Another crucial free-agent period for the Phillies opens this evening. Beginning at 5 p.m. Monday, the exclusive signing window for teams ends and all MLB free agents can sign with new clubs - though we all know how slowly things can develop.
The Phillies committed more than $430 million of new money last offseason with the signings of Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson and trades for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura. (That figure incorporates the salary difference from Jorge Alfaro to Realmuto and from Carlos Santana to Segura.)
The previous offseason, the Phillies committed $135 million to Santana and Jake Arrieta.
For a third straight offseason, John Middleton and the Phillies' ownership group will open the checkbooks. This team badly needs starting pitching and we don't mean one arm. Even Gerrit Cole alone doesn't make this a 90-win team. The Phillies need multiples of starting pitching.
Let's reset and take a look at the Top 20 free agents overall this winter:
1. 3B Anthony Rendon
2. RHP Gerrit Cole
This is the elite tier. You could argue Cole belongs ahead of Rendon. I have Rendon higher because he's an everyday player coming off a nearly flawless season.
Cole should be able to sign for $250 million or more this offseason. Max Scherzer and David Price signed for $210 million over seven years so why wouldn't the Cole talks begin at eight years and $240M?
It's hard to predict where the Rendon number will fall. If it goes seven or eight years, the AAV should be similar to Nolan Arenado's ($260M over eight years). But there's also some reason to believe Rendon may not want to play eight more years.
3. RHP Stephen Strasburg
Strasburg could ultimately return to D.C. on a better deal. He was set to earn $100 million over the final four seasons of his Nationals contract before he opted out over the weekend.
We may see Strasburg simply go back to Washington for something like five years, $150 million. He shouldn't have much trouble getting between $150M on the open market, even at age 31.
More here on the pros and cons of Strasburg to the Phillies.
4. RHP Zack Wheeler
Wheeler may end up being a better signing than Strasburg. Wheeler is 29 years old, two years and two months younger than Strasburg. A team may be able to sign Wheeler for something like five years, $90 million or four years, $72 million. You'd be paying for some of his past success but also the hope of unrealized potential.
Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons and posted a 3.65 ERA with a strikeout per inning and a better-than-average home run rate. His high-90s fastball has always been there but he's reached a higher level with a more consistent changeup, slider and curveball.
Wheeler would be a very, very good get for the Phillies, a pitcher to slot in behind Aaron Nola over the next handful of years. Taking him away from the Mets would make it even sweeter.
If the Phillies could somehow end up with Cole or Strasburg, plus Wheeler, that would be the ideal offseason. It will be very difficult.
5. 3B Josh Donaldson
Donaldson is in a tier above Mike Moustakas, but Donaldson is likely to receive a qualifying offer whereas Moustakas cannot. Can a team trust Donaldson to stay as healthy over the next two years as he was in 2019?
6. LHP Madison Bumgarner
It will be extremely interesting to see how Bumgarner's market develops and how much he eventually signs for. He was underpaid with the Giants, who locked him up early. It is unlikely he'll leave more money on the table this time.
Bumgarner fell two innings short of leading the NL in innings pitched this past season. He had a 3.90 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and his highest strikeout rate (8.8 per nine) since 2016.
It doesn't feel like it, but Bumgarner is actually younger than Strasburg. Bumgarner turned 30 on Aug. 1. He probably won't get $100 million, but why would he sign for anything less than the $75 million over three years the Phillies paid Arrieta?
7. OF/DH J.D. Martinez
Not a fit here because his defense is bad and only getting worse. The bat would be great to slot behind Harper's but it would mean playing McCutchen every day in center field coming off ACL surgery and that's just not realistic.
8. LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu
Hard to see him leaving his comfort zone in L.A., but money talks. Ryu turns 33 the week before the 2020 season begins. A two-year deal with a high AAV seems most realistic.
9. C Yasmani Grandal
The second-best catcher in baseball behind Gold Glover J.T. Realmuto in 2019.
10. OF Nick Castellanos
I'm higher on Castellanos than most because I think defensive metrics are flawed and have arbitrary values, and I think Castellanos' offense outweighs his defense. Like Martinez, he is an imperfect fit in Philly because it would create a shaky outfield defense.
11. OF Marcell Ozuna
Ozuna is interesting. He can play center field and hit, though he's extremely inconsistent. He would improve the Phillies and would be a better all-around fit than Corey Dickerson, but the Phillies might be better served addressing center field via trade. Starling Marte in Pittsburgh is someone to keep an eye on.
12. LHP Dallas Keuchel
The Phillies didn't pursue him in 2019 and it turned out to be a huge mistake. Keuchel pitched as expected for the Braves - his ERA went from 3.74 to 3.75, and in the year of the juiced ball, Keuchel's rates of homers, walks and strikeouts all rose.
He's in line for a multi-year deal this time, maybe two years at $13-15 million a pop. His side will hold out for at least three years but there are too many other starting pitchers teams will be able to talk themselves into over Keuchel for him to have a ton of leverage.
13. 3B Mike Moustakas
A legit possibility as a stopgap third baseman here until Alec Bohm is ready. Moustakas declined his $11 million option with Milwaukee so he'll want at least that much per year over multiple years.
14. LHP Cole Hamels
Why not reunite at this point? The Phillies should be able to sign Hamels to a one-year, eight-figure deal with a vesting option. He'd be a solid mid-rotation option. He's not the Hamels of old, but even the Hamels of 2019 would have been a big upgrade over any non-Nola SP the Phillies had.
15. SS Didi Gregorius
16. RHP Jake Odorizzi
17. 1B Jose Abreu
These guys aren't fits for the Phillies, who have a first baseman and a shortstop and already have enough inconsistency among their young right-handed starting pitchers.
18. OF Corey Dickerson
If the Phillies can bring Dickerson back as a part-time player/extra man, it would be fantastic. He has a valuable bat when he's healthy. You just can't go into next season thinking an alignment of Dickerson in left and McCutchen in center will work every day.
19. RHP Kyle Gibson
20. LHP Wade Miley
Two veteran arms who could help stabilize a rotation. Miley is not a guy you want facing a lineup more than twice, which will keep him to 5⅓ or 5⅔ innings in a good portion of starts. He continues to get weak contact, though.
Gibson had a good year in 2018 (3.62 ERA in 197 innings) but took a step back last season.