It’s obvious that the Philadelphia Phillies are ready to spend. Their owner, John Middleton, even came out and said they were prepared to “be a little stupid” in doing so. The logic for them doing so it pretty simple – the Phillies were in first place in the NL East up until August 12th and could make a playoff team with better play from their young players to go along with some key free agents. They also had a payroll south of $100M last year; they have plenty of financial flexibility. However, Philadelphia needs to remember that they are still in the final stages of the rebuilding stage, and can’t overspend. If so, they could hurt their future dramatically.
The Phillies are still in the process of building a young core. Aaron Nola certainly is in that core, as his 2.37 ERA last season helped him finish 3rd in the NL Cy Young voting. So is Rhys Hoskins with his .850 OPS, even though the Phillies need to move him back to his proper position of first base for him to become a more valuable player. You could also argue that Seranthony Dominguez is their closer with the future; he posted a 2.95 ERA and 11.5 K/9 last season. However, after that, it’s hard to find anyone that is in that core. JP Crawford and Scott Kingery were supposed to be their middle infield of the future, but each had a negative wins above replacement (WAR) last season and showed no signs of improvement throughout the season. Odubel Herrera was supposed to be their long-term answer in center field after being an All-Star in 2016, but he hasn’t been able to match his 4.2 WAR from that season in the last two years combined (2.5 WAR). Third baseman Maikel Franco had a great rookie season in 2015, but he’s regressed since. There is a lot of uncertainty with this team; it is crucial for the front office to determine who can join Nola, Hoskins, and Dominguez moving forward. If they can’t, then they may need an extra year to evaluate these players, especially Crawford and Kingery.
That doesn’t mean the Phillies shouldn’t go out a sign a couple of key free agents. Philadelphia was close to reaching the playoffs despite these players disappointing. They could use a middle of the rotation arm, an outfielder, and depth in the bullpen. There are players who could fill in those needs without overpaying for them. JA Happ would give them another veteran arm, and a reliever such as David Robertson or Kelvin Herrera would help their bullpen without costing a fortune. To add to their outfield, they could look at second-tier free agents such as Andrew McCutchen or Marwin Gonzalez. Heck, they can even sign Bryce Harper. What they can’t do, though, is spend just to spend. They did that last year with signing first baseman Carlos Santana and starter Jake Arrieta to three years deal worth $20+ million annually. Now, the Phillies are desperately trying to trade Santana and are having no luck, while Arrieta showed signs of regression last season. They had depth in the rotation at the time and had Hoskins at first, but those players were available, so they pulled the trigger for whatever reason. To avoid doing this again, Philadelphia cannot go superstar hunting. They don’t need another ace and they don’t need a lockdown closer. You can even argue they don’t need Harper or Manny Machado in the middle of their lineup. What the Phillies lack is depth, which is why they fell apart towards the end of last season.
These offseason splurges rarely ever work. The Padres tried this back in the 2015 season with the acquisitions of James Shields, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, and more. They finished with just a 74-88 record, because they were so fixated on filling out every position on the roster, that they forgot about finding the right fit. To prevent this from happening, the Phillies front office need to envision what their club should look like in 2019. Herrera and Franco have had enough chances; the Phillies can find replacements for them. It seems premature to give up on Crawford and Kingery after one season, though, and they should at least fill be in a platoon role at shortstop, so they shouldn’t sign Manny Machado unless he is committed to playing third base. Jorge Alfaro is solid enough at catcher, so they don’t need to go out and acquire Realmuto. The only superstar that they should even consider signing is Harper, who would fill a big need in their weak outfield. The Phillies have three key holes to fill. How they do it is up to them, but they can’t go crazy, especially at positions they don’t need to a major upgrade at. If they go after only second-tier free agents, with the exception of Harper, they’ll be in a great position to contend in 2019.
So, John Middleton, do you really want to be “stupid” and put your team in a financial crisis, especially with Philadelphia native Mike Trout just two years from free agency? Hopefully, the answer is no, or the Phillies could be looking back at this offseason a couple years from now with deep regret.