The road to the current state of the Phillies' outfield began in December of 2010, when Jayson Werth signed a seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals. The season before, Phillies outfielders had combined for 70 home runs in 2,132 plate appearances, hitting .277 with a .351 on base percentage and .470 slugging percentage for an .821 OPS. But Werth was a major factor behind those numbers, and while nobody questioned whether the Phillies made the right decision in refusing to commit $18 million a year to him for seven years, they also knew his absence would be felt.
The free agent market did not offer much in the way of palatable solutions for the outfield. Carl Crawford would sign a $142 million contract with the Red Sox. The Phillies were wise to avoid it, just as they were the Werth deal. In fact, hindsight looks kindly on Ruben Amaro Jr.'s decision to avoid the free agent crop of outfielders entirely. Of the 17 outfielders who signed major league deals behind Crawford and Werth, only Melky Cabrera might have prevented the Phillies from looking for a right-handed corner outfielder at the trade deadline. Below are the four players who, even with the benefit of hindsight, only MIGHT have made the Phillies a better team. And of those four, only Cabrera and Johnny Damon were regulars.
1. Melky Cabrera (1/$1.25 mil): .809 OPS, 18 HR, 658 PA
2. Johnny Damon (1/$5.25 mil): .743 OPS, 4 HR, 647 PA
3. Jerry Hairston Jr. (1/$2.0 mil): .727 OPS, 5 HR, 376 PA
4. Andruw Jones (1/$2.0 mil): .851 OPS, 13 HR, 222 PA
Compare those numbers to the Phillies' outfield production, minus Hunter Pence:
1. Shane Victorino: .847 OPS, 17 HR, 586 PA
2. Raul Ibanez: .707 OPS, 20 HR, 575 PA
3. John Mayberry: .854 OPS, 15 HR, 296 PA
4. Domonic Brown: .725 OPS, 5 HR, 210 PA
5. Ben Francisco: .704 OPS, 6 HR, 293 PA
6. Ross Gload: .603 OPS, 0 HR, 118 PA
Here is how the rest of the pre-2011 free agent outfield class fared during the 2011 season:
Mark Kotsay (1/$.800 mil): .703 OPS, 3 HR, 255 PA
Magglio Ordonez (1/$10 mil): .634 OPS, 5 HR, 357 PA
Vladimir Guerrero (1/$8 mil): .733 OPS, 13 HR, 590 PA
Matt Diaz (2/$4.25 mil): .625 OPS, 0 HR, 268 PA
Hideki Matsui (1/$4.25 mil): .696 OPS, 12 HR, 585 PA
Jack Cust (1/$2.5 mil): .673 OPS, 3 HR, 270 PA
Manny Ramirez (1/$2.0 mil): .118 OPS, 0 HR, 17 PA
Xavier Nady (1/$1.75 mil): .646 OPS, 4 HR, 223 PA
Rick Ankiel (1/$1.5 mil): .659 OPS, 9 HR, 415 PA
Austin Kearns (1/$1.3 mil): .589 OPS, 2 HR, 174 PA
Pat Burrell (1/$1.0 mil): .756 OPS, 7 HR, 219 PA
Marcus Thames (1/$1.0 mil): .576 OPS, 2 HR, 70 PA
Tony Gwynn (1/.675 mil): .660 OPS, 2 HR, 312 PA
Remember, the Phillies won a major-league best 102 games and went to Game 5 in the NLDS against the team that ended up winning the World Series. And chances are they win the NLDS if Cliff Lee is able to hold a 4-0 lead in Game 2. All in all, you can say that the Phillies simply got beat. That happens.
The post-2011 offseason is where the story turns a bit. With Pence now in the fold, the Phillies had a void in left field, where Ibanez was moving on after three years with the club.
Among the critical pieces of information the Phillies had at their disposal heading into the offseason:
1. The offense had struggled to score runs against the Cardinals in the NLDS
2. Ryan Howard had suffered a series Achilles' injury that would sideline him for at least the first two months of 2012
3. Chase Utley was dealing with a chronic knee condition that had sidelined him for the first two months of 2011.
4. Placido Polanco was a shell of his former self.
5. They had no clear option in left field.
6. Shane Victorino would be a free agent after the season, and Hunter Pence would be due to make around $14 million in arbitration after the season.
Instead of addressing leftfield and bringing in another hitter who might help A) Fill the void at the plate left by Howard, B) Provide some extra offense in case Utley again struggled with his knees, C) Give them some flexibility for 2013 when Victorino would likely move on, the Phillies decided to sign Laynce Nix to a two-year, $2.5 million deal and sign Jonathan Papelbon to replace Ryan Madson as closer.
The following are the outfielders the Phillies passed on:
1. Michael Cuddyer (3/$31.5 million): .806 OPS, 16 HR, 394 PA
2. Carlos Beltran (2/$26.0 million): .842 OPS, 32 HR, 619 PA
3. Josh Willingham (3/$21.0 million): .890 OPS, 35 HR, 615 PA
4. Jason Kubel (2/$15.0 million): .833 OPS, 30 HR, 571 PA
5. Coco Crisp (2/$14.0 million): .742 OPS, 11 HR, 508 PA
6. David DeJesus (2/$10.0 million): .753 OPS, 9 HR, 582 PA
One month into the 2013 season, all six of those players are producing at or above the levels they produced at in 2012. And all six of them would be major upgrades in the Phillies' lineup. DeJesus and Crisp are both playing centerfield this year, but both have played plenty of corner outfield throughout their careers. Signing one of them prior to 2012 at least would have given the Phillies another option in center for 2013, where Ben Revere has been one of the least productive hitters in the majors. So all of these guys were options for both 2012 and the future at the time they were free agents (and we haven't mentioned Cody Ross, who signed a one-year, $3 million that season).
One year later, the Phillies' outfield situation is both untenable and, at least on the surface, unfixable. The only hope is that Domonic Brown, John Mayberry or Delmon Young reaches the potential the Phillies think they have, and that Revere's ground balls start finding holes and he works his way on base more than he has in the first month of the season. Otherwise, it does not make sense to trade more prospects for a guy who probably isn't going to be able to dig the Phillies out of the hole they are in by himself. Phillies outfielders have the lowest OPS in the majors. And nothing about it should come as a surprise.