Evaluating the Phillies Outfield Options

UPDATE: The Phillies announced that they’ve claimed outfield defensive guru, Peter Bourjos, on waivers about two hours after I posted this. Bourjos is entering his final year of arbitration and adds very little on offense. Feel free to disregard everything below but read it anyway because, hey, everybody needs a baseball fix.

****

In what figures to be a relatively quiet offseason for the Phillies, there are still moves to be made to address their 2016 roster. So far they’ve begun to fill holes in their rotation through the acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson and they’ve loaded up on relief arms through three waiver wire claims (Dan Otero, A.J. Achter, and Michael Mariot) and a minor league contract for James Russell. They will still likely bring in another arm or two for rotation depth, but the one glaring hole remaining to be addressed is in the outfield.

As it stands the Phillies have four players listed as outfielders on their 40-man roster: two of their likely starters for 2016 (Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera), a converted third baseman with a murky future (Cody Asche), and a 22-year-old prospect (Roman Quinn) whose absolute earliest reasonable major league ETA is September 2016 . Added into the 2016 mix are two infielders with outfield experience: Darnell Sweeney and, dare I say it, Darin Ruf. It is likely the Darin Ruf Outfield Experiment is at a stage now which includes the following disclaimer: to be used in case of Roy-Oswalt-to-the-outfield emergencies only. Consequently, without a major league acquisition this winter, the Phillies commit themselves to an untenable situation where the starting outfield is Asche-Herrera-Altherr and the backups are Sweeney and Ruf. A move is inevitable, so what are the options?

The Elite Acquisition

The most obvious and perhaps most unlikely option is to sign one of the top-tier outfield free agents: Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, or Yoenis Cespedes. These players are likely to get five- to eight-year deals (or more in the case of Heyward) with average annual values (AAV) somewhere in the $18M-$25M range.

  • Gordon provides stellar defense in left field, has 20-homer power, gets on-base at a good clip and is likely to be the cheapest of the four. But he’s likely to be the cheapest because he’ll be 32 years old next season. I see no way he fits into the Phillies future plans.
  • Cespedes is coming off a career year, has excellent 25-30 homer pop, can “play” center field in addition to left, and is the only one of the four without draft pick compensation attached. But he posts abysmal on-base rates (.309 OBP in the three years since his breakout rookie campaign) and, like Gordon, his contract will begin with him on the wrong side of 30. Although Cespedes feels like a player the last administration would’ve been all over, I can’t imagine MacPhail and Klentak pursuing him.
  • Upton is interesting in large part because he’ll be just 28 years old next season and has been a solid player in the league for seven years already. He does a little of everything offensively: good speed, 25-30 homers, and decent batting average (career .260 hitter). His defense is unremarkable, but with an offensive profile that strong, does it matter? If the Phillies rebuild was a year or two further along, a free agent like Upton would have a ton of appeal, but committing 5-7 years and $20+M/year to a player who turns 30 during the 2017 season is a tough sell right now.
  • Heyward is the guy. He’s just 26 years old, less than a year older than Cody Asche. I’ve already written 2,000 words about why he’s the ideal free agent fit for the Phillies right now so I’ll leave it at this: he’s very good, he provides stability to a franchise with a massive dearth of it, the Phillies have truckloads of salary room, and players of his caliber with his youth virtually never hit the free agent market. Of course those are also reasons why Heyward is a stellar fit for many teams and there has been absolutely no indication to date that the Phillies intend to pursue him.

Mid-Tier Free Agents

There are a few free agent outfielders who figure to receive three to four year deals with AAV in a comparatively reasonable $8M to $12M range: Dexter Fowler, Austin Jackson, Gerardo Parra, Denard Span. The only way making a commitment of three or more years to a non-elite player at this stage in their rebuild would make sense is if their internal evaluations of their emerging young outfielders — Herrera, Altherr, Quinn, and Nick Williams — is atrocious. There’s absolutely no indication this is the case and even if it were, there’s virtually no reason not to wait another year and see what develops internally.

One- or Two-Year Deals

Adding a bottom tier free agent or a player looking to rebuild value on a one-year deal is a much more interesting option which ought to be of particular interest if they believe both Williams and Quinn are at least a year away from starting in the majors. A few players who are likely to be available on one- or two-year deals in the $4M-$7M AAV range: left-handed platoon bats Alejandro De Aza, David Murphy, and Matt Joyce; aging speedsters Rajai Davis and Shane Victorino; Alex Rios and Will Venable who are looking to rebound after two straight bad years; and, my personal favorite, Steve Pearce.

