Last offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, while acquiring J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura through trades. While injuries have already doomed Robertson’s Phillies tenure, Segura was productive, Harper drove in a career-high in runs and Realmuto was one of the best overall players in the sport. And McCutchen, prior to tearing his ACL in early June, was an early All-Star candidate.
Despite solid overall production from the bulk of the Phillies marquee offseason acquisitions, the team went just 81-81. Manager Gabe Kapler was fired Thursday, and it’s unclear how the team plans to proceed in center field, at third base and with large chunks of their pitching rotation.
It sounds as though the Phillies plan to go back to the well of external additions again this winter.
“I was told late in the season by somebody that they plan to have another aggressive offseason,” MLB.com‘s Todd Zolecki told Jon Marks and Ike Reese on SportsRadio 94 WIP Thursday.
The offseason’s two biggest potential free-agents are Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon and Houston Astros RHP Gerrit Cole. Zolecki cast doubt about whether the Phillies will ultimately land either of the two, though they’ll certainly inquire. Rendon, 29, is likely to finish in the top five in National League MVP voting, after he slashed .319/.412/.598 with 34 home runs, 126 RBIs and a 7.0 fWAR. Meanwhile, Cole was arguably the best pitcher in the sport in 2019, going 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA, 2.64 FIP and 7.4 fWAR. Rendon and the Nationals advanced to the NLCS Wednesday night, while Cole will start against the Tampa Bay Rays in a win-or-go-home Game 5 of the ALDS Thursday evening.
Both figure to have a bevy of suitors this offseason, and are likely to exceed the $200 million mark in free-agency. Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado set the benchmark for Rendon with his eight-year/$260 million extension. Cole, who turned 29 last month, will likely get at least $250 million over seven seasons in free-agency.
For as much as the Phillies could use another middle-of-the-order bat, their top overall prospect, Alec Bohm, is a third baseman. With such a dire need for pitching, Rendon feels less likely than Cole. As far as Cole, while it’s always a risk to pay a pitcher into his mid-30s, the Phillies have backed themselves into a corner. RHP Aaron Nola is the only impact starter they have. Forget a World Series, if they want to win a division that includes the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals and New York Mets, landing a front-line starter is imperative. That’s, of course, easier said than done. But from here, Cole feels more likely than Rendon if the Phillies were to land one of the two.
Though he’s had an excellent 2019 season, history may ultimately view general manager Matt Klentak and company as smart for having elected not to go to six years to sign LHP Patrick Corbin last offseason. The issue is that the Phillies didn’t seem to have a legitimate fall-back plan for the event that they didn’t land Corbin. They relied on Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez behind Nola, which proved disastrous. While that quartet may play a role in 2020, the Phillies need to add multiple arms behind Nola.
If they don’t ultimately land Cole, Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg can opt-out of his contract and become a free-agent this offseason. That said, Strasburg is 31, a veteran of Tommy John Surgery and likely to get five years on the open market. Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Hyun-jin Ryu, San Francisco Giants LHP Madison Bumgarner, Minnesota Twins RHP Jake Odorizzi, Chicago Cubs LHP Cole Hamels and New York Mets RHP Zack Wheeler can all also become free-agents this offseason. None of those arms comes without concerns – be it age, injury history of some combination of the two – but that’s what happens when you become reliant on the free-agent market to build a bulk of your starting rotation.
Last offseason was billed as the most important in franchise history. Considering they landed Harper and Realmuto, among others, it may ultimately prove to be that. But this offseason, the Phillies need to hire a new manager, new scouting director and head athletic trainer. They also need to find a way to maximize their success during the respective peaks of Harper and Realmuto. That feels pretty important.
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