There was a time when everyone wanted to come play for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The greatest pitcher in the world, Roy Halladay, pushed for a trade from his longtime home, the Toronto Blue Jays, in order to land in Philly and play for a world championship-caliber team. Cliff Lee spurned both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees because he desperately wanted to return to Philadelphia.
During that 2007-2011 stretch run, Philly was the hot destination, but that is not quite the case right now.
This team is still building. Yes, they look better with the additions of Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto and David Robertson, but they have not had a winning season since 2011. There is uncertainty regarding the future of the manager, and the fanbase did not exactly pack Citizens Bank Park last year while the team was in first place.
Philadelphia is not a destination right now, as has been made clear during the pursuit of free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. It has been the stated preference of both players to play “in a big market,” like New York, or to play on the west coast, like Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Machado probably would have come to Philadelphia had Matt Klentak and Co. not made the determination his $300 million deal with San Diego didn’t “exceed their valuation.” Machado was not pining to come to Philadelphia and offer any kind of discount, and Harper’s clear desire is to play on the west coast, with a decision seemingly now down to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philly.
The Phils could still get Harper, but as with all free agents, the Phillies are competing with other teams for his services. In Colorado, meanwhile, Nolan Arenado signed a lucrative extension with the only team he’s ever played for, and Washington’s Anthony Rendon may do the same. Aaron Nola, Luis Severino and many other young players have also signed extensions with the teams that signed and/or developed them, a growing trend given the uncertain state of free agency in baseball.
When a team enters the free agent market, hoping to land their superstar in that manner, there is an inherent risk that free agent won’t choose your team. Sometimes it’s because the price for that free agent has become so inflated you don’t want to pay the price, and sometimes that free agent just doesn’t like the cut of your jib. And given the broken nature of free agency, we may be witnessing the end of building through free agency right now.
That’s why, as I mentioned on Episode 262 of “Hittin’ Season,” it’s imperative that the Phillies learn how to develop some star-caliber position players for this roster.
Rhys Hoskins is a good player, but he’s been streaky and uneven, and it’s unclear whether he’s ever going to emerge as an All-Star. Nola has become a star, and the organization seems to be doing well in developing quality young arms, but in terms of offensive stars, it’s hard to see where the next All-Star will come from.
It could be Scott Kingery, if he ever gets to play second base full-time, but last year’s disastrous campaign casts some doubt. Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr appear to be supplemental pieces, and Odubel Herrera, while he was once an All-Star, also lacks the consistency to be a game-changing player.
And who is in the minors? Can the Phils turn Alec Bohm or Adam Haseley into a dominant, middle-of-the-lineup bat? Are they simply drafting the wrong type of player? Whatever the reason, the Phillies know they have some work to do in this area, which is why they revamped their minor league hitting instructor staff this off-season.
The Phillies are handing the keys to their minor-league hitting program to an outsider. They’ve hired Jason Ochart from @DrivelineBB and he’ll come with some interesting ideas: https://t.co/9y4TTUWXsD— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) December 21, 2018
The Phillies don’t have a superstar-in-waiting, unless you believe Hoskins will reach his ceiling and turn into Paul Goldschmidt-lite, it it’ll be up to Ochart and the Driveline staff to turn what the Phils already have into more than what they’ve shown thus far.
Developing your own superstar gives you the chance to do what the Phillies did with Nola earlier this spring and what the Rockies did with Arenado — sign them to extensions before the ever reach free agency. Arenado chose the comfort of playing for the only franchise he’s ever known (an 8-year, $260 million extension doesn’t hurt!) and the Rockies locked up their home-grown cornerstone future Hall of Famer through the entirety of his prime.
Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, as Harper and the Washington Nationals showed us, but generally speaking, teams in this current climate have an advantage when it comes to re-signing their own, homegrown talent.
In the end, Harper may take the money and come to Philly. If that happens, it’s fantastic news and helps make the Phils a true World Series contender. But whatever happens, the risks of battling other teams for his, and other free agents’ services, has shown once again that it is better to build from within than from the outside.