With the right-handed Altherr’s emergence as an every day option and Ruf’s ineptitude with outfield defense, the Phillies lack an obvious platoon partner for the available lefty platoon bats. Davis has been a decent player in Detroit and, as a right-hander, could share time with Asche but Father Time is often unkind to players who rely on speed and Davis is already 35 years old.

The two players listed who stand out are Alex Rios and Steve Pearce. The once productive Rios has struggled the past two seasons as his power completely nose-dived. He sports a .157 career isolated power (ISO), but registered an ISO  of just .118 and .099 in the last two years respectively. He might simply be done, but if there’s anything left in the tank the right-hander could share time with Asche and try to rebuild value in a park known for dingers.

I’ve mentioned Pearce before because he is also a first baseman and I believe he can fill the much needed role of temporary Ryan Howard replacement. He could spend the first half of the season in the outfield splitting time with Asche as a bridge to Nick Williams and then, potentially, slide to first base if the Phillies elect to move Howard.

Depth/Bench Free Agents

No, I haven’t forgotten Jeff Francoeur. The Phillies spent last season raving about what Francoeur brought to the clubhouse and, despite a negative WAR, his production at the plate (.258/.286/.433, 93 wRC+) was more than passable for a fourth outfielder. If the Phillies are truly only interested in adding temporary placeholders, Francoeur could certainly the bill as a fill-in until Williams is ready. Other players who could be available on minimal contracts that may be of interest: former Rutgers University ballplayer David DeJesus, superutility man Sean Rodriguez, platoon right-handed batter Justin Ruggiano, and the guy who hit a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major league at-bat, Daniel Nava.

Trade

The player rumored to be available by trade of most interest to the Phillies is the Marlins 25-year-old outfielder Marcell Ozuna who has four remaining years of team control. When the Ozuna rumors first began to heat up, Bill Baer wrote about whether he was a potential fit for Philadelphia. I’ve always been impressed by Ozuna if only because when he’s played against Philadelphia he’s looked like a future Hall of Famer (181 PA, .321/.370/.494) and his age certainly fits in with the Phillies timeline. Even though his career stat line is significantly less impressive (1372 PA, 265/.311/.416) than his vs. PHL line, if the price drops low enough he could potentially be an interesting fit.

Rule 5

Recently Brad Johnson of MLB Trade Rumors took an in-depth look at possible outfield options the Phillies may consider with their first overall pick in the Rule 5 Draft next week. He predicts that they will select either outfielder Jabari Blash, a power-hitting 26-year-old in the Mariners organization, or Tyler Goeddel, a more well-rounded 23-year-old hitter out of the Rays organization. With the Phillies most recent Rule 5 success Odubel Herrera still fresh in mind, it’s important to note that it’s extremely rare to add a notably productive player through the Rule 5 draft. Unless the Phillies absolutely love one of the outfielders available, I expect them to select a pitcher instead of a position player because, in a season when they are likely to need space for in-season roster additions like J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, and Andrew Knapp, I believe they will value flexibility on the positional side of the roster.

Prediction

I would absolutely love to see the Phillies bring in Heyward but I just can’t see it actually happening. Bringing back Jeff Francoeur or someone similar continues to look like the easiest and most likely path to filling a roster gap while the emerging young core continues to emerge.

Leave a Reply

*

23 comments

  1. Chip

    December 02, 2015 02:13 PM

    Please, anyone but Cody Asche – he’s had his shot, he’s not a real part of the future, & he’s not even mildly interesting to watch – use a totally new kid no matter how long the odds or bring in some kitschy veteran like Francour, Victorino, Ichiro type of guy.

  2. Romus

    December 02, 2015 02:52 PM

    Matt Klentak must have read your piece this morning, realized the inadequacy in the OF, and went out and signed Peter Bourjos.

    • Chip

      December 02, 2015 03:08 PM

      Peter Bourjos is a bonafide CF gold glover who runs through walls and can steal a bunch of bases. Now, only if he can only hit .250…even Bob Denier had that one really good year in Chicago.

      • Romus

        December 02, 2015 03:32 PM

        Chip….he is a plus defender….and with Altherr and Herrera they have three quality defensive OFers for sure.
        Have to think Cody Asche may be in his Phillies ‘probation’ year in ’16

      • Ryan

        December 02, 2015 04:22 PM

        I incorrectly assumed that Bourjos was a stolen base threat as well but the numbers are not pretty. Unless there’s something I’m missing, he’s stolen 3, 6, 9 and 5 in the past four seasons. Granted those include reduced playing time seasons but still only comes out to 15 per 162. Also, he stole 5 last year, with 8 CS. Yikes.

  3. Romus

    December 02, 2015 03:02 PM

    Rule 5 candidates….I would avoid Blash, 28% K rate in the PCL, and age 26. Goeddel looks to be a keeper, plus defense and speed, and good contact ability with just a little power.
    And if the rebuild is for big future reward, then Wuilmer Becerra from the Mets org would be my selection.
    He will need to be platoon vs LHPs for awhile in ’16 and will probably struggle mightily, ie BA240, OBP290 but could be a plus player beyond 2016. Patience is the key. Him and Tocci both guys from the Ven, both good to plus defensively, but polar opposite at the plate when it comes to power potential (Becerra) and contact ability (Tocci)..

  4. Don't Make Me Say It

    December 02, 2015 03:51 PM

    Hmmmm…..bringing Dom Brown back doesn’t sound so awful, afterall.

  5. Ryan

    December 02, 2015 05:10 PM

    This may not be the perfect article for this, but I’m struggling to understand everyone’s armchair frugality on behalf of a billion dollar business. The sentiment seems to be that the organization shouldn’t spend money on a “losing” team. That sentiment works when there are return on investment considerations but that is simply not the case here. Absent some sort of formal written agreement that ownership will document these savings and then reinvest them later, or, a much crazier idea, drastically reduce prices while payroll is down, all of these savings are completely lost on the consumers. I realize that the variable costs of attendance and merch sales are likely down, but there have to be a ton of other fixed revenues that will remain unchanged while team costs sharply decline. I’m pumped to watch this team grow just like the next fan, but am I really supposed to shell out 30 dollars a ticket or 180 for the mlb package to watch a team that costs a half or a third of 2011’s?

    Anyway, I’m not particularly advocating for any specific strategy, I’m just trying to dispel this notion that consumers should willingly take the brunt of the pain in a rebuild. If Klentak wants to offer Greinke 60 million this year and give me an extra reason to watch every 5 games then rock on. If he wants to sign Cespedes to 5/150 and essentially view him as expendable after 2 or 3 years, great. Go ahead and significantly front load the contract in that case. The only constraints with this current team are roster spots and playing time, it’s not and won’t be money. Spreading 80 million per year for the next two or there years on a smattering of low grade free agents that may win 70 games is a bad idea, because it would stunt growth. However, 2016 is looking at about 1000 PAs from Howard/Ruf/Bourjos and another 500 from Galvis/Hernandez (who I personally think have no impactful MLB future but that’s certainly debatable) and 30+ starts from Morgan/Hellickson/Buchanan. If they want to vastly overpay for elite free agents that could have 600 exciting PAs or 30 exciting starts and not realistically stunt any development then they should figure out a way to make it happen.

    The popular sentiment seems to be that the team should wait until 2017 or 2018 to spend on free agents. I see no reason why they couldn’t sign one or two high end free agents now and then one or two more in two years as well. The best case home grown 2018 team is essentially playing for the league minimum and should be relatively deep. I’d rather see Randolf displace Cespedes than keep him down an extra year because some 2018 free agent is still expensive and kind of producing.

    • Bob

      December 02, 2015 07:02 PM

      The Phillies have too many holes to fill. With the major league roster in the sorry state that it’s in, it’s more important to maintain flexibility to acquire ML-ready depth pieces and take some risk on players to rebound while we wait and see if any of our prospects pan out. A lot of our good prospects won’t start the year with the ML club.

      I’m with you that the Phillies need to spend. But let’s give it a couple years to maximize the money spent. It won’t do much good to have dead money on the books in three years when, if everything goes right, we should have some of our prospects up and producing. Giving a 32 year old Greinke a five year deal, which he’ll probably get, means in three years he’ll probably be on the down-side and we’d still have him on the books thereby preventing us from going after someone who has more years left. There are too many unknowns with our roster right now to tie up our money.

