Phillies

Phillies' best free-agent and trade options in the outfield (with 1 sleeper)

Phillies

The Phillies head into 2022 with questions at a number of positions, but there's no question that they need to add two starting outfielders. 

They had one of baseball's worst center field situations last season, with Odubel Herrera playing 58% of the innings, followed by Travis Jankowski at 17%. Phillies centerfielders hit .230 with a .298 on-base percentage and ranked 28th in OPS.

Andrew McCutchen, the Phillies' left fielder from 2019 through 2021, hit 27 home runs in 144 games in his walk year. He and Herrera are both free agents and the Phillies have an opportunity to upgrade offensively and defensively at both positions.

Ideally, 2016 first-round pick Mickey Moniak or 2017 first-round pick Adam Haseley would be able to fill these roles. But neither has hit enough to seize a spot. Moniak is 6 for 47 (.128) with one extra-base hit and 22 strikeouts in two stints as an extra man in the majors. Haseley played in only nine big-league games last season before leaving the team for personal reasons and returning at Triple A two months later. 

"I'm not, per se, counting on either one of them to be on our club next year to start off," team president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said at last week's GM Meetings.

Another of the Phillies' recent first-round outfielders, Cornelius Randolph, became a minor-league free agent last week. Randolph was the 10th overall pick in 2015, the highest-drafted position player from that class not to reach the majors.

Between those draft picks, the way the Herrera contract played out, and to an extent, the way McCutchen's $50 million deal played out, the Phillies' recent track record in the outfield isn't much better than in the bullpen. That excludes, of course, Bryce Harper, who may win his second MVP award later this week. 

 

Harper needs help in the outfield and the Phillies can give him some. Here is an overview of the top free-agent outfielders, each of whom we will analyze individually in the coming days.

Nick Castellanos

When Castellanos is hot, he's as dangerous a hitter as anyone in baseball.

This past season, he hit .409 in May and was at .361 in mid-June -- with extra-base damage. In 2019, he exploded after the All-Star break with 37 extra-base hits in his final 51 games. He led the majors that year with 58 doubles. The prior season, he led the league in triples and hit better than .350 in two different months.

He's become a top middle-of-the-order threat and will be paid handsomely this winter after finishing third in the NL in batting average (tied with Harper at .309), seventh in home runs (one behind Harper with 34), sixth in RBI (100) and fourth in OPS (.939). 

A Scott Boras client, Castellanos opted out of the final two years of his contract with the Reds and rejected the one-year qualifying offer, meaning a signing team would forfeit a high draft pick.

Castellanos' contract could exceed $100 million. Why, for example, should he get anything less than the $110 million over five years the Red Sox paid J.D. Martinez in 2018? They are similar offensive performers, and while Castellanos is not known for his defense, he still has time left before becoming a part-time outfielder. Plus, the expected adoption of the DH in the National League will add value to players NL teams once shied away from for short- or long-term defensive reasons.

Castellanos would be a perfect fit in the middle of the Phillies' lineup, though he'd be a perfect fit in the middle of any lineup. The Phils' preference is to not give up a draft pick and Castellanos is one of three outfielders who rejected a qualifying offer, along with Chris Taylor and Michael Conforto. 

Kris Bryant

Bryant would have received a qualifying offer if not for the midseason trade. The Cubs dealt him to the Giants at the trade deadline as his free agency approached, and it doesn't sound like the Giants will be the team to sign him to a long-term deal.

Between the lack of draft pick attachment and the well-documented Harper-Bryant relationship, there will be plenty of Phillies buzz this offseason.

The question is just how good Bryant is at this point. Is he still the same hitter he was the first three years of his career, when the Cubs looked like they'd have a string of World Series chances? 

Bryant hit .293/.397/.546, averaging 39 doubles and 36 homers per 162 games in 2016 and 2017. He was NL MVP in 2016. 

The last four seasons, he's hit .268/.363/.479, averaging 38 doubles and 28 homers per 162 games.

Still strong offensive production, but not nearly at the same level. Many baseball fans hear the name Kris Bryant and think of that guy from 2016 and 2017, but over the last four seasons, his OPS is 19 points lower than Rhys Hoskins' career mark, as an example.

 

Bryant definitely gains extra points for his versatility. You can confidently start him anywhere in the outfield, first base or third base. 

