Yesterday was a 24-hour reminder of the Phillies’ flaws and how they have a lot of work ahead of them to return to the way they were during their five-year NL East reign.
That would be Braves’ centerfielder Michael Bourn. Yesterday, a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney said that the Phillies “love” Bourn and are definitely interested in targeting the soon-to-be free agent this offseason. Bourn proceded to go 3-for-5 in last night’s game, driving in three runs and coming a triple short of the cycle.
With the focus already shifted to next season, it’s time to take a look at the players the Phillies should pursue in free agency and which are worth a look but will probably be too much.
First, you have to establish who will be back next season. Already filled, barring injury, is first base (Ryan Howard), second base (Chase Utley), shortstop (Jimmy Rollins), catcher (Carlos Ruiz), and probably left field with Domonic Brown. That leaves third base and two outfield spots available.
The third base market is thin. There are no players worthy of more than a two-year deal maximum. But, perhaps the Phillies best option is a seasoned veteran on a short-term contract. These players may be worth a look.
- Brandon Inge – If third base is supposed to be a position with a sure-handed fielder and a powerful bat, Inge is worth a look. Inge does have seven errors at third base, but also has 11 home runs and 43 RBIs in 70 games with the Athletics. His salary this season was $5.5 million, a majority of which is being paid by the Detroit Tigers after his release. Limited production and potentially shaky defense is likely not worth $5 million, but Inge remains one of the best options on a weak third-base market.
- Eric Chavez – A pretty dependent third-baseman, Chavez won’t give you much offensively. Perhaps playing 81 games in the hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park will help his offensive numbers slightly, but he could be a perfect eight-hole hitter for the Phillies. Plus, he’s a cheap option. He’s making $900,000 with the Yankees this season, and is very affordable, especially if the Phillies have big things in mind for the outfield.
- Ryan Theriot – He’s not a third baseman by trade. In fact, he’s only played one game at the hot corner. But he’s a solid eight-hole hitter option and his .972 career fielding percentage is a strong push for his as well. While it may not be in the Phillies best interest to try to convert the middle infielder to third base, Theriot is also a cheap option, making just $1.2 million with the Giants this season.
Meanwhile, the outfield is loaded with several All-Stars available. Several of them are worth more than just a look.
- Michael Bourn – This is the Phillies best option. The once former Phil does have several things that the Phillies need to watch. His agent is Scott Boras. He’s 30. Despite having all the qualities of a lead-off hitter, Bourn is a free swinger who doesn’t hit for average. But, with Jimmy Rollins still around, Bourn may not be leading off anyway. And with Domonic Brown’s success hitting second, perhaps Bourn could hit sixth. It would be a turnout for Bourn, but it could be the perfect fit in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup. That being said, Bourn’s best years may already be behind him. Is he worth the $15 million he will likely want? Probably not. The Phillies might be able to afford that over his final few good years. But that being said, the Phillies should also limit offers to three years maximum. After the way things went with Hunter Pence, the Phillies might want to be careful.
- Josh Hamilton – He’s the prize of the free-agent market now that Cole Hamels is off it. He’s an instant middle of the order hitter, providing 30 home runs and 100 RBIs easily. That being said, forget this one. I wouldn’t expect the Phillies to spend more than $20 million on one player. Plus, Hamilton comes with a lot of baggage – his past demons off the field, age, an injury history. This might not be worth it, even if Hamilton is an All-Star and MVP.
- Melky Cabrera – He’s one of the best hitters in baseball this season. He’s a solid power hitter – in the pitcher friendly AT&T Park – and would likely fit into the fifth or sixth spot in the Phillies order. He’s somewhat cheaper than Bourn, but will be due for a decent raise himself. He’s making $6 million with the Giants this season, so expect having to spend about $10 million. I think that’s worth a 27-year-old All-Star who’s been progressively getting better each year.
- B.J. Upton – He’s not the first name you think of, but at 28, may be one of the few free agents in the prime of his career. Much like Bourn, he’s got excellent speed. Average is a concern – his best average since 2008 was .243 in 2011 – but he consistently drives in runs – 81 last season, highest since 82 in 2007. He might not be worth what he’ll request – he made $7 million this season – but perhaps if the market for him is low, he could be a steal for the Phillies. That’s a longshot though, so don’t expect Upton to get much of a look.
- Nick Swisher – Most of the numbers (average, home runs, RBIs) are average at best. He’s 32 and starting to possibly enter the twilight of his career. He’s been a nice accompany piece to the Yankees lineup, but that’s easy to do when Teixeira, A-Rod and Granderson leading the way. At $10.5 million this season, this looks like another Hunter Pence once he would play in Philadelphia.
- Lance Berkman – He’s well past his prime, but last season, he certainly didn’t show it (.301 average, 31 home runs, 94 RBIs). However, injury has forced him to miss most of the season, as he’s only played in 28 games. That alone might be a turnoff to many teams. His salary doesn’t help either, $12 million this season for very little action. While those 2011 numbers are excellent for a Phillies team that needs another power hitter, the fact that he’ll be 37 in 2013, coming off an injury-riddled year, and joining an aging, injury-prone lineup is reason enough to pass.
- Angel Pagan – This is a case of how much are you willing to pay for? If the Phillies want talent, they will have to pay for it. Pagan is the type of player who will suffice, but won’t set the world on fire. He’s cheaper than the Michael Bourns and Josh Hamiltons on the market. He won’t give you the production of a superstar, but he’s a cheaper option if the Phillies need to fill a hole without a successful pursuit of superstar players.
- Cody Ross – I put his name on the list for several reasons. You all know he can hit in Citizens Bank Park. His power to left field is perfect for the Phillies, who need a right-handed power bat still – sorry, John Mayberry Jr. You’re guaranteed at least 10 to 15 home runs with Ross on your team. You’re also guaranteed at least 50 and possibly close to 75 RBIs from him. His batting average is middle of the road, but he could be what the Phillies are looking for. Ross made just $3 million this season. Even if he went back to making around $5 million, even closer to $7.5 million, that might be reasonable for the production you would get at the plate.
- Ryan Ludwick – Another great option if we’re talking right-handed power bat. Ludwick has 19 home runs this season and 57 RBIs. Based on prior career numbers, you can figure around 15 to 20 home runs and about 75 RBIs, hold for an excellent 2009 where he drove in 97. His batting average is the problem. Despite a much better .260 average this season, he hasn’t hit that well since 2009. He’s making $5 million this season as part of a team option with the Reds, but it’s tough to say if he’s worth much more than that.