing as an outfield of Betts, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper sounds – and Betts has successfully played center field earlier in his career – it’s fair to wonder if the Phillies are in a position to trade for Betts now. Top pitching prospect Spencer Howard would almost certainly have to be included in such a deal, and while that may be a price worth paying in theory, a trade for Betts would signal that the Phillies believe they can win the World Series almost immediately. A deal for Betts would almost certainly have to come with an extension, and when you add in Bryce Harper’s 12 remaining years and a likely extension for J.T. Realmuto, it’s hard to imagine the Phillies being able to fit in a front-line free-agent starter like the aforementioned Cole or Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg. Are the Phillies with Betts, but without another No. 1 starter and possibly having moved their top pitching prospect a World Series contender? Probably not.
So the timing may just not be right for the Phillies to trade for Betts. If he reaches free-agency next offseason, perhaps the money that the Phillies hoped to invest in two-time American League MVP Mike Trout before his extension could be spent on Betts. But the guess here is that one way or another Betts won’t ultimately reach free-agency.
In any event, where the 2020 Phillies will turn in center field is unclear. Andrew McCutchen will be 33 later this week, is coming off a torn ACL and as -45 defensive runs saved in center field since the start of the 2016 season. You would think the Phillies would like him to only play left field moving forward. Odubel Herrera’s domestic violence suspension will be over when the World Series wraps up, and he does have $20.5 million remaining on his deal. It’s not clear how the Phillies plan to proceed with Herrera. Roman Quinn could remain on the 40-man roster, but both his health and inconsistent bat will make him a reserve at best moving forward.
Adam Haseley is probably the betting favorite to be the Phillies starting center fielder in 2020. Haseley did rob two home runs and post five defensive runs saved in 315.1 innings in center field for the Phillies in 2020. That said, there have been concerns dating back to when the Phillies selected him in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft about whether he has the range or arm to be a consistently effective center fielder. There’s less of a debate about whether he could be a solid defender in either corner outfield spot, though he’s yet to show the necessary pop to warrant being a corner outfielder. Harper and McCutchen are entrenched in the two corner outfield spots anyway.
So if the Phillies ultimately don’t feel confident enough to hand things over to Haseley in center field this offseason, Betts’ Red Sox teammate, Jackie Bradley Jr., could become an interesting trade candidate.
Bradley Jr. will turn 30 next April. At his defensive peak, there’s a case to be made that he was one of the greatest outfielders in baseball history. He appears to be past his defensive peak – he had -1 defensive runs saved in 2019 – but it stands to reason that he could benefit from moving away from playing his home games at Fenway Park, one of the most difficult outfields to navigate.
It’s difficult to project exactly what Bradley Jr. is offensively. In 2016, he homered 26 times, drove in 87 runs and posted a career-high 5.3 fWAR. In 2019, he hit 21 home runs and had 62 RBIs, but batted just .225. The Phillies, though, wouldn’t be asking him to hit at the top of the order (not that the Red Sox do) – he likely would hit seventh or eighth.
Bradley Jr. made $8.85 million in 2019, and has another year left of arbitration eligibility in 2020. For a Red Sox team looking to cut costs, trading Bradley Jr. may make sense. While he helped the team to win a World Series in 2018, he may also benefit from a change of scenery.
Again, much of this comes down to how highly Matt Klentak’s front office thinks of Haseley. If they were to pursue someone like Bradley, seemingly Haseley would become expendable with Harper, McCutchen and Jay Bruce expected to be in the fold in 2020. He could be used in a trade involving Bradley, or a separate one to address pitching needs. RHP Adonis Medina – who posted a 4.94 ERA in 22 games at Double-A Reading – is the type of arm the Red Sox could take a risk on. Heck, former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak could be a good gamble for the Red Sox in a deal where their primary objective is to cut costs.
One thing is clear, even if the Phillies decide to ultimately retain Gabe Kapler as manager in 2020, there’s going to be a ton on Klentak’s plate this winter. Just one of the the things his front office will have to figure out is exactly how to proceed in center field.
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