To be clear: there’s nothing wrong with the Philadelphia Phillies wanting to sign Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado. But the Phillies aren’t in a position where they absolutely have to execute a blockbuster signing, or trade.
This offseason, the baseball world has been waiting for the Phillies to make a big free agent splash, especially after owner John Middleton claimed they were prepared to spend “stupid” money. While they haven’t exactly made their payroll suffer to this point, the Phillies have made some shrewd transactions in acquiring All-Star shortstop Jean Segura and signing outfielder Andrew McCutchen and reliever David Robertson.
Segura is one of the best shortstops in Major League Baseball, and the little attention this trade has received is strange. Segura has hit at, or above, .300 in each of the last three seasons, is a contact hitter, and under contract through 2023 for $14.8 million a season on average. Defensively he has his ups and downs, but the shortstop’s bat grants him a starting gig from the get-go; he’ll likely hit near the top of manager Gabe Kapler‘s lineup.
McCutchen is still one of the most reliable outfielders in the sport. He can play all three outfield positions, is a reliable hitter, and durable. He committed just two errors in split time with the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees in 2018, has appeared in 146-plus games in every season since 2010, has a good eye, and hits for contact. Considering the veteran pedigree and overall presence he provides, McCutchen’s three-year, $50 million deal is worth the price of admission.With Harper and Machado still available, the @Phillies are in position to make a big move, but @RPStratakos believes they don't need to.Click To Tweet
Robertson gives the Phillies bullpen reliability. The 33-year-old is one of the most proven backend relievers in the sport. He’s a strikeout-savvy right-hander with a shifty curveball who is capable of serving as both a setup man and closer. Based on the two-year, $23 million deal he was granted, as well as the Phillies bullpen’s inconsistency, Robertson can be Kapler’s opening day closer. Heck, Kapler has even given Robertson a warm endorsement on Twitter.
Segura and McCutchen’s arrivals help aid what was an anemic Phillies offense in 2018. Finishing the regular season 22nd in MLB in runs (677), 30th in hits (1,270), 25th in total bases (2,129) 30th in batting average (.234), 19th in on-base percentage (.314), 23rd in slugging (.393), and 22nd in OPS (.707), Philadelphia’s bats were its greatest weakness — and the pivotal factor in their second-half demise. With that said, they have some young players they can build around such as Odubel Herrera (27), Rhys Hoskins (25), Maikel Franco (26), and perhaps Nick Williams (25).
Is there a potential fit for Harper on the Phillies? A three-man outfield of Harper, Herrera, and McCutchen would be deadly, and Harper would provide the Phillies with a dangerous bat in the middle of their order. At the same time, he could take away playing time from Williams. The same goes for Machado from an offensive standpoint, and it would be a lot of moving pieces in the field. In all likelihood, the Phillies would have to move Segura to second base and either trade, or move Cesar Hernandez to the bench. Or, if they opted to play Machado at third, Franco would have to be moved. Collectively, the Phillies are a ballclub who struggles defensively, and the addition of Harper and/or Machado would, in theory, put a band-aid on those woes. In fact, the Phillies were second in MLB in errors committed in 2018 (121).
Neither Harper or Machado are flawless products. On one hand, Harper has won an MVP, but is wildly inconsistent at the plate. Meanwhile, one could argue that despite his consistency, Machado has little room for improvement and the negative narrative that surrounds his game — that being his lack of hustle — makes him unworthy of a record-setting contract.
One year ago, the Phillies signed Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta to three-year deals that combined for $135 million. But the Phillies were still viewed as a team in rebuilding mode. After fading in the second half of 2018, so much as to slip from first to third place in the National League East and finish with just 80 wins, such a notion was reiterated. Now, the Phillies have the money necessary to sign Harper and/or Machado. With that said, continuing to spend wisely in areas of need makes more sense than unloading mega-contracts on one, or both, of the stars.
Segura, McCutchen, and Robertson are three extremely impactful additions who all assist a particular aspect of the Phillies whether it be through contact hitting, steady defense, or the ability to work through adversity. The Phillies offense will be more productive in 2019, they have one of the best starting pitching duos in the sport in Aaron Nola and Arrieta, and it would be realistic to expect one of Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, or Nick Pivetta to turn the corner in 2019. How about the Phillies add a starting pitcher and more bullpen arms?
Nola and Arrieta are rotation anchors, but signing a proven commodity, even if it’s on a short-term deal, would do wonders for their starting rotation. Some names the Phillies could pursue include Gio Gonzalez and Clay Buchholz. In 2018, their pen was 18th in MLB in ERA (4.19) and opponent batting average (.249). Signing Robertson is a superb start, but adding more proven pitchers such as Adam Ottavino, Greg Holland, or Brad Brach would start giving the Phillies the makings of a truly reliable bullpen — which is a necessity in MLB today.
It’s not as if this offseason is the last time premier players will hit the open market. When it concerns starting pitchers, Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole, Rick Porcello, and former Phillies World Series Most Valuable Player Cole Hamels will be available after 2019. The position player market will be just as strong. With Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon, Khris Davis, Nick Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna, Scooter Gennett, Matt Kemp, and Justin Smoak projected to be free agents, there will be plenty of productive bats available who could bolster the Phillies lineup. The ensuing offseason, Millville, New Jersey native Mike Trout will hit the open market — though the Phillies will likely have competition from 29 other teams.
The Phillies are a part of a stacked NL East. The Atlanta Braves have a deep lineup, some intriguing starting pitchers, are fresh off a 90-win season that won them their division, and have signed Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann this offseason; the Washington Nationals have added Patrick Corbin, Brian Dozier, Yan Gomes, Anibal Sanchez, and Kurt Suzuki; the New York Mets have added Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and former Phillies catcher Wilson Ramos. Those three teams are capable of, at the very least, posing a Wild Card threat, if not winning the division.
The Phillies are trending in the right direction. They have improved their offense and bullpen and have a rotation capable of blossoming in the near future based on its youth. If the Phillies signed Harper or Machado, you could argue they’d be the favorites to win the NL East. With that said, instead of spending carelessly, general manager Matt Klentak is improving a team that, at one point, looked like it was going to make the playoffs in 2018. No one is going to argue that they shouldn’t pursue a star player, but begging one to sign and/or offering them a $300-plus million deal is not a necessity.
Right now, it’s difficult to say that the Phillies are a surefire playoff team in 2019, but sometimes adding multiple players to a roster that has glaring holes does more than backing up the truck for one player — no matter how gifted they are.