Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Phillies need lots of it and, happily for them, there are a couple elite options available to them for nothing more than the GDP of a small Pacific island nation. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg will be highly sought after by anyone with a few hundred million bucks to spend, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jake Odorizzi, Cole Hamels and Dallas Keuchel are all waiting for new homes, too.
The Phils will undoubtedly be in on all of them, but they will also undoubtedly be sniffing around the third base market, too. Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas are among the upper echelon options there. Bullpen help will be highly sought after, too, with Will Harris, Will Smith and, potentially Dellin Betances, as prime options.
There is a lot of work to do and, unless you believe owner John Middleton is going to disregard the luxury tax (which he is not), the Phillies aren’t going to get everything. Choices will have to be made and the price tags for some of these players will either be out of the Phils’ comfort zone or would prohibit them from adding the necessary number of bodies they’ll need to catch the Braves and/or Nationals in 2020.
So how much will these free agents cost? Here are my best guesses.
Gerrit Cole - 8 yrs., $264 million ($33 AAV)
Think of a number of years and money for Gerrit Cole. Now, add one more year and $30-40 million. A Cole contract is going to make you feel uncomfortable. It just is. The back end of a deal for a guy who had a Roger Clemens-esque season in 2019 is going to be astronomical and it’s going to be a tough pill to swallow. But if you want him, you’re going to have to swallow that pill. Not only that, Cole was given a qualifying offer by Houston, which he’ll refuse, so he would cost the Phillies a 2nd round draft pick, although no one really cares about that. So, if you want to play in these waters, get ready to bring the checkbook, cringe, and cross your fingers the soon-to-be 30-year-old helps bring you a parade in the first four years of the contract.
Stephen Strasburg - 6 yrs., $180 million ($30 AAV)
The World Series MVP posted near career highs in innings pitched, ERA, WAR and a multitude of other statistical categories. He also turned in one of the great postseason performances in MLB history. The fact he’ll be 32 next year means he won’t get as many years or total dollars as Cole, but it’ll still be a hefty chunk of change. Strasburg was also offered a QO, which he will refuse. That won’t affect his value either.
Zack Wheeler - 5 yrs., $115 million ($23 AAV)
Like Cole, Wheeler enters his age-30 season in ‘20, coming off two straight 4.0+ WAR seasons. Last year he went 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA, 3.48 FIP, struck out 23.6% of batters and walked 6.0%. Pretty solid numbers, making him a low-end No. 2 starter and high-end No. 3. But the potential is there for more. When you look at the two most recent pitchers who fit Wheeler’s profile, Jordan Zimmermann and Johnny Cueto, both had similar numbers but had done it for a couple more years than Wheeler has done. Cueto signed a 6-year, $130 million deal prior to the 2016 season and Zimmermann signed a 5-year, $110 million contract. What could also help keep Wheeler’s costs down is that he too was given a qualifying offer. While Cole and Strasburg’s deals likely won’t be affected by the QO, given their track records and elite talent, Wheeler’s deal could be. He might be had for four years.
Hyun-Jin Ryu - 3 yrs., $75 million ($25 AAV)
Ryu had a career year for the Dodgers and is one of the three finalists for the NL Cy Young Award this year. He was worth 5.3 WAR for Los Angeles, posted an NL-best 2.32 ERA and 179 ERA+, made 29 starts, and threw 182.2 innings. That’s solid production from a starter who hadn’t pitched 180 innings since his rookie season in 2013. He’ll be 33 next year, so he’s a few years older than some of the other starters listed, but there’s no doubt he’s one of the best left-handers in the game. Not only that, he was not given a qualifying offer by the Dodgers, so teams will likely give him more money, and perhaps even a fourth year, because of it.
