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November 15, 2017

MLB free agency: A half-dozen hitters for the Phillies

The free agent market opened up more than a week ago but the movement has been minimal to nonexistent (unless you consider the re-signing of minor league free agent Pedro Florimon a substantial move).

This is fairly normal. Aside from some aggressive moves in somewhat recent Phillies history (both Jonathan Papelbon and Jim Thome [the second time] were signed in early November) free agent signings typically don’t pick up until after Thanksgiving.

The Phillies are in an interesting place this winter: they have the most payroll flexibility heading into 2018 than any other team in baseball (yep, even more than the notoriously thrifty Oakland Athletics) but they also have a pretty solid core of young position players (with depth beyond projected starters, too, especially in the infield).

On one hand, they have plenty of room to allocate dollars toward roster upgrades. But on the other, they’re committed to playing Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera, Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco, J.P. Crawford, and so on every day in 2018 as they all continue their own respective development as big leaguers.

Barring a trade, there simply isn’t an obvious spot to plop a free agent bat into the lineup. And the Phillies primary need is starting pitching.

"We're pretty comfortable with our position-player group right now and determined to let those young players play and continue to get at-bats,” general manager Matt Klentak told reporters at the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week. “So to do something to compromise that would take a pretty unique set of circumstances.”

Before we move forward with this exercise, we’ll note, as we did last year, that these are simply six players who are free agents this winter. 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 into the Phillies plans for 2018, depending on what else they do this winter.

Players listed in no particular order:

Carlos Gonzalez

Yes, we just got finished writing that the Phillies are committed to playing their young position players and they have three starting outfielders in place and at least two other prospects (Dylan Cozens, Roman Quinn) with the opportunity to play in the big leagues in 2018. Two thoughts, though: Aaron Altherr still hasn’t proved his durability and it might not be the worst idea to bring in a left-handed outfield bat to share time in the Phillies outfield. Also: what if the Phillies use one of their current, attractive outfielders (they’re young and under club control) in a trade for a pitcher? Then there would be a hole in the outfield. Gonzalez’s status as a perennial star has dimmed in recent seasons and if the market isn’t kind to him and he’s looking for a one-year deal to re-establish his value before hitting the market again this time next year, there are a lot worse places to rack up stats as a left-handed hitter than Citizens Bank Park.

Carlos Santana

The Phillies were recently listed as a potential suitor for the long-time Cleveland Indian (notable: the Phillies will be listed as potential suitors for many, whether they are or not, because of their aforementioned payroll flexibility and agents’ needs to develop a market for their clients). On the surface, it seems odd because Santana is a first baseman (he was a Gold Glove award finalist there this year) and the Phillies have Rhys Hoskins. But Santana does something the current Phils’ brass loves: he has a career .365 OBP and has nearly as many career walks (726) and strikeouts (812) in eight seasons. And perhaps the Phillies wouldn’t mind employing players as the Astros, Cubs, and Dodgers have in the last two seasons, using a versatile group to play different positions on any given day. Santana, who came up as a catcher, started seven games in right field last season and 26 games at third base in 2014.

J.D. Martinez

OK, finally a name that probably got your attention. It wouldn’t be shocking if Martinez got the richest contract of any free agent hitter this winter, and, again, the Phillies have plenty of money to spend. They were also linked as a potential trade partner for Martinez last winter, so they obviously like him. And it wasn’t that long ago that a similarly-aged Scott Boras outfield client cashed in and signed with a surprising non-contender who had money to burn (the Nationals back in 2010 were not unlike the Phillies with a roster full of pre-arbitration players when they signed Jayson Werth). But, the Phillies have outfielders. And their primary need is pitching, not a right-handed power bat. And they’ll have plenty of offensive options open to them in next year’s free agent class. Still, there’s a lot to like about Martinez if they traded one of their current outfielders for pitching.

Jonathan Lucroy

Sure, a catcher, because the Phillies didn’t have enough of those on the roster at season’s end. But, listen for such a minute. Jorge Alfaro heads into 2018 out of options, meaning he’ll have to be on the big league roster. Alfaro probably deserves to get the bulk of playing time just based on how he did with it in the season’s final two months, following a meh season at Triple-A. But, from a long-term perspective, would it be the worst thing in the world to have Alfaro learn from an established, All-Star catcher for one season if Lucroy (who was dreadful for the first four months of 2017, and then productive at the end in Colorado) decides to go the one-year, back-on-the-market-next-year route? Again, the Phillies have plenty of financial flexibility in 2018 and can overpay in a one-year deal if there are hitters or pitchers looking for that kind of an arrangement. (Similarly, Todd Frazier might make some sense if he decides his best option is the one-year route and if the Phillies move Franco in a trade. But we didn't list him here because those are two "ifs," not just one). 

Jon Jay

Again, the Phillies have three young outfielders set to start and get the bulk of playing time in 2018, barring a trade. But aside from Herrera, they aren’t exactly proven and it might not be a terrible idea to bring in a fourth outfielder capable of playing regularly should someone get injured or struggle offensively. Jay, who slashed .296/.374/.375 in 379 at-bats for the Cubs in 2017 and can play in all three outfield positions, would seem to be an ideal fit for such a role as long as the soon-to-be-33-year-old isn’t looking for anything more than a one- or two-year deal.

Melky Cabrera

See most of the things said about Jay, except the 33-year-old Cabrera is suited for just the corner spots and not center field anymore. Cabrera is hardly the player who fetched a three-year, $42 million deal with the White Sox three winters ago but he did slash .295/.336/.436 with 13 home runs in 98 games in Chicago last year before being traded to Kansas City. If you’re the Phillies, you could do a lot worse than Cabrera in finding a veteran on a one-year deal who can bring depth as a fourth outfielder and who could hold his own if forced into more regular playing time.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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