Phillies

Is it finally time for Phillies fans to give up the Mike Trout fantasy?

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Is it finally time for Phillies fans to give up the Mike Trout fantasy?

Philly fans are obsessed with Mike Trout, for good reason. He'll go down as one of the best players ever. He was born in nearby Millville, New Jersey. Did you know that? It's been pretty under-reported around these parts.

Until the day Trout retires, Phillies fans will hold out hope that someday, the Chosen One will join their favorite team.

The Angels could put a dent in those dreams this winter, though.

National baseball writer Jon Heyman wrote this week that the Angels could pursue a lifetime contract with Trout this offseason. Doesn't mean they will or that he'll sign it, but it does make sense with Trout's current six-year contract expiring after 2020.

The Angels will want to know from Trout whether he's interested in staying around long-term. If he's not, it's better for a team to know that before the player's last season under contract, because more can be acquired in a trade when the player has 1½ seasons left than just a half-season.

Trout wants to win. The Angels haven't been able to surround him with enough talent. The Albert Pujols contract worked out poorly. The Josh Hamilton contract turned out horribly. Shohei Ohtani needs elbow surgery, so for now, he's just a DH. The Angels' starting rotation has been ravaged by nonstop injuries. Trout is not winning a World Series in Anaheim. Feel free to send this paragraph to @FreezingColdTakes on Twitter.

The Phillies this offseason will pursue Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Some rival executives think the Phils possess the ability to land both superstars. If they strike out on one, or both, and if Trout chooses not to sign another long-term deal with the Halos, the trade talks will again amplify.

You have to keep in mind, though, that it will take an enormous trade package for the Angels to even consider moving Trout. A package that would take lots of major-league and minor-league talent away from an organization. 

Between blogs and social media, I've seen some Trout-to-the-Braves fantasies. Bringing that up only because, in every instance, the writer has argued, "as long as it doesn't cost Ronald Acuña Jr." 

Which is just hilarious, because you don't acquire one of the top five players in baseball history in his prime without giving up a great player in return. It is laughable to think the Angels would be OK with a package of Sean Newcomb, Ozzie Albies, Ender Inciarte and a group of prospects. 

Similarly, you'd think that if the Angels ever actually engage the Phillies in Trout trade talks, it could cost them Rhys Hoskins, Sixto Sanchez and two or three more players the Phils would feel extremely uncomfortable about trading.

Between the impending free agency of Harper and Machado and the possibility Trout makes a decision one way or the other regarding his long-term plans, we could know in three short months about the futures of baseball's three most dangerous hitters.

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Michael Brantley's contract makes Andrew McCutchen's look like an overpay, but here's why it made sense for Phillies

Michael Brantley's contract makes Andrew McCutchen's look like an overpay, but here's why it made sense for Phillies

Michael Brantley was still on the board last week when the Phillies agreed to a deal with Andrew McCutchen at the winter meetings.

The Phils had interest in Brantley as well, but they valued McCutchen's durability over Brantley's solid left-handed bat.

The Phillies, as you know, signed McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract.

Brantley, on Monday, agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with the Astros.

The first reaction was some surprise that McCutchen's deal not only beat the overall value of Brantley's but that McCutchen also got slightly more per year. These are similar players. McCutchen is seven months older, and Brantley is coming off the better season.

Seeing the deal Brantley received, some will say the Phillies overpaid McCutchen. They may have, but in this case, it's acceptable for a couple of reasons:

1. McCutchen unquestionably improves the Phillies

2. It's a three-year deal that won't prevent the Phils from making any future moves

Don't lose sight of that second point. The Phillies have a ton of money and did not weigh themselves down with this move. They also wouldn't really have weighed themselves down by beating the Nationals' six-year offer for Patrick Corbin, but there is a substantial difference between giving a 29-year-old pitcher with past injuries $150 million and giving a 32-year-old outfielder with no injury history half the years and one-third the price.

Back to McCutchen vs. Brantley.

McCutchen has a few distinct advantages over Brantley. The most obvious one is durability. McCutchen has missed a total of 65 games in the last nine seasons. Brantley has missed 242 the last three years alone.

The defensive metrics peg McCutchen and Brantley as equals when playing the corner outfield. Eye-test, I'm still giving McCutchen the advantage because of his instincts, ability to glide to the ball and his versatility. You must also factor in that the last two places McCutchen played the corner outfield most — AT&T Park and PNC Park — are among the most spacious and challenging outfields in baseball.

Brantley is a solid outfielder, too, but you can't put him in center field in a pinch at this point like you can with McCutchen. Brantley hasn't played center since 2015. 

Brantley gets the slight baserunning advantage, and he's obviously the better bet to hit .290 or .300. Yet the last two years, despite the fact that Brantley has out-hit McCutchen .305 to .267, McCutchen has the higher OBP — .366 to Brantley's .362.

