What happens in Vegas … well, so much for that. For the past three days, the winter meetings raged in Las Vegas, and as always, rumors were rampant. The Phillies, as expected, were in the middle of everything. They signed veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract; they met with agent Scott Boras about Bryce Harper and other clients; they continued to discuss possible trades and free-agent signings.
Despite all that activity, though, the Phillies still have plenty of work to do. And new questions are arising about whether they will actually be able to get any of it done. It once seemed inevitable that they would sign Harper or Manny Machado, but suddenly, they might have competition from the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, respectively. And could the Phillies really begin next season with the same starting rotation? The meetings conclude today, but as ever, the offseason lurches on.
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Could the Phillies become the new ‘Team Boras’?
Two springs ago, 10 players on the Washington Nationals' prohibitive opening-day roster were represented by Boras. The influential agent negotiated more than $500 million worth of contracts with the Nationals from 2011-17, prompting a few rival general managers to jokingly brand Mike Rizzo as a partner in Boras' company.
The Phillies are unlikely to head as decisively down that path. But they could enter next season with a healthy population of Boras clients.
Harper's long-awaited foray into free agency is being guided by Boras, who is heralding the 26-year-old superstar as a "generational player" with "iconic value" to a franchise. The Phillies have been connected with Harper, of course, and are the Las Vegas favorite to sign him — assuming they don't sign Machado first.
But general manager Matt Klentak has other items on his to-do list, including adding to the bullpen and starting rotation. The Phillies have interest in reliever Zach Britton, as well as lefty starters Dallas Keuchel and Yusei Kikuchi — all of whom happen to be represented by Boras.
Imagine how easy Klentak's life would be if only he did some one-stop shopping.
The Phillies met with Boras on Tuesday, and although Boras declined to characterize the productiveness of the conversation — "I'll let the Phillies give you that," he said — he reiterated his admiration for owner John Middleton. Boras prefers to negotiate directly with owners. He often had an audience with Nationals owner Ted Lerner. It surely got Boras' attention, then, when Middleton memorably said last month that he's willing to spend "stupid" money this winter.
"In a life and a career, if I looked at where John is, I would really like to be that stupid," Boras told reporters yesterday at the winter meetings. "I really felt he was an owner who had just a strong commitment to his goals and bringing this team to playoff and championship levels."
Boras has a complicated history with the Phillies, as Bob Brookover detailed last week, dating to the J.D. Drew saga in 1997. But the relationship appears to be growing. He has four clients on the Phillies roster — Vince Velasquez, Nick Williams, Jake Arrieta, and Rhys Hoskins, who hired the agent midway through last season. It isn't crazy to think there might be a few more before opening day.
As team officials fly home today, the Phillies remain in the hunt to sign Machado or Harper. But it's also becoming increasingly conceivable that they strike out in the Machado-Harper sweepstakes, Brookover writes.
With lefty J.A. Happ reportedly on the verge of agreeing to a deal with the Yankees, the free-agent starting pitching options are dwindling, as Matt Breen notes.
Andrew McCutchen is "80 percent of what we were accustomed to" when he was a perennial MVP candidate, one scout told me this week. But as long as McCutchen is playing a supporting role, the consensus around the league seems to be that he can help the Phillies. Brooky nevertheless thinks McCutchen is a risky move for Matt Klentak.
Don't count on the Phillies' trading Cesar Hernandez. It's looking far more likely that he will be back at second base while Scott Kingery returns to a super-utility role.
Huge congratulations to friend and Inquirer alum Jayson Stark on winning the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, which means he will be honored at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in July. Can't think of a writer who loves baseball more than Jayson.
Today: The winter meetings end with the Rule 5 draft, 12 p.m. Jan. 11: Deadline to exchange salary arbitration figures. Jan. 22: Results of Hall of Fame voting are announced. Feb. 22: Phillies play their first spring-training game vs. Rays, 1:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
A five-year offer wasn't enough for the Phillies to land Patrick Corbin, their top free-agent pitching target. They pursued Happ, but the veteran lefty reportedly is nearing a deal to stay with the Yankees.
Could Dallas Keuchel be their Plan C?
It's possible. The Phillies have interest in Keuchel, a source confirmed this week, and new pitching coach Chris Young worked for the Houston Astros when the 30-year-old lefty won the Cy Young Award in 2015.
One potential red flag: Keuchel is an extreme contact pitcher. He led the majors last season with a 53.7 percent groundball rate and gave up a league-leading 211 hits. The Phillies' horrid defense would have to improve considerably for Keuchel to be a fit, especially given the high groundball rates of Arrieta (51.6 percent) and Aaron Nola (50.6 percent).
From the mailbag
Question: Recognizing their rotation is all right-handers, still why the seeming determination to only go after a left-handed starter? I'd much rather trade for Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco than [Madison] Bumgarner or sign Happ. Shouldn't age, years of team control, and quality matter more than anything else? — Joseph G., email
Answer: I agree completely, Joe. It just so happens that this free-agent market was loaded with lefties, from Corbin and Happ to still-unsigned Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley and even Japanese star Kikuchi. But Klentak and Gabe Kapler are both on record as saying they are focused more on upgrading the rotation than simply acquiring a lefty.
Along those lines, keep an eye on the Cleveland Indians. Not only are they open to trading Kluber, but they also could move fellow right-hander Trevor Bauer. The Indians need outfield help, and the Phillies have a surplus of major-league outfielders. It certainly would take more than Nick Williams or Odubel Herrera to pry one of the Cleveland pitchers, but either could represent an attractive piece in a package.