Back to the Future: How can the Phillies help their cause on the free agent market?

Cincinnati Reds center fielder Shin-Soo Choo. (Reed Saxon/AP)

Any honest conversation about the specific moves the Phillies should make between now and the start of next season has to include a look at the upcoming free agent market.

It's easy to say that the team should trade Chase Utley, but the Phillies need somebody to play second base next season, and that somebody needs to be able to do a little something with the bat if the team hopes to contend. It's why the Phillies should be using today's off day to summon Cody Asche and Cesar Hernandez from Lehigh Valley, to cut Delmon Young and his .713 OPS and move Domonic Brown over to right field so that Darin Ruf can play every day in left.

Two months can be fools gold for the better or for the worse, but just because the Phillies have wasted the last couple of months doesn't mean they should waste a couple of more. They need to get some kind of feel for whether Asche or Hernandez can hit consistently enough to warrant a job on the big league level. Because that information will play a role in any offseason decision making.

If Utley does not sign an extension, he should be traded. Allowing him to reach the open market is suicide, and allowing him to reach August is as good as allowing him to reach the open market, since it gives him and his agents all of the leverage in any negotiation.

If he is not willing to sign for the Phillies price, then ship him somewhere that will give you a piece that can have an impact on the future. The price I would sign Utley at is probably lower than the price the Phillies would. But it's the Phillies' franchise. Deciding to sign him at price X is one thing. Allowing price X to become price X^N by allowing him to stay beyond the trade deadline is illogical and bad business.

Second and third base are big keys for 2014 and beyond, because the Phillies probably are not going to be able to upgrade on the free agent market, assuming Jhonny Peralta ends up suspended because of the whole Biogensis thing. He can play third. But there are too many question marks right now. The only other legit everyday piece who is slated to be available is Omar Infante, who can play second or third, along with the outfield. He'd be my No. 1 choice to play second, with his ability to play other positions an added bonus for a team that will be working some unknown quantities into the mix at various positions.

Expect the Phillies to add at least two more veteran bullpen arms at an estimated cost of $3.5 million each. That would give them a tandem of something like Jose Veras and Sean Burnett to go with Antonio Bastardo ($2.5 million estimated in arbitration) and Jonathan Papelbon ($13.0 million). I don't think you can count on Mike Adams, although you have to count his $6 million. Altogether, that gives you $25.0 million for four veteran relievers (plus Adams), plus another $2.0 million for the three young players or bargain veterans who round out the unit. So that's $27.0 million for the 'pen.

The Phillies seem to budget a similar amount for the bench each season. Figure on .750 million each on a back-up catcher and a utility man, then another $1.5 million for a left-handed power bat and $1.5 million for a right-handed hitting outfielder. Let's say the fifth bench player is under club control: perhaps Cesar Hernandez. So that's $5 million for the bench. 

So we're looking at $29.5 million for the role players. In the rotation, the Phillies have $47.5 million tied up in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, $25 million in Ryan Howard, $11 million in Jimmy Rollins, and will pay Ben Revere an estimated $2.5 million in his first year of arbitration. Throw in another .500 million for Domonic Brown, and that's $86.5 million for the "core" players.

Add it up:

$86.5 million - core

$27.0 million - bullpen

$5.0 million - bench

We're at $116.5 million for 18 players with seven key vacancies to fill:

Second base

Third base


Right field

No. 3 starter

No. 4 starter

No. 5 starter

Below is a rough ranking of the players who will be free agents at the positions the Phillies need to fill. Next to them is a projected 2014 salary, which I based on free agent contracts signed by comparable players over the past couple season. Remember, this is just a rough approximation of the market. For now, we won't worry about the number of years. We're just trying to figure out what a 2014 Phillies roster might look like given the team's current vacancies and the reality of payroll limits.

The luxury tax threshold increases to $189 million next season. Plan on the Phillies having between $165 million and $175 million in payroll (all teams get another $10 million added on for miscellany like player benefits). According to our calculations, that means they'll have somewhere between $48.5 million and $58.5 million to spend on the aforementioned six positions.

So don't try to fit Brian McCann, Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury into your shopping cart. Those three will cost you a projected $62 million, which is more than we are giving you to spend, and leaves you with a two-man rotation and no third baseman.

Let's say the Phillies bring back Carlos Ruiz ($7.5 million) and Chase Utley ($13.0 million) and roll with Cody Asche (.500) at third base. That would leave them with no more than $34 million to spend on a right fielder and three starting pitchers. If one of those starting pitchers is Kyle Kendrick, who should be in line for a salary of at least $10.0 million in arbitration, then that number is down to $24 million, and we have yet to bring in any sort of upgrade to the offense or the rotation. Maybe they go with Jonathan Pettibone as one of their starters, which leaves them with $23.5 million for the right fielder and the final starter.

Shin-Soo Choo and Gavin Floyd? Going with Omar Infante instead of Utley would provide $6 million more to spend on the rotation, or perhaps the bullpen.

I haven't decided on my ideal combination yet. What's yours?


1. Brian McCann 16.0

2. Carlos Ruiz 7.5

3. A.J. Pierzynski 7.5

4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia 7.0

5. Kurt Suzuki 2.0

6. Erik Kratz 0.75


1. Robinson Cano 23.0

2. Chase Utley 13.0

3. Omar Infante 6.5

4. Kelly Johnson 5.5

5. Jhonny Peralta 4.5

6. Cesar Hernandez .500

7. Freddy Galvis .500


1. Omar Infante 6.5

2. Michael Young 5.0

3. Jhonny Peralta 4.5

4. Kevin Youkilis 2.5

5. Juan Uribe 2.5

6. Cody Asche .500

7. Freddy Galvis .500


1. Jacoby Ellsbury 23.0

2. Shin-Soo Choo 15.0

3. Curtis Granderson 14.0

4. Hunter Pence 14.0

5. Carlos Beltran 12.5

6. Nelson Cruz 8.0

7. Mike Morse 7.0

8. Corey Hart 7.0

9. David DeJesus 6.5

10. David Murphy 5.0 (!)

11. Raul Ibanez 3.0


1. Matt Garza 16.0

2. Hiroki Kuroda 15.0

3. Tim Lincecum 13.0

4. Ervin Santana 13.0

5. Josh Johnson 11.0

6. Kyle Kendrick 10.0

6. Bronson Arroyo 10.0

7. A.J. Burnett 10.0

8. Scott Feldman 10.0

9. Paul Maholm 10.0

10. Ricky Nolasco 10.0

11. Jason Vargas 10.0

12. Edinson Volquez 10.0

13. Roy Halladay 10.0

14. Jason Hammel 10.0

15. Phil Hughes 10.0

16. Scott Kazmir 8.5

17. Colby Lewis 5.0

18. Gavin Floyd 5.0

19. Dan Haren 5.0

20. Aaron Harang 5.0

21. Ted Lilly 2.5

22. Shaun Marcum 2.5

23. Adam Morgan .500

24. Jonathan Pettibone .500

Get the full High Cheese experience at