Earlier today we arrived at $47.75 million as the maximum amount of money the Phillies can spend on major league free agents this offseason before they arrive at the $189 million luxury tax threshold. Could they exceed that threshold? Sure. But we have seen nothing to suggest that they will dramatically increase their spending on player salaries, which has hovered in the $165 million to $175 million range over the last few seasons.
For the Phillies, the perfect offseason would see them land a center fielder and a right fielder that both have 20+ home run power, a catcher who can reach base and play above average defense, a starting pitcher with strikeout stuff who can log 180 to 200 innings behind Lee and Hamels, and a veteran righthanded power reliever who can pitch in a setup role. They would be wise to add a second veteran reliever to provide depth, and perhaps even another starting pitcher. Below, I have a breakdown of the available free agents at right field, center field, catcher and starting pitcher. If they could somehow find a way to add Curtis Granderson at $13 million per year, Nelson Cruz at $10 million, Ricky Nolasco at $13 million, Carlos Ruiz at $8 million and a reliever at $4 million, that would likely put them right at the luxury tax threshold. From this vantage point, such a haul would represent a wildly successful offseason. But all of those players could end up exceeding those projected figures. And it would leave them with some big question marks in the bullpen and in the rotation, where depth was a problem last season.
In a different world, Ben Revere would be a fine center fielder for the Phillies. In that world, he would be surrounded by players who hit doubles and home runs a lot more regularly than the Phillies did last year, which is not very often. In such a world, Revere's .305 batting average and .338 on base percentage and 40-stolen-base-potential would fit quite nicely. But that's not the world the Phillies currently inhabit. They need power anywhere they can get it, and the free agent market offers them a chance to get it in center field. Forget Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury. It will cost at least $18 million per year for five or more years to sign both. And that's putting it conservatively. But somebody like Curtis Granderson could cost a lot less. The 32-year-old left-handed htiter played in just 61 games this year, hitting .229/.317/.407 with seven home runs. But he hit 41 home runs in 2011 and 43 in 2012, and he hit at least 22 a year from 2007-10. Sure, he's coming off a bad year. But those are the kinds of players that offer value. And if the Phillies can land Granderson for $13 million per year and Nelson Cruz for $10 million, doesn't that make more sense than Ellsbury or Choo at $20 million per year?
Maybe the value doesn't end up being there. Maybe Cruz costs more than $10 million. Maybe Granderson lands four or five years instead of two or three. But does happen to be there, the Phillies shouldn't let the presence of Revere dissuade them from pursuing it. There is nothing wrong with a speedy 26-year-old centerfielder on your bench.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury: I'd be surprised if it takes less than $20 million per year to retain Ellsbury. Carl Crawford took home $142 million over seven years a couple of offseasons ago, and Scott Boras won't be satisfied with much less.
2. Curtis Granderson: Coming off his 32-year-old season, Granderson is only a year older than Angel Pagan was when he signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Giants last year. Realistic expectation: something similar to the three-year, $39 million deal that Shane Victorino signed.
3. Nate McLouth: He isn't an everyday center fielder anymore and his numbers over the last four years are worse than Revere's. Let's not bother writing anything more about him.
1. Shin-Soo Choo: Choo's floor was set when Hunter Pence signed a five-year, $90 million deal with the Giants. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get six years and $120 million. His career line of .288/.389/.465 would look good in any lineup. The fact that he played 150 games of center field this year can only help his case, though it is hard to believe many teams will look at him as an everyday centerfielder. He is left handed, which is something that needs to be taken into consideration for the Phillies. Also, Scott Boras is his agent.
2. Carlos Beltran: A switch-hitter, he would fit nicely into the Phillies lineup, although he will be 37 years old and saw some drop off in his production this season, particularly from the right side of the plate. An average annual value of $13-$15 million on a two or three year deal is a reasonable projection.
3. Curtis Granderson: We already went over his case.
4. Nelson Cruz: This is the guy to keep your eye on given the fact that he is a right-handed power bat. Cruz hit .266/.327/.506 with 27 home runs for the Rangers, but was suspended for 50 games for his role in the Biogenesis case. That's one of the reasons he is one of the more unpredictable cases of the offseason. Away from the launching pad that is the Ballpark at Arlington, Cruz is a career .242/.299/.435 hitter. He'll be 33 years old next year. You wouldn't think that a market that was unwilling to give Michael Cuddyer more than three years and $31.5 million a couple of offseason ago would value Cruz any higher. In a rational world, something along the liens of the two-year, $15 million deal signed by Ryan Ludwick or the two-year, $16 million deal signed by Melky Cabrera last offseason would make sense. Given the dearth of right handed power on the market and the number of teams who need outfielders, something similar to Torii Hunter's two-year, $26 million is realistic.
5. Corey Hart: I've always liked Hart. If hadn't missed all of 2013 with a knee injury, he'd be more attractive than Cruz in my book. An incentive-laden deal seems likely here. Perhaps something similar to the one Grady Sizemore signed with a guarantee of $5 million after 2011. A return to Milwaukee is the most realistic scenario.
6. Chris Young: I'd keep my eye on Young, mostly because, for all his faults, he is a right-handed power bat who can play center field. He struggled mightily in Oakland, hitting .200/.280/.379 this year, but he isn't the first player to struggle after moving to the A's, and he'll only be 30 in 2014. Bring him in, offer him a chance to compete with Revere and earn his own playing time. Worst case, he gives you a right-handed bat with a career .262/.363/.474 line against lefties who can play center field.
