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Inside the Phillies: Where can the Phillies look for free-agent bargains?

Before the final games at Citizens Bank Park in September, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. convened meetings with his cadre of lieutenants and scouts to formulate a winter plan. The Phillies brass knew it would stew for a month because there is nothing to do but wait.

Before the final games at Citizens Bank Park in September, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. convened meetings with his cadre of lieutenants and scouts to formulate a winter plan. The Phillies brass knew it would stew for a month because there is nothing to do but wait.

Free agency remains weeks away and given more time than ever in October to ponder strategy, Amaro could be ready to pounce.

Or not.

"I think patience is going to be important throughout this offseason," Amaro said after those meetings. "And the reason that I say that is none of the opportunities that present themselves, at least at first blush, are all that fantastic.

"As far as the availability of all players, I think we're going to have to be creative to try to improve. There are only a few standout guys out there that would be potential free agents."

It's not hard to snicker; Amaro has rightfully earned the label of being aggressive. He signed Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million deal some 18 months before free agency. He has executed major deadline trades in each of his four seasons as GM. He shocked the baseball world by re-signing Cliff Lee. Two weeks into free agency last winter, he signed Jonathan Papelbon to the richest deal ever for a reliever.

So patience is not a virtue often practiced.

Amaro possesses the resources to make a splash. He has committed approximately $109 million to 10 players. Much of the remaining roster could be filled by pre-arbitration players making $500,000 each.

Undoubtedly, there are jobs that must come through free agency or trades. If Amaro is not enamored of the top-tier free agents, here are some others to consider:

OF Ryan Ludwick, Cincinnati. Ludwick declined his $5 million option for 2013 with the Reds, but both sides are expected to talk about a new multiyear deal. He was one of the best finds last winter. Ludwick signed for $2.5 million and bashed 26 homers while posting a robust .877 OPS. Despite playing in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, his home/road splits barely differed. But Ludwick will turn 35 in July, and his 2012 season was his best since 2008. Is this a case of buying high?

INF Jeff Keppinger, Tampa Bay. Always known as a solid utility player, Keppinger posted his finest season for the Rays in 2012. He played in 115 games (104 starts) and hit .325 with an .809 OPS - all for a mere $1.35 million. He'll be 33 in April and has played more second base and shortstop than third base in his eight-year career. He hit with more pop in 2012 than ever before.

OF Jonny Gomes, Oakland. He smashed 18 home runs in a mere 333 plate appearances; only A's teammate Brandon Moss had more (21) in fewer times at bat (296). Gomes, who turns 32 in November, has usually been viewed as strictly a platoon player. His numbers are far better vs. lefties, but he still provides pop against righties. He made $1 million in 2012. Could he make more sense on the bench than Laynce Nix?

OF Melky Cabrera, San Francisco. All of the standard caveats apply. Yes, he was shamed by a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. He won the batting title (ignore the silly nomenclature) with a .346 average. He raised his OPS 235 points from 2010 to 2012. Does correlation equal causation? One thing is certain: Cabrera, 28, will come cheap this winter, probably on a one-year deal in an attempt to reclaim his name. Someone could fetch a bargain.

OF Scott Hairston, New York Mets. This guy is hardly under the radar in Philadelphia because all he does is crush Phillies pitching. (He's a lifetime .307 hitter against the Phils with 12 home runs and 11 doubles in 127 at-bats.) The Phillies have fancied Hairston before in trade talks. He will be 33 in May and made $1.1 million in 2012. Again, he is most likely a platoon player, but he is righthanded, and that is a trait the Phillies crave.

RHP Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay. His strikeout rate skyrocketed in 2012, when Peralta thrived as the Rays' primary eighth-inning man. There are concerns about usage; Peralta turns 37 in March and has appeared in 147 games over the last two seasons combined. He has the 15th-best ERA among relievers with at least 180 innings thrown since 2010. His average fastball velocity in 2012 was 90.3 m.p.h.

RHP Brandon Lyon, Toronto. He never lived up to the $15 million contract from Houston, but he showed signs of progress in 2012. Once one of the game's best relievers, Lyon only recently turned 33. He struck out batters at a higher rate than ever before in 61 innings with Houston and Toronto. Relievers are the most fickle of baseball players. It could be a sign to buy low.

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