The Phillies were not shy the last several winters about their offseason plans. They had stupid money to spend and they spent it, committing more than $700 million to free agents over the last three offseasons.
But it is not as certain this offseason if the Phillies will again be free spenders. And it’s not just because Matt Klentak is no longer the general manager.
The Phillies have been cutting costs slashing their scouting department and they are offering buyouts to full-time employees before they are expected to announce layoffs in November.
They do not seem to be in a rush to hire a replacement for Klentak -- who was reassigned instead of dismissed -- and managing partner John Middleton did not sound like an owner with a burning desire to throw money at free agents after a season played in front of empty seats.
“Can you tell me what the governor and the mayor of Philadelphia are going to allow us to have next year in the way of fans? Because if you do, you know something that I don’t,” Middleton said in early October about how the team’s offseason plans hinged on fans returning to Citizens Bank Park. “So I have no idea what we’re going to be allowed. Obviously, that will determine our revenues, and revenues determine what you can do and what you can’t do.”
J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius are both free agents and it’s hard to gauge if the Phillies will be able to bring back either one or even what the market will look like for them this winter. Commissioner Rob Manfed said the 30 teams combined this season for $3 billion in operational losses, so the Phillies won’t be the only team tightening its budget.
And the free-agency market, which already seemed to move slower each offseason, will likely be hit hard. But the Phillies still have a team to field for 2021 and there are free agents available to help. They could use a starting pitcher, an everyday centerfielder, and help in the bullpen.
The free-agent market opens Monday. Here’s a look at some of the players from other teams who should entice the Phillies if they’re willing to spend.
Joe Girardi struggled to find an everyday center fielder last season, using five players to cover 60 games. Adam Haseley was the team’s first-round pick in 2017, but he started nine fewer games in center than Roman Quinn, who was twice placed on the injured list.
The team’s center field production (.619 OPS, .273 wOBA) was the fifth-worst in baseball, and that’s why it makes sense for the Phillies to target an upgrade this winter.
George Springer, arguably the best hitter available, should attract several suitors, so the Phillies can’t be thrifty if they want to land him. The 31-year-old hit .265 last season as Houston’s leadoff hitter with a 140 OPS+ in 51 games. His 15.8 WAR over the last four seasons is the 16th-best among all hitters and is roughly a win better than Bryce Harper and a win less than J.T. Realmuto. Adding Springer, a right-handed hitter, would give a boost at the top of their lineup.
If Springer’s price tag -- and length of contract -- scares away the Phillies, there’s another option. Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr. hit just .234 with a .727 OPS from 2017 to 2019 before hitting .283 last season with a .814 OPS in 55 games. Bradley, a first-time free agent, has always been an elite defender and he may have shown last season that he’s still able to be the productive hitter he was early in his career.
The Phillies already have Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler at the top of their rotation, but allocating money this winter for another premier starting pitcher and bulking up their pitching staff may be their best route to October. It just so happens that the likely National League Cy Young winner is on the market.
Trevor Bauer is a free agent after posting a 1.73 ERA and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 11 starts with the Reds. Bauer has recently backed off his stance of signing only a one-year contracts and he also tweeted that he would be open to playing in Japan. Even in a down market, there should be plenty of suitors for Bauer.
The 29-year-old right-hander is extremely close with the people at Driveline Baseball and perhaps he could be attracted to the Phillies if they hire Vanderbilt pitching coach Scott Brown, who has worked with Driveline and has the recommendation of Bryce Harper.
Marcus Stroman, whom the Phillies tried to trade for at the 2019 trade deadline, is a free agent after not pitching in 2020. The 29-year-old tore a muscle in his calf in July and then decided in August to opt out of the 60-game season. He had a 3.22 ERA over 32 starts in 2019 while registering the fourth-highest ground ball rate in baseball.
Two other intriguing -- and lower-priced -- options are Kevin Gausman and Taijuan Walker. Gausman, 29, had a 3.62 ERA last season in 10 starts with San Francisco after posting a 5.72 ERA in 2018. He wouldn’t pitch at the top of the rotation, but he would complete a staff that will also include Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard.
Walker is reminiscent of Wheeler, whom the Phillies signed based more on the pitcher they thought he could become than the pitcher he already was. The 28-year-old Walker was once a top prospect but never reached his potential before having Tommy John surgery in 2018. He was traded last August from Seattle to Toronto and finished his season with a 1.37 ERA in six starts and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. There’s some upside with Walker.
The Phillies largely ignored their bullpen last offseason and then watched it finish the season with baseball’s highest ERA since 1930. They can’t afford to do that again. They have some promising young arms to fill out their 2021 bullpen, but their first step this offseason to building a reliable bullpen should be finding at least one free-agent arm to build around.
Liam Hendriks, the American League’s reliever of the year, is a free agent after posting a 1.79 ERA over the last two seasons. The 31-year-old Australian has a 97-mph fastball and averaged 13.1 strikeouts last season and just 1.1 walks per nine innings. Signing the market’s best reliever would be one way to respond to a brutal bullpen.
Shane Greene, a former All Star closer who has converted 80% of his save chances in his career, spent last season as Atlanta’s setup man. He had a 2.39 ERA over the last two seasons with 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Greene, who turns 32 in November, could handle either role for Joe Girardi, who was his first major-league manager in 2014.
Darren O’Dea, who joined Greene in Atlanta’s bullpen, is a free agent after the Braves declined his $3.5 million option. The 38-year-old side-armer had a 1.10 ERA last season in 19 appearances while striking out 12.1 batters per nine innings. Declining his option -- rather affordable in a normal offseason -- could be a sign of what teams are willing to spend this winter.
The Phillies have been bitten by free-agent veteran relievers -- Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, and David Robertson all battled injuries after signing -- but that’s not a valid reason to just leave the market. They tried that last offseason and the results showed.