    • Andrew R.

      December 02, 2015 09:38 PM

      I agree, Ryan. We need to spend to get better. It’s easier to add 5-8 wins a year than it is to be horrible for next couple of years and try to add 20 wins in one shot.

      • Steve

        December 03, 2015 11:36 AM

        True, but if you add a 5 win FA (excluding Heyward) this year its going to require a 4-5 year deal wih significant money to someone over 30. Then you do it again next year. Great weve added maybe 10 wins in 2017 via FA and maybe we are an 80 win team.
        Now the problem. In 17 or 18 those expensive FA start trending down and become maybe 2 WAR players. Because weve committed a starting spot and significant money to them we may not have the flexibility to add FA in 18,19,20. As guys like crawford, franco, williams, thompson etc begin to reach their prime we will be handcuffed by the back end of these contract you want to hand out this winter. This team will nees to spend money eventually, but it also needs to be patient enough to allow the prospects to develop so we can see what areas need to he improved the most, and spend the money there.
        That being said, i am all for an expensive one or two year deam if certain free agents dont have their market develop as expected. Something similar to what the Orioles did with Nelson Cruz a few years ago.

      • Ryan

        December 03, 2015 02:42 PM

        Steve,
        If Crawford, Franco, Williams and Thompson are on the team in 2018, then those four spots will cost about 5 million combined. Even with a few declining free agent signings, there is just no way that money will be an issue in 2018. I will also go so far as to say that the guys teams are willing to give 3 or 4 year contracts will be better (aka more valuable) players in 2 years than guys that teams are currently willing to non-tender. Front loading the contracts only increases future value/flexibility.

        I hear your points that the team would want to sign more free agents in 2018 and that extra wins in 2016/2017 shouldn’t matter that much. However, I still disagree that signing a few higher end free agents right now should preclude any future signings. The only reason they won’t do it is because they want to save money. And that’s a valid decision, but it’s a decision that only benefits the business’s bottom line, nothing else.

        Also, I could not be more in favor of signing Heyward. He improves the current and future team and detracts from no part of the plan.

      • Steve

        December 03, 2015 03:52 PM

        I think most are in agreement on Heyward, which is why i excluded him. I hear you point that thry have the financial resources, but the fact is they will be reluctant to approach or surppass thr luxury tax threshold no matter how much they are making. Top notch free agents are basically going to be 20 mil/ year from here on out, probably more for SP. And weve seen from 2011 that you can only fit so many of those guys on one roster. Im just saying we dont know where those 20+ mil contracts will be best spent right now. Also, the youngsters will be cheap, but i would like to see the Phillies avoid aribitration with some of those guys who are going to be part of “the core.” That will mean paying them a little more in 18, 19 etc but hopefully avoid a logjam of talented young FA eligible players come 20,21. IMO if they can adopt some of the strategies used by teams like the Rays and Pirates in term of locking up homegrown talent, but then flex their financial muscle in the FA market when the time is right they can set up a sustainable quality roster for the forseeable future. I think we want the same thing, i just think it may be a year too early. Unfortunately this years FA class is pretty darn enticing.

    • Dave Wagner

      December 03, 2015 01:41 PM

      I agree wholeheartedly. I gave up my long standing season tickets this year because there is really nothing to look forward to at the ballpark. Good pitching is necessary to be successful but fans come to the ballpark to see hitters hit. We need someone who will attract me as well as other fans to come out and watch. Slap hitters are not the answer, we need to see someone who has the potential to hit one out whenever they come to the plate. The Phillies have the money to make that happen and it needs to be now not in 2-3 yrs. Otherwise the seats will continue to be empty, the fan buzz will be nonexistent and there will be little fun at CBP.

    • 100Bucks

      December 03, 2015 04:31 PM

      Ryan said it well, the business maximizing profits is not our problem as fans. We need to demand a product worth watching. And, NO that does not mean that we must block a prospects growth or lock into a 32 year-old for 5 years. It means spending money wisely on legitimate MLB talent to field a legitimate MLB team. A good GM should be able to figure out the who and how much. Deciding to simply spend no money and hire guys like Bourjos is unacceptable. Bourjos is worse than Dom Brown!!! His one good year was not nearly as good as Dom’s outlier year, so why? why?

