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3 Phillies storylines to watch once free agency resumes


Major League Baseball and the Players Association haven’t yet reached a new collective bargaining agreement, though after the two sides agreed to a compromise on the international draft Thursday, one may not be far off.

And once an agreement is reached, it sounds as though free agency could resume, well, right away:

As we wait for the final details of the new CBA to be hammered out, here are three storylines to watch for Dave Dombrowski and the Philadelphia Phillies once the transactions freeze is lifted:

Who Will Be The Left Fielder?

The Phillies declined Andrew McCutchen’s $15 million club option for the 2022 season, instead choosing to pay him a $3 million buyout. While McCutchen still rakes against left-handed pitching — he had a 1.093 OPS against lefties last season — he’s more of a platoon player at this point, and probably better geared to be a DH than an outfielder.

Kyle Schwarber — after reviving his career with the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox in 2021 — would seem to be the favorite to fill this role. New Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long, who previously held the same role for the Nationals, endorsed the fit of Schwarber with the Phillies back in November. And prior to the owners locking the players out, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that the Phillies were in pursuit of Schwarber.

Set to turn 29 later this week, Schwarber was seeking a three-year deal “in the $60 million range,” per Barry Jackson and Craig Mish of The Miami Herald. That deal feels pretty reasonable for someone who homered 32 times and posted a .928 OPS in 113 games last season.

Another option for the Phillies is Nick Castellanos, a former Dombrowski draft pick who hit 34 home runs and drove in 100 runs last year for the Cincinnati Reds. The Phillies did reportedly speak to Castellanos’ camp before the lockout began, though his asking price of “seven or eight years” seemed astronomical. Castellanos also had -7 defensive runs saved in right field this past season, so for as much as he’d help bolster the Phillies lineup, he would be another underwhelming defender on a team that had the worst mark in terms of DRS a season ago.

To this point, there’s no evidence that the Phillies are pursuing Japanese star Seiya Suzuki. But Suzuki, Michael Conforto, Kris Bryant, Eddie Rosario, Tommy Pham and Jorge Soler could all be candidates that the Phillies consider to fill arguably their biggest hole.

Who Will Be The Center Fielder?

While left field might be the biggest need on the Phillies’ roster currently, center field could be the most difficult to fill.

After declining Odúbel Herrera’s $11.5 million club option for 2022, the former All-Star was outrighted and ultimately elected free agency. Technically, the Phillies could still bring Herrera back, although that doesn’t feel especially likely.

Roman Quinn — who has electric speed but an unfortunate injury history — is also a free agent after being designated for assignment in November.

Internally, Dombrowski cast doubt on the idea that either Mickey Moniak or Adam Haseley — two former first-round picks — could be the opening day center fielder.

“I’m not, per se, counting on either one of them to be on our club next year to start off,” Dombrowski said at the GM meetings in November, according to Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

While Matt Vierling could be a candidate to get some at-bats in center field after an impressive 34-game stint with the Phillies late in 2021, the Phillies will most likely be looking externally for their opening day center fielder.

Byron Buxton is off the board after agreeing to a seven-year extension with the Minnesota Twins, and it’s fair to wonder whether the Phillies have the prospect capital to pull off a trade for Bryan Reynolds or Cedric Mullins.

According to Matt Gelb of The Athletic, the Phillies had conversations with the Tampa Bay Rays about a potential trade for Kevin Kiermaier before the lockout began. Kiermaier would likely be the No. 9 hitter in Joe Girardi’s lineup, but the three-time Gold Glove Award winner could bring a much-needed defensive improvement to the outfield in 2022, especially if the Phillies sign an offensive-first left fielder.

Unless the Phillies believe Bryant can be a regular center fielder or can convince Trevor Story to pivot to center field, the answer at this position isn’t likely to be an especially inspiring one.

Will Corey Knebel Be The Closer?

By all accounts, the Phillies plan for Knebel — who they signed to a one-year/$10 million in November — to be their closer.

Knebel was an All-Star closer for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017, and had a 2.45 ERA in 27 games last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s possible that the Phillies’ decision to bank on Knebel returning to the closer’s role proves to be one of the best moves of the offseason, but you would probably feel better if you went into the 2022 season with him as a set-up man than your closer. After all, if you want to make a deep playoff run in the National League, you’ll have to go through the Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers, two teams that typically have at least two relievers capable of pitching in the highest leverage situations.

Knebel’s former Dodgers’ teammate Kenley Jansen is still a free agent. The 34-year-old is 13th in MLB history with 350 career saves, and had a 2.22 ERA and 38 saves a season ago. Over on Audacy Sports, I projected that Jansen would land a two-year/$30 million deal at the outset of the offseason.

Meanwhile, eight-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel remains a potential trade candidate after he struggled setting up for Liam Hendriks following a midseason trade from the Chicago Cubs to the White Sox. Kimbrel’s 372 career saves are ninth in MLB history, and Dombrowski already acquired him once when he was leading the Boston Red Sox front office. To land Kimbrel, though, the Phillies would have to trade something to Chicago and likely take on all of his $16 million salary for 2022.

If the Phillies stand pat at closer with Knebel and he either falters or gets injured, they’ll be left hoping that one of Sam Coonrod, Seranthony Domínguez, Connor Brogdon or José Alvarado can step up and close games.

Whether it’s through free agency or a trade, acquiring an established closer wouldn’t be cheap. But nice things come at a cost.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Xander

    March 11, 2022 at 9:07 am

    Mickey is a possibility. Adam is a complete bust

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