Madison Bumgarner - 3 yrs., $60 million ($20 AAV)
Bumgarner received a QO from the Giants, which could limit his suitors. He pitched more than 200 innings for the first time in three years (207.2), so there shouldn’t be many injury concerns, however, he’ll turn 30 next year and is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.90 ERA, the highest of his career. He did strike out 203 batters and walked just 43, solid numbers for the left-hander, all of which makes him a solid No. 3 starter, not spectacular but productive. The qualifying offer will bring his years and total dollars down a bit, so $20 million a season over three years feels right, given what Wheeler and the arms above are due to get.
Dallas Keuchel - 2 yrs., $ 35 million ($17.5 AAV)
Keuchel is the 3rd-best left-hander on the free agent market, and while he didn’t receive a QO from the Astros, he’s still likely to get fewer years and dollars than Bumgarner. Keuchel did pile up 2.0 WAR in just 19 starts with the Braves and posted a solid 3.75 ERA and ERA+ of 121. It’s clear the guy still knows how to pitch, and he should still be effective in his age 32 and 33 seasons. But a three-year deal seems a bit rich for most teams’ bloods.
Cole Hamels - 2 yrs., $30 million ($15 AAV)
A reunion with Hamels feels like a fait accompli sometimes, and there’s a really good chance it could happen. There is no QO attached to Hamels, who was worth 3.0 WAR for the Cubs in 27 starts. Hamels doesn’t go deep into games anymore, with just 141.2 innings pitched in 2019, and his 3.81 ERA isn’t phenomenal. But he is still striking out more than a batter per inning (9.1 K/9). He also gave up more hits per nine (9.0) than in any season since 2009, and set a career high in walks per nine (3.6). He’s a No. 4 starter, and that’s just fine.
Jake Odorizzi - 1 yr., $17.8 million ($17.8 AAV)
Odorizzi had a solid season for Minnesota, putting up 3.6 WAR, 15 wins and a 3.51 ERA. But he pitched just 159 innings in 30 starts. He doesn’t go deep into games, although his K/9 shot up big-time this year, 10.1 compared to his 8.6 career average. The problem is the QO. Odorizzi isn’t likely to get any multi-year offers because of it, which makes it more than likely he’ll either sign a team-friendly multi-year deal with the Twins or just accept the qualifying offer and try again next off-season.
Wade Miley - 2 yrs, $20 million ($10 AAV)
Miley could be one of the steals of the off-season, and he might have gotten an even bigger deal if he hadn’t cratered at the end of the season. Check out his month-by-month ERAs starting in April: 3.24, 3.25, 3.76, 2.03, 3.07, 16.68!!! Overall, he followed up an oustanding 2.57 ERA half-season with the Brewers in 2018 with a 3.98 ERA in 33 starts for the Astros in 2019. He’s a soft-contact guy, but he excels at it, so he’d be a good, cheap alternative for his age 33 and 34 seasons.
Anthony Rendon - 7 yrs., $240 million ($34.3 AAV)
Rendon is the top position player on the market and plays a position at which the Phillies are in need. He’ll likely be looking to beat the seven-year, $234 million extension Nolan Arenado agreed to last off-season with the Colorado Rockies, and while a seven year deal is a long time, it would take him through his age-36 season. By then, the NL should have the designated hitter, so perhaps the last few years won’t be so onerous. Rendon was also given a QO, but like with Cole and Strasburg, it won’t affect his value.
Josh Donaldson - 2 yr., $50 million ($25 AAV)
Donaldson had an outstanding bounce-back season for the Atlanta Braves and is probably going to win Comeback Player of the Year. He was worth 6.1 WAR and hit 37 home runs, drove in 94 and scored 96 runs, all while playing a solid defensive third base at age 33. All of that would ordinarily fetch a player of his caliber a three-year deal somewhere. However, that qualifying offer throws a monkey wrench into things, and it’s entirely possible he only receives one year offers. The Phils will certainly be interested, but they can’t afford to give away draft picks for free agents at a position in which there are other options. Like...