      • Steve

        December 03, 2015 04:41 PM

        Bourjos was not a bad signing. I dont really know how you would come to that conclusion. Hes not an allstar but defensively alone he is a better OF than Brown.
        A few interesting names have become available in the last 24 hrs. Rosario, Carter, P Alvarez, H Alvarez, the Cuban 2B…….. Anyone interesred? I would def like to see the Phillies go after the 2b. I wouldnt mind Rosario or Alvarez either as a possible platoon/ replacement for Howard.

      • Bob

        December 03, 2015 06:54 PM

        If Pedro Alvarez wasn’t an absolute butcher at 1B, I wouldn’t be opposed to signing him to a one to two year deal. But he was so bad there that I’d probably pass.

  6. GB

    December 04, 2015 01:26 PM

    Run should play 1B which is his best position, hopefully the Phillies finally pay Howard and release him.

  7. Gil

    December 04, 2015 01:57 PM

    There seem a number of reasons to consider the Bourjos deal good.

    1.) Top tier defense (no matter which outfield position he plays)
    2.) Inexpensive – no big deal if he doesn’t work out, huge reward if he does.
    3.) Leadership – can’t speak to this other than refer to Klentak mentioning clubhouse value.
    4.) Roster flexibility – he can play CF if Herrera regresses (or is traded), or could be traded himself if he hits enough to bring back a prospect next July. They can take a chance drafting a Rule 5 corner outfielder (Goeddel?) who can potentially provide some of the offensive punch that Bourjos lacks.
    5.) Competition for starting spots on a rebuilding team is healthy, and makes clear to young players that they cannot assume they will start based on last season’s performance. Matt Klentak seems to think Bourjos will add healthy competition, and he surely has a sense of Bourjos’s ability to be a positive influence as he fights for a starting role.
    6.) Upside – unlikely, but Bourjos’s bat might play better in CBP, and his recovery from hip surgery might result in improved offense and defense.
    7.) Raising the floor – To use Klentak’s phrase, adding a genuine MLB player who can prevent runs to their roster automatically makes them a better team. Bourjos is an immediate upgrade over all of their current outfielders outside of Herrera and arguably Altherr who has yet to prove himself. Bourjos will hit at least as well as Dom Brown and will play far better defense for less money. It isn’t hard to figure that Bourjos will be a much smarter player than Brown who had one of the lowest baseball IQ’s maybe ever.

    Bourjos ain’t the answer – that’s for sure – but he is totally worth the risk for a team that has plenty of money that they aren’t spending on Heyward or other top FA.

    A bit random but still related is a perhaps off-the-wall trade idea between the Phillies and Cubs built around Ken Giles and Jorge Soler? I figure adding a legit SP prospect (Jake Stinnett?) would be a enough for the Phillies. Perhaps they could throw in Corey Black who looks like one of this year’s better Rule 5 pitcher options. My guess is that he will be claimed by somebody anyway if he isn’t first traded during the winter meetings. A low cost, controllable closer like Giles should be as attractive to the Cubs as Soler’s right-handed bat and team-friendly contract would be to the Phillies. The Phillies could shrewdly sign Joakim Soria to close next season in the hopes that he performs well enough to be traded next July.

    If completed, there is the possibility that we could see a Phillies outfield consisting of either Altherr or Williams in LF, Herrera or Bourjos in CF and Soler in RF in September 2016. I know it won’t happen, but it seems like a nice idea.

    • Steve

      December 04, 2015 03:17 PM

      I would be tempted to do Soler for Giles straight up. If theu are willing to throw in another prospect id be all in. It’d be a little bitter sweet as the Phils couldve easily had Soler for cheap as an IFA but that was the old regime and its probably best not to start doen that path of “what if.”

    • Bob

      December 04, 2015 04:50 PM

      The Cubs would never trade Soler for Giles.

      • Steve

        December 05, 2015 07:55 AM

        No i think you’re right, especially after his postseason performance. I still think deals where we acquire talent for money, as opposed to other talent, are best suited. How would this be for offsason, sign Maeda, Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, and Cechinni. It would require clearing some space on the 40 man though.

Next ArticlePhillies Discussed Ken Giles with the Astros