It’s no secret. The Phillies are the worst team in major league baseball. With 3/4 of the season in the books, the Phillies are hurdling to the first overall pick in next year’s draft. But instead of talking new prospects, maybe it’s time we start free agent signings. The Phillies have money to burn (hopefully they don’t actually burn it; that’s a federal crime) and a load of young talent at or just under the major league level.
A-A-Ron Altherr, Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, and Jerad Eickhoff are all 27 years-old or younger and have positively contributed to the major league roster. That doesn’t include AAA prospects J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, and Tom Eshelman who have all been stellar throughout the season (J.P. since his return from the DL and Kingery since his promotion from AA Reading).
With all that talent in mind, here are 6 potential free agent targets that could help the Phillies build their first winning team since 2011. The list is split into 3 relief pitchers, 2 starting pitchers, and 1 position player.
Pat Neshek, rhp
We start with a recent Phillies friend and only 2017 All-Star, Pat Neshek. In just over half a season, Neshek accumulated 2.1 WAR in the white and red until he was jettisoned to the Colorado Rockies for 3 prospects, including one of the greatest names in the Phillies system (and just look at that face).
Through 43 games for the Phillies, Neshek pitched to the tune of a 1.12 ERA in hitter friendly Citizen’s Bank Park. He only made $6.5 million but if he continues to have success with the Rockies he’ll most likely get a raise in payday.
The biggest knock on Neshek would be his age. He turns 37 in September.
“The young guys are pretty good. They need to get that experience and that will lead to confidence. It’ll be comfortable. You’re starting to see it with some of the pitchers. [Aaron] Nola is becoming like a Cy Young candidate, pretty much. You have guys who are trying to figure it out. I feel like each one of them, if something clicks, they could be really, really good big-league guys. The team has money. That’ll help.”
He continued to rave about the teams potential:
“You’re seeing a lot of the good, young guys like Nick Williams, he’s doing some special things. “[Aaron] Altherr is going to be a leader on that team down the road. [Freddy] Galvis is probably the best shortstop I played with. You have the pieces. It’s just going to be getting everybody to gel and feel comfortable. I see it. I just don’t know how far away it is to winning a lot of games. We lost so many games by one run there. If you turn those into wins… .”
This was said all during an interview by Matt Gelb when the Phillies faced Neshek as a member of the Rockies.
The potential is there for a Neshek reunion.
Jake McGee, lhp
It just so happens that another bullpen piece is coming off the books for the Colorado Rockies this winter and it’s one that could be a good piece for the Phillies.
Jake McGee could be the left-hander that the Phillies need out of the pen.
Currently, the Phillies bullpens sports lefties Adam Morgan and Hoby Milner. Since his promotion, Milner has been able to find a level of success in the majors. He has a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings pitched during his time on the main roster.
Adam Morgan is another story. In 3 seasons in the big leagues, Morgan has not posted an ERA under 4.48 and that was in his rookie year. This year as a full time reliever Morgan has put up a 4.95 ERA. It might seem like a foregone conclusion that Morgan will not be a major league piece next season for the Phillies.
It’s sadly not that simple. This season Morgan seemly found extra velocity on his fastball out of nowhere. According to FanGraphs, his fastball has averaged just under 95mph this season. That’s compared to around 91mph last season. Morgan also hasn’t allowed an earned run in August in 8 1/3 innings and 12 strikeouts with 1 walk.
No matter what the Phillies decide, Jake McGee could still be a solid option for the Phillies. In his last 2 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2014 and 2015, McGee was dominant out of the bullpen. He posted a 1.89 and a 2.41 ERA, respectfully. He struggled last year in the pitcher’s graveyard called Coors Field but has bounced back this year with a 3.55 ERA and a 1.2 WAR.
At 31 years old, he provides a veteran presence while still being relatively young. If the opportunity appears, he also has some limited postseason experience that could be expanded upon if the Rockies continue their path to the postseason. He is currently making $5.9 million and shouldn’t see that much of a raise if any, making him an affordable piece for the Phillies.
