The Philadelphia Phillies were definitely a team of interest coming into the 2018 season. Despite some thinking that their window for contention was looking more like 2019 and beyond, the Phillies took advantage of a sluggish free agent market and snatched up Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana, signed Scott Kingery to a lucrative contract before he ever played a game in the majors, and had an interesting young core in Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta, Odubel Herrera, and Rhys Hoskins. Unfortunately, struggles on offense and one of the worst collective performances on defense you are likely to see ultimately doomed the team. However, the Phillies are still a team with talent on its roster and in a place where they are likely to be big players on the free agent market.
2018 record: 80-82 (3rd in the NL East)
Key Free Agents: Wilson Ramos, Asdrubal Cabrera
2019 Salary (not including arbitration): $68,933,333
2019 Outlook: The starting rotation looks to be an area of strength as Aaron Nola is looking more and more like a true ace. Arrieta did not exactly live up to expectations, but is still a good pitcher who will likely be better once the defense behind him improves (more on that in a bit). Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez struggled a bit as the season wound down, but have some real potential as well.
The questions as of this moment for the Phillies are with their position players. Odubel Herrera looked like a budding young star in the league to start the 2018 season, but he was terrible in the second half of 2018 and put up his worst season in a Phillies uniform by a mile overall. Several of their young players that they were expecting to get real production out of (Kingery, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Maikel Franco) disappointed as well. Without some real upgrades at multiple positions, it is hard to seem them contending in 2019.
Arguably the biggest issue for the team, though, was defense as they ranked at or near the bottom in most defensive metrics. One can quibble over defensive metrics sometimes given how defensive shifts factor in and that not all of them seem to agree with one another all the time, but when every defensive metric points to there being a problem....well, its harder to argue with. As a team, the Phillies posted -146 defensive runs saved which is 46 runs worse than the second worst team in the league. The Phillies basically field 4-5 first basemen/DHs in their lineup on any given night as currently constructed and hope that their offense will be enough to balance things out.
In short, based solely on how their roster looks as of today, Philly is likely stuck as the third or even fourth best team in the division with the Braves looking like the team to beat, the Nationals looking to spend and contend again, and the Mets having a rotation as good if not better than the Phillies’ and with some promising young talent on the roster (although its hard to have faith in the Mets given how poorly the team has been run in recent years). However, the Phillies have a bit of talent in the minor leagues and, more importantly, they have a bunch of money to spend thanks to some careful financial planning and an incredibly lucrative TV deal. Assuming they put those resources to good use this offseason, expect them to be in the playoff hunt again in 2019.
Potential Trade Targets: For starters, it appears that the team is likely to trade away Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana this offseason in order to get better offensively and defensively in their infield. Both players had their moments for the Phillies, but are not exactly defensive All-Stars and while Santana was better as the season went on, it seems like the Phillies feel like both positions will get upgrades. Hoskins seems like a natural fit to slide over to first base as he did not perform well out in left field, but his bat plays just fine over at first. It also would not be crazy to think that they would at least check on Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks, especially if the Phillies can leverage their payroll space to give Arizona some salary relief while limiting the prospect haul required to pry Goldschmidt away (although this isn’t particularly likely with Hoskins a much cheaper and easier option). David Peralta is also an interesting trade candidate, especially if the Phillies miss out on Bryce Harper.
While the Phillies are much more likely to make a big free agent signing than a trade, they will most certainly at least check in on the big names on the trade market. While their rotation isn’t necessarily their biggest problem, at least seeing what it would take to acquire a James Paxton, Corey Kluber, or Carlos Carrasco makes a fair bit of sense. While their minor league system isn’t great, they have some interesting pieces they could deal such as Sixto Sanchez if they wanted to that they could package with players at the big league level they are likely to try and upgrade over anyways. However, one shouldn’t consider this the most likely option.
Potential Free Agent Targets: This is where things get juicy as the Phillies have money to spend and, more importantly, a willingness to spend it. The Phillies are currently major players to sign either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper and they could feasibly sign both of them, although that would likely count them out for anything else this offseason. Machado has connections to Philly’s front office and whether he plays shortstop or third base, he would help the team on both sides of the ball. Harper is also a fit as only Herrera is a lock to stay in the Phillies’ outfield in 2019 assuming Rhys Hoskins does, in fact, slide over to first base. Harper is also a dangerous bat to plug into their lineup that would draw fans to the park and his ability to get on base should give them ample scoring opportunities.
The short version of the story here is that if there is a big name free agent, the Phillies are likely to at least kick the tires on them until signings actually start to happen. They have already been mentioned as suitors for Nathan Eovaldi and Patrick Corbin, both of whom would provide upgrades in the rotation. AJ Pollock is another option as he has long been a strong defensive outfielder and would be a nice fallback option if the pursuit of Bryce Harper doesn’t work out. Josh Donaldson is likely another interesting option as third base does appear to be an area of need and if Machado signs somewhere else and/or refuses to play third, Donaldson will certainly be in play in Philly.
One final note here is that one shouldn’t sleep on the Phillies in terms of the reliever market. Manager Gabe Kapler loves to play matchups and make pitching changes and the Phillies bullpen became a liability as the season went on due to fatigue and some of their arms being....less than good. Its possible that they will simply add a mid-level reliever or two and focus on the big name position players, but they could just as easily make a run at a Craig Kimbrel or Adam Ottavino if they really want to solidify the back end of their bullpen.