Shohei Ohtani has signed and to quote Ralphie Parker, “All is right with the world...” Now that the plug created by MLB’s version of “The Decision” has been taken out, we should be seeing more and more players come off the board. Specifically, we should be seeing what some might call “star” players come off the board (what’s the record for most quotation marks to be used to begin an article?) Once they are gone, the spotlight around the remainder of free agency will shift into two questions:
- Who’s left?
- Who has more money to spend?
What remains can be broadly divvied into three realms: stars, everyone else and the one year guys. The stars will command salaries that are in the high teens/low twenties in terms of AAV. Everyone else will be trying to snag whatever the best combination of highest guaranteed money and largest amount of playing time presents itself. The one year guys will be hoping for either a nice pillow contract that will allow them to try again next year or the best opportunity to find playing time that exists. This third group of players, particularly in the outfield, this is likely the part of the free agent pool the Phillies will likely be splashing around in. Having spent their big money on Aaron Nola and possessing a roster that doesn’t provide many places to plug a player in at, the team will begin looking at those that are more willing to take a one-year deal. That way, the team can evaluate what they have in Johan Rojas after a longer season of Triple-A exposure and no one is there to block him if he does take some kind of leap while simultaneously providing help to a team that is World Series mode right now.
However, one has to wonder: what is there even left to think on for the Phillies?
Options they won’t be adding
This is the part where we can confidently say the team won’t be adding any of the bigger names still looking for work as outfielders. Cody Bellinger would make a nice addition to the team, but he’s now arguably the best bat available with Ohtani under an agreement. He’ll get the big buck and that right soon. Jorge Soler would provide that right-handed power bat the team missed so desperately in Rhys Hoskins, but his outfield defense can best be described as “iffy.”
Basically, anyone that is still looking at signing a multi-year deal and will command regular playing time will be players the Phillies aren’t sniffing around. They’re already rather set at two positions in the outfield and we’re not exactly sure what they plan on doing with Rojas. They’re still desiring to stay under the luxury tax threshold, so leaping past it isn’t on the docket right now.
The ones that got away
Remember all those people that were trying to throw whatever they could at the Padres to acquire Juan Soto? How disappointed are they in the return that San Diego got for their star?
The players that went back to San Diego from the Yankees could probably have been beaten as a package from Philadelphia, but it would drain their farm system in a way that it doesn’t for the Yankees. Thanks to their ability to churn out players that project as big league arms, New York was able to trade four pitchers for Soto, three pitchers for Alex Verdugo and lose three pitchers in the Rule 5 draft. That’s depth that the Phillies just don’t have. Now, we’ll be left with “what if?” all over the place in terms of what could the Phillies actually have traded.
Speaking of “what if?”, why weren’t they in on Tyler O’Neill?
So now, we boil it down to what we’ve heard through the rumor mill this season and see if we can come up with something. We’ve heard about their desire to add someone to the bench who can play center field and is preferably right-handed. Ok, if we wanted to add to our list “players that can start”, we can come up with four names that fit the bill and one semi-interesting name.
Adam Duvall - To me, this is the team’s primary target right now. Duvall authored a season in 2023 in which he hit 21 home runs in only 353 plate appearances, played center field at the very least an average level and has shown he can handle a full season as a starter.
Getting him on a one-year deal with the promise of the bulk of playing time is probably the hangup right now since the team’s plans with Johan Rojas are likely an impediment to any negotiation. Do they want to keep a place clear for him to come back to the majors if he’s made the proper hitting adjustments? If so, do free agents know about this and are hesitant to sign in Philadelpha? Duvall would solidly fill a need the team currently has so long as the role he’d be given is made clear to him.
Tommy Pham - Let’s just hope the fantasy football draft is cordial.
In all seriousness, Pham checks off a few boxes for the team. He’s right-handed, hits for a bit of power, can still run well (22 SB in 2023), doesn’t have gaudy strikeout rates and gets on base a fair amount. His defense is less than desired, making him a candidate for a late inning defensive replacement. But what struck me was this quote from Fangraphs when writing up preseason contract estimations:
Pham is the type of hitter who can be relied on to help raise a team’s floor if there are concerns about the club’s upper minors depth or if the team wants to bridge the gap to a prospect who is knocking on the door to the big leagues.
That’s the Phillies almost to a tee.
Whit Merrifield - There was a lot of speculation that Merrifield is the target for the Phillies. His ability to play not only in the outfield, but also in the dirt is something the Phillies would like to have. Rob Thomson is known for loving flexibility and Merrifield offers that.
The problem with Merrifield is that while he has the flexibility to play multiple positions, he’s not all that good at those positions. He hasn’t been an above average hitter since 2020 according to wRC+, his Savant page showing a lot of blue these days. His average exit velocity is in the 1st percentile, something I didn’t even know was possible. Defensively, he’s fine as a second baseman, but the team already has someone there in Bryson Stott. Put Merrifield in the outfield and you’ve got a below average fielder who doesn’t hit the ball hard and doesn’t get on base all that much either. If he’s holding out for a multi-year deal, he’s going to be waiting a while.
Kyle Lewis - This one is a personal thing of mine.
Last week, I wrote about Shintaro Fujinami as an under the radar bullpen option if you really squint hard enough. Lewis would require not only squinting, but being able to squint through a telescope.
You probably know the story of Lewis. A former first round pick, his career has been stymied by injuries that have wrecked his ability to stay on the field. Once a promising prospect with the Mariners, Lewis won the Rookie of the Year award during the Covid-shortened 2020 season. Big league pitching caught up to him, as did a multitude of injuries which sent him hurtling from the Mariners organization. Once gone, he moved to the Diamondbacks’ minor league system last year and flourished, hitting .371/.457/.641 in Reno. However, once he got to the majors, the same story that haunted him reared its head: can’t hit major league pitching anymore.
Still, those numbers, even inflated by Reno’s stadium, cause enough intrigue that maybe a minor league deal wouldn’t be the worst idea for Lewis. They’re not teeming with minor league hitting talent that he would be blocking anyone. If he were to capture that same batting eye as last season, maybe getting under the tutelage of Kevin Long can unlock something that other hitting coaches have proven unable to do.
We’ll have to see what players are still standing once the music stops. Maybe the player that the Phillies are looking at isn’t known to even be available right now. Maybe the parameters we have here are too narrow, that the Phillies have a much more expansive scope that we do from the outside. These are but a few options. There are many more. Until they sign someone, we’re left to wonder what the Phillies are actually after.