If anything, the Chicago White Sox’s four-year, $54 million agreement this week with reliever Liam Hendriks affirmed that, even in a pandemic, some teams will still pay a premium for top-level talent.
Is there hope, then, for the Phillies and J.T. Realmuto?
Check back in a few weeks.
Dave Dombrowski, the Phillies’ new president of baseball operations, reiterated in an MLB Network Radio interview last week that acquiring a catcher and getting help for the bullpen are the team’s top priorities. In the end, the Phillies may be Realmuto’s best fit. Or maybe another team (the Toronto Blue Jays if they whiff on center fielder George Springer; the New York Yankees if they don’t bring back infielder DJ LeMahieu; the Los Angeles Angels if they’re unable to trade for the Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras) will swoop in and grab the best catcher in baseball.
Hard as it might be to believe with spring training projected to begin in five weeks, the market for Realmuto is still taking shape.
If the Phillies didn’t have other needs, they could sit back and wait. But in addition to rebuilding baseball’s worst bullpen, Dombrowski recently listed shortstop as an area of focus. There’s also the rotation, which includes Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez as the fourth and fifth starters and little major league-quality depth behind them.
With more than 250 free agents still looking for work, there isn’t a shortage of options, including these three familiar faces, if the conditions are right for a return:
If there’s a reason to still believe that Didi Gregorius will wind up back with the Phillies, it’s this: As slowly as the free-agent market is moving, there has been even less action for shortstops, in particular.
Some shortstop-needy teams were waiting to see if Francisco Lindor would be traded. Others may be holding back in anticipation of winter’s free-agent shortstop bonanza, perhaps weakening the demand for this year’s crop, notably Gregorius, Marcus Semien, and Andrelton Simmons.
Gregorius is aiming for a multiyear contract after taking a one-year deal with the Phillies in 2020. He has been linked to the Cincinnati Reds, but they appear to be reducing payroll. The Yankees could pivot back to Gregorius, who is popular with fans in New York, but only if they don’t re-sign LeMahieu. The Minnesota Twins might have interest, but pitching seems to be their priority.
Maybe, then, Gregorius’ market will drift back to the Phillies. As they monitor the situation, they are also eyeing alternatives, including Semien and a possible reunion with Freddy Galvis, according to a major-league source.
Galvis, the Phillies’ opening-day shortstop for three years (2015-17), has batted .250 with a .707 OPS in three seasons since getting traded, including .220 with a .712 OPS last season for the Reds. He would represent a considerable drop-off from Gregorius, arguably the Phillies’ most consistent — and clutch — hitter last season.
But elite defense has always been Galvis’ calling card. By some metrics, his skills slipped last season. But the 31-year-old is tied for fifth among shortstops in runs prevented (15) since 2018, according to Statcast, which could aid groundball-inducing starters Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin.
A one-year deal with Galvis (or Simmons, or Semien) could also serve as a bridge to top prospect Bryson Stott or a dive into next year’s free-agent class.
Pop quiz: Which pitchers in this year’s free-agent class worked at least 380 innings with a strikeout rate of 23% or higher since the beginning of the 2018 season?
Answer: Trevor Bauer, Charlie Morton, and Happ.
That’s the list.
Bauer, of course, is the cream of the free-agent pitching crop and will soon score a nine-figure payday. Morton, 37, agreed to a one-year, $15 million contract with the Atlanta Braves in November.
Happ, a 38-year-old lefty, is likely staring at a one-year deal, too. He showed promise early on with the Phillies, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2009. But the best years of his 14-year career have come in his 30s, including a 20-win season for the Blue Jays in 2016 and an All-Star appearance in 2018.
In nine starts last season, Happ had a 3.47 ERA in 49 1/3 innings for the Yankees, who nevertheless made sure he didn’t reach the benchmarks (10 starts or 61 1/3 innings) to vest his $17 million option.
At 40% of that salary in a market flooded with veteran lefties, Happ would slot in nicely as the experienced No. 4 starter that the Phillies sorely need.
OK, so the time for a Phillies-Hamels reunion was the 2018 trade deadline. Instead, he got dealt to the Cubs for two minor-league pitchers and a player to be named, and posted a 3.30 ERA in 39 starts (218 innings) over the next year and a half in Chicago.
Reacquiring Hamels now means wagering that the 2008 World Series MVP, who turned 37 last month, will rebound from a left shoulder injury that limited him to one start last season for the Braves.
Surely there are safer fifth-starter bets, though not necessarily on the Phillies’ roster.
Hamels’ shoulder is “coming along,” according to a friend, and he intends to pitch this year. It’s not known if he will hold a workout for interested teams, a la Corey Kluber on Wednesday in Florida. The Phillies attended Kluber’s workout, a source confirmed, in addition to throwing sessions by relievers Steve Cishek, A.J. Ramos, and Anthony Swarzak.
It would seem that Hamels is in line for a low base salary with a chance to make more if he stays healthy. He owns a house in Delaware County and has long expressed a desire to return to Philadelphia. For one year and a couple of million bucks, it might be worth the flier.