Stupid Money 2: Electric Boogaloo (Part 1)

The Philadelphia Phillies find themselves tasked with yet another critical offseason. After spending over $400M in free agency and trades in the 2018-2019 offseason, the Phillies will yet again look to spend more of John Middleton’s stupid money to close the talent gap between themselves and the Nationals and Braves.

At a bare minimum, the Phillies need two starting pitchers (preferably one of ace caliber), two infielders (a starting 3B and a utility), and at least three relievers. It wouldn’t hurt to add a center fielder either, although that may end up being a mix of Scott Kingery and Adam Haseley. 

There is more than one way to attack this offseason, and as a general manager, you need to be prepared for a shifting market. With that being said, here are possible plans A and B for the Phillies in the early stages of the 2019-2020 offseason.

Plan A

Sign Gerrit Cole, Cole Hamels, Mike Moustakas, Dellin Betances, and Chris Martin

Gerrit Cole, SP, 29 years old

This plan would see the Phillies landing arguably the best player on the market for the second straight year in Gerrit Cole. Cole was the best pitcher in baseball in 2019 and is a near lock for the AL Cy Young. The right hander finished his second of two brilliant seasons in Houston with a 20-5 record and a 2.50 ERA over 212 ⅔ innings. Cole also notched an absurd 326 strikeouts and was at one point in the season on a 18-0 record run. His dominance continued in the postseason, going 4-1 with a 1.72 ERA in 5 postseason starts. Cole’s presence would allow Aaron Nola to become one of the best number 2 starters in the league.

Signing Cole would not be easy. He is easily the best pitcher on the market, and the bidding will most likely start at 7 years for $220M. That alone would surpass the record for a pitcher’s contract held by David Price who received a 7 year, $217M contract from the Red Sox in December of 2015. Couple that with the fact that his agent is the notorious Scott Boras, and it isn’t hard to see the price approach $300M. 

Cole Hamels, SP, 35 years old

As for the other Cole, it just makes too much sense for a Cole Hamels reunion to not happen. The 2008 World Series MVP isn’t what he used to be, but he could still be a solid mid-to-back of the rotation arm for the Phillies. Hamels is, of course, a left hander, something the Phillies have sorely lacked in their rotation. Hamels finished the season with a 7-7 record and a 3.81 ERA. However, he threw his least amount of innings since 2017 and made under 30 starts for just the fourth time in his 15 season career. He has dealt with oblique injuries in two of the last three years and was shut down for a time with shoulder fatigue in 2019.

Hamels was not extended a qualifying offer from the Cubs, so there is no draft pick compensation attached to him. He has expressed interest in a return to Philadelphia and can likely be had on a one or two year deal.

Mike Moustakas, 3B, 31 years old

There was a divide among the fan base last offseason over whether Moustakas would have been an upgrade or a lateral move from Maikel Franco. Well, Moustakas finished the season with .254 average, .845 OPS, 35 home runs, 87 RBI, and his third All-Star selection. Franco lost his starting job and was eventually demoted to AAA before returning in September.

Moustakas’ left handed bat would go a long way in lengthening the Phillies lineup and adding some more pop. At age 31, he would be the perfect bridge to top prospect Alec Bohm. Moustakas was also not offered a qualifying offer, so any team signing him will not have to forego draft picks. After playing two straight years on one year deals with an option, Moustakas will most likely be looking for at least a 2 year deal with a high average salary.

Dellin Betances, RHRP, 31 years old

Betances’ career has been one of brilliance marred with injuries. The 6-foot-8, 295 pound right hander appeared in just one game this season in September after dealing with shoulder injuries. And after facing two batters, Betances suffered an Achilles tear. Because of his large frame and his age (will turn 32 in March), Betances comes with extreme risk. The results when he’s healthy, though, are undeniable. 

Betances averaged 2.25 WAR from 2014-2018 with the Yankees. In 2018, he posted a 2.70 ERA across 66 appearances with an impressive 42.3 strikeout percentage. Betances has had command issues in the past, but after posting a career high walk percentage of 16.9% in 2017, he was able to cut that number back down to a more respectable 9.6% in 2018.

