So far, the buzz surrounding the Phillies offseason has been overshadowed by the words of owner John Middleton: “We’re going into this expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.’’ Since this quote in mid-November, the Phillies have made several moves, including a trade for Jean Segura, and the signings of free-agents Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.
While these signings already cost the Phillies a pretty penny, there is plenty more to come. First, the obvious: the Phillies are likely to land at least one of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper to a decade-long, multimillion-dollar deal. Spending on either of these players is not stupid; it would be adding one of baseball’s premium position players for the years to come. Elite production for either of these players makes the likely $30-$40 million a year well worth it.
Adding Machado, Harper, or even both would be expensive, but will also give the Phillies a very long window of opportunity to win. Both are age 26, so elite production even through age 32 gives a 6-year window to add talent around the star(s) and compete to win the NL East every year. The Phillies core may not be elite, but there is enough talent present now (Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Alfaro, etc.) and plenty more on the horizon (Sixto Sanchez, Adonis Medina, Alec Bohm, etc.) that, coupled with Harper/Machado, will give the team a good chance to compete year after year.
However, the Phillies may try to add more than just Harper or Machado during this offseason. Tuesday night, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted the following:
The #Phillies, according to team executives, have visions of signing Harper,
Keuchel and Kimbrel.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 15, 2019
This raised a lot of excitement among Phillies fans, who have waited seven years since the team’s last playoff berth. Beyond just Harper, Keuchel and Kimbrel have both been elite players at their position for years. Keuchel won the AL Cy Young in 2015, and Kimbrel has been baseball’s best relief pitcher of this decade. But each player is aging, beyond his prime, and will likely be attached to a luxury price that could handcuff the Phillies down the road.
I’m not saying this in the spirit of “wait for Trout”, which has been rumored to be the team’s goal in the coming years (who wouldn’t want the best player in baseball?). This has much more to do with being patient and not settling for what is available now.
While Kimbrel had an extremely successful 2018, he struggled greatly in the postseason. The 30-year old’s velocity was down and while he would still improve the bullpen in the years to come, it would not be worth the $15-20 million a year he would cost, especially later in his contract. Keuchel has had an up and down career, and there is far more to suggest he will be the 3rd guy in the rotation as an innings eater than that he would succeed atop a rotation. He would be a fine addition, but not at ace money or something close to it.
Both of these guys are good, and both would improve the roster. But the Phillies already have an incredibly deep bullpen and have plenty of options behind their starting five from last season. While adding Kimbrel and Keuchel would improve both, the Phillies should be in no rush to continue giving out big contracts. Instead, they could give their young pitchers the opportunity to continue development. Starters Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez all took strides last season, and giving them a chance to build on that this season rather than push them out could pay dividends for the Phillies. Even behind these three is starter Jerad Eickhoff, who put together a brilliant 2016 campaign and struggled in 2017 before getting injured. There are several young Phillies who should be given their chance before the team commits to expensive veterans in the rotation and bullpen.
As I mentioned earlier, adding Harper or Machado gives the Phillies a very big window to win. Rather than settling for Kimbrel and Keuchel now, the front office should let the pieces continue to come together and allow flexibility down the road. Players like Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg, and Chris Archer are free-agents next year. If the Phillies realize a huge need in the rotation at the end of this season, there are options later that could fill that need.
For now, keeping some financial flexibility is important, especially considering the amount of money the Phillies have already given out this offseason. There will be opportunities to win for the next several years, and allowing some room for growth in the rotation and bullpen is not a bad thing. Unless the market for Kimbrel and Keuchel collapses and they come at costs well below market value, the Phillies should stay patient, allow their players to develop, and see what needs arise in the future.
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports