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The 2020 Corey Dickerson Dilemma

He’s been one of the team’s most productive hitters since being picked up in a trade in July. But an already crowded outfield situation for next year clouds Dickerson’s future in Philly

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

In a way, Corey Dickerson is the player we didn’t know this team needed. Already holding three left-handed outfielders on their roster in late July — Bryce Harper, Adam Haseley, and Nick Williams — with a fourth (Jay Bruce) soon to return from injury, picking up another lefty bat to play the outfield seemed like a redundant move.

In reality, the redundancy ends with the position and handedness, because the Phillies didn’t really have another hitter on the team who profiled quite like Dickerson. Aggressive and disinclined to walk all that much, Dickerson’s tendencies stood in contrast to the likes of the patient Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, while still giving the lineup a more immediate shot at production than Williams or a banged-up Bruce had provided lately.

Since his arrival, Dickerson has gone to the plate with damage on his mind, and has delivered his fair share. After his 1-for-5, 2 RBI day in Sunday’s series-clinching win over the Mets, Dickerson’s season line lies at .305/.343/.542, though his .295/.310/.533 split with the Phillies actually drags that down ever so slightly.

The biggest boon has been Dickerson’s ability to cash in with runners on; his 29 RBI in 31 games with the Phillies — including a stretch with 9 RBI in 3 games late last month — have all seemed to arrive at opportune moments. He’s had a nice go of it, and some are starting to wonder if he’s the kind of guy the Phillies should look to keep around for 2020, and maybe beyond.

Absent other considerations, it feels like a reasonable thing to try. The outfield situation, though, is complicated, and Dickerson’s potential spot on this for 2020 may be a victim of circumstance.

Here’s what the Phillies are looking at in the outfield for 2020, and the roadblocks standing between them and a reunion with Dickerson once he becomes a free agent at season’s end.

Andrew McCutchen

With two years left on his deal and a restructured ACL to prove he’s fully functioning with, McCutchen’s unlikely to go anywhere. What’s more, the rebuilt ligament likely further dampens his chances of playing meaningful time outside a corner outfield spot. The Phillies, given the ‘18 Hoskins LF Experiment, Scott Kingery’s nomadic adventures around the diamond, and the roster depth that seems hyper-focused on jacks-of-all-trades/masters-of-none, certainly don’t seem averse to less-than-ideal defensive alignments. But asking Cutch to play seven, eight innings of center field five times a week may not be something they have an appetite for, even if McCutchen’s rebuilt leg could give it the old college try.

It’s already been a long time since Cutch landed on the IL, so it’s a bit easier to forget just how effective he was atop the lineup: .256/.378/.457 is a really good line for a modern leadoff hitter, and the Phils have plainly struggled to fill his shoes ever since he went down. All of that goes without mentioning the intangibles he brings that feel more, well, tangible than just about any other player in the organization. Consider those a bonus.

If the team felt compelled to try and move McCutchen, they’d be looking to convince a team to take on two years of commitment (plus a 2022 option) based almost wholly on medical reports, as Cutch won’t return to game action this season to prove he’s recovered. The Phillies had to find a way to ship Carlos Santana out last winter because of Rhys Hoskins; this situation just isn’t analogous.

Bryce Harper

The other corner outfield spot is filled for a little while yet.

Other and Better CF Options

Adam Haseley, a first-round pick, looks to be getting more and more accustomed to Major League life as he gets more reps. Roman Quinn, for all his health issues, would presumably be a fine bench option as a switch-hitter with speed and above-average defensive chops. Odubel Herrera probably shouldn’t be back, but he’s also under contract for a couple more years yet. All three of those guys play a better center field than Dickerson, who hasn’t even stood in the position in a game since 2015.

And those are just the full-time options. Scott Kingery should probably be settled into an infield position next year, but he’s also shown to be an adequate CF in his own right. The Phillies have too many adept options, as it stands today, to try and jam Dickerson into that mix after years away from playing the position.

There’s a little more flexibility among that group if we start thinking about potential trades, or outright releases. Herrera could be turned into a sunk cost; Quinn could be non-tendered; Haseley could be traded as part of a deal for an upgrade at another position. All conjecture. Even then, it seems far-fetched to think Dickerson (or McCutchen or Harper) would then be tasked with being the everyday center fielder in the wake of those moves.

Price Tag

As a soon-to-be free agent, free of the constraints of a Qualifying Offer thanks to his trade to the Phils, Dickerson should — should — have a decent market for his services. He’ll only be 31 next May and, despite a hamstring injury and this year’s shoulder issue, has been pretty good about staying on the field (148, 150, and 135 games played in 2016-18; 131 and 65 the two seasons before that). He can be expected to seek a starting role and wage, and with that comes a multi-year commitment in excess of $9-10M AAV.

Consider Yoenis Cespedes’s three seasons leading up to his own free agency after 2016, against Dickerson’s 2017-19.

Corey Dickerson vs. Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes 2014-16 1,864 .277 .326 .506 127 88 4 years / $110M
Dickerson 2017-19 1,430 .293 .330 .492 119 49 ???
Stats through 9/8

While far from a perfect comparison, both had spent the bulk of their time in an outfield corner, each had won a Gold Glove, and had (or were due to) hit free agency after their age-30 seasons. The free agent market of the past couple of winters complicates matters, and Dickerson’s highly unlikely to see nine figures, but he has (at worst) a compelling case for multiple years and an eight-figure salary.

The Phillies, with their current outlay of commitments and dire need to funnel money toward pitching upgrades this offseason, don’t feel like a great candidate to add Dickerson to the pool, force their own hand to make corresponding moves and, in doing so, lower their leverage in such deals to get lower-impact returns for the sole purpose of saving money or clearing a roster spot based on necessity of their own creation.

Adam Haseley

I have no idea how good Haseley is going to be. What he’s shown at the plate in this abbreviated rookie season (.264/.320/.403) has been okay. It’s a bit below-average on the whole, but fine for the purposes of having a 23-year-old get his feet wet at the Major League level. What he’s shown defensively, on the other hand, has far exceeded expectations.

If he isn’t traded, Haseley’s development is crucial. This organization has faced myriad complaints about their poor draft success over the past few years, and in Haseley, they have something of a shot at redemption. But he likely won’t progress in a bench role (see: Williams, Nick) and, if your starting outfield turns into, say, Dickerson / McCutchen / Harper, or Dickerson / Herrera / Harper, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to come out of that beyond a pinch-hit/defensive sub appearance plus a start or two each week for up to two full seasons.

Haseley is showing potential, and already feels like a strong early contender for the CF job in 2020. Relegating him to the bench (or back to Lehigh Valley) would significantly delay his timeline.

With a number of unknowns and a questionable fit hovering over the 2020 outfield, it seems unlikely that Corey Dickerson would be in the mix. That’s hardly saying his time with the Phillies has been a failure or unacceptable, but rather that he’s a good fit for the moment, just not the future. Whether the Phillies ultimately agree remains to be seen.