Scott Boras

Phillies free-agent target: Mike Moustakas

Phillies free-agent target: Mike Moustakas

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.

Today: Mike Moustakas, a third baseman who's been connected to the Phillies multiple times over the last two years and whose agent the Phillies have already touched base with this offseason.

The vitals

You know what you're getting with Mike Moustakas: power, a .250ish batting average, an OPS about 10 percent above the league average and defense that won't hurt you. 

He's not Top 5 at his position or even Top 10, but he's a helpful player who can bat fifth or sixth and produce runs. Moustakas' .845 OPS last season was 14th among qualifying third basemen, but it was 130 points higher than Maikel Franco's. If the 2019 Phillies had Moustakas, they probably would have won a few more games.

Moustakas will play the 2020 season at age 31. His 101 home runs the last three seasons are 14th-most in the majors and fifth-most among third basemen. That list: 

Nolan Arenado: 116
Eugenio Suarez: 109
Joey Gallo: 103
Manny Machado: 102
Mike Moustakas: 101

Why he fits

The Phillies need another productive everyday player at third base, shortstop or center field. Scott Kingery's defensive flexibility allows the Phillies to pick from multiple position groups. 

If the Phillies can add only one of Didi Gregorius or Moustakas, for example, they'd have to weigh whether Moustakas' power or Gregorius' all-around game is more beneficial to their infield. 

For the Phillies, signing Moustakas to a two-year deal would allow them more time for Alec Bohm to develop (especially defensively) at Triple A. It would also buy the Phils an extra year to figure out whether Bohm can even play third base, whether Bohm may need to move to first base and make Rhys Hoskins expendable, or whether Bohm himself could be used as a trade chip.

Why he doesn't fit

If you sign Moustakas to a two- or three-year deal, and Bohm does develop and force the issue, then what? Then you've created a problem for yourself and a need to trade somebody to make room on the infield corners. 

In theory, it may sound like no big deal — if that happens, you can flip one of Hoskins, Bohm or Moustakas for a player at an area of need. But it doesn't always work out that way. The league would see the Phillies' need to make a deal and that would diminish some of the Phils' leverage.

Moustakas' age isn't a big concern — at 31, he's at the tail-end of his prime, and his next contract is unlikely to take him into his late-30s.

The price tag

Moustakas was forced to sign one-year deals each of the last two offseasons. He deserved better but the free-agent market isn't always fair or linear. 

Coming off a career-high 38 homers in 2017, Moustakas rejected the Royals' qualifying offer of $15 million and ultimately had to settle for a one-year, $6.5 million deal to return to Kansas City.

Then Moustakas hit 28 homers and drove in 95 runs with a .774 OPS and had to settle for another one-year deal, this time for $10 million with Milwaukee ($3 million of which came in the form of a 2020 buyout from the Brewers).

This winter, Moustakas should finally find a multi-year deal. Something like two years, $24 million seems fair. Moustakas' side (he's represented by Scott Boras) will want more years, but teams will be hestitant to commit to his age-33 season. Moustakas still might get three years.

It will be interesting to see whether Moustakas or Josh Donaldson signs first. Both have incentive to let the other set the market. Donaldson was the better player in 2019 but Moustakas was the better and healthier player overall from 2017-19.

Scout's take

"Fair defender. Power is solid, results are there. Limited athleticism. Threat in the middle of the lineup but the body gives concern for excessive years of commitment."

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Phillies free-agent target: Stephen Strasburg

Phillies free-agent target: Stephen Strasburg

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.

Today, we check in on someone who has tormented the Phillies for years, power-armed right-hander Stephen Strasburg.

The vitals

Strasburg became a Washington Nationals building block when that team selected him first overall in the 2009 draft. A year later, the Nats picked Bryce Harper No. 1 overall.

Strasburg’s talent has never been in dispute. He complements a power fastball with a killer arsenal of off-speed pitches. His issue has always been staying healthy.

In 2019, however, health was not an issue for Strasburg. He stayed on the field, made 33 starts and led the National League in innings (209) and wins (18). He followed that up with 36⅓ innings, 47 strikeouts (to four walks) and a 1.98 ERA in a postseason run that culminated with the Nationals’ winning the World Series. Strasburg was MVP.

Strasburg’s good health and strong season came at an opportune time as the 31-year-old had the right to opt out of the final four years of his seven-year contract and become a free agent. He walked away from $100 million but will surely cash a larger paycheck as he probably ranks second behind Gerrit Cole among pitchers on this free-agent market.

Why he fits

The Phillies say it's time to win and they're in need of a major upgrade in starting pitching. They need proven help at the back end of the rotation and a major difference maker at the top end. Strasburg would be an excellent addition to the top of the rotation, where he could pair with (and take some pressure off) Aaron Nola. The Phillies have already had contact with Strasburg’s agent, Scott Boras, this offseason. Boras represents several elite free agents, including Cole, and you can be sure the Phils have discussed all of them with him.

And another thing: If you can’t beat him, sign him. Strasburg is 14-2 with a 2.58 ERA and a 0.949 WHIP in 27 career starts against the Phillies. He is also 6-0 with a 2.11 ERA in 12 starts at Citizens Bank Park.

Why he doesn’t fit

Well, there’s the health history. Strasburg had Tommy John surgery early in his career and he’s spent time on the injured list in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 with neck, elbow, back, shoulder and oblique issues. That could give the Phillies some pause — they’ve been burned by injuries to free-agent pitchers in the past — but probably not enough to dissuade them from making a run at Strasburg. The Phils are pretty desperate for pitching and there’s immense pressure on the club to win now. 

