Friday, December 26, 2014

Phillies outfield options dwindling

On Saturday, Cody Ross found a new home. The well-traveled, useful, righthanded-hitting outfielder signed a 3-year, $26 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Phillies outfield options dwindling

New York Yankees´ Nick Swisher hits a RBI double in the sixth inning during Game 4 of the American League championship series against the Detroit Tigers Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
New York Yankees' Nick Swisher hits a RBI double in the sixth inning during Game 4 of the American League championship series against the Detroit Tigers Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

On Saturday, Cody Ross found a new home. The well-traveled, useful, righthanded-hitting outfielder signed a 3-year, $26 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Less than 24 hours later, fellow free agent Nick Swisher also came off the market.

The Cleveland Indians signed Swisher, a switch hitter with power and a strong plate discipline, to a 4-year, $56 million deal. The contract includes a vesting option that can push the contract to 5-years, $70 million.

Michael Bourn is the only high-profile free agent bat that remains unsigned. He is not a fit for the Phillies.

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So where do the Phils go from here? Are they really going to run out an outfield platoon of Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. in rightfield and Darin Ruf and Laynce Nix in left?

I still have serious doubts about that, considering the Phils have been burned in each of the last two years by having too much faith in uncertain commodities in the corner spots (rightfield in 2011, left in 2012).

But here’s what we do know: the price of outfielders is sky high.

Here’s a sampling of the (guaranteed) dollars committed to free agent outfielders this winter:

Swisher: 4 years, $56 million

Ross: 3 years, $26 million

Josh Hamilton: 5 years, $123 million (Angels)

B.J. Upton: 5 years, $75.25 million (Braves)

Shane Victorino: 3 years, $39 million (Red Sox)

Angel Pagan: 4 years, $40 million (Giants)

Melky Cabrera: 2 years, $16 million (Blue Jays)

Torii Hunter: 2 years, $26 million (Tigers)

Ryan Ludwick: 2 years, $15 million (Reds)

The Phils obviously did not feel comfortable with most or all of those numbers. (They were reportedly outbid by $20 million by the Braves for Upton).

In an offseason that began with the Phils without a single, everyday outfielder, they’ve added one in the first seven weeks of the offseason: center fielder Ben Revere.

Revere, of course, was acquired in a trade. Since all of the above players are free agents, it’s worth remembering that just because that market has dried up, the Phils can still trade for an impact, outfield bat.

But before you begin dreaming up an idea of Justin Upton – he really is the perfect candidate, young, righthanded with power and speed, team-friendly contract – let’s remember the price the Phils had to pay for Revere.

The Phils dealt their two big trade chips for Revere: Vance Worley and Trevor May.

Revere was probably no higher than fourth or fifth in the Phils’ list of preferable center field options. So let’s assume they offered a similar package to Colorado for Dexter Fowler and were turned down; it’s a reasonable assumption since Fowler can be had in a trade and the Rockies want pitching back.

If a package centered around May and Worley wouldn’t get you Fowler, how much would a guy like Upton cost? A lot.

Not only are free agents cashing in this winter, but so are teams that are selling off proven parts.

The Mets traded 38-year-old pitcher R.A. Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, to Toronto for a lucrative package led by former Phils prospect Travis D’Arnaud, baseball’s top catching prospect, and righthanded pitcher Noah Syndergaard. They were ranked the No.1 and No.2 prospects in the Jays’ system by Baseball Prospectus earlier this month.

The Rays traded pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis for an ever more lucrative package, headlined by outfielder Wil Myers, one of if not the top hitting prospects in all of baseball.

So if a team wants to swing a deal for the 25-year-old Upton, who is owed $38.5 million in the next three seasons, they better be prepared to unload the farm. After signing Ross, there has been speculation that Upton, the on-again, off-again human trade rumor, could be had in a trade; ditto his teammate, lefthanded hitting Jason Kubel.

It’s all about supply and demand; since more than a handful of teams would love to add Upton (Texas has both a bounty of top prospects and the need for an impact outfielder), the Diamondbacks could probably name their price and get it, too.

Would you deal Jesse Biddle for Upton? How about Biddle and Tommy Joseph? I imagine you're not as excited about the idea of Upton now.

Even a deal for the lesser bats on the trade market would be costly.

If the Rockies are asking the world for Fowler, you’d imagine they’re not going to unload his teammate, Michael Cuddyer, for middling prospects or Triple-A arms. Ditto the D-backs and Kubel.

Add the fact that the Phils have already depleted some of their trade chips in making two deals this month (for Revere and Michael Young) and it’s difficult to imagine them swinging a deal for a high-profile bat. Then again, it’s never a good idea to bet against Ruben Amaro Jr.

But given the cost of outfielders this winter – both on the free agent and trade markets – it might be a good idea to set yourself up for another low-risk, high-reward-type addition.

The Phils have already gone that route a few times this winter.

Here’s a name like that I might consider, so long as he can still play 7 innings a game in the outfield: Lance Berkman.

Yes his health has been a serious issue recently, but he did hit .301 with a .412 OBP, .959 OPS, 31 home runs and 94 RBI in 145 games with St. Louis in 2011 as an outfielder. He would surely come cheap.

No, Berkman, who turns 37 in February, is nowhere near the perfect solution in the outfield. But there are no perfect solutions remaining and, if he’s healthy, he’s an upgrade over what your current corner outfielders.

But that’s just a random name I’m throwing out there. Because at this point in the winter, that’s really all that’s left on the outfield market.

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