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The Phillies faded badly after a solid start to the 2016 campaign, and ultimately dealt with some ups and downs from important organizational assets. But with an increasingly massive gulf between the team’s commitments and its spending capacity, the build back toward contention may begin to feature investments in the major league roster.
- Matt Harrison, SP: $15MM through 2017 (includes $2MM buyout of $13.25MM club option for 2018)
- Phillies retained $9.5MM of future obligations to Cole Hamels in trade sending him to Rangers; payout over unreported timeline
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via MLB Trade Rumors)
- Jeanmar Gomez, RP (5.063) – $4.6MM
- Freddy Galvis, SS (4.021) – $4.4MM
- Cesar Hernandez, 2B (2.154) – $2.5MM
- Cody Asche, 3B/OF (3.022) – $1.3MM
- Non-tender candidates: Gomez, Asche
- Ryan Howard, 1B: $25MM club option ($10MM buyout)
- Charlie Morton, SP: $9.5MM mutual option ($1MM buyout)
With a big new TV contract backing a franchise that already has shown more capacity to spend than all but a few others, the Phillies have been a monster in waiting from the moment their veteran-laden roster took a downturn after the 2011 campaign — its last of five straight NL East title runs. But that was five seasons ago, and the rebuild has really only been undertaken in earnest over the last two years, leading president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak to continue preaching patience.
All told, despite essentially unrestrained spending capacity, the Phillies are unlikely to lock up too much future payroll space this winter. Klentak has consistently dampened any expectations of a free agent spending spree, and reports suggest instead that the club will look to the free agent and trade markets for some targeted additions — thus maintaining flexibility and keeping the books clear for future extensions and more promising open-market classes still to come.
That said, the Phils can’t be counted out for any free agents, and it’s reasonable to wonder whether the team will weigh a significant addition if it sees a chance at achieving good value and infusing some life into Citizens Bank Park. Certainly, there are a variety of roster spots that could stand to be improved.
The place to start, it seems, is the outfield, where only center is locked down. The remarkable Odubel Herrera has not only been the team’s best player in each of the last two years after being plucked in the Rule 5 draft, but improved significantly in plate discipline (nearly tripling his walks) and home run power (from eight to 15) in his second MLB campaign.
Otherwise, it’s open season. Though there are internal possibilities — now and in the near future — to account for, neither corner spot is spoken for. Cody Asche struggled and may well be a non-tender candidate. Aaron Altherr didn’t progress as hoped after missing a big chunk of the season. Rule 5 pick Tyler Goeddel will surely head to the minors for needed seasoning. The highly-rated Nick Williams scuffled at Triple-A, with 136 strikeouts against just 19 walks, so he’s probably headed back to Lehigh Valley. Good things happened at Double-A, where Dylan Cozens emerged with forty home runs and Andrew Pullin had a mini-breakout of his own, but neither player stands out as particularly likely to make the MLB roster out of camp. Roman Quinn did reach the majors after a solid showing at Reading, and could be a candidate for a roster spot, but he hasn’t shown much power and showed enough swing-and-miss in his brief MLB stint that more development may be in order.
That group, along with those deeper in the system, may come with enough promise that the Phillies won’t chase two multi-year outfield additions. But it seems reasonable to expect that the club will at least sign one established veteran to man a corner post for the next several years. There are a variety of options available, ranging from the probably-unrealistic Yoenis Cespedes to the steady Josh Reddick and relatively youthful left-handed hitters Michael Saunders and Colby Rasmus. We’ve heard some chatter connecting Ian Desmond to Philly, where presumably he’d play in left or even occupy a utility role at some point. Dangling a moderate guarantee with an opt-out to Carlos Gomez could be interesting. And if they like what they’ve seen, the Phillies could be in a nice position to take a shot on MLB-to-KBO success story Eric Thames (assuming he’d move back to the grass if he returns stateside). Odds are, the club will add at least two veterans, perhaps chasing a shorter-term deal with some upside on one player.
There’s far less work to be done in the infield, where most of the jobs are accounted for. Though he took a step back, Maikel Franco remains the future at third. Shortstop Freddy Galvis doesn’t get on base much, but put on a late-season power surge and showed plenty of glove to hold onto the everyday job. The expectation remains that he’s keeping the seat warm for top prospect J.P. Crawford, though Galvis’s strong finish and Crawford’s tepid batting line in his first run at Triple-A almost certainly makes that a mid-season debate. Looking at second, Cesar Hernandez somewhat quietly ended up having a big year, posting a .371 on-base percentage, fielding his position quite well, though he was gunned down in 13 of 30 stolen base attempts. The team will presumably either re-sign Andres Blanco, who has been surprisingly useful, or find another sturdy utility piece to fill things out.
