Nearly two months since the start of the MLB Free Agency period, the Phillies find themselves with a plethora of incomplete tasks on their lengthy offseason to-do list. The promises of calculated aggression and “stupid spending’ from the front office have yet to come to fruition. Quite frankly, the lofty, awe-inspiring offseason expectations seem more like misplaced optimism than confident intentions given the lack of yielded results. Save for the additions of former all-stars Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen, GM Matt Klentak and Co. have been underwhelming in their quest towards transforming the Phils to a 90+ win playoff contender.
Of course, the team’s lackluster offseason isn’t for lack of trying, as the Phillies have been linked to just about every desirable free agent on the market so far. Unfortunately for Philly faithfuls, the team’s offseason woes derive from a lack of financial creativity. With an abundance of talent on the market and an even more abundant supply of spendable income, the Phillies effort so far this offseason has been embarrassing- and has followed a rather disappointing pattern:
➢ Phils reportedly enamored with Player X
➢ Phils unwilling to offer enough years and/or money for Player X➢ Player X signs elsewhere
After losing out on Patrick Corbin, J.A Happ, and Andrew Miller to this routine, the team is in danger of whiffing on Dallas Keuchel, Zach Britton, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, etc. in a similar fashion. While I understand the team’s reluctance to shell out lengthy contracts and be stuck with pricey, aging veterans down the road, Klentak’s financial conservation this winter exceeds the usual conservative approach common amongst wise, calculated free agent spenders.
The Phillies appear to be deathly afraid of overpaying aging veterans in the later seasons of 5+ year contracts- as they’ve done previously- as they abandon one free agent pursuit after the next. Perhaps the worst part about the team’s crippling fear of overpaying on the back end of contracts is the fact that it is a completely avoidable occurrence.
As opposed to shopping for free agents in search of short-term contracts, Klentak should instead sign marquee players to front-loaded deals. For those who may not be familiar with the term, front-loading a contract means allocating majority of the total contract value early in the pact, thus decreasing the annual value of the deal on the back half.
For example, if a player receives a 6 year, $120M deal, the team could choose to pay $80M in the first two seasons and the remaining $40M across the final four years- as opposed to giving said player $20M a year each season. Under this method, free agents would be able to get the total contract value they desire and the Phils avoid paying them all-star money later in their respective careers should they regress below that standard.
Given their ample supply of money and lack of long-term financial commitments, front-loaded deals seemingly would be the obvious, preferred route for the Phillies- especially for free agents such as SP Dallas Keuchel, RP Craig Kimbrel, and RP Zach Britton- but unfortunately, that has not been the case thus far. The offseason is still young, however, and the team still has time to give sophomore skipper Gabe Kapler more to work with as he tries to lead the team to its first playoff appearance in seven years. Things won’t necessarily come easy, obviously, as there are more to negotiations than financial structure, but an adoption of a much more aggressive, financially savvy front office philosophy could save what has been a disappointing winter in Philly.
Mandatory Credit: Shane Roper-USA TODAY Sports