Starling Marte

There's so much to like about Marte, who is still a premier athlete at 33. He's a line-drive hitter with great speed who has improved drastically as a base stealer. Three seasons after being caught more than anyone in baseball, he had the highest success rate in the majors in 2021, going 47 for 52.

Marte can still play an above-average center field and can help you at the top of the order or the middle. He thrived in Oakland after a midseason trade, hitting .316 and swiping a bag nearly every day during a three-week stretch in August. He would add a needed dynamic to the Phillies' lineup.

Marte is likely not going to command as many years or dollars as guys like Castellanos or Bryant, and he did not receive a qualifying offer because of the trade from Miami to Oakland.

Would the Phillies be able to sign Marte to play center and Castellanos to play left field? That would create a dangerous lineup, though it would be high-priced, aging and based around free agents. Is it doable? Perhaps, if the Phillies exceed the luxury tax and/or don't pursue the high-end closers.

Potential trade target: Whit Merrifield

Merrifield is a perennial trade target and at some point, the Royals probably do have to move him before his contract expires. Merrifield is on an extremely team-friendly contract that guarantees him just $2.75 million in 2022 with a $6.5 million team option for 2023. His deal includes many incentives for things like plate appearances, All-Star appearances and awards but it still comes in well below his actual on-field value.

There are two schools of thought with Merrifield. On the one hand, his production, consistency and contract should lead to a big market. On the other hand, he's soon to be 33 and possesses a skill set most teams devalue these days, one based around contact and speed without a dedication to power or taking walks. The Royals might ultimately (continue to) consider him more important to whatever they're building than a return they deem insufficient.

Plenty of teams will be calling the Royals again about Merrifield.

Kyle Schwarber

Schwarber had a career year ahead of free agency, establishing new highs in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage. He had that dominant run in June with 16 homers in 18 games for the Nationals, then reached base in 39 of his first 84 plate appearances with the Red Sox after a deadline deal.

At 29, this is his chance for a big payday. There will be concerns about his ability to hold up defensively, though again, the market should be slightly larger than usual if the DH is in both leagues. 

Schwarber would enjoy the confines of Citizens Bank Park. He isn't the overall hitter Castellanos is, and he doesn't possess the athleticism of Marte or Bryant, but he'd fit the Phillies from a slugging and plate selection standpoint.

 

Chris Taylor

Taylor is like the Mikal Bridges of MLB. In the NBA, Bridges is the prototype for 3-and-D players, and in the majors, Taylor is the prototype for guys who can do a little bit of everything for a winning team.

Taylor can hit for power, take his walks, run the bases and play every infield and outfield position well.

He also has developed a reputation for hitting in the clutch and he's had plenty of opportunities to do so for great Dodgers clubs.

He strikes out a ton and is prone to long slumps, and you also wonder how much of an impact he can make for a team that isn't as well-positioned as the Dodgers. Can Taylor hit one or two for you every day? Can he hit fifth? 

Taylor is 31, and like Schwarber, this is probably his one chance for a huge contract.

Michael Conforto

At the GM Meetings, Boras made it sound like Conforto has as strong a market as anyone. We will see how much of an impact the combination of Conforto's down year ahead of free agency and the attachment of a qualifying offer has on the bidding.

Conforto raked in the shortened 2020 season, hitting .322 with a .927 OPS. He struggled all throughout 2021, finishing at .232/.344/.384. Boras cited Conforto's bout with COVID prior to spring training as a contributing factor.

Conforto does not turn 29 until March 1. Will he receive a strong three- to five-year offer? Will he be left standing if teams opt instead for similarly-tiered outfielders who weren't extended the qualifying offer?

Mark Canha

A bit of a sleeper, but a guy who can help pretty much any team. Canha doesn't do anything exceptionally well but he's going to walk a lot, hit home runs, play solid defensively anywhere in the outfield or at first base, and if he can maintain a batting average of .270 or better, he can have a very good overall year, as he did in 2019 when he hit .273/.396/.513 with 26 homers.

There's a chance that Canha, who turns 33 in February, is a better offensive player than Taylor over the next couple of years. If the Phillies could sign a top outfielder and get one of the better closers on the market, Canha would be interesting as the third move to fill the other outfield spot. You're probably only looking at a two-year deal in the $20-24 million range.

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