There’s a bit more uncertainty at first and behind the plate, but that doesn’t mean there’s reason to expect any major action. With Ryan Howard set to follow Carlos Ruiz out the door, finally closing the book on the team’s stretch of excellence, the first base job seems set to go to Tommy Joseph — who battled through concussion issues that forced him out from the catching position. He swatted 21 home runs and posted a .257/.308/.505 batting line in 347 plate appearances, though he was much better with the platoon advantage and could end up being paired with a lefty slugger. Joseph’s emergence may push Darin Ruf off the roster.
In some regards, 28-year-old backstop Cameron Rupp was an even bigger surprise than Joseph. He posted league-average overall offensive numbers and whacked 16 long balls in his 419 trips to the plate, setting himself up as the primary receiver for 2017. A strike to bring back A.J. Ellis (who was acquired when Ruiz was traded) or add another one-year veteran wouldn’t be surprising. Regardless of where Joseph goes from here, the organization will want to see what it has sooner than later in top prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, so a significant addition would be a surprise.
As for the pitching, it was two steps forward, one step back in many regards. Righty Aaron Nola is the chief example of that, as he showed immense promise — with 9.8 K/9 against 2.4 BB/9 and a 55.2% groundball rate — even if a low strand rate (60.6%) helped crater his earned run average (4.78 over 111 innings). The big question, though, is whether he can work back from a UCL sprain or whether he’ll end up succumbing to Tommy John surgery. Vince Velasquez also dealt with arm troubles and inconsistency, but was dominant at times and ended up with 131 innings of 4.12 ERA ball. Forming the third piece of what could be a nice core was fellow righty Jerad Eickhoff, who has exceeded expectations (both of prospect observers and of ERA estimators) with 248 1/3 innings of 3.44 ERA pitching since rising to the major league level in the middle of 2015.
How the Phils will account for the two or three remaining spots in the rotation remains to be seen. Charlie Morton figures to hit the open market after missing most of the year, unless he and the team see eye to eye on a mutual option or work something else out. Less-established starters Adam Morgan, Zach Eflin, and Jake Thompson all logged significant MLB innings, but none performed well enough to lock up a job (and Eflin will also be working back from surgery to both knees). Command artist Alec Asher was excellent in the upper minors before a PED suspension, and then got strong results in five major league starts upon his return, so he could factor in the club’s 2016 plans.
While there are options on hand, odds are the Phils will look to add at least one sturdy veteran. Jeremy Hellickson filled that role quite nicely after being acquired via trade, and it seems the team will be able to recoup a draft pick for its investment by issuing him a qualifying offer. Klentak will likely be looking to find at least one more solid rotation piece, whether by signing or trade. It seems reasonable to think that the team will again be willing to allocate a decent bit of money to that effort, so long as the contract doesn’t drag out too far into the future. Another strike similar to the trades for Hellickson and Morton would not surprise. There are some fairly costly pitchers with short-term control remaining (via arb or option) who could fit a generally similar profile, such as Drew Smyly, Hector Santiago, Jordan Lyles, Jaime Garcia, Derek Holland, Clay Buchholz, and even Tyson Ross — if he can show that he’s on an upward health trajectory, at least.
The bullpen, too, can be filled mostly from within, but the Phillies can also open up the late innings to outsiders who are interested in throwing high-leverage innings. Incumbent closer Jeanmar Gomez stumbled down the stretch, and could even draw non-tender consideration with his save tally inflating his earning power. But he was quite good for most of the year, seemingly wearing down in the course of another season of heavy usage. Hector Neris was the true eye-opener in 2016, and he’ll continue to play a significant role moving forward. Neris appears to be first in line for closing duties, though the club could dangle that opportunity in a bid to draw veteran free agents.
Filling things out will likely involve giving some chances to younger players while perhaps taking some shots on veterans — as the team did last year with David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey, and others. The Phils received interesting showings last year from live-armed young hurlers such as Edubray Ramos, Joely Rodriguez, and Severino Gonzalez, all of whom will factor at some point in 2017. Others — including Michael Mariot, Luis Garcia, and Phil Klein — could be kept on the 40-man for depth and given a chance to compete this spring. While Elvis Araujo and injury-addled Mario Hollands could compete for a chance to serve as a lefty option alongside Rodriguez, that’s certainly a plausible area for the club to target on the open market. All told, dropping a bit of cash on the bullpen would be an easy way to improve for the Phillies, but it would be exceedingly surprising were the club to play in the markets for the top available closers.
What’s not covered above, at least not directly, is the possibility of more creative action than we’ve seen of late. Klentak has thus far proceeded steadily — after all, most of the Phillies’ major veteran pieces were already gone when he took over — rather than engineering the kinds of bold swaps put together by the new-look Braves front office. But he also has far more financial might at his disposal, and already wielded it to add Hellickson, Morton, and Hernandez last winter. Whether it’s absorbing a big salary to facilitate the acquisition of a quality youngster, taking advantage of the team’s protected first-round pick to land a QO-bound free agent who slips through the cracks, or finding some other means of buying up talent, there figure to be many opportunities for Klentak to absorb this winter.