This winter there will be two players at the top of the free-agency market: Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon. The two superstar free-agents will dominate the baseball news cycle until they are signed, though probably not to the extent of last year’s Macharper spectacle. Both players will likely be looking for lucrative, long-term deals and the Phillies have already been in the conversation for both. It’s clear that John Middleton considers the Phillies in a win-now stage, with the additions of Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson (though his 2019 season was a bust with injury), J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper all since last December, plus the addition of Joe Girardi as the new manager. They have also said they’re willing to spend big again this off-season. They have plenty of cap space to work with, with nearly $57 million before the luxury tax threshold. It’s pretty clear that they will emerge as a legitimate contender for at least one of these players.
But in addition to adding both starting and relief pitching, they also desperately have to upgrade the backup catcher role and they still have 15 arbitration-eligible players to address, including J.T. Realmuto, who will likely receive over $10 million next season. They have the money to spend big, but they also have a lot of holes to fill and spending what it will take to acquire both Cole and Rendon in addition to filling those holes may not be feasible. With starting pitching as the main need, choosing to prioritize Rendon would not be the smart choice.
Side note: Rendon’s current teammate Stephen Strasburg could also become a high-value target for the Phillies if he opts out of the remainder of his deal with the Nationals. Wouldn’t that be interesting, adding two of this year’s World Series starting pitchers from opposite sides to the rotation. Ironically enough, Cole, Rendon and Strasburg are all represented by the same agent: Scott Boras. Boras also represents both Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins.
Money isn’t the only thing that makes Rendon a lesser priority for the Phillies. There’s also the impact that signing him to a long-term deal might have on the potential growth of Alec Bohm, who is primed to be the Phillies’ third baseman of the future. While Bohm will not be ready to start the 2020 season in the Majors, and likely will not play for the Phillies until at least 2021, signing a player like Rendon to a long-term deal will create a road block for their top prospect when he is ready to play in the Bigs. Unless Rendon is interested in a three-year deal max, it just doesn’t make sense for the Phillies. And as one of the top two names in this year’s free agent class, he will likely be able to get a longer and richer deal elsewhere that the Phillies can’t—and shouldn’t—try to compete with.
The Phillies do have in-house options already for the third base position with Scott Kingery and Maikel Franco. Kingery started 35 games at third this season and is more than capable of taking over the role full-time. And while Franco certainly isn’t anyone’s first choice, a year or two with him as Kingery’s backup before Bohm is ready to take over isn’t the worst option. There are also other players on the free agency market that, though less desirable than Rendon, would allow the Phillies to focus their capital on the bigger priorities while also not hindering Bohm’s eventual progression.
As long as the Phillies address the pitching issues, I certainly won’t complain if they do decide to sign Rendon this winter. But while it would absolutely be incredible to add one of the best third basemen in the league to an already-talented lineup with Joe Girardi at the helm, the Phillies’ top priorities should lie elsewhere.