Buying Low on Carlos Gomez Would Make a Lot of Sense for Phillies

Not expected to pursue the top free-agent bats, the Phillies are an organization currently interested in adding offense in a short-term deal.

The strategy makes sense because the Phils at nearly every position have young players with potential who they don't want to block.

It's also the best way to avoid a crippling contract, which most nine-figure deals turn out to be.

Bringing in an outfielder would make the most sense because the Phils will likely enter 2017 with Cameron Rupp behind the plate, Tommy Joseph at first base, Cesar Hernandez or Howie Kendrick at second base, Freddy Galvis at shortstop and Maikel Franco at third base. 

In the outfield, only Odubel Herrera looks like an opening-day lock. Kendrick is currently penciled in as their opening-day leftfielder, but that could change if the Phils trade Hernandez. Roman Quinn showed flashes late in 2016, but he'll need to hit in spring training and most importantly stay healthy. Aaron Altherr's 2016 was marred by injury and a lengthy slump to end the season. At Triple A, Nick Williams had a disappointing season that left the Phillies with more questions about him than they had a year ago.

For these reasons, one free-agent in particular sticks out as a potential fit for the Phillies: Carlos Gomez.

The 30-year-old outfielder was an All-Star and one of the most well-rounded players in baseball as recently as 2014. During the two-year period from 2013-14, Gomez hit .284/.347/.491 and averaged 30 doubles, seven triples, 24 homers and 37 steals, also providing elite centerfield defense.

He's regressed significantly the last two years, hitting a combined .243/.306/.397 and averaging 26 doubles, one triple, 12 homers and 18 steals. 

That makes Gomez a prime buy-low candidate, the type of player Phillies GM Matt Klentak has already shown he's willing to take a chance on. Leading the Phils, Klentak has already bought low on Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Mark Appel, Peter Bourjos, some relievers, and, in a way, Howie Kendrick. 

A few of those moves worked — Hellickson led the rotation, Bourjos was decent in the second half, Morton pitched well until tearing his hamstring — and some didn't. That's how buy-lows work.

Gomez had a pitiful first half last year before he was released by the Astros and subsequently signed by Rangers. With Texas, he rebounded, hitting .284/.362/.543 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games. 

Still, Gomez is unlikely to find a big, long-term contract this winter. He's more likely a candidate to sign a one-year, prove-it deal. There have been reports that Gomez is seeking a long-term deal, but that doesn't mean he'll find it. It takes only one team, but will there be even one team willing to gamble five years on his final two months with the Rangers?

The Phillies, armed with a ton of payroll space, could offer Gomez a one-year deal with a high salary and a mutual option for a second year. It would make sense for them because it would mitigate their risk, and it would make sense for him because he'd get to try to reestablish his value in the middle of a lineup in a hitter's park.

Gomez, a Scott Boras client, turns 31 in December. He's not super young. But 31 is a lot different at this point for the Phillies than, say, 33. At 31, a player is still young enough to be able to help the Phils for a year or two once this rebuilding project reaches the next stage. Remember, nowadays it doesn't take five years to turn the corner. With a career year from a few guys, development of prospects and a little luck, a young, 73-win team can turn into an 85-win team quickly.

Gomez will draw interest from numerous teams looking to buy low. But you'd think the contenders, even if they don't play in the Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista end of the free-agent pool, would be more interested in safer options like Josh Reddick or Michael Saunders. Gomez hit .210 with five homers and 100 strikeouts before the Astros gave up on him in 2016. There's a real chance he struggles again this season, a risk a contending team might not want to spend $7 million to $10 million to take.

Gomez is a polarizing player. He has every skill that should make him a superstar, but he's been inconsistent throughout his career and prone to mental lapses or poor decisions. He's a hyper-aggressive player who, for example, loves to steal third base even when the game situation doesn't call for it. He swings out of his shoes more than Adrian Beltre. He chases a lot of high fastballs. 

But Gomez's strengths, when he's going well, can carry a team and put him in the MVP running. He can lead off or bat third through fifth. His speed and defense are elite. He has the raw power to hit homers anywhere, and it seems like he strikes out more than he actually does. His career-high in K's was 146 back in 2013, his best year. Herrera and Galvis struck out nearly that many times this past season.

Gomez did strike out in 30 percent of his plate appearances in 2016, a sky-high rate, but his career mark is 23 percent. He could have fallen off a cliff, or he could have just seen his struggles snowball. Gomez is the type to try to swing his way out of a slump and he just couldn't do it in Houston. He did it with Texas, though, and his strikeout rate dropped by more than three percent.

If the Phillies were to sign Gomez, it would make the most sense to play him in center field because that's where he's most experienced and effective. Defensive metrics are imperfect, but they all like Gomez. Since 2007, Gomez has saved 98.4 runs on defense and been a positive every year, according to Fangraphs.

But they wouldn't have to lock him into center field. Gomez can play all three outfield spots and likely wouldn't have a problem doing so because versatility is key in free agency. No matter which spot the Phillies would put him in, Gomez would have their outfield's best arm.

Gomez seems like the type who will linger in free agency, signing only after the big fish have found their money. Boras never has a problem waiting. 

If the market travels in a direction that leaves Gomez available for the Phillies, it's a move worth exploring. Worst-case scenario, he plays like he did in Houston and the Phils don't get return on their investment in 2017. Best-case scenario, he morphs back into the very good player he was from 2012-14, adds energy to an offense that was often lifeless last season, makes them a few wins better in 2017 and positions himself to remain in the fold for another few years.

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