A longtime agent once told me that baseball's offseason doesn't truly begin until after Thanksgiving. He explained that, although free agents reach the open market in early November, it isn't until they sit down for turkey and stuffing with family that they are faced with a barrage of questions about where they will play next season. And those questions only grow more frequent over the holidays and as New Year's approaches.

On cue, then, Patrick Corbin came to town Monday night to be courted by the Phillies. He made a recruiting visit to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday and reportedly will tour Yankee Stadium on Thursday. It would be a surprise if the popular left-hander doesn't choose his next team — and sign a nine-figure contract in excess of Yu Darvish's six-year, $125 million deal — before the start of the winter meetings Dec. 9.

Don't bet on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado following suit. Harper, in particular, is represented by Scott Boras, who usually advises his clients to ignore the calendar and slow-play the market. But many other free agents will begin itching to sign. The hot stove is about to start blazing, and given their needs independent of Harper and Machado, the Phillies figure to be busy over the next few weeks.

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—  Scott Lauber (extrainnings@philly.com)

Lefty reliever Andrew Miller is a free-agent target for the Phillies.
TONY DEJAK / AP
Lefty reliever Andrew Miller is a free-agent target for the Phillies.

‘Miller time’ for Phillies bullpen

When the Phillies made their push to trade for Manny Machado at the all-star break, they also tried to acquire lefty reliever Zach Britton, another piece of the Baltimore Orioles' sell-off. It stands to reason, then, four months later, that the Phillies are pursuing Britton in free agency.

But if any pitcher fits into Gabe Kapler's bullpen, it's another lefty: Andrew Miller.

Miller, 33, typifies what the Phillies manager would like his relievers to be. Kapler eschews traditional bullpen roles and instead asks his best relievers to be ready to pitch in the highest-leverage situations of a game, regardless of the inning. In other words, he wants them to do what Miller did for the Cleveland Indians since 2016.

In 120 regular-season appearances for the Indians, Miller was brought into games in the second inning (once), fifth inning (once), sixth inning (11 times), seventh inning (46 times), eighth inning (46 times), ninth inning (14 times) and 10th inning (once). Manager Terry Francona often asked him to get more than three outs, usually against the heart of the lineup.

The Indians were able to use Miller in that manner because they had Cody Allen to close games. And the 6-foot-7 flamethrower was comfortable with not always knowing when he would come into a game because he had pitched in almost every role. He was a failed starter early in his career, a long reliever, a lefty specialist, and a set-up man. In 2015, he got a big contract from the New York Yankees to be a closer.

Britton, who will turn 31 next month, pitched well down the stretch after being traded to the Yankees and proved he has recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon. He's also familiar to several Phillies officials, including general manager Matt Klentak, who used to work in the Orioles front office. Assistant GM Ned Rice even gave Britton a ride to the airport after he signed his first pro contract in 2006.

But Miller would represent Kapler's dream reliever, a weapon who could be deployed in any situation and allow Seranthony Dominguez or Hector Neris to settle into more traditional eighth- or ninth-inning roles.

The only question is whether Miller is healthy again after a rocky 2018 season in which he missed time with shoulder, knee and hamstring injuries. He posted a 4.24 ERA that was inflated by a four-run barrage in his last outing of the regular season. But since becoming a full-time reliever with the Boston Red Sox in 2012, he has a 2.21 ERA with 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

The rundown

If it wasn't already, it's clear now that Phillies owner John Middleton wants both the best free-agent player and pitcher on his roster in 2019, Bob Brookover writes.

Patrick Corbin is riding his career-best season into free agency. But is he worth the nine-figure contract that he's about to receive? The Phillies must decide.

Corbin grew up rooting for the Yankees, which could mean the Phillies will have to overpay to keep him from going to the Bronx, as columnist David Murphy writes.

In an apocalyptic world in which the Phillies strike out on both Harper and Machado, where would they turn? I explored a few options, including a 2019-20 free-agent class that could include Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt.

You've seen his work, but you might not know his name. Dan Stephenson has recorded 36 years of Phillies history. Frank Fitzpatrick profiled "Video Dan."

In case you missed it last week, the Phillies announced they will hold retirement ceremonies for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard next season.

Important dates

Tomorrow: Deadline to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players, 8 p.m.
Dec. 9: Start of the winter meetings in Las Vegas, Bryce Harper's hometown.
Dec. 13: Winter meetings end with the annual Rule 5 draft.
Jan. 11: Deadline to exchange salary arbitration figures.

Patrick Corbin is the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market.
ROSS D. FRANKLIN / AP
Patrick Corbin is the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market.

Stat of the day

Why is the team that had the fewest hits in the majors last season targeting a starting pitcher as its first big free-agent signing? Let us count the reasons.

First, Patrick Corbin is left-handed. Of the Phillies' last 328 games, only three have been started by a lefty — and it was Ranger Suarez, a rookie who began last season in double A. Second, Corbin is coming off the best year of his career, having posted a 3.15 ERA in 200 innings for the Diamondbacks and finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting.

Here, though, is perhaps the most impressive number for Corbin: He got 387 swings and misses last season with his wipeout slider, more than any other pitcher with any single pitch, according to Statcast.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: I was wondering whether the Phillies are actively trying to trade Cesar Hernandez. It seems to me that his trade value is as high as it's going to be, and Scott Kingery needs to play second base. I'd also like to see (J.P.) Crawford get a real tryout at shortstop if he's past his injury bug. What are your thoughts on these ideas? –Joseph D., via e-mail

Answer: Thanks for the question, Joseph. The short answer is, yes, the Phillies are open to trading Hernandez, just as they were last offseason and the offseason before that. I would argue that his value was higher before he posted his lowest batting average (.253), on-base percentage (.356) and OPS (.718) since 2015. And with so much second-base depth across baseball, there aren't many teams that need help at the position.

The Phillies won't just give Hernandez away, either. If Hernandez returns at second base, Kingery could still play every day at multiple positions. So, while the Phillies will listen to offers for Hernandez, they don't feel pressure to move him if they don't receive good value in return.