Phillies

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 Talk podcast: Does MLB's new deal change anything for Phillies?

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Phillies Talk podcast: Does MLB's new deal change anything for Phillies?

On Friday's Phillies Talk podcast, Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman discussed MLB's new deal from a Phillies perspective.

• Why service time was non-negotiable from players' side

• 2020 service time rules could hurt Phillies

• How this could change J.T. Realmuto negotiations

• If rosters do expand to 29, how Phillies should fill it out

• Expanding the playoffs

• What we missed most about opening weekend

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What MLB's new deal with players' association means for Phillies

What MLB's new deal with players' association means for Phillies

MLB and the players' association finalized a deal Friday that affects service time, the draft, salaries, the 2020 schedule and more.

Let's go piece by piece.

When will the season begin?

"Not until there are no bans on mass gatherings that limit the ability to play in front of fans and no travel restrictions," according to ESPN.

This runs counter to the idea that games could take place in empty stadiums.

An early-June start to the regular season still seems like a best-case scenario.

Service time

This was the main sticking point for players. They needed to know that they would be credited with a full year of service time even in the event of a canceled season. A canceled season is not viewed as the likelihood at this point but all bases needed to be covered.

Players will receive a full year of service time no matter if the season is 120, 162 or zero games. The days of service credited to a player will be the same number he received in 2019. For someone like Rhys Hoskins, it will mean a full year of service time. For someone like Ranger Suarez, who wasn't called up until the first week of June in 2019, it will reflect closer to a half-season's worth of service time.

Why is this important? Because service time determines eligibility for free agency and arbitration. It wouldn't have been fair to make J.T. Realmuto wait another year for free agency because of circumstances outside his control. Nor would it have been fair to delay Hoskins' three arbitration years, which begin after the 2020 season.

Service time was the most important point for major-league players because there is so much to be gained financially by accruing another year.

2020 MLB draft

The league can limit the 2020 MLB draft to five rounds if it so chooses. Much less scouting can even be done this spring, but this looks like a cost-cutting measure. Signing bonuses to draftees will be deferred. According to The Athletic, draftees will receive $100,000 up front with the rest deferred to 2021 and 2022 in equal amounts. 

Signing bonuses for drafted players will stay at 2019 levels rather than rise by 3-3.5% annually the way they tend to.

For an undrafted player, the richest signing bonus a team can give is $20,000 compared to $125,000 previously. This clearly hurts younger players trying to break into the bigs over the next year. 


Lump-sum advance

If the 2020 season never takes place, players waived their right to sue the league for full salaries in exchange for an advance payment of $170 million. 

This $170 million will be distributed to four tiers of players and most of it will go to players on guaranteed major-league deals.

The amount a player is advanced would come out of his prorated 2020 salary if/when games begin.

Transaction freeze

Rosters will be frozen beginning today. This is partially why the Phillies optioned six players to Triple A on Thursday.

Expanded rosters

Rosters were already set to expand from 25 to 26 this season. Now, rosters will expand to 29 for the first month of the 2020 regular season, according to USA Today

All teams will need more arms as starting pitchers build back up. This is good news for players battling for bench or bullpen jobs. It makes it more likely that all three of Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison and Neil Walker make the team. There is still much to be decided in the bullpen. Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter could be ready for the new season opener.

Regular season length

Still TBD. The regular season will certainly extend into October and the playoffs could continue until late November. Neutral sites would likely need to be used if cold-weather, outdoor teams advance that far. You could potentially see a Cardinals-Yankees World Series played in Tampa.

Playoff format

A way to recoup some of the lost money from the shortened season is to expand the playoff field, which was likely to happen even before the coronavirus outbreak. Currently, 10 teams make the playoffs, with two in each league competing in the one-game wild-card round. MLB could expand to 12 or 14 playoff teams, which would drastically change the regular season and be an obvious benefit to a team like the Phillies.

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