Then there’s the matter of the incumbent Washington Nationals, who would like to keep Strasburg. They were already on the hook for four more years and $100 million. They could probably sweeten that by, say, $75 million, and retain the World Series MVP. In fact, with third baseman Anthony Rendon, yet another Boras guy, possibly headed out of the town, the Nats could be under some pressure to do that as they preserve what was the key to their World Series charge — their starting pitching staff.

The price tag

Strasburg was to average $25 million over the next four seasons. He’s coming off a season of health, dominance and a World Series MVP. With so many teams needing elite pitching, a six-year deal worth $180 million could be the ticket.

Scout’s take

“He’s a top of the rotation guy when he’s on the field like he was in 2014 and 2019. In other years, he’s missed a lot of starts with injuries and that has to be a concern as he gets older. But he’s always won games and that’s what it’s all about.”

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Another 'stupid money' winter? Phillies owner John Middleton talks about an important offseason

Another 'stupid money' winter? Phillies owner John Middleton talks about an important offseason

A year ago, John Middleton’s comment about spending stupid money became a mantra for the Phillies’ offseason.

Middleton made the comment to a reporter at Major League Baseball’s owners’ meetings and within a few hours it was everywhere, from headlines to T-shirts. Salivating player agents noticed the juicy remark and put Middleton on speed dial. Eventually, the Phillies did indeed spend stupid money, big money — whatever you want to call it. They lavished more than $400 million on free agents only to finish .500 and out of the playoff picture for an eighth straight season.

Baseball owners will assemble for their annual November meetings in Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday. Before departing Monday night, the Phillies managing partner was asked if he would be providing any memorable T-shirt material this time around.

“Mantras are a lot of fun,” Middleton said with a laugh. “But we just want to acquire players that will make us meaningfully better. All of our efforts this offseason will be geared toward that.”

Don’t mistake Middleton’s measured tone for complacency. He remains fiercely committed to finding a way to win. And he agrees with Matt Klentak, the Phillies’ usually guarded general manager, who recently proclaimed,“No questions asked, it is time to win right now.”

“I loved it,” Middleton said of his GM’s bold remark. “No argument here.”

But how are the Phillies going to transform from a fourth-place team to a playoff club? New manager Joe Girardi and good health from Andrew McCutchen — the Phillies missed him badly over the final four months of 2019 — and a few relievers can only do so much. This team needs starting pitching — big time — and there are several good to great ones on the free-agent market. 

“There are many places where we can add value and become more successful,” Middleton said. “One of those is certainly pitching, but we’ll explore all areas.”

The free-agent pitching market is led by Gerrit Cole. The power-armed right-hander is expected to fetch the largest contract ever for a pitcher, eclipsing David Price’s $217 million package. Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello and others are also on the market.

Last winter, Middleton’s promise to spend stupid money led to Bryce Harper, who signed what was briefly the largest contract in the history of the game — $330 million — until it was eclipsed by Mike Trout.

Money is still the Phillies’ best resource. Will they set records again this winter?

“Any time impact players are available who fill a need of ours, the Phillies need to be in the middle of those negotiations,” Middleton said. “At the same time, no team can sign the top free agent each off-season — it just isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. We’ll explore ways to make our team better in both the trade and free-agent markets and make the additions that we feel best balance our needs.”

Given that the Phillies have a need for multiples of starting pitching, bullpen help and possibly a bat like Mike Moustakas at third base, it might behoove the club to spread around its resources and fill several holes.

The competition for Cole will be stiff with the Yankees and Angels both known to covet him. You just know that agent Scott Boras cannot wait to pit those two big-market clubs against each other in negotiations.

Boras also represents Strasburg and Ryu, as well as third basemen Moustakas and Anthony Rendon. 

Boras and Middleton got to know each other during the Phillies’ pursuit of Jake Arrieta two winters ago and built further chemistry during Harper’s Bazaar last winter. Could the relationship foster a deal?

“As is often the case in high-profile negotiations, Scott and I had our ups and downs last year,” Middleton said. “But we learned a lot about each other, and fortunately we landed in a great place. Matt will be at the point in all our major negotiations. I’m always available to him for support and assistance.”

Last week, Boras spoke about his relationship with Middleton and the Phillies owner’s commitment to winning.

“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.”

The owners’ meetings will mark Middleton’s first public appearance — at least in baseball circles — since the team’s October news conference to announce the firing of manager Gabe Kapler. Middleton was noticeably absent from the news conference to announce Girardi’s hiring later in the month. Klentak introduced Girardi and spoke for the organization.

“I didn’t think that it was appropriate for me to participate in the Girardi press conference because the ultimate decision to hire Joe was made by Matt,” Middleton said. “It was Matt’s job, therefore, to explain to our fans and the press the rationale supporting his decision.”

Long before his catchy “stupid money” comment, Middleton famously proclaimed that he wanted his “bleeping trophy back” after the Phillies, winners of the 2008 World Series, lost the 2009 World Series to the Yankees.

The Yankees manager that year?

Yep. Girardi.

“I was impressed with Joe’s leadership, experience and growth in his time with the Yankees,” Middleton said. “It’s obvious why he is a winner. His interview was an important part of the process, but we also placed immense value on the opinions of many players, coaches, and front office members who have been around Joe in his time as a manager, and the feedback we received from them was outstanding. 

“I certainly believe that he will instill in the clubhouse the drive, intensity, commitment and dedication that is necessary to bring the trophy back to Philadelphia.”

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