Brantley strikes out less. McCutchen has more power. Brantley's left-handed bat may have balanced the Phils' lineup better. But McCutchen hits righties better than Brantley hits lefties.

Add up all these tiny advantages for McCutchen and you get a player the Phillies just felt more comfortable with. Then comes the "adult in the room" aspect of what McCutchen will bring the Phillies. He gives them an experienced voice in the clubhouse and another source of leadership they badly needed. It had gotten to the point the last year and a half where every game, good or bad, Rhys Hoskins was basically left to speak on behalf of his teammates. He won't have to do it alone in 2019.

If the Phillies were in the position of a mid-market team like the Rockies, Pirates, Reds or Royals, giving McCutchen $50 million over three years would have been a bad move because it swallows up so many of your resources. But on this team, in this city, with this future payroll and in an offseason when the Phillies are clearly shifting to win-now mode, paying a slightly higher price to get the guy they wanted made sense.

Boiled down to its simplest form, that $16.7 million per year the next three years won't stop the Phillies from improving elsewhere.

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Phillies rumors: If no Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas would be clear upgrade over Maikel Franco

Phillies rumors: If no Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas would be clear upgrade over Maikel Franco

Many Phillies fans have been so focused on Manny Machado and Bryce Harper for so long that no other acquisition this winter will be a worthy consolation.

The Phillies, though, have prepared for the reality of an offseason that doesn't net them either huge star. If that does unfortunately happen, they'll have to pivot quickly to other offensive upgrades, provided quality options are still available.

Before getting to one immediately logical free-agent upgrade, just remember that Harper and Machado are not the final two stars who will ever come available. Unless the Rockies make an insane extension offer, Nolan Arenado will be a free agent this time next year at age 28. (I personally would rather build a team around Arenado than Machado, but anywho.)

For the Phillies this offseason, Mike Moustakas would make a lot of sense if Machado doesn't happen. He's a definite upgrade over Maikel Franco, offensively and defensively, and would give this Phils lineup better left-handed balance.

The need for lefty power

As of this moment, the best part of the Phillies' batting order will feature three right-handers among four spots in Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and Rhys Hoskins. You can split it up a bit by going Segura one, McCutchen two, Odubel Herrera/Nick Williams three and Hoskins four, but it would be helpful to have some consistent power from the left side.

Moustakas offers that. He's homered 51 times off of right-handed pitchers the last two seasons, the exact same total as both Machado and Harper. (No, not a comparison, just an interesting fact.)

Moustakas' OPS against righties over that span is a few points higher than Anthony Rizzo's.

Phillies' interest in Moustakas

The Phillies were interested in Moustakas in July, before the Royals traded him to the Brewers, and have expressed interest in him again this offseason. Moustakas, like Harper and Zach Britton, is a Scott Boras client. 

A definite upgrade over Franco

When the Phillies were connected to Moustakas this past summer, some questioned whether he was even an upgrade over Franco. Around that time, Franco had been hot, flashing the kind of multi-week hot streak the Phillies had been waiting a long time for. 

But at the plate, in the field, on paper or in front of your eyes, Moustakas is just a better player than Franco and has been throughout Franco's big-league career.

Since 2015, Moustakas has hit .267/.324/.484. Franco has hit .255/.306/.442.

Moustakas has averaged 33 homers and 34 doubles per 162 games. Franco has averaged 27 homers and 29 doubles.

Moustakas' .808 OPS over that four-year span is 15 percent higher than the league average. Franco's .748 OPS is 60 points lower, and two percent below the league average.

Defensively, Moustakas has been average, but there is value in average. He has -1 defensive run saved over the past four years. Franco has -30, by far the worst mark in the National League.

What about the contracts?

Franco is projected to make $5 million through the arbitration process this winter. He is under club control through the end of the 2021 season. If he remains an everyday player throughout his arbitration years, he could realistically get $8 million in 2020 and $10 million in 2021. So for all intents and purposes, Franco would be about a three-year, $23 million player for the Phils.

Moustakas is a free agent. Things did not go so well for him last offseason, when he was a free agent but lingered on the market as possible landing spots like the Angels, Giants, Yankees, Mets and Braves were filled. 

Eventually, Moustakas went back to the Royals for one year and $5.5 million with incentives and a $1 million buyout. It wasn't what he or Boras expected.

Boras said last offseason that no major-league team offered Moustakas a multi-year deal. The weird thing was that Moustakas had just turned 29 and was coming off a 38-homer season, by far his best as a pro. He's now coming off a season that was about 70 percent as productive.

Moustakas, now 30, is a candidate for a two-year deal this winter, or a one-year pact with a vesting option. Boras likes to extract every last dollar, but two years in the $20-26 million range seems fair. 

That kind of contract would give the Phillies a better third baseman in 2019 (if they don't land Machado), and also give them the flexibility to pursue Arenado at the 2019 trade deadline or in free agency.

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