The Phillies and the Problem with Free Agency

The goal of any free agent on the open market is to maximize their earning potential.  This is a balance between guaranteed money and future contracts if that player improves (which is why player opt outs have become so popular).  This means that free agents on the fringes of the market are incentivized to push for multi year deals to get more money guaranteed, even if it is a smaller AAV to a one year deal.  That leaves the group of 1 year deals similar to the Jerome Williams and Aaron Harang signings that the Phillies made last year.

Now the Phillies only want one year deals because they have a lot of young pitching graduating to the majors in 2016 and a large amount of money coming free next year to spend in free agency.  A deal like the one Mike Leake just signed, would be perfectly serviceable and improve the 2016 Phillies, but long term the hope is to develop pitchers like that, and there is always a Mike Leake on the free agent market.  To further illustrate this, here are the starting pitchers that have signed deals so far this offseason.

*Involved a draft pick

One Year Deals:

  • Bartolo Colon
  • Ryan Vogelsong
  • Hisashi Iwakuma* (other circumstances involved)
  • Jacob Turner
  • Rich Hill
  • Brett Anderson (accepted QO)
  • Colby Lewis
  • Henderson Alvarez

Two Year Deals:

  • John Lackey*
  • Chris Young
  • Marco Estrada*

More than Two Years:

  • Johnny Cueto
  • Jeff Samardzija*
  • Zach Grienke*
  • David Price
  • Jordan Zimmermann*
  • J.A. Happ
  • Mike Leake

Here are those left unsigned: Mat Latos, Kyle Lohse, Tim Lincecum, Chad Billingsley, Justin Masterson, Aaron Harang, Wei-Yin Chen*, Jeremy Guthrie, Doug Fister, Yohan Flande, Bronson Arroyo, Alfredo Simon, Scott Kazmir, Kyle Kendrick, Jerome Williams, Ian Kennedy*, Mark Buehrle, Yovani Gallardo*

Of the guys who signed 1-2 year deals only 3 changed organization or did not have a draft pick attachment in Ryan Vogelsong, Rich Hill, and Henderson Alvarez, all of whom come with big performance or injury risks.  Looking at the remaining players there is really no remaining pitchers who are upgrades and won’t require relinquishing a good pick or giving a potentially harmful long term deal.  Gallardo, Chen, and Kazmir likely upgrade the 2016 Phillies by a 1 or 2 and are not impactful pieces on future teams.  All will likely get fair deals from teams where their impact will be felt in 2016.

There is no place in the current market for a pillow contract, however the Phillies did the next best thing, sending out two prospects to take back Charlie Morton and Jeremy Hellickson on 1 year deals that fit exactly what they are looking for.  Both offer some upside, but also the lack of commitment if the Phillies’ young pitchers supplant them.

Pitching is not the only spot where a theoretical upgrade could be made, but this where development takes key.  The only positions on the diamond where the Phillies will not or have not graduated a top young hitter are second base and first base.  That leaves the only real free agent upgrades at those positions to be Daniel Murphy (who probably is a 1B), Howie Kendrick, and Chris Davis, all of which will cost a draft pick and an expensive long term deal.  The only player who would have fit the Phillies need for an additional piece of the core was Jason Heyward and his opt outs show why that contract makes no sense for the Phillies (he would be gone when the team most needed him).  But otherwise players like Cespedes and Upton would be moderate upgrades on what the Phillies will have at those positions, but neither really moves the Phillies’ needle more than a game or two.

In the end the drive for FAs to maximize their value leaves a market where the Phillies cannot make short term upgrades without longer term commitments.  Those with lower commitments are not upgrades for a Phillies team that will be graduating a lot of talent during the 2016 season.  For now their greatest chance for upgrades will come from a loaded AAA roster that could deliver the greatest rookie class in Phillies history.

Image by Cheryl Purcell

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman

Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.


  1. phillysf

    How much more am I looking forward to this years AAA team as compared to, well, ever !
    Merry Christmas yall or If your Jewish , happy late Hanukah or one of the 30 other ways it can be spelled

  2. Anonymous VOR

    I don’t think the Phillies will graduate any of the age 23 and under position players in AAA during 2016. There is too much financial incentive to hold them back in the minors as long as possible. They won’t bring up JP Crawford or Nick Williams until they absolutely are finished products.

    • That is certainly a big factor and neither is yet a finished product. It also may be best not to move them from what is likely to be a happy, winning environment in Allentown into what will probably still be a big mess in Philly. Crawford and Williams are likely up after the trade deadline or after the Allentown season is over.

      • Anonymous VOR

        I don’t think we’ll see them before September, if then. The Pitchers (Velasquez, Thompson etc) will probably get called up at the trade deadline, once they flip Hellickson and Oberholtzer.

  3. Murray

    Reading will be talent loaded also. I think JP and Quinn will start there along with Hoskins, Valentin, Cozens, Alfaro, Pinto, and Ramos. I think 2017 might actually be better than 2016 for rookies.

  4. B-dog

    Klentak, McPhail and Middleton would be wise to wait and evaluate current talent over the next season or two. Don’t mistake their FA inactivity this off-season for an organizational philosophy.

    In 2017, Strasburg, Chapman, Storen could be of interest but the FA bonanza of 2018 is the likely target.

    2018 (including opt outs) – Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez, Dallas Keuchel, Matt Harvey,Garrett Richards, Shelby Miller, David Price, Jason Heyward, Clayton Kershaw. Trevor Rosenthal, Zach Britton,Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, Jeurys Familia, David Robertson, Adam Jones, Michael Brantley, Adam Wainwright…among others.

    The Phillies owe, what, nothing in 2018? With their TV deal, they should be flush with cash. Why even bother now with Fister and Upton, with that upcoming free agent class ideally fitting their time frame? That 2018 FA class (and maybe Strasburg in 2017) could even influence plans for the #1 pick. If Groome is deemed the better long-term prospect, they might overlook Puk’s proximity to the majors and simply sign a #1 starter to a mega-deal. They could even sign two of them if Middleton so desires. However, I might prefer multiple free agents at different positions- Dee Gordon at 2B, Harper obviously if at all possible, Machado moving Franco to 1st…options abound.

    Then of course bring Mike Trout home in 2020…goes without saying.

    Hopefully prospects fill as many spots as possible, but free agency will be (a big) part of the Phillies future.