If the Phillies spend big money on their rotation with Gerrit Cole, there is a strong chance they will look to go bargain bin shopping on the bullpen. Betances is extreme risk/extreme reward, with the risk being he doesn’t come close to his previous form after missing time with his Achilles injury and the reward being getting one of the better relievers of the last five years on the cheap. A short contract with lots of incentives is probably in Betances’ future. 

Chris Martin, RHRP, 34 years old

Martin turned in a solid 2019 for two teams after being traded from the Rangers to the Braves. In 58 appearances, Martin logged a 3.40 ERA and a 30.1 K% with a minuscule 5 walks in 55 ⅔ innings. But, an oblique injury kept him off of the Braves’ playoff roster. 

He isn’t particularly flashy, but Martin would be a stabilizing presence in the middle innings for the Phillies, something they didn’t have last season, especially following a cascade of injuries. 

 

Plan B

Sign Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Josh Donaldson, and Drew Pomeranz

Stephen Strasburg, SP, 31 years old

There was little-to-no chance at the beginning of the season that Strasburg would have opted out of the remaining 4 years and $100M remaining on his contract. Now, fresh off of winning World Series MVP, Strasburg is in for a bigger payday. 

2019 was the season that Strasburg was finally able to stay healthy and cross the 200 inning mark for the second time in his career and the first time since 2014. The righty finished 18-6 with a 3.32 ERA and a 30% strikeout percentage. He was brilliant in the postseason, going 5-0 with a 1.92 ERA in five starts and one bullpen appearance. Strasburg racked up 47 strikeouts in just 36 ⅓ innings en route to winning World Series MVP.

Despite his age and injury history, Strasburg is the clear cut second best starter on the market behind Cole. Because of those factors, he will not cost nearly as much. The feeling here is his contract will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6 years for $150M.

Zack Wheeler, SP, 29 years old

In this plan, the money given to Cole in Plan A is instead split between Strasburg and Wheeler. Wheeler is the least accomplished of the three, but he is still the third best starter available. He is coming off a season in which he avoided missing large amounts of time due to injury and performed well. 

The former top prospect finished with an 11-8 record and a 3.96 ERA. He threw 195 ⅓ innings after tossing 182 ⅓ innings in 2018, a huge development considering his early career injury struggles. His FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 3.48 suggests that he out-pitched his ERA and was let down a bit by his defense. Wheeler’s underlying numbers paint him in an even better light, putting him in the top 10% of pitchers in exit velocity and top 17% in hard hit percentage. His average fastball velocity is among the leaders in baseball, and he has a healthy strikeout to walk rate of 196 pinch outs to 50 walks. 

His injury history will damper his earning potential, but his age, talent, and recent success will probably net him a contract somewhere between $80-100M. With Strasburg also in Philly, Wheeler would be one of the best number 3 starters in baseball. Without Strasburg, he would slot in behind Aaron Nola and be a good number 2 with upside.

Josh Donaldson, 3B, 33 years old

The former AL MVP took a one year contract with the Braves after a disappointing, injured riddled 2018. Donaldson successfully rebounded in Atlanta, finishing with a batting line of .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs and 96 RBIs. His 37 long balls are tied for his second highest total of his career and the most he’s hit since launching 33 in 2017. 

Donaldson is still a good third baseman, albeit not quite the gold glove caliber he was early in his career. He would provide great power for the Phillies and slot in nicely as Bryce Harper’s protection, much like he did in Atlanta with Freddie Freeman. 

The Bringer of Rain is due for more than the one year deal he took before 2019, but his age will probably limit it to 3 years. The Phillies should look to give Donaldson a 2 year deal with a high AAV. 

Drew Pomeranz, LHRP, 30 years old

Pomeranz has had himself an eventful career. He has seemingly found himself alternating between awful seasons with ERAs in the high 5’s and surprising seasons with ERAs in the mid to low 3’s. The lefty struggled with the Red Sox in 2018 and with the Giants for the first half of 2019, but a trade to the Brewers at the deadline and a move to the bullpen allowed him to rejuvenate himself. 

After posting a 5.68 across 21 games and 17 starts with the Giants, Pomeranz pitched to the tune of a 2.39 ERA in 25 appearances with the Brewers with just one start. He posted the highest strikeout rate of his career (30%) and his lowest walk rate (9.7) since 2017. If he is fully committed to the bullpen, Pomeranz should be an interesting piece that could be had on an affordable short term deal.