Mike Moustakas - 3 yrs., $60 million ($20 AAV)
Moustakas received a QO last off-season and, as such, was ineligible to receive another one. That’s good for the former Milwaukee infielder, who had to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal this past off-season. Many teams will race to sign him before Donaldson, given that they will not have to give up a second rounder to secure the services of a player who was worth 3.2 WAR, played both second and third base, and slugged 35 homers with 87 RBIs and an OPS+ of 114. He’s not as dynamic offensively as Donaldson, so he’ll cost less in terms of AAV.
Didi Gregorius - 3 yrs., 54 million ($18 AAV)
It would be an interesting decision if the Phillies were to trade Jean Segura and install Gregorius as his replacement. Gregorius will be 30 next season and has not played more than 136 games in a season since 2016, but when he does play, he’s productive, with more than 20 homers every year except for last year, when he hit 16 in just 82 games. But he also hit just .238/.276/.441, so his market may not be robust. He finished with 0.6 WAR in half a season, so that would have been about 1.2 WAR over a full year. Segura’s WAR for the season was 1.3. Gregorius would be reuinted with his former manager, Joe Girardi, so this would make some sense and would allow the Phils to move Segura to second base and play Kingery either at third, center field, or as the super utility man he’s been his first two seasons. Gregorius does not have a QO attached to him.
Will Smith - 3 yrs., $36 million ($13 AAV)
The Giants closer had a breakout season in 2019 and is the best free agent reliever available. He was also given a qualifying offer by the Giants and that will impact his value a bit, but with the lack of impact bullpen arms in free agency this year, he’ll certainly have his choice of suitors, and one would expect the Phillies to be among them. He piled up 34 saves for a bad Giants team, with a 2.80 ERA over the last four seasons and an ERA+ of 145.
Will Harris - 2 years, $20 million ($10 AAV)
Will Harris is going to be best known for giving up the World Series-clinching home run to Howie Kendrick this year, but he had an outstanding season for Houston. The 35-year-old was worth 2.1 WAR and put up a 1.50 ERA in 68 games as a middle reliever, struck out 9.3 batters per nine and walked just 2.1. He’s as solid as they come, if he stays healthy, which is always a question (as the Phillies well know) with veteran relievers.
Drew Pomeranz - 2 years, $18 million ($9 AAV)
Pomeranz has made the transition from starter to reliever nicely, and it’s clear that’s where his future lies. In 21 games for the Giants (17 of them starts) he put up a 5.68 ERA. It was ugly. But after getting traded to the Brewers, he posted a 2.39 ERA and he saw his K/9 jump from 10.7 to 15.4, while his BB/9 dropped from 4.2 to 2.7. He’d be an outstanding left-handed addition to the Phils’ bullpen.
Daniel Hudson - 2 years, $15 million ($7.5 AAV)
The guy who was on the mound for the World Series clinching final pitch, Hudson put up a 2.47 ERA in 73 innings. However, although he throws hard and has oodles of spin rate, he doesn’t strike a ton of dudes out, and he seems like a guy you don’t actually want closing. He’d be fine in middle relief, but he’s also had two Tommy John surgeries. Injury will always be more of an inherent risk with him.
Dellin Betances - 1 year, $10 million ($10 AAV)
Betances was once one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, but a shoulder injury kept him out of action until September and then, in his first appearance back, suffered an Achilles tear. He’s going to have to prove he’s healthy in the spring, but if he is, someone will sign him to a one-year, prove-it deal. Why not his former manager, Girardi?
Travid d’Arnaud - 2 yrs., $15 million ($7.5 AAV)
Everyone is ready to move on from the Andrew Knapp era, and while we’re all intrigued by AAA catcher Deivy Grullon, the Phils need a more reliable back-up catcher than that. J.T. Realmuto played far too many games last season, and d’Arnaud could be an ideal fit as a back-up catcher. The former Phillies top prospect hit .251/.312/.433 in a part-time role for three teams last year, most of them with the Rays, where he hit 16 home runs in 92 games.