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November 03, 2016

MLB Free Agency: A half-dozen hitters for the Phillies

Let’s be clear on this from the outset: these are simply six names of players who will file free agency before the market opens on Tuesday. We are not using this space to report that the Phillies have interest in the following players; we’re using it to suggest a half dozen players that could potentially fit the Phillies' needs.

What are the Phillies needs from an offensive standpoint? As manager Pete Mackanin said repeatedly in the season’s final two months, his lineup is in need of a couple professional, veteran hitters

In addition to helping his team score more runs regularly (their 3.77 runs per game was the lowest in baseball), providing the lineup with proven vets could surely take the pressure of the young and developing bats in the lineup, allowing them to flourish at their own pace. Remember when the Phillies added Jim Thome to a lineup that included a young Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell? That kind of thing.

The Phillies could decide to try to find those upgrades via trade. But it would be a little surprising if they didn’t sign at least one veteran free agent bat, even if it’s a smaller name.

One thing the Phillies don’t have to worry about is money: before arbitration, they don’t have a single guaranteed dollar allocated to anyone who will play for them in 2017. The $24.2 million on the projected Opening Day payroll is made up of the buyouts for Ryan Howard ($10 million) and Charlie Morton ($1 million) and injured left-hander Matt Harrison’s salary ($13.2 million).

Jose Bautista, OF/1B

Bautista isn’t technically a free agent yet; like Jeremy Hellickson, he has to wait to see if he’s given a qualifying offer (he’ll get one) and then whether to accept that offer (he will not).

We wrote a little bit about how Bautista would fit into the Phillies' plans a couple of months ago. Would Philadelphia be the first destination of a 36-year-old power hitter hoping to add a World Series ring to his resume? Probably not, unless they are able to take advantage of his injury-plagued 2016 season, get him on a three-year deal, and pay more per year than any other team.

Would adding an aging (declining?) bat to a rebuilding team make a whole lot of sense, especially if the Phils don’t expect to contend in the next two years? Maybe not, but who knows if the Phillies can sneak into a Wild Card race as soon as 2018. Plenty of prospects are on their way and ownership has the resources to add more free agent inventory in the next few years.

Add in the effect a 40-home run hitter with plate discipline could have on Maikel Franco’s development and the versatility Bautista could bring (he could play in a corner outfield spot, a glaring area of need, and also in a corner infield spot if needed) and he’d be a pretty obvious fit … if he was 5 or 6 years younger (not unlike Jayson Werth joining the rebuilding Nats six years ago, a young team that also had payroll flexibilty to overpay for a veteran bat).

Michael Saunders, OF

Speaking of a power-hitting corner infielder who is five or six years younger, we present you Bautista’s teammate. The left-handed hitting Saunders, who turns 30 in two weeks, bounced back from injury-ravaged seasons in 2014 and 2015 to make the AL All-Star team in 2016, when he hit .253/.338/.478 with 24 home runs and 32 doubles in 140 games.

It’ll be pretty interesting to see whether or not he gets a qualifying offer prior to Monday’s deadline, which the Blue Jays are reportedly contemplating. Saunders made just $2.9 million last season and a potential qualifying offer ($17.2 million) would represent an extremely generous one-year pay increase. It’d be difficult to see him turning that down.

It would seem more likely that he wouldn’t receive such an offer, given his unproven track record. And we should point out that Saunders, after a strong first four months of the season, hit .186 with a .605 OPS and five home runs in 46 games after July 31.

Still, there’s real potential in his bat, and he’s young enough to make a lot of sense for a team like the Phillies. Perhaps new hitting coach Matt Stairs can use his charm to reel in his fellow Canadian.

Brandon Moss, OF/1B

Remember him? Moss, 33, never played for the Phillies despite an impressive season as Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2011 and then went on to become an All-Star three years later with the Oakland A’s.

Despite hitting 28 home runs in 128 games with St. Louis in 2016, Moss probably isn’t trending in the direction of a hitter you’d be bullish on adding to a lineup in need of an upgrade. He slashed .225/.300/.484 in 413 at-bats. And he has a .302 OBP in the last two seasons.

But here’s what Moss could be in 2017: a proven major leaguer capable of giving the professional at-bats Mackanin and Co. are looking for, a left-handed hitter who could potentially share time at first base with right-handed hitting Tommy Joseph, while also capable of getting playing time in a corner outfield spot, too.

That’s probably the kind of role Cody Asche would hope to have in 2016. But Moss’s track record would lend you to believe he’d be an upgrade over Asche offensively in 2017.

Wilson Ramos, C

An interesting name because he’s a catcher and the Phillies seem to be pretty set at the position, both in the short and long-term. But do you value the certainty of a proven hitter in his prime like Ramos, who turned 29 in August, over the potential of a 23-year-old Jorge Alfaro, who has a lot of potential but has also struck out 189 times and walked just 37 times in 167 career games at Double-A?

This is more thinking outside the box, since it’s not an obvious fit on the surface, especially if the injury-plagued Ramos, who is coming off surgery, is able to get a lucrative multi-year deal. But if he can be had on a shorter-term deal (or if you consider moving the athletic Alfaro to the outfield), Ramos (22 home runs, .307/.354/.496 in 131 games in 2016) would be an obvious upgrade to the Phillies lineup.

And, as we mentioned the other day, you may be wise to use incumbent catcher Cameron Rupp as trade bait this winter.

Justin Turner, 3B

Again, not a name that seems to be a fit since he plays third base (with some history at second, too) and the Phillies have a promising young third baseman in Maikel Franco. But if you shifted Franco to first base (where he might end up in the long run anyway) then there’s room for a real upgrade. Yes, Tommy Joseph is still on the roster, but the Phils need a proven bat somewhere in the lineup.

Turner may be the most underrated player in the National League in the last three seasons: .296/.364/..492. He’s hit 43 home runs (combined) in the last two years. He almost fits the kind of guy Mackanin is looking for (proven, professional hitter) to a T.

Turner, who turns 32 later this month, is not dissimilar to Daniel Murphy, at least prior to Murphy’s MVP caliber season with Washington in 2016. Murphy signed a 3-year, $37.5 deal last winter.

Would you give similar dollars to Turner (or a little more, since you might have to entice him from a contending team for a rebuilding one) for the comfort of having a proven veteran on the field for 150-plus games?

Carlos Beltran, OF

He turns 40 in April. He’s probably a terrible option to place in the outfield and more suited to play first base if a designated hitting job isn’t available. But he fits the definition of a proven, professional hitter that you can slip right into the middle of your lineup, know the production you’re going to get, and understand the ease he’d provide to the young hitters around him in said lineup.

Beltran has never won a World Series ring, so it’s likely he signs a short-term deal with a contender (a one-year deal with Toronto, which could be looking to replace a trio of free agents in Bautista, Saunders, and Edwin Encarnacion?)

If Beltran cannot find an appetizing offer from a contender, he could be a potential fit because the Phillies do have the luxury of payroll flexibility. They can overpay him on a one-year deal … and then also eat some money when they look to flip him for a prospect before the trade deadline.

Again, not an obvious fit and probably not very likely, but surely an upgrade to the middle of the Phillies lineup if he could play first base.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21