It’s been nearly a month since the final game of the 2012 MLB season was played, and outside of a bunker-buster trade pulled off between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays, things have been quiet this offseason. This rings especially true for the Phillies, who are being linked to some of this free agent crop’s top names, but have yet to make a bold move.
In actuality, this is a good thing. The Phillies indeed are players for some top talent, but not necessarily the top players on the market. Their current needs and desires are known: centerfielder, third baseman, reliever and possibly corner outfielder. Those of you who are getting anxious and hoping for an imminent move (as I’m sure we all are at some point) may be waiting a bit longer yet, because there are preceding moves that have to happen before the Phillies land any of their targets…if they’re hoping to get a better deal, that is. Here are some potential targets and the moves that have to happen before they can be acquired if the Phils are to avoid setting the market (as they did with Raul Ibanez) or blowing it out of the water (Jonathan Papelbon).
The Phillies and Hamilton have been linked, but that feels little more than a big-market link to keep value up. Hamilton isn’t a fit in Philadelphia. Upton, on the other hand, feels much more like a good fit, with his age, defensive ability and occasional pop making for an attractive combination.
Upton won’t be cheap, but he’ll be cheaper than Hamilton…if Hamilton signs first. There exists a possibility, at least in my mind, that there are enough concerns about Hamilton’s durability and off-field circumstances that could, potentially drive his price down. This would be especially true if the other top outfielders available – Upton, Angel Pagan and Nick Swisher included – sign first and set the market. If the Phillies are to avoid overpaying for Upton (at least, more than they already will be through free agency), Hamilton has to find a home first. This may not end up being the case, though, as Tampa Bay Times writer Marc Topkin suggests that Upton could be signing this week.
3B Target: Kevin Youkilis
Preceding Domino Move: None
The free agent market for third basemen is rather odiously weak this winter. The top names that would potentially be available are only obtainable via trade, those being San Diego’s Chase Headley and the Mets’ David Wright. The Phillies don’t have the pieces to deal for either, and should instead be looking for a one- or two-year stopgap. Youkilis, by all accounts, can still play a fair third base and doesn’t seem to be in line for a big payday. As there’s no clear top-tier third baseman currently on the market, there isn’t really a bar to be set.
The link between the Phils and Uehara seems tenuous at best at the moment, but it’s one I’d love to see strengthened into an eventual signing. Uehara has quietly posted stellar numbers in his four-year Major League career, including elite K:BB numbers. He’ll turn 38 around Opening Day, which doesn’t fit the Get Younger mantra, but Uehara hasn’t shown signs of slowing and certainly seems worth the gamble.
Soriano is the clear breadwinner of this class and will, by far, make the most of any free agent reliever on the wire. Adams, Uehara’s Texas teammate since last July, may not necessarily be the second-best option behind Soriano, but he seems to be a good comp production-wise and thus would likely clear the picture around Uehara. The age gap between them is greater than three years, so the comparison is far from flawless, but Adams and Uehara are just two of nine relievers to have multiple relief seasons of five-plus K:BB since 2009 (Uehara has done it in three of the four, along with Sergio Romo). What Uehara’s trade price tag would be is unknown (if he’s even available from a contender), but would certainly be worth investigating.
Note: Earlier, for some reason, I thought Uehara was a free agent. He is not. We call that a “gaffe.”
Second Note (12/6): Uehara is a free agent, and just signed a one-year deal. Damned commentariat making me second-guess.
Call this one a reach on my part. There is currently neither A) any indication the Indians will trade Choo or B) that the Phillies would be in play. But if a corner outfield upgrade is going to be made through trade, this is the guy I want. Choo has batted .289/.382/.458 with 123 doubles since 2009, and that includes an injury-riddled 2011 that saw his production take a hit. Turning 31 next July, Choo is still in his prime offensive years and can supply the steady, left-handed bat that Domonic Brown either hasn’t had a chance or has been unable to provide to date. Moreover, regardless of what Jimmy Rollins still believes he can do offensively, Choo is an ideal lead-off hitter despite his strikeout numbers. He provides decent speed (78 percent stolen base rate since 2009), the patience to draw a walk (78, 83 and 73 walks in ’09, ’10 and ’12) and has the extra-base pop to immediately get in scoring position ahead of the more powerful bats. What’s more, he’s entering a walk year on a badly struggling club that has but a dim chance of enticing him to stay around past this season. The fit is there.
If anything were to happen, though, I’d feel the trade price set by Justin Upton is one of the only things that could enable a deal. Upton and Choo, both right fielders, don’t share much of a link beyond position, but Upton’s clearly superior trade value would at least establish the ceiling for any potential talks that Phillies might have. The Phils don’t have much to work with, so a clearer idea of the sacrifice needed could help them utilize the right pieces in their