The Phillies are in first place in the NL East. So far, so good. But the club is looking ahead at some rather significant road blocks.
Most notably, the Philadelphia outfield mix just took a big hit. Andrew McCutchen is done for the year. The less-hyped and less-expensive of the team’s two major free agent splashes, Cutch had also outperformed Bryce Harper to this point.
Let’s not forget: the Phillies aren’t just replacing McCutchen. They may also be in need of a player to step in for Odubel Herrera, whose future with the organization is in doubt after his recent arrest for alleged domestic violence. Aaron Altherr was already sent out after a rough start. Nick Williams has struggled mightily. Roman Quinn is again injured, while Dylan Cozens is sidelined for the season. Scott Kingery is showing well, but he’s an infielder by trade and is needed there with Maikel Franco struggling. Recently, Kingery taken over the majority of the workload at third base.
The Phillies, as one would expect from a first-place club in a tightly contested division, have acted quickly since losing Herrera and McCutchen. Jay Bruce was brought in and now figures to line in left field on a regular basis. Bruce just ripped his third home run in as many games since landing in Philadelphia, so he’s off to a good start. But he’ll also likely be pressed into a much more substantial role than had been envisioned.
Philadelphia also promoted prospect Adam Haseley, the eighth overall pick in 2017, and he’ll step into center field for the time being. Haseley had only been in Triple-A for a week when he was summoned to the Majors, though, and he’s not regarded as a premium prospect despite that draft pedigree. He’s a a logical first option, and perhaps he’ll surprise to the extent that the Phils don’t need to make a splashy trade, but there’s still a definite chance that the sudden outfield deficiency will be addressed by acquiring someone from outside the organization.
What the Phillies could really use in place of McCutchen is a true center fielder. McCutchen hasn’t been that in several years but was playing there in place of Herrera — who turned in shaky defensive ratings in center himself in 2018-19. Unfortunately, that’ll be considerably more difficult to come by for GM Matt Klentak.
The most readily available players are of dubious quality, unsurprisingly. Kevin Pillar could surely be had from the Giants, but a player sporting a .249 OBP on the season isn’t going to be viewed as an upgrade. It’s a similar story with Billy Hamilton in Kansas City and Juan Lagares in New York. The Padres have a well-known glut of outfielders, most of who are limited to corner duties as well. Perhaps the Phillies could try to buy low on one-time top prospect Manuel Margot, but he’s sporting a .262 OBP and has lost playing time to makeshift center fielder Wil Myers. Myers himself would figure to be eminently available, but he’s still owed $61MM beyond the 2019 campaign and wouldn’t be a quality defensive option. Buy-low options abound throughout the league. Beyond the aforementioned Pillar, the Phillies could acquire Leonys Martin on the cheap in hope of a return to form. The Orioles only just acquired Keon Broxton themselves, but the Phils could try to take a shot on him.
The best of this class of player may be Jarrod Dyson. Perhaps the D-Backs will be willing to ship him elsewhere later this summer. He’s a career-long platoon bat with minimal power but would at least give the Phils dynamic glovework and competitive at-bats against right-handed pitching. But the team would still arguably be down a righty outfield bat.
Adding a higher-end piece in center would surely be costly, though it’s worth exploring since it’s a long-term need for the organization. The Phils could try to pry Ketel Marte away from Arizona, but the asking price would be substantial. The versatile switch-hitter has taken well to center field and is also capable of playing all over the infield; he’s also controllable all the way through 2024 for a total of about $35MM. Starling Marte isn’t off to his finest start, but the cross-state rival Pirates likely won’t reduce their asking price. Perhaps there’s some room for a deal — the Pittsburgh org may soon have a bit of a logjam in the outfield and may not hang in the divisional race, while Marte is getting more expensive — but it’s a low-likelihood scenario.
It is intriguing to think of potential matches with the Mariners. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto rarely rests long between brokering deals and obviously has a connection with Klentak. (Not long before the Bruce swap, they pulled off a much more significant deal.) The Mariners resisted the temptation to move building-block Mitch Haniger in the offseason. He’s mostly a corner piece and hasn’t graded well in limited MLB action up the middle, but did spend a lot of time there in the minors and might be expected to perform well enough in that role for a season or two. Mallex Smith would be a true center field option, but he’s still trying to bounce back from a rough start. The Mariners acquired him as a hopeful long-term piece in an offseason swap and won’t be particularly keen to sell low.
One potentially interesting possibility would involve Whit Merrifield of the Royals. He’s known mostly as a second baseman, of course, but has been utilized more and more on the grass and has graded well in his limited time in center. If the Royals really are willing to listen, the Phillies ought to in the ear of K.C. GM Dayton Moore. Merrifield could plug into the center field opening now and be utilized in any number of different ways in the future. He’s an exceptional value, which will be reflected in the asking price.
The options could still expand in the coming months, though it’s honestly tough to foresee other viable center field targets. What are the other possibilities?
A major corner outfield acquisition just may not make a ton of sense for the Phils, who have Bruce and Harper in that role now and will welcome back McCutchen next season. Skipper Gabe Kapler already said he doesn’t plan to use Harper in center. While the right acquisition could perhaps change that line of thinking, that’s probably not the preferred route for GM Matt Klentak and the remainder of the front office.
That said, perhaps the Phillies can instead add one of the Dyson-type platoon pieces and also pursue a corner-oriented bat to boost their offensive productivity. The team could hold its nose at times on defense — as it was doing already with Cutch in center — and plan on deploying different personnel based upon the situation.
There ought to be quite a few corner pieces on the market. In addition to some of the names already covered, some of the aforementioned teams have other conceivable trade assets. Adam Jones at least has ample experience in center, even if he’s ill-suited to regular time there at this stage. He and David Peralta could be put on the block by the Diamondbacks. Left-handed hitters Corey Dickerson, Gregory Polanco, and Melky Cabrera may not fit on the same Pirates roster. (Polanco could also be utilized in center, as he frequently was in the minors, though he has rarely been tasked with that role in Pittsburgh.) Domingo Santana of the M’s has slowed after a hot start but could be of some interest. Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes are among the many options in San Diego.
Loads of other players will also come up. Perhaps the Orioles’ Trey Mancini isn’t a sensible target since he’ll come with a high asking price and is limited to a corner spot. But there are other, more plausible candidates. Nicholas Castellanos is sure to be discussed quite a bit this summer by the Tigers. The Angels may end up dealing Kole Calhoun in his walk year if they can’t hang in contention; likewise, the Reds could end up dangling Yasiel Puig and/or Derek Dietrich. Veteran corner outfielder Alex Gordon could be of interest, though it’s far from clear whether he’ll be available given his no-trade rights and special relationship with the Royals. Shin-Soo Choo of the Rangers would be just the bat the Phils would like, though he’s a poor defender and would be tough to carry alongside Bruce.
There is also one other general route that the Phillies could explore. If they’re willing to trust Kingery with extended action up the middle, perhaps by pairing him with a part-timer of Dyson’s ilk, then the Phils could free the youngster for that role by adding an infielder. Whether or not they fully give up on Franco, the club might seek to add offense at the hot corner. Kingery’s importance to the Philadelphia organization was already apparent before McCutchen’s injury. His flexibility and potentially emerging bat now expand the universe of possibilities as the front office approaches an increasingly interesting summer trade period.