When Will the Phillies Spend?

Few teams could add Giancarlo Stanton as easily as the Phillies. (Photo: Corn Farmer)

Last week at the site, Craig Edwards attempted to estimate each club’s free-agent spending power for the offseason. The task is a difficult one. Because major-league clubs aren’t tax-funded public institutions, one can’t simply file a Freedom of Information Act request to view each team’s finances. It’s necessary, therefore, to use a club’s past payroll figures as a guide to the future.

One of the most interesting results from Edwards’ exercise concerns the Phillies. By Edwards’ methodology, Philadelphia has about $70 million available to spend this offseason, trailing only the rebuilding Tigers in that regard. They might even have more potential spending power than that: despite residing in one of the largest markets in the country, the Phillies have only an estimated $37 million in projected salary after arbitration.

The Phillies, like a host of teams, have been connected to Giancarlo Stanton this offseason. That makes some sense, as they could easily take on Stanton’s contract. The Phillies could add Stanton and still have another $40-plus million to add additional help and try and accelerate their return to competitiveness.

Or the Phillies could wait until next offseason’s historic free-agent class and compete for premium free agents like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Waiting until next winter and retaining all their prospects in the process might be akin to passing the Stanford marshmallow experiment, though the Phillies might not have to give up top prospect talent for Stanton if they’re willing to absorb most of his salary.

The Phillies have a lot of ground to make up if they want to contend quickly. Stanton’s projected 5.5 WAR alone wouldn’t thrust the club into contention, according to FanGraphs’ early 2018 projections, in which the Phillies are tied with the Royals for the third-worst mark in the game (72-90). The Phillies, at the moment, are forecast to record the third-worst run differential in the sport (-90), leading only the Padres and White Sox.

Even spending $70-plus million in 2018 on free agents/Stanton this offseason might not be enough to buy their way into contention. Let’s say they spent all of those dollars at $9 million per WAR and got exactly what they paid for. Well, they would only add about eight wins, if that were the case. The Nationals, meanwhile, are currently projected to have a 20-game edge in the division, the Diamondbacks a 13-game edge for the No. 2 Wild Card in the NL. Philadelphia would still, on average, reside five games shy of contention.

So, the Phillies have three options. They can (a) attempt to immediately buy their way into relevancy, (b) wait a year, see who develops internally, and save all their chips for a Harper or Machado max bid (and be ready to target fall-back options like, say, Josh Donaldson or Gerrit Cole), or (c) hedge their bets and dabble a bit in both this offseason and next. Their cash and these scenarios make the Phillies pretty interesting as of Nov. 27.

As of this moment, there’s a compelling case for the Phillies to hedge between this winter and next.

That plan would start with Stanton. If the Phillies could acquire Stanton for mostly cash — the Marlins’ position would have to change and Stanton has a no-trade clause — then Philadelphia ought to consider pursuing the NL’s top slugger. After all, they aren’t perceived to be the favorites for the top prizes next offseason. Still, given the number of suitors for Stanton, let’s consider him a long shot, and assume the Phillies are probably best served by saving the majority of their dollars for next offseason.

Still, beyond Stanton, there are still some interesting multi-year options that could be of interest this winter.

The Phillies might want to start by exploring the under-30 free agents, a class which includes 29-year-old Mike Moustakas. It seems possible that, with two straight sub-100 wRC+ seasons and a career 90 wRC+ mark in 1,646 plate appearances, Maikel Franco might not be the answer for Philadelphia at third base. Moustakas would be helped quite a bit by trading Kauffman Stadium for Citizens Bank Park. Consider Moustakas’s 2015-17 batted balls overlaid on Citizens Bank Park:

Michael Pineda is perhaps this year’s Wilson Ramos and a fascinating buy-low, value target for team willing to spend on him this year while he rehabs back from this summer’s Tommy John surgery. Pineda has posted three straight seasons of above-average strikeout- and walk-rate differentials (K-BB%), and it would be interesting to see him move from the AL East into the NL.

At 28, Tyler Chatwood is a popular upside option as he departs Colorado’s extreme run environment. Could Eric Hosmer, 28, enter the offseason as the top free-agent landmine and become a value play at some point as teams refuse to match his $200 million asking price? (Though with Rhys Hoskins’s best fit at first base perhaps that eliminates Philly as a possible landing spot for Hosmer.) Addison Reed, 29, is the only other under-30 free agent in Dave’s top top 50 free agents.

It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do with their heap of cash. The MLBPA should also be paying attention, as the owners’ share of revenue continues to increase in a sport with no salary floor and just a soft salary cap.

The Phillies likely have their eye on spending next offseason, but there could be some opportunity this winter, too, for a team with about as much spending power as any club. At some point, they’ll need to use it.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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6 years ago

Trust the Process.

Ruben Amaro Jr.
6 years ago
Reply to  Werthless

At both ends.