Scott Boras

Phillies free-agent target: Gerrit Cole

Phillies free-agent target: Gerrit Cole

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

We start with pitcher Gerrit Cole, who is bound to sign a record-setting contract.

The vitals

The powerful 29-year-old right-hander and former No. 1 overall draft pick (by Pittsburgh in 2011) is the unquestioned prize of this winter’s free-agent class. He has built an impressive career resume, especially recently. He is 35-10 with 2.68 ERA and 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 65 starts over the last two seasons for the Houston Astros. He is durable and postseason tested. He went 20-5 with an American League-best 2.50 ERA in 33 starts in 2019. He had an 0.895 WHIP and led the majors with 326 strikeouts. For the season, his fastball averaged 97.1 mph, according to Statcast. Only the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard chucked it harder at 98.1 mph. 

Why he fits

Because he’s one of the best pitchers in the game and would immediately make the Phillies better as they try to live up to general manager Matt Klentak’s goal of winning now. Cole would give the Phils an ace who could stand up to Max Scherzer in Washington, Jacob deGrom in New York and the lineup in Atlanta. As an unquestioned No. 1, he’d take pressure off Aaron Nola, who felt some down the stretch in 2019.

Why he doesn’t fit

“If this were major-league Christmas, we would be looking at 30 stockings that clearly wanted a lump of Cole,” agent Scott Boras said of his client as the market opened last week.

The competition for Cole will be intense as teams from the game’s largest markets bid for his services. Cole is from Southern California and word is the Los Angeles Angels are ready to back up the truck for him. The mega-rich New York Yankees also want him. That sets up a nirvana-like situation for Boras, who can play the two markets off each other. The Phillies will be in on Cole — they’ve already touched base with Boras — and they cannot be counted out because they have money and an owner willing to spend. However, given what it might take to sign Cole, the Phillies might be better off spreading their money around and trying to fill multiple holes in the rotation and lineup.

The price tag

Cole is right in the middle of his prime years. There has been speculation that he could fetch $300 million in a long-term deal. He almost surely will eclipse David Price’s $217 million deal with Boston, a record for a pitcher, and could top Justin Verlander’s annual salary of $33 million, also a record for a pitcher. In other words, he’ll be expensive.

Scout’s take

“It took a while, but it looks like he found out how good his stuff is and his success has given him great confidence. He really knows how to utilize that great fastball high in the strike zone.”

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Phillies touch base with agent Scott Boras on Mike Moustakas and free-agent pitchers

Phillies touch base with agent Scott Boras on Mike Moustakas and free-agent pitchers

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Scott Boras, baseball’s most high-powered agent, has forged an undeniable chemistry with the Phillies and owner John Middleton, in particular, over the last two years. It started with the pursuit and eventual signing of Jake Arrieta before the 2018 season and reached a crescendo last winter when the club signed Bryce Harper to a staggering $330 million contract.

Boras will look to capitalize on that chemistry again this winter. The Phillies have needs and he has solutions.

On the pitching side, Boras represents several free-agent starters, including the two biggest stars on the market, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. He also represents lefties Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the majors’ ERA champ in 2019.

The Phillies, as documented, are very much in need of starting pitching.

They also could look to add a third baseman this winter as they allow top prospect Alec Bohm more development time and consider a possible move to another position for him. Boras represents two top free-agent third basemen, Anthony Rendon and Mike Moustakas.

It is likely that the Phils will look to spend the bulk of their free-agent budget on pitching — and it’s difficult to argue with that approach. That could leave the Phillies as interested bystanders in the Rendon sweepstakes as Rendon is seeking a lengthy, mega-dollar deal. The Phils will certainly monitor the market for Josh Donaldson, another free-agent third baseman, but the best fit in terms of dollars and years might be Moustakas, who has played the last two seasons in Milwaukee on one-year contracts.

According to multiple sources, Phillies officials touched base with Team Boras here at the general managers meetings this week and the two sides discussed a number of subjects — and not just pitching.

In other words, Moustakas is very much on the Phillies’ radar.

The Phillies' most pressing need remains starting pitching. Cole is the biggest name on the market. The Phillies will be in the hunt for him, though the Angels and Yankees may pull out all the stops to sign him to what could be a multi-year deal worth more than $250 million. Boras disclosed Wednesday that he recently had lunch with Angels owner Arte Moreno. He would not say if he’d recently broken bread with Middleton.

“Well," he said with a grin, "I’ll let John tell you about that."

Boras, as he typically does at the general managers meetings and winter meetings, which arrive next month, talked up his top clients in florid language.

“If this were major-league Christmas, we would be looking at 30 stockings that clearly wanted a lump of Cole,” he said, referring to his stud right-handed client. “I think starting pitching has become back in vogue. It’s an aggressive market.”

Boras employed an oceanic analogy when referencing Strasburg.

“In the oceans of the playoffs, the Strasburg sank many contending ships,” he said.

Strasburg, along with fellow ace Max Scherzer, helped the Washington Nationals win the World Series last month.

“There are general managers who I said four or five years ago to that, ‘You’re going to have a very hard time winning a world championship if you don’t sign this player.’ And I’m very happy to say that player was Max Scherzer,” Boras said. “I told that to three teams and they have not won and he did win.

“The reality of it is that those No. 1 kind of guys, those special arms, take you through the playoff seas. You have to have them because when it comes down to that, you end up throwing 70 percent of the innings (in the postseason) among three guys. 

“It all boils down to what’s important to (teams), what’s important to their ownership, what drive do they have to get to where they are really going to take risks. All of these things are risks in their minds. But that’s how you win. You take risks. You pay Max Scherzer $30 million a year when no one else would, and by doing that, you’ve been rewarded.”

