The arrival of the annual general managers' meetings, which begin Monday in Orlando, Florida, serves as the unofficial starting point for baseball's offseason.
Globally, it will be a busy winter with an international star, Japan's Shohei Otani, hitting the open market, and a proven major-league star, Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, hitting the trade market.
Locally, the Phillies will look to continue to make strides in a rebuild that saw them send a handful of players to the major leagues in 2017 and post a 38-38 record over the final 76 games.
General manager Matt Klentak is entering his third year on the job. As he heads to the GM meetings, let's examine of a few of the items that could pop up on his off-season to-do list:
Klentak made his boldest move yet as GM when he hired unproven Gabe Kapler as manager earlier this month. Kapler brings the fresh style and youthful voice that Klentak said he was looking for when he reassigned Pete Mackanin to the front office.
It's likely Kapler won't be the only bit of change that hits the Phillies this offseason. With shortstop J.P. Crawford having arrived in the majors and second baseman Scott Kingery on target to arrive a month or so into the 2018 season, Klentak will be all-ears listening to offers for his middle-infield tandem of Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. The goal would be to bring back the team's No. 1 need - starting pitching.
Hernandez might have more value than Galvis because he still has three years of contractual control. Galvis will be a free agent after next season. It seems likely that at least one these players will be moved, but if the Phils don't find the value they are looking for they could enter next season much the way they ended this past season: With Galvis, Hernandez, Crawford and Maikel Franco sharing time at three infield positions. It's not a perfect solution but something a progressive front office that has stressed versatility and giving its manager options could consider for at least a while.
Klentak has added starting pitching each of his previous two winters and, despite having built some mid- to back-end rotation depth, he will probably be looking for it again. The Phils' farm system has improved enough in talent and depth that Klentak could look to move prospects if he can get in the hunt for a top, under-control starter such as Chris Archer or Gerrit Cole. Club president Andy MacPhail has spoken time and time again about the risks of signing high-mileage free-agent pitchers and paying for past performance. Given that, and the fact the Phillies still have ground to cover in their rebuild curve, it seems unlikely that the team will be in on Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, both mid-range free agents, received qualifying offers from their teams so signing them would cost the Phillies a second-round draft pick. It's difficult to see the Phillies, who have put such a premium on building through the draft, doing that. Klentak could look for another salary dump in the Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Clay Buchholz mold, though that hasn't worked out well in the past, or get creative in a trade to bring in a starter he likes.
A big trade?
The Phillies have the money and the young talent to consider a trade for a young difference-maker who fits long term, so it's always worth keeping an eye on Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado to see if he becomes available for a trade a year before he's set to hit the free-agent market. Machado has many admirers in the Phillies organization. He has admirers all over baseball, for that matter.
As for Stanton, who will be traded … as intoxicating as it would be to see that power bat in cozy Citizens Bank Park, it's just hard to see it happening. He is owed $295 million through 2027, his age 37 season, and would cost the Phillies several top prospects and/or young major leaguers. It would be easier to see the Phillies making an all-out push for Stanton if they were further down the road in their rebuild and had pitching. But right now, at least from this vantage point, it appears to be a long shot.
Smaller trades, the bullpen
Kapler made a point to say how much he likes the talent in the Phillies' bullpen, but that probably won't stop Klentak from adding a piece or two. On his way out the door in July, Pat Neshek made a point of saying that he'd like to come back. That could be an interesting free-agent possibility.
Catcher Jorge Alfaro is out of options and the Phils seem committed to giving him a serious look behind the plate, and Rhys Hoskins is set to take over full-time at first base. This could leave Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph as trade candidates. Franco has been mentioned as a trade possibility, but the Phils seem committed to giving him more time to either develop or build trade value.
At 23, Otani, the pitcher/outfielder known as the Babe Ruth of Japan, is the kind of young talent the Phillies are trying to build around. You can bet that the Phils will get in line to shell out the $20 million posting fee that it will take to obtain negotiating rights with Otani. But is signing him realistic? His age makes him subject to international signing-bonus limits and with only about $1 million remaining in their pool, the Phils can't match up with the Rangers (who've been angling to get Otani for years) and Yankees, two teams that have over $3 million remaining in their pools and can offer Otani the chance to pitch and swing the bat (he'd like to do that) as an occasional designated hitter. Because of his age and the international bonus limits, teams cannot throw a huge contract at Otani so there won't be a bidding war. (He will make his initial financial score in an endorsement deal.) He is likely to choose a team that has a history with Japanese players and one where he can win immediately. It's difficult to see that being the Phils.