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Could the Phillies have bought a contending team for next season?

It was a buyer's market, and the Phillies are a large-market team spending like a small-market one. Let's give them as many free agents as possible and see if they could compete in the NL East.

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Previously, on Baseball:

1. The Philadelphia Phillies have been bad. They're trending in the right direction, doing smart and patient things, but they're unlikely to contend next year.

2. The Philadelphia Phillies were a large-market team that used to have one of the biggest payrolls in baseball. A lot of that came organically, with the team successfully keeping their homegrown, championship core together. But we know they can sustain an inflated budget.

3. The Philadelphia Phillies have exactly one player who is guaranteed more than $1 million in 2017: Matt Harrison. They'll have money to play around with next winter. Perhaps $100 million. Perhaps even more if they want.

There's a problem with the logical end to this story, though. Next year's free agent market is kind of the pits. The Phillies aren't going to emerge from the earth like cicadas and devour the Winter Meetings next year. It's the wrong year to do it.

So what if they had started this winter, then?

I want to reset the offseason, spend fake money and turn the Phillies into contenders. They'll be at $100 million or so this year, so we'll give them $120 million in extra annual payroll to pursue free agent deals, with $40 million of that deferred for when the Phillies have zero obligations. That sounds absurd until you realize that a realistic amount of back-loading would bring them up to just above their 2014 payroll.

The bullpen will be filled with in-house candidates, trades they've already made and minor-league free agents. If you want to pretend they keep Ken Giles, I'm fine with that, but ignoring the bullpen seems like the best way to save money during a spending spree.

Note: I'm not trying to prove a point about what the Phillies could've/should've/would've done. It's just January, and I'm bored. Now let's build a lineup and rotation for the 2016 Phillies.


Note that I won't have to make any tough phone calls for this exercise. If the addition of a left-handed catcher means that Chooch is released, or that Cameron Rupp is demoted after a fine rookie season, that's on the Phillies. Just glad it's not me making that phone call.

But they need a left-handed catcher for this quasi-contender. Tyler Flowers, long-time Reasonable Option, would be a great fit in a soft platoon.

Edit: In my haste to stay the hell away from A.J. Pierzynski, I apparently remembered Flowers as being left-handed. He is not. My mistake. Chooch and Rupp would probably work out just fine, really, as well as being a fantastic Netflix pilot about oafish cops.

Tyler Flowers, $2.65 million per year
Offseason budget left: $117.35 million


They wouldn't sign an expensive first baseman just to bury their other expensive first baseman. The goal is to make Howard a No. 7 hitter, then. So far you're not impressed with my spending spree.

Offseason budget left: $117.35 million


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Cesar Hernandez is probably fine, but settling for too many in-house options would be an easy rosterbatory mistake. As long as we're in fake land, spending fake money, you might as well go fake all the way.

The best second baseman on the market was Ben Zobrist, who said his primary concern in choosing a new team was their ability to win another World Series. The Phillies just won a World Series! In a relative sense.

Ben Zobrist, $13 million per year
Offseason budget left: $104.35 million


This would have been a pickle of a position if Alexei Ramirez didn't just sign for a bargain one-year deal. This is the perfect bridge to J.P. Crawford. Note that Jimmy Rollins is also available.

Alexei Ramirez, $4 million per year
Offseason budget left: $100.35 million


Maikel Franco is a high-risk, super-high-reward player the Phillies are right to build around.

Offseason budget left: $100.35 million


They could keep going with Cody Asche or Aaron Altherr in the corners, or they could take advantage of the saturated outfield market.

Justin Upton is younger than Yoenis Cespedes, so he's a better fit for a Phillies team that probably wants to wait at least a few years before getting stuck in a Ryan Howard-type contract morass again. And you know he'll opt out after two years, anyway.

Justin Upton, $22.5 million per year
Offseason budget left: $77.85 million


Odubel Herrera could regress. Or he could be a bargain for the next five years, a parting gift from Ruben Amaro. We'll guess the latter and keep him around.

Offseason budget left: $77.85 million


Jason Heyward made sense for the Phillies even without this cockamamie scheme, as I argued here. You'd better believe he makes the fake Phillies in this scenario.

Jason Heyward, $23 million per year
Offseason budget left: $49.85 million.


Nola and Eickhoff stay, and if we want to spend big on two starters, the Jeremy Hellickson trade can still happen.

But we'll start with John Lackey, whose contract isn't too onerous and scary at all, not at an average annual value of $16 million. That leaves us with $33 million and two or three spots.

Scott Kazmir splits that difference almost down the middle, with a $16 million annual salary. $17 million and one more starter to go. If you scrap the Zobrist deal, you could get a David Price type, but I'm doing my best to avoid the super ludicrous deals, especially since Heyward got eight years.

Give me Wei-Yin Chen, then, who also signed a $16 million AAV deal. The remaining money can be spent on Dick Ruthven bobbleheads to hand out to the first 30,000 fans of the new, exciting season.

John Lackey, Wei-Yin Chen, and Scott Kazmir, $48 million combined per year
Offseason budget left: $1.85 million.

Presenting your 2016, really expensive, highly leveraged Phillies!

CF - Odubel Herrera, 2 WAR (via Steamer)
2B - Ben Zobrist, 3 WAR
RF - Jason Heyward, 5 WAR
LF - Justin Upton, 3 WAR
3B - Maikel Franco, 3 WAR
SS - Alexei Ramirez, 1 WAR
1B - Ryan Howard, -1 WAR
C - Cameron Rupp/Tyler Flowers, 1 WAR

SP -John Lackey, 3 WAR
SP - Aaron Nola, 2 WAR
SP - Wei-Yin Chen, 3 WAR
SP - Scott Kazmir, 3 WAR
SP - Jerad Eickhoff, 1 WAR

Would you watch this team? I would watch this team.

It would be an imperfect team, though. And the above group combines for about 29 WAR, which is 10 wins worse than the typical contender gets from eight position players and five starters. We'll take the Astros, at random:

That's before you even get to the bullpen gap, mind you. These fake Phillies are almost 10 wins behind last year's division winners, too.

There's probably a way to play a shell game and get the Phillies an extra win by signing this guy instead of that guy, or by finding the perfect player to put Ryan Howard on the bench. We haven't explored them making wacky win-now, prospect-for-veteran trades like the Padres last year.

But even if you could agree to get every free agent you wanted for the Phillies -- I'm thinking one huge, happy conference call with every free agent in baseball that settles everything in an hour or so -- they would still be a team that needed a lot of good fortune to make the postseason. Except in this scenario, they also would have barfed away their future financial flexibility.

So, no, the current course is still the right one. Hope for Franco and Nola to become stars. Hope for Herrera and Eickhoff to remain contributors. Wait patiently for the J.P. Crawford revolution. Develop as many interesting spare parts to trade away as possible. Continue making deals like the Ken Giles trade.

An exercise like this makes you remember just how much of a sleeping financial giant the Phillies are, though. If they get a couple more head starts around the roster, and if the right free agent market rolls around, they will be ruthless and compelling.

All hail the offseason team of the future, even if we couldn't get creative enough to make them the offseason team of the present. The Phillies are more boring than they were in this alternate reality, but that's almost certainly a good thing. Next year, and especially the year after that, should be a whole lot different.

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