The Philadelphia Phillies will be very interesting in 2018. By the end of the 2017 season, it looked as though the Phils had finally identified the new core that will carry them into another phase of contention.
Outfielders Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and starting pitcher Aaron Nola look like they can replace Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels as the bedrocks of the team. Young catcher Jorge Alfaro also flashed in the last two months of the season, outfielder Aaron Altherr had a breakout year, and there is still time for young arms in the rotation like Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez to reach their full potential.
Add in pieces that haven’t made a permanent step to the big leagues like J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn, and Dylan Cozens, and there is a bumper of talented young players that can take the Phillies back to the upper reaches of the National League’s hierarchy.
Of course, no team wins titles solely on the strength of its farm system. It provides the base, but every team has to augment its homegrown talent with strong players from outside the organization. The Phillies have been quiet on that front for the last several years as they identified the pieces in the farm system that would be the most valuable but with the core seemingly in place and a new young manager to lead them in Gabe Kapler, general manager Matt Klentak may get more aggressive in the market.
While the free agent class that everyone’s talking about will come around next offseason, there are still a few players that the Phillies can target to take the next step in their evolution.
What players should the team target this winter? Here are five moves—one trade and four free agent signings—that should be on Klentak’s radar.
1 Giancarlo Stanton, OF
The biggest story of the winter will be the fate of Giancarlo Stanton.
It seems fairly clear that the Miami Marlins will put him on the trade block this winter. The new ownership group is intent on shedding about $50m in payroll, and Barry Jackson and Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported that they had identified shedding the contracts of Stanton, Dee Gordon, and Martin Prado as the best ways to do so.
Klentak may be more interested in another Marlins outfielder, Christian Yelich, but the Fish are reportedly intent on keeping him. Stanton, however, could be a tempting target, and the Phillies are well-equipped to make a run at him.
Stanton's massive contract won't be an issue. The Phillies have deliberately created a massive amount of payroll flexibility over the last few years. Odubel Herrera's $3.35m is the only pre-arbitration contract on the books. Only three years ago they signed one of the league's bigger cable deals—a fact not widely known because they have flashed little cash during the rebuild. They also play in one of the league's biggest markets, and the sellout streak that ran through their division championship reign is proof that that market will respond if given a good team again.
They also have players that could pique the Marlins' interest. It's unlikely that Klentak would make Williams available, but Altherr is a logical candidate to headline the deal. He can be packaged with Cesar Hernandez, who has Scott Kingery nipping at his heels at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and could seamlessly replace Gordon if he also gets moved. Throw in a few other prospects and that seems like a deal that could get done.
Combining Stanton with the power of Hoskins would make a fear-inducing one-two punch in the Phillies' lineup and greatly accelerate the team's journey toward contention. Stanton has a no-trade clause and would have to approve the deal but with the Phillies on the rise, it might be possible to convince him. If he ends up regretting his decision, there's always his opt-out after the 2020 season.
Expect the Phillies to take a long look at this possibility.
2 Mike Moustakas, 3B
The premier power hitter on the free agent market this season, third baseman Mike Moustakas came back after losing almost all of 2016 to injury to set the Kansas City Royals record for home runs in a season with 38, slashing .272/.314/.521.
Moustakas' fit with the Phillies depends on a few factors. Chief amongst them is whether Klentak and Kapler choose to cut bait on Maikel Franco or give him one more chance to prove he can be the player he showed he could be during his 2015 rookie season. If they do and he fails, Manny Machado will be on the market next winter.
But if they move on from Franco early, Moustakas would be the ideal external candidate to replace him. His power would only improve at Citizens Bank Park and adding his bat to a lineup with Hoskins, Williams, and any other additions would make for an entertaining and potent offense.
Moustakas would also bring a wealth of experience to a very young team. He was a major part of the Royals' back-to-back AL Pennant wins in 2014 and '15. He hit .304 in the five-game 2015 World Series, helping lead the Royals to the title. That kind of experience would be invaluable to a team whose core is so light on big league and big-game experience.
3 Andrew Cashner, RHP
The Phillies have some intriguing young arms on the roster, but only one, Aaron Nola, has truly stamped himself as a key piece of the future.
Jerad Eickhoff has been a solid pitcher since coming over in the Cole Hamels trade, but he took a step back in 2017 and will come back from an injury to start the year. Vince Velasquez has ace stuff but hasn't been able to deliver regularly on the promise that showed in his 16-strikeout performance against the Padres early in 2016 and is recovering from surgery to correct a vascular issue.
With such a young staff, it wouldn't be a surprise for Matt Klentak to find a starting pitcher with a little more experience to play the role Jeremy Hellickson did the last two years. With Nola coming up on arbitration soon, the team may also bring in an older hand to handle the Opening Day start so as not to give Nola more ammunition at the arbitration table—something the team has done before when they gave Brett Myers the ball before Cole Hamels in 2008.
Cashner bounced back from a rough 2016 by compiling an 11-11 record and a 3.40 ERA in 28 starts for the Texas Rangers. His WHIP of 1.32 was the fourth-best of his career.
That will likely earn the 31-year-old a decent contract over the next few years. There will always be fierce competition for starters, but Cashner would be a good fit. He is a pitcher with experience, but not someone who would command an outrageous deal. He has had both experience and success in the National League. He'd be a great candidate to mentor the Phillies' youngsters as they continue to mature.
4 Bryan Shaw, RHP
One of the Phillies' biggest problems last year was middle relief.
They weren't a good team last year, but they probably could have been closer to 70 wins if they hadn't blown so many early leads. Closer Hector Neris wasn't the issue—he only blew three saves after he got the job early in the season. Most of the leads were given up by middle relievers long before Neris started getting loose.
Getting an experienced hand in the bullpen would go a long way to making the team better. Shaw, who's been to consecutive postseasons with the Cleveland Indians and has never had an ERA lower than 3.52 in his career. That was last season when he also threw a career-high 76.2 innings and struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings.
Apart from bringing the benefit of experience to young players like Neris, Hoby Milner, and Luis Garcia, Shaw would be a reliable setup man who could probably close in a pinch.
5 Matt Albers, RHP
Another potential move to strengthen the bullpen, Albers revived his career in 2017 after recording a 7-2 record and a pair of saves with a 1.62 ERA for the Washington Nationals. He struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings and posted a career-best 0.852 WHIP.
It was a huge turnaround after his 2016 season with the Chicago White Sox, which was easily the worst of his career since his second professional season.
For a team like the Phillies that needs help building a bridge to Neris, a guy like Albers would be a boon, especially coming from a division rival. As Klentak rebuilds the bullpen, pieces like Albers deserve a close look.
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