2013 was a head-scratching year for our Philadelphia Phillies, but not a complete let down. To the surprise of many, there are some positives that came out of the campaign. Plenty of young bullpen arms saw their fair share of innings down the stretch. Cody Asche looked to be formidable at the third base position, while Maikel Franco waits in the wings. And, Ryne Sandberg seems to have earned a mutual respect between he and the players.
So what, exactly, should the team be looking for in free agency this offseason? There are a few key areas Ruben Amaro Jr. and his cohorts must focus on to improve this sub-.500 ballclub. While not absolutely necessary, a veteran bullpen arm would help solidify the final innings of games. The signee would also aid Jonathan Papelbon should trouble arise throughout the season. With Carlos Ruiz' Philies future hanging in the balance, the starting catcher spot has come into question as well. 60 feet away, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are guaranteed to be in the starting rotation. For the her three spots, Miguel Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone are both in contention, while Roy Halladay and Kyle Kendrick seem to be headed for free agency. That leaves the team with an open spot, and a need to sign a starter.
Perhaps the most important possible signing for the Phillies this offseason will be an outfielder, more specifically, a right-handed, power hitting, average-to-above-average defending outfielder. With Domonic Brown providing most of the pop, and Darin Ruf hitting well toward the end of the season, the team must seek a 25-homerun guy. So, without further lead-in, here is my offseason wish list (in increasing order of desire).
5. A Major Trade
In order for such a trade to be considered a "major" one, it need not necessarily include superstar players like David Price and Giancarlo Stanton. No, the blockbuster transaction I'd like to see the team make is for an impact player that will help the team from day one, but not one that will "break the bank" in terms of the already depleted farm system. So now, you may be wondering who could possibly to up for trade bait over the offseason. Well, just about every team has a player or two they'd be willing to part with in exchange for a few young players. And considering the Phillies need help at several positions, they are sure to find a partner.
One name that comes to mind is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's 1B/OF Mark Trumbo. The 27-year-old's primary skill is obviously power, collecting 95 homeruns in three major league seasons. As there tends to be with players, though, there are some set backs. Despite being able to play several defensive positions, Trumbo isn't the best in the field. A .980 fielding percentage in the outfield the last two seasons is less-than-stellar, but in a lineup starving for right handed power, that can be looked past. Other than Trumbo, the Angels could be looking to deal catcher Chris Iannetta, and several teams have plenty of starting pitchers they'd unload.
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C (Boston Red Sox)
2013 Statistics: 121 games, .273 AVG, .338 OBP, 14 HR, 68 RBIs, 3.6 WAR, .994 Field %
A lot of people seem to be down on Salty, especially considering the other available catchers. The Red Sox did not play him much late in the playoffs, leaving a bad taste in some people's mouth. For me, though, I'd very welcoming of a Saltalamacchia signing, especially considering it sounds like Carlos Ruiz will be signing elsewhere. Brian McCann is also available, but will probably get overpaid to play somewhere else. With 14 homeruns and 40 doubles in the 2013 season, the switch hitting catcher would fit quite nicely in the lineup. More than likely, the former Brave and Ranger will command a multi-year deal, something Ruben Amaro has shown he is not opposed to giving up. Defensively, people have the thought of Salty's errant throw down to third base in Game 3 of the World Series stuck in their minds, but a .994 fielding percentage (6 total errors, all throwing) suggests he still has stellar catching ability.
3. Joe Smith RHP (Cleveland Indians)
2013 Statistics: 70 Games, 3 Saves, 63.0 IP, 7.71 K/9, 3.29 BB/9, .282 BABIP, 3.60 FIP
Earlier, I talked about bringing in a veteran reliever to help solidify the young bullpen, as well as be a Jonathan Papelbon aid. One name that isn't talked about often, possibly because of the mutual desire between he and the Cleveland Indians to resign, is right-hander Joe Smith. The side-arm thrower has been consistently productive, improving each of the last five seasons with the Indians. Since 2011, his FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching, which is essentially an adjusted ERA) has been in the above average range, and his K/9 rate has moved up a point and a half. Durability wise, Smith has appeared in at least 70 games the last three seasons, and logged a total of 197.0 innings. A sinker that tops out at about 90 MPH and a slider in the low 80's makes Smith a great ground ball specialist. Perhaps the one piece of concern on the 7-year player is his slightly escalated BB/9 ratio. That being said, Smith in a Phillie uniform would give Ryne Sandberg a trustworthy late-game option out of the bullpen.
2. Masahiro Tanaka RHP (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)
2013 Statistics: 28 Games (27 Starts), 1.27 ERA, 7.8 K/9, 1.4 BB/9, 212.0 IP
When Yu Darvish made the decision to move from Japan to MLB, teams immediately began sculpting the best deals they could to reel him in. This offseason, Masahiro Tanaka is making the same journey, and the market is open. While the hype surrounding Tanaka does not seem to be as high as it was for Darvish, there is still a large number of teams willing to shell out some big money for the starting pitcher. Just about everything you need to know about Tanaka can be found in Jeff Sullivan's piece Masahiro Tanaka: The Market's Best Starter. Comparisons to Hiroki Kuroda point to Tanaka having a successful major league career, and at the young age of 25 for the 2014 season, the signing team would get Tanaka in the prime of his career. The fit is perfect in Philadelphia. Lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee would be matched by the impressive right-hander. A solid 1-2-3 punch, followed probably by Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and a toss-up for the fifth spot, gives the Phillies an excellent chance to improve their record. It will likely come down to how the Phillies' deal compares that of others' around the league.
1. An Outfielder, But Who?
In this offseason, there is a plethora of available outfielders. Here, in my opinion, are the best 5 available (in no particular order):
- Shin Soo Choo (Bats/Throws: Left) (Cincinatti Reds)
2013 Statistics: 154 Games, 21 HR, 54 RBI, 20 SB, .423 OBP, 107 R, 5.2 WAR,
.989 Field%, -15.5 UZR
- Nelson Cruz (Bats/Throws: Right) (Texas Rangers)
2013 Statistics: 109 Games (50-Game Suspension), 27 HR, 76 RBI, 5 SB,
.327 OBP, 49 R, 1.5 WAR, .985 Field%, -4.3 UZR
- Jacoby Ellsbury (Bats/Throws: Left) (Boston Red Sox)
2013 Statistics: 134 Games, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 52 SB, .355 OBP, 92 R, 5.8 WAR
.992 Field%, +10.0 UZR
- Carlos Beltran (Bats: Switch/Throws: Right) (St. Louis Cardinals)
2013 Statistics: 145 Games, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 2 SB, .339 OBP, 79 R, 2.0 WAR
.980 Field%, -15.3 UZR
- Curtis Granderson (Bats: Left/Throws: Right) (New York Yankees)
2013 Statistics: 61 Games, 7 HR, 15 RBI, 8 SB, .317 OBP, 31 R, 1.4 WAR,
1.000 Field%, 6.5 UZR
If you want to rank these outfielders in a few different categories, let's say power, speed, run production, age, fielding ability, and durability, you'll get quite a few different leaders. 3 of these guys collected over 20 homeruns last season, with Nelson Cruz leading (27 HR). Having missed 50 games due to the league's substance abuse policy, one can only assume Cruz would've ended up with closer to 40 homeruns, giving him the advantage in the power department.
Speed wise, Jacoby Ellsbury runs away (pun intended) with the category. His 52 stolen bases are 32 more than the next highest player (Choo). Ellsbury is headed to th wrong side of 30, having hit that age late this past season. However, he is the baby of the class. Carlos Beltran is the eldest, turning 37 early next season. Cruz is next at 33, and Curtis Granderson will be 33 when the 2014 campaign begins. Finally, Choo will turn 32 in the middle of next summer. Not really a "fresh-face" in this crowd.
Carlos Beltran's 84 RBIs are the most of the five, but Cruz's suspension must once again be considered. His 76 could've easily been 100 in a full season. Runs scored, though, is led by Choo and Ellsbury (107, 92 runs scored respectively), mainly because they led off most games.
Games played will tell you a bit about a player's durability, and it does so well here. Choo and Beltran both played in a majority of their teams games, neither having to miss extended time. A compression fracture kept Ellsbury out of the game for almost all of September, playing in 134 games. Again, facing a 50-game suspension, Cruz played in just 109 games for Texas. Multiple injuries held Granderson to only 61 games in 2013, perhaps making him a bit cheaper on the open market.
In case you weren't aware, the Phillies were dreadful in outfield play almost all season. Defensively, there was a hindrance that let several games slip away. Therefore, it is of high importance that a free agent outfield signing must have some sort of defensive ability. A good reading for a player's defensive ability is their UZR rating, which essentially tabulates how many runs the player saves/gives up per game. A full description can be found here. Basically, the higher the UZR, the better.
With UZRs in the -15 range, both Shin Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran had terrible performances manning the outfield. Nelson Cruz sits in the middle of this class with a -4.3 UZR, just below average. Granderson, in his short time in the outfield, came out with an impressive 6.5 UZR. The best performance, then, comes from Ellsbury, whose 10.0 UZR is excellent by league standards, and in this group comparison.
Now, with all that information, who fits best with the 2014 Phillies? In increasing order in terms of best fit, this is my list:
5. Curtis Granderson
4. Carlos Beltran
3. Shin Soo Choo
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
1. Nelson Cruz
Power, right handed batting, and a respectable on base percentage make Nelson Cruz my top choice to patrol the Phillies outfield next season. In Citizens Bank Park and a full season, there's no reason Cruz can't provide 40+ homeruns and right around 100 RBIs. Since the Phillies 7th overall pick in the MLB Draft is protected, they have even more incentive to sign a player like Nelson Cruz. If they can't get Cruz, I could find upside in each of the other four outfielders.
Obviously, with such a large free agent pool, there are several other players the Phillies could have their eyes on. For me, though, making two or three of the moves on this list would bring the Phillies back to, at the very least, National League Wild Card contention. With a deep NL central and much competition in the East, Ruben Amaro has a lot to think about.
What do you think of this list? Who would you want the Phillies to sign? Feel free to leave some comments, and I'd be happy to respond.
- Andrew Gillen