Boras became convinced that Middleton wants to win after the Phillies signed Harper last winter. 

“I don’t see any stop sign in John’s pursuit of his goal and that’s a world championship,” Boras said. “He’s an owner that has been very straightforward about his path and his commitment. He’s very, very involved in the franchise and it’s really good to see owners really be that committed to their city, to their team. We should really have a dynamic where when people are that involved, they’re going to be as competitive as they feel they need to be to create the winning product they want.”

Boras said the economic value of Harper’s signing with the Phillies — i.e., branding, attendance, TV ratings, merchandise sales, etc. — “will pay the next two years of Harper’s contract.” Harper is more than just the Phillies’ right fielder. He is an influential voice in the organization and his will to win is as strong as the owner’s.

Would Harper, Boras’ mega client, push Phillies ownership to sign one of Boras’ big free-agent pitchers, or, perhaps, one of his third basemen?

“Knowing Bryce, I’m sure that he will be offering a lot of opinions about how to get better and what to do and I’m sure they are listening to him as well,” Boras said.

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Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Throw a log on the hot stove.

Major League Baseball general managers will assemble in Phoenix for their annual meetings on Monday. The event, which ends Thursday, serves as the de facto starting point of the offseason and this will be a busy one, locally and industry wide.

The free-agent market is led by three stars of the recently completed World Series — starting pitching studs Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and hard-hitting third baseman Anthony Rendon. Strasburg and Rendon were part of the World Series champion Washington Nationals club and Cole starred for the American League champion Houston Astros. All three players are represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who a year ago used the general managers meetings as a pulpit to announce that “Harper’s Bazaar” had opened for business. Three and a half months later, Bryce Harper signed a mammoth, 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.

Harper led the Phillies in OPS (.882), homers (35) and RBIs (114) in his first season with the club, but the Phils, who led the NL East at the end of May, faded in June and again in September to finish in fourth place in the National League East, 12 games behind the second-place (and wild card) Nationals and 16 behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies have not had a winning season (they finished .500 in 2019) or made the playoffs since 2011 and impatience is raw from the fan base to the ownership level. Managing partner John Middleton ordered the ouster of manager Gabe Kapler, proven winner Joe Girardi is now at the helm and normally guarded general manager Matt Klentak is on record as saying, “No questions asked, it is time to win right now.” That statement makes this a crucial offseason for Klentak and the Phillies because this team must fill some serious holes if it is going to win right now.

The most glaring hole — or holes — reside in the starting rotation where the Phillies currently have just one dependable starting pitcher on their roster. After Aaron Nola, the Phils have reason to believe that a healthy Jake Arrieta (he had elbow surgery in September) and an inconsistent but promising Zach Eflin can contribute in 2020, but neither are a sure-thing and even if they make an impact, the Phils will need a lot more starting pitching than that, from the top of the rotation to the back end.

You can bet the Phils will be in on all the top arms on the free-agent market. Boras, who during Harper’s Bazaar built a chemistry with Middleton, will make sure of that. 

The Phillies will at least start the offseason in the sweepstakes for Cole and Strasburg and see where it takes them. Cole seems to have his eye on the West Coast and Strasburg could end up back in Washington, but the deep-pocketed Phils cannot be ruled out, especially this early in the offseason. The Phils will be in on other top starters such as Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler. Signing any one of these four would require the Phillies to forfeit their second pick in the 2020 draft. The Phils, with a new scouting director (Brian Barber) and a need to add talent to their prospect pipeline, are not keen on losing high-round selections, but their need for starting pitching is so acute and their thirst to win so desperate that it would not be surprising to see them sacrifice a pick for an impact arm.

Given the lack of depth in the rotation, the Phillies will cast their net in the lower end of the free-agent pool, as well. Cole Hamels has long spoken of a desire to finish his career in Philadelphia. Rick Porcello and others could also boost the back end of the rotation.

As nice as Rendon’s bat would look at third base — where there is a need — the Phils probably have to allot the bulk of their financial resources on starting pitching, not to mention locking up catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension. The Phils have been linked to third baseman Mike Moustakas, yet another Boras guy, the last two winters and this might be the time to try to grab him on a one- or two-year deal. He won’t cost nearly as much as Rendon and shouldn’t cost as much as free-agent Josh Donaldson, who is also expected to cost a draft pick after being extended a qualifying offer.

With Andrew McCutchen set in left field and Harper in right field, the Phils could pursue a short-term fit like Brett Gardner in center field, but they also could look to re-sign corner man Corey Dickerson, a good lefty stick, and try to get enough out of a McCutchen-Adam Haseley combination in center field. 

As for Odubel Herrera, it’s too early to tell if he will ever suit up for the Phillies again. The guess here is that he will not, but the Phillies still have several months to make that call. Only the need for a roster spot (the team currently has five openings) or the arrival of spring training will create urgency to make a decision on Herrera, if it already has not privately been made.

It’s kind of fitting that the GM meetings are being held in the Phoenix area. That is Scott Kingery’s hometown and he sits in the middle of this Phillies offseason. Depending on how the team maneuvers its way through the winter, Kingery could open the 2020 season at third base, shortstop, second base or center field. He could play third if the team does not bring in someone from the outside, shortstop if Cesar Hernandez moves on and Jean Segura moves to second base, as has been discussed internally, or second base if the team wants to play him at his best position. He also improved greatly in center field last season and could fill that spot, depending how this offseason shakes out.

There are many possibilities for this team that says it's time to win now.

Throw a log on the fire. The hot stove is warming. Baseball’s offseason gets chugging this week.

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