Spring training is well underway and as always, a few notable big leaguers are still on the free-agent market. While the majority of the work is done, Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies front office are still lingering around in search of upgrades. They’ve been in contact with the top starting pitcher still available on the market in Jake Odorizzi, according to Jon Heyman.
Some of the better free agents available are former Phillies. Left-handed reliever José Álvarez is the latest to have reportedly found a landing spot as he is close to a deal with the San Francisco Giants, reuniting with former manager Gabe Kapler.
Álvarez could have been a good fit in the 2021 Phillies bullpen, but the team indicated a preference to go in another direction when they signed Tony Watson to a minor-league deal. With Álvarez off the market, are there any other former Phillies that could fill a void on the roster?
From a strictly business perspective, the Phillies should absolutely sign Cole Hamels. It’s not about selling tickets: Seating capacity will be extremely limited, so just about every Phillies game with fans in attendance will sell out. Re-signing one of the best pitchers in Phillies history from the team’s golden era will grab the attention of the casual Philadelphia sports fan who can only identify Bryce Harper and a few other players as members of the current team.
Connecting the new era of Phillies baseball to the one where the team was arguably a bigger attraction than the Eagles could have a quantifiable impact from a financial and public relations perspective that appeals to John Middleton and the ownership group. Winning is the best way to appeal to this base, but if that doesn’t work, nostalgia should do the trick.
From a baseball perspective, it might not be the best idea. Hamels threw only 3 1/3 innings for the Atlanta Braves in 2020 after battling triceps tendinitis and a left shoulder strain. When he’s healthy, he’s been a workhorse. He’s averaged over 160 innings pitched from 2017 to 2019, a solid workload for a back-end starter. This is after throwing over 200 innings for seven consecutive seasons in the regular season from 2010 to 2016. ZiPS projects Hamels to throw over 100 innings to a tune of a 4.46 ERA in 19 starts this season.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Hamels is still a free agent on Opening Day. He’s a more valuable commodity to a team that’s dealing with a string of early-season injuries and is in need of a starting pitcher. If the injury bug bites the pitching staff and the Phillies are comfortable with their luxury tax payroll number, do not rule out a Hamels reunion.
David Robertson’s tenure with the Phillies was about as bad as it could get for both sides. After signing a 2-year, $23 million deal prior to the 2019 season, Robertson threw only 6 2/3 innings in red pinstripes. An elbow injury and Tommy John surgery kept him out for almost the entirety of the two-year deal. He made progress in his rehab, but twice, he faced untimely setbacks. The COVID-19 outbreak in Clearwater last June pushed back his timeline as he was scheduled to throw off the mound for the first time the day the facility had shut down.
He experienced a fit of discomfort in an outing at the alternate site last season. His velocity was far below what it needed to be and the decision was made to put an end to Robertson’s comeback story. The 35-year-old says he’s healthy now and has reportedly thrown for scouts on two occasions.
The Phillies don’t have much use for Robertson since they already have a handful of arms on minor-league deals in camp. Perhaps a big reason why Robertson is still on the market is that he’s holding out for a major-league opportunity and the Phillies are not in a position to offer him a guaranteed spot in the bullpen.
Yes, Maikel Franco is still somehow on the free-agent market. After being non-tendered by the Phillies after the 2019 season, Franco slashed .278/.321/.457 with a 109 OPS+ in 2020 with the Kansas City Royals. He never lived up to his top prospect status in Philadelphia following a terrific 2015 season, but he can still contribute to a lineup whose weakness is at third base. His market should have opened up when Justin Turner re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it hasn’t.
The Phillies hope they have their third baseman of the future in Alec Bohm. Franco only has two career extra-base hits and a career OPS of .546 in 36 at-bats as a pinch hitter, so perhaps a bench role wouldn’t be ideal for him. The Phillies could use a power-hitting right-handed hitter to deliver a key hit late in games, but Franco’s lack of positional versatility doesn’t make giving him a roster spot worthwhile.
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