Tommy Hunter, rhp
Hunter is in his tenth year of major league service. He has also been pitching the most successful season of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays. At first glance, Hunter’s career numbers are nothing special. He sports a 4.13 ERA with only 490 SO over 753.2 IP. 2017 has been a whole different story for Hunter.
He has a 2.09 ERA with 44 SO over 43 IP in an American League East division that features the entire division still competing for a postseason berth. His WHIP is also right at 1 so he isn’t allowing many batters to reach base. Those stats have given give a 1.2 WAR on the year so far.
He is 31 years-old, same as McGee, and has 14.1 IP in the postseason, not allowing a run as a reliever. He’s also the most affordable pitcher on this list. He is making $1.4 million this year and probably will cost around $3-4 million next season.
Jason Vargas, lhp
So far throughout the 2017 season, the Phillies have not had a lefty pitcher start a game. Vargas would fit in nicely as the number 3 pitcher, splitting the potentially 4 righties. He’s had the first all-star season of his career this year with the Kansas City Royals.
Not only is Vargas having his first all-star season, he is also having the best season of his career. His ERA this year is 3.59 compared to a 4.12 for his career. His 14 wins are tied for the most in the American League. His 3.9 WAR is just higher than that of Aaron Nola’s 3.6. He has also been successful in the postseason for the Royals, posting a 3.52 in the 2014 playoffs.
Even though he hasn’t pitched in the National League since 2007, Vargas is no slouch with the bat. He has batted .262 for his career and who doesn’t like a guy that can help himself at the plate.
The only knock on Vargas would be his age. He’s already 34 years old and is in his final year of an 8 year $32 million contract. He’ll probably get a raise but the Phillies should avoid signing anything longer than a 3 year deal.
Alex Cobb, rhp
Alex Cobb might be the most interesting member of this list. At 29 years old, he is the youngest pitcher on this list. He also is a Tommy John surgery survivor, missing all of the 2015 season and most of the 2016 season. Limited to just five games last season, Cobb could not find much success. He went 1-2 with a 8.59 ERA in that brief amount of time.
2017 has been a totally different story. Through 23 starts he has gone 9-8 with a 3.80 ERA, helping the Rays stay in contention for a wild card berth. Before Tommy John, Cobb was also looking like a young ace in the making. In 2013 and 2014, he went 21-12 with a 2.82 ERA through 49 games as a starter.
Cobb is only making $4.2 million this year and could remain on the cheaper side in free agency because of his injury history. If he can produce like this year and like 2013-14, he could be a solid addition in the Phillies rotation.
On a side note, if the Phillies do sign Cobb, they might want to think about acquiring catcher Jesus Sucre to be his personal catcher as well. Why waste a roster spot on a personal catcher? Well, Cobb has pitch to the tune of a 2.86 ERA with him behind the plate. With any other catcher this year, Cobb’s ERA has been higher than 4.
Mike Moustakas, 3b
The youngest player on this list is probably one that no Phillies fan really wants to consider because of one player named Manny Machado being available next year.
While he isn’t the mega star Machado is, Moustakas is still a solid option to fill in for struggling Phillies 3rd baseman Makiel Franco. He is a star in his own right. Moose, as he is affectionately called, is a 2-time all-star in Kansas City. He helped the win their first World Series in 30 years and is currently on pace to break the Royal’s club home run record (which, to be fair, is only 37). His current triple slash is .284/.320/.565 and is at 35 homers with 77 RBI.
The biggest knock on Moose is that he is nowhere near the defender Machado is. At best, he’s an average defender. But he would definitely be cheaper than the young Baltimore stud…that is if Scott Boras doesn’t ask for every current Phillies’ first born son. That right, Moose is a Boras guy. While a $16-19 million a year contract sounds plausible, Boras is notorious of wanting top top dollar for his agents.
Sign Moustakas now? Or should they wait for Machado? Time will tell how the Phillies will spend this coming winter.
Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports