Phillies offseason outlook: Quantum Leap

Excitement and anticipation swells with each passing day as we inch closer to the annual MLB Winter Meetings. A mere three days before every franchise flies their finest front office brass to Las Vegas to discuss potential deals with their rival big wigs. Every winter agreements are made that completely alter the trajectory of a franchise.

This offseason in particular however, has been marked on the Phillies’ calendar for years now. Once the rebuild started in 2012, the Phillies front office had a change in philosophy. Gone were the days of following the Dodgers and Red Sox style of flexing their financial power as a big market franchise and dishing out insane amounts of money every offseason. While going all-in has certainly panned out for teams in the past and is admittedly one of the more entertaining approaches in the industry, it isn’t necessarily the best approach for building a sustainable, perennial title contending team.

In order to stay in the title hunt for 10+ years as opposed to a hot 2-3 year stretch, Phillies’ GM Matt Klentak knew the team would need to build a stocked, prosperous farm system to supplement their all-star talent at the MLB level. Once the 2008 World Champion core of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley all began to simultaneously regress, the Phils had nothing to fall back on as their farm was depleted from all the short-sighted decisions made as the team gambled their future for an all-or-nothing shot at a title year after year. As I mentioned before, I’m not against a balls to the wall offseason where a team financially forces themselves into championship favorite status- it was just no longer the Phillies annual strategy. There would be a time to spend, but the foundation had to be laid first.

Wisely, the next seven years were spent flipping aging veterans for promising prospects and drafting future studs with their high draft capital. Kudos to Klentak for keeping everyone focused on the big picture as they refrained from spending their hefty abundance of cash in previous offseasons while they revamped their farm system. Due to the team’s change in leadership and philosophy, the Phils were able to accumulate talented prospects in droves and are now reaping the benefits at the MLB level. Big league contributors Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Zach Eflin, Scott Kingery, and Roman Quinn- to name a few- have all graduated to the bigs in the last year and a half alone. This complete bow face in prospect development now has the team squarely where they want to be- loaded with young talent in the senior circuit and the abundance of cash to add to their prosperity.

Fresh off an impressive fourteen game improvement and third place finish in the NL East, the Phillies are looking to make a quantum leap this offseason. Klentak and Co. are eager to build a contender for the forward-thinking Gabe Kapler, as evidenced by their recent trade for All-Star SS Jean Segura before the Winter Meetings even arrived. After seven consecutive losing seasons, the Phillies look to not only compete in the NL East, but for the NL Pennant. Being the doormat of the league for seven consecutive seasons has created a hunger in the organization curable only by the glory of a championship run, and the Phils appear to be done waiting.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the saying goes. Phillies Owner John Middleton has publicly made his desperation to finish the rebuild and turn the Phillies into contenders known. Middleton didn’t exactly mince words in a November interview with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale:

“We’re going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it. We just prefer not to be completely stupid.”

With superstars like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper headlining a deep free agent class, this is the perfect time for the Phils to rediscover their splurging nature. As Middleton said, it may even be time to get a little bit stupid about it. There is a lot of tasks on the to-do list this offseason for the Phillies so let’s hop right into what will no doubt be a memorable winter- for better or worse:

 

Welcome to Philly, Jawn Segura!

The Phillies acquisition of ​Jean​ Jawn Segura was a great get but was more of a catalyst for the number of splashy moves the Phils will make this offseason. A 2x All-Star, Segura brings a very steady presence to the lineup and much needed defensive versatility to the infield. Segura is one of only three batters with 600+ plate appearances and under 70 strikeouts. The former Mariner is also one of just four hitters to bat .300 or better in each of the last three seasons- alongside Braves 1B Freddie Freeman, 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve, and ​future Phillie ​Angels OF Mike Trout.

Defensively, Segura finished last season with a career-best fiveDefensive Runs Saved​, according to FanGraphs. Segura can play on either side of the second base bag as well, spending extensive time at both SS and 2B. For now he’ll man shortstop for the Phils, and his acquisition will likely be viewed as the the first domino to fall in the Phils offseason scheme to glory.

 

Machado Mania or Harper Fever?

Rumors and reports have been swirling for years about a potential fit between the Phillies and superstar sluggers Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. It wouldn’t be a shock to see either player earn the highest contract ever this winter, leaving the Phillies as one of the few teams that could actually afford to pursue them. The front office has made their admiration for the dynamic players well-known and seem primed to land at least one of them. If ESPN’s Buster Olney was a gambling man, he’d supposedly bet his farm on the Phils acquiring one of the two:

While the team would be thrilled to nab either superstar, I think the team should zero in on Manny Machado. Harper is a phenomenal, generational talent, but he has been a bit streaky in his admittedly young career. The former first overall selection has two years of batting over .319 or better in his seven seasons in the senior circuit- which is excellent, However, Harper has also turned in two sub-.250 seasons, including a .249 campaign in 2018.

Machado, like Orioles legend Eddie Murray before him, would be more of a ‘Steady Eddie’ in the lineup, contributing at a high level consistently- never going cold for too long. Machado has never batted below the MLB batting average of .250 and has belted 33+ homers in every season since 2015. Rhys Hoskins desperately needs a slugging partner in the heart of the Phils lineup and I think the 4x All-Star Machado would be the perfect man for the job over the next decade.

He would also solidify a plus defensive infield alongside Jean Segura by bringing his pair of gold gloves to the City of Brotherly Love. The Carlos Santana at the 3B project was likely not going to be A. Sustainable and B. Productive, and now that the big man is gone the Phillies need someone to take over the hot corner. Machado fits the bill as an elite defensive third baseman, routinely making low probability plays with ease, and would help stabilize a porous defense from a year ago. Convincing Machado, who prefers shortstop, to play third base again may be difficult, but something tells me that filling the role once manned by the great Mike Schmidt may sound too good to pass up. Especially when preceded by a blank check.

This isn’t to say that the Phillies should be off of Harper by any stretch, just that I believe Machado would be the wiser investment. But in the John Middleton era of ‘stupid spending,’ why not have both? Machado and Harper are each 26 years old and it is completely plausible the Phils offer both players 10+ year contracts. While some will instantly disapprove at such a notion, referring to the atrocity of the 10-year pact between Albert Pujols and the Angels, I’m all game for the Phillies locking both up long-term. Are there going to be seasons late in their careers where they don’t play up to their salary? Perhaps. But having a decade of Hoskins, Manny, and Harper in the heart of the lineup is worth the amount of brinks trucks necessary to bring them to Philly.

 

Dallas in Philly 

Somewhat overshadowed by the Phils’ pursuit of Machado and Harper, the team is also in the market for a left-handed starting pitcher. The team currently sports an all right-handed starting rotation and badly need to add a southpaw to the mix. Now that top lefty Patrick Corbin has signed with the rival Nationals, it’s time the Phillies make a serious run at Dallas Keuchel. One quick look at his credentials and it’s hard not to come away impressed with the 31-year old southpaw:

● 2015 AL Cy Young Award Winner

  • ●  4x Gold Glove Winner
  • ●  2x All-Star
  • ●  2017 World Series Champ

As you can tell by the accolades, Keuchel is a proven, highly-decorated veteran in this league. Although he hasn’t captured his Cy Young form again, he is still an incredibly durable (lead the MLB in starts with 34 last season) and productive starter. Keuchel also hasn’t finished a season with an ERA over 4.00 in any of the past four seasons- an impressive feat considering he played in the hitter-friendly American League. The lefty Oklahoma native would slot in beautifully behind Nola and fellow 2015 Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta.

Keuchel’s defensive prowess would also be a tremendous help in improving the Phillies’ disastrous defensive performance of last season. Keuchel plays like a man possessed when given the opportunity to record an out in the field. He reacts to ground balls quickly- often swatting them down if unable to pick it cleanly- and absolutely rifles live balls to the infielder for the out. He may not be the flashiest name available, but he’s a hardworking, passionate player with a wealth of moxie and playoff experience that I think Philly would truly embrace.

 

Into the Speed Force

According to Sports Info Solutions, a database which keeps track of defensive runs saved, the Phillies 2018 defense recorded the lowest grade in

that metric since they began tracking it in 2003. Natural first baseman Rhys Hoskins’ poor fielding during his time in left field is a large reason why. Hoskins was, expectedly, abysmal in left field and even expressed his desire to move back to the dirt. With Carlos Santana now in Seattle and Hoskins back at his natural position at first base, the Phils will likely look to platoon someone with the speedy Roman Quinn.

Quinn showed plenty of promise in his last season, batting .363 across his first 69 plate appearances after being called up in July. The speedy outfielder collected 12 extra-base knocks on just 34 total hits and was a much better defensive option than Hoskins in left. The problem with the twitchy athlete is that he has struggled with injuries during the entirety of his stint in the Phillies organization- dating back to his time in the minors. Luckily for the Phillies, Quinn’s carbon-copy platoon partner is looking for a new place to call home.

Billy Hamilton, formerly of the Cincinnati Reds, was recently non-tendered and is now a free agent. Like Quinn, Hamilton is a switch-hitting outfielder with elite speed. Hamilton holds the minor league record for stolen bases in a single season after swiping 155 bags in 2012 and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down in the Senior Circuit, already collecting 200+ stolen bags in seven seasons.

Despite possessing reality-warping speed, the 28-year old Hamilton’s best trait may actually be his defense. Hamilton has made some absolutely RIDICULOUS catches in his career thus far:

Line drives to the alley, 98% hit probability shots, potential home runs- it doesn’t matter, Billy Hamilton will catch any and everything hit in his direction. Heck, he’s even discovered a way to catch ​actual h​ ome runs:

This kid is a phenomenal outfielder and after the nightmare the team endured last season defensively the team would be wise to at least kick the tires on him. Gabe Kapler is known for his unconventional methods and could dispense Hamilton as a pinch runner that could spell the outfielders defensively to keep everyone fresh. He’d also be a great insurance policy for the oft-injured Quinn.

 

​Build the Bullpen

I’ll keep this one short and simple. The Phillies need to leave thisoffseason with one of the left-handed relievers Zach Britton and/or Andrew Miller. The bullpen struggled for much of the 2018 season and could use a couple upgrades to complement rookie sensation Seranthony Dominguez. Also, move Vince Velasquez to the pen, it’s time.

 

​(Hot) Corner the Market

​​In closing, I just wanted to pose a potential plan for the Phillies this offseason involving stud Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are expected to really take their time making their free agent decisions as they look to sign some of the largest deals in the sport, and the Phils could sweeten their sales pitch by trading for Arenado. The Rockies are coming off a nice season, finishing just one game behind the NL West Champion Dodgers and earning a wild card spot, but probably won’t be able to retain Arenado when he hits free agency next season. Trading him seems almost inevitable, as they don’t want him to walk without getting anything in return, and they may not want to endure all the rumors that will surround the franchise leading up to the July trade deadline. Klentak and Co. could swoop in and try to make the Rockies an offer they can’t refuse for Arenado instead of getting involved in a bidding war in the summer. A package headlined by RHP Zach Elfin, RHP Adonis Medina, 3B Maikel Franco, and OF Mickey Moniak could entice the Colorado brass.

If the Phillies were to land Arenado, Segura would move to second. Manny to his desired position short. Arenado to third. And my ability to contain all Philly baseball related excitement to the shredder. All jokes aside

this potential move intrigues me far more than a Harper-Manny duo. Arenado also has that “Steady Eddie” presence in the lineup and would wreak havoc on the MLB alongside Machado and Hoskins. Obviously, this is more hopeful speculation that reported interest, but this is definitely a move the Phillies should consider if they want to make the quantum leap into the upper echelon of the league.

 

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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