It appears as if the Phillies’ quest to find more offense is getting serious.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wrote on Tuesday that the Phillies are “perfectly positioned” to add another bat in free agency or trade.
The team’s wide-ranging list of potential targets includes free-agent outfielder Jose Bautista, who is perhaps the best hitter still available. But the Phils, seeking the lowest possible acquisition cost, consider Bautista a less likely option; they are reluctant to lose a draft pick for signing him, sources say.
I’ll admit, I read the first sentence and got excited thinking about playoff bat-flips, mammoth home runs and fistfights in the infield. Baseball in Philadelphia would be fun again! But of course, the second sentence throws a bucket of cold water on that idea.
Rosenthal correctly noted the Phillies are in a position of strength, with plenty of money to spend and plenty of playing time to offer a free agent in right field. Aaron Altherr and Roman Quinn are slated to share/compete for the job in right field, and the team could open up a second outfield spot if they trade Cesar Hernandez and move Howie Kendrick to second base.
A free agent who is forced to take a one-year deal may opt for the Phils knowing he’ll get a lot of playing time and that the team will look to flip him at the deadline to a playoff contender.
Rosenthal also mentioned Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders as potential free agents, while CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury said on Tuesday Moss, Saunders, Rajai Davis and Colby Rasmus could be possibilities as well.
If the Phils are targeting Bautista, they wouldn’t have to give up their first round pick, which is top-10 protected. Instead, they would give up their second-rounder (45th overall), and the bonus pool money associated with it. And while giving up a second rounder is better than a first, second-round picks aren’t nothing.
You can see why it gives the Phillies pause. Here is how Bautista, Moss and Sanders stack up.
Free agent outfielders
Bautista has the highest ceiling of the three, although he is also the oldest. His 22 home runs were his fewest since 2009, and he only played 116 games last year, his fewest since 2012. At 36, he’s not getting any younger, and it’s entirely possible his decline and injuries were age-related.
That said, it’s also possible he simply had a down year and will bounce back in 2017. The odds of that aren’t as good, given his age, but if he does return to form next year, he would have the highest upside of any free agents listed above and would instantly become the most marketable player at the trade deadline next year. That could conceivably net the Phillies a better prospect than the one they would have selected with their second-round pick.
Last week, Ethan Witte wrote about the possibility of offering a big-money, one-year deal for Bautista, something the Phils would need to do if they really wanted to land him. Would a one-year, $30 million deal get it done? Would the Phils be willing to throw that kind of cash at him and give up a second rounder?
Moss and Saunders would be easier to pull off and are much more likely to end up in Philadelphia than Bautista.
Saunders made the All Star team in 2016, but his first half and second half stats were noticeably different. He hit .275/.358/.569 with a .927 OPS and a wRC+ of 147 before the All Star break and .247/.332/.451 with a .783 OPS and a 108 wRC+ in the second half. He was particularly lousy in September.
Moss would provide the Phils with a left-handed platoon bat, able to spell Tommy Joseph at first base and in the corner outfield spots for Altherr and Kendrick. But it’s not just free agents the Phils are looking at. Rosenthal also noted the possibility of a trade.
The club also would be interested in a trade for a hitter such as the Mets’ Jay Bruce if they could pull off such a move without giving up any significant prospects, the way it did in acquiring left fielder Howie Kendrick and right-hander Clay Buchholz earlier this offseason.
Obviously the Phils would give up less for Jay Bruce than they would a better player, such as J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler or Joey Gallo. But then you have to play Jay Bruce on a regular basis, which isn’t usually a thing you want to do.
Look, Jose Bautista likely isn’t coming to Philadelphia, but it does appear as if the Phillies want to do something to upgrade the offense next season. And they are in the perfect position to take advantage of a market that could send a decent free agent into their arms.