At a position with very few needle movers — and even less who become available — the Philadelphia Phillies were dealt a blow Friday night in their pursuit of a center fielder, arguably the biggest need on the roster.
Starling Marte reportedly reached a four-year/$78 million deal with the division-rival New York Mets, closing the door on the free agent that some thought was the best fit for the Phillies.
While we’re intrigued by the possibility of Simon Muzziotti playing a role for the 2022 Phillies, it’s pretty unlikely that the No. 14 overall prospect will be the team’s opening day center fielder. And president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already cast doubt on the chances that either Mickey Moniak or Adam Haseley will be a solution in center field to open next season.
Without a clear internal answer in center field, here are seven external options the Phillies could pivot to in the wake of Marte signing with the Mets:
The Phillies didn’t make any bones about their interest in Buxton last summer, but Dan Hayes of The Athletic ultimately reported that they “didn’t have a good enough headliner” to land the oft-injured star center fielder.
Perhaps nothing has changed in that regard, but it would behoove the Phillies to test those waters again, given that Buxton is entering his contract year and the Minnesota Twins haven’t been able to complete a long-term deal with him.
Acquiring Buxton — as Phillies Nation‘s Destiny Lugardo projected in her latest mock offseason — certainly wouldn’t be without risk. Not only would the Phillies have to part with some of the limited prospect capital that they have, but presumably reach a long-term deal with the soon-to-be 28-year-old.
If Buxton stayed healthy, though, he could turn center field into a strength and help the Phillies reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
An All-Star for the first time in 2021, Taylor has reached free agency ahead of his age-31 season.
In some senses, Taylor would be the perfect fit for the Phillies. He can play center field or shortstop, among other positions, and would bring extensive postseason experience to a roster that lacks it.
The flip side of that, though, is that you would likely be looking at a deal similar to the one that Marte signed to land Taylor, who is on the wrong side of 30. Since he declined a qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies would also have to surrender their second-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft and $500,000 of international signing bonus pool money to acquire his services.
This is perhaps the longest shot of any of the names on this list, as Mullins is coming off of an All-Star campaign that ultimately saw him finish ninth in American League MVP voting.
Jon Heyman of Audacy Sports says that the Orioles “would listen” on the 27-year-old, though he adds that potential suitors are aware that “it’s a long shot” that Baltimore parts with their best asset.
Mullins can’t become a free agent until after 2025, so the Orioles aren’t especially motivated to move him now, even if they view signing him long-term as unlikely. If center field is still an issue in a year or two for the Phillies — which it may very well be — perhaps the idea of trading for Mullins will be more realistic.
The former National League MVP isn’t an especially strong fielder at any one position, but he can be serviceable at all three outfield positions and third base, which certainly would help the Phillies.
He would also provide the Phillies with another middle-of-the-order bat to hit behind Bryce Harper, so you would be killing two birds with one stone.
The problem with signing Bryant would be that unless the Phillies are willing to exceed the luxury tax threshold, signing Bryant to the six-year/$160 million deal that MLB Trade Rumors has projected would eat into a giant chunk of the limited financial flexibility the team has under the constraints they have imposed.
You wouldn’t have to surrender draft compensation, though, because Bryant was traded by the Chicago Cubs to the San Francisco Giants midseason and wasn’t eligible to be issued a qualifying offer.
A three-time Gold Glove Award winner, Kiermaier would be a defensive-first addition, as the Phillies look to upgrade a roster that was dead last with -54 defensive runs saved in 2021.
Kiermaier, a former Platinum Glove Award winner, had 13 defensive runs saved this past season. Jean Segura and Odúbel Herrera — who is no longer in the organization — were the only Phillies regular position players who were above water in terms of defensive runs saved in 2021.
Set to turn 32 next April, Kiermaier is due $12 million in the final year of his six-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. If the Phillies traded for him, they would also inherit a $13 million club option for 2023, one that includes a $2.5 million buyout.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley posted a minuscule .497 OPS in his first season with the Milwaukee Brewers and is due $9.5 million in 2022, so this may not seem appealing on the surface.
However, if you were able to offload the $14.5 million owed to Didi Gregorius in 2021, it may make some sense to take on Bradley’s deal, which will include a hefty $8 million buyout in 2023. Gregorius counts $14 million (his average annual value) towards the luxury tax threshold. Bradley costs $12 million, so you’d be opening up a bit of financial flexibility in 2022, even if you’d be forcing yourself into some level of commitment for 2023.
One of the best defenders of his era, Bradley did still have nine defensive runs saved in center field this past season. Dombrowski was with him in Boston, so he’s aware that Bradley’s glove can make up for a below-average fielder in left with a big bat, such as Nick Castellanos or Kyle Schwarber.
If Bradley was able to rebound to some degree offensively in 2022, adding his glove and offloading Gregorius’ remaining money might be making the best of a bad situation.
While he’s not the fielder that he once was, Pillar remains adequate in center field, and could be an interesting depth piece if you have someone else in mind to pair him with in center field. It’s unclear who that someone else would be for the Phillies, though.
Pillar, who will be 33 in January, did hit 15 home runs and drive in 47 runs for the Mets this past season. However, there wasn’t a ton of offensive production outside that, as he posted just a .277 on-base percentage.
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