7. Marlon Byrd: Hey, he was great this year, but I can't shake the memory of his 2011 and 2012 campaigns. He'll be 36 next year. I'd rather take my chances on getting a bounce back year from somebody like Young or Hart.
Other free agents: Mike Morse, Rajai Davis, Raul Ibanez, Kelly Johnson, Jason Kubel.
1. Brian McCann: He seems destined for an American League team. Over the last two seasons, McCann has averaged just 112 games with a .242/.316/.426 line, including .256/.336/.461 this year. He will only be 30 years old, but he has been catching everyday for eight-and-a-half years. His ceiling is probably something along the lines of Miguel Montero's five-year, $60 million deal. A shorter contract with a larger AAV is more realistic. Say, three years, $40 million.
2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia: He will be 29 years old next season, and he is coming off his best offensive campaign (.273/.338/.466, 14 home runs). Four years and $40 million sounds right, although he fits the profile of a player whose pricetag could escalate dramatically once bidding begins. Don't be surprised if you hear the Phillies linked to him while they are negotiating with Ruiz.
3. Carlos Ruiz: I've been referencing Russell Martin's two-year, $17 million deal for a while and I'll stick with that, especially since that kind of contract could look like a huge bargain for a team in need of catching help when they compare it to the asking prices of McCann and Saltalamacchia.
4. A.J. Pierzynski: He is a lefty and is 36 years old, so he doesn't offer much reason for the Phillies to look to him instead of Ruiz.
Other free agents: John Buck, Dioner Navarro, Kelly Shoppach, Kurt Suzuki, Chris Snyder, Yorvit Torrealba, Taylor Teagarden, Brayan Pena, Will Nieves, Jose Molina, Corky Miller, Koyie Hill.
1. Masahiro Tanaka: The speculation is all over the map on this one given the posting process in Japan, where the 25-year-old Tanaka has positioned himself as a Yu Darvish-esque major league prospect. The Rangers paid $51.7 million to negotiate with Yu Darvish, who ultimately signed a six-year, $56 million deal. The stricter luxury tax measures now in place should inflate the posting fee, which does not count against the luxury tax. All told it sounds like a team is going to have to be comfortable committing a total of at least $18 million a season to secure Tanaka. I'd expect either the Dodgers or the Yankees to blow everybody else out of the water with their posting fee.
2. Matt Garza: Garza hasn't reached 200 innings since 2010 and he's missed time with injury in each of the last two seasons, a factor which makes him less attractive than Anibal Sanchez was last year when he signed a five-year, $80 million contract with the Tigers. I wouldn't be surprised if the market for Garza is more tepid than a lot of folks are projecting. MLBTraderumors predicts five years and $75 million. I'd predict four and $60 million. Either way, plan on a $15 million AAV.
3. Ubaldo Jimenez: He'll get at least what Tim Linecum received from the Giants, which was two years and $33 million. It seems likely that he'll get more years and less in annual salary, but I'd be surprised if it is much less than four years, $60 million. Again, plan on an AAV in the $15 million range.
4. Ervin Santana: A couple of glaring concerns include his awful 2012 season and his paltry 0.67 groundball ratio. The latter should eliminate him from consideration by the Phillies. Still, he has enough of a track record and did well enough this season that you will probably have to plan on spending between $13 million and $15 million per year for at least three years.
5. Hiroki Kuroda: Again, we're talking $15 million per year, albeit on a one or two-year deal. There is some talk that he could return to pitch in his native Japan.
6. Ricky Nolsasco: This is the guy who would seem to make the most sense for the Phillies. His numbers are quite similar to what Edwin Jackson's were when Jackson signed a four-year, $52 million deal with the Cubs last year. Jackson was two years younger than Nolasco will be, so you might be able to shave a year off that deal. Still, plan on an AAV of $13 million.
7. A.J. Burnett: Burnett is coming off two excellent seasons in Pittsburgh, but that was after the Yankees essentially gave him away after two awful seasons there. He'll be 37 years old. Something similar to the two-year, $26.5 million deal that Ryan Dempster signed with the Red Sox last year would make sense.
8. Bronson Arroyo: Arroyo is another guy who would make some sense for the Phillies. He isn't flashy, and certainly is not overpowering, but he has logged at least 199 innings every year since 2005. Still, he's a flyball pitcher who probably won't offer as good of a value at his likely pricetag (somewhere south of Dempster) as Nolasco likely will.
9. Scott Kazmir: The lefty had a nice little bounceback campaign for the Indians after nearly two full years away from the majors. If the Phillies had more certainty in their existing starters he would make for an intriguing gamble, but they need more of a sure thing given the number of question marks after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
10. Tim Hudson: He seems likely to either remain in Atlanta or land with a team with a better chance at World Series contention. Something like Dan Haren's one-year, $13 million deal with the Nationals last year, although perhaps he could land two or three years.
11. Dan Haren: Another guy who would be worth a gamble in another circumstance. I'm not sure that the Phillies are that circumstance, especially given his penchant for allowing home runs.
Other free agents: Paul Maholm, Bartolo Colon, Suk-min yoon, Jason Vargas, Phil Hughes.
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