Hello, and welcome to the offseason. The Cubs won the World Series, and now the apocalypse is nigh. Great, good job, way to be selfish. But at least you won’t care as much when your favorite team gives up a draft pick to sign a free agent. Look on the bright side.
This is a series of unknown duration, and it’s based on the premise that not all offseasons are created equal. The Giants want a closer and maybe an outfielder. The Cubs have a full roster, mostly, and they’ll look to round out the edges, using their rivers of championship-apparel money to do it. The Reds are going to continue their rebuilding project. There might be surprises, but none of these offseasons represent a fork in the road, or the possibility of substantial upheaval.
And then there are the teams that might radically reinvent themselves. Whether it’s new management, newfound riches, or an unavoidable rostocalypse, these are the most compelling stories of the offseason. There are more of these teams than you think.
We’ll start with the Philadelphia Phillies, who are tired of having sand kicked in their face and have sent away for a Charles Atlas kit. Inside the kit was money.
Why are they compelling?
This is a big-market team with money coming off the books. More importantly, they’re a big-market team that’s already gotten the hard part out of the way first: They have a rotation that makes sense. Do you understand how unlikely and special that is for a team that can spend $100 million on payroll? The troika of Jerad Eickhoff, Vincent Velasquez, and Aaron Nola are, if healthy, close to a postseason rotation on their own if you’re chugging the optimism liqueur, which I am.
The "if healthy" part is a huge caveat, considering Nola was shut down last year with a low-grade elbow strain. And they are all young pitchers, after all, eternally likely to get sucked into the depths of pitching hell, where Stheno feasts on their elbows and Euryale turns their shoulders into stone.
But it’s better to have the arms than not, and the Phillies have the best possible head start a rebuilding team could ask for when looking to do the corner.
What could they do?
Colby Rasmus is actually one of the better free agent hitters on the market, somehow.
UH, BUY SOME OR MAYBE ONE OR NONE OF THE FREE AGENTS.
If they wanted to, though, they could radically reinvent the roster. They owe Ryan Howard $10 million for buying out his option. They owe Matt Harrison $13.2 million. And thaaaaaat’s it. Everyone else is either arbitration-eligible or pre-arbitration, and Baseball-Reference estimates their payroll will be about $60 million, as is, and that’s after expected arbitration awards.
So how about this roster?
2B - Cesar Hernandez
CF - Odubel Herrera
LF - Yoenis Cespedes
3B - Justin Turner
1B - Maikel Franco/Tommy Joseph
SS - Ian Desmond
C - Matt Wieters
RF - Roman Quinn
SP - Rich Hill
SP - Aaron Nola
SP - Vince Velasquez
SP - Jerad Eickhoff
SP - Alec Asher
Seems outrageous, right? Using the MLB Trade Rumors salary estimates, though, that would add roughly $88 million to the payroll, which would bring them up to around $148 million. That's on the low side for a Phillies payroll. Not only could the Phillies do that, but they could add someone like Jeremy Hellickson or Dexter Fowler, too. Play around, pick whichever players you want. The Phillies could win the offseason. The Cubs are already through with their parade, whereas the parade for winning the offseason lasts months and months.
Of course, there’s a chance they could go the other way, too, and hunker down in deep, deep rebuild mode. From Todd Zolecki of MLB.com:
After all, is there anybody in the organization that is truly untouchable? The fact the Phillies engaged in serious trade talks with the Rangers in July about Vince Velasquez indicates they are willing to consider anything. That is a good thing.
The plan might be patience, which might mean taking advantage of this miserable market for starting pitchers. Instead of looking at Velasquez like an unlikely bird in the hand, they might ask themselves how many birds in the bush would make them go in that direction. Five birds? That’s a lot of birds. You’ll probably catch a couple. Also, we’re talking about prospects now. I think.
They don’t have to be tethered to one specific philosophy, but if they wanted to throw water on the rendering bacon fat of the offseason, they certainly could.
And you know how much Phillies fans have been clamoring for a return of some overpaid players entering their mid-30s.
What should they do?
Yeah, when you put it like that, you start to realize the Phillies probably shouldn’t go wild on the credit card and undo the painful winnowing process it took to get here. That fake roster looks like a fun offseason on paper, but make a list of five or six of the top free agents from 2014 and think about one team controlling all of their contracts today. It likely would have made for one messy head start on a functional roster for 2017
It’s fun to think about, though. As an impartial observer and fan of baseball chaos, I’m all for it.
Most importantly, though, while this free agent market is a mess, the pool after the 2018 season should be a whopper of a doozy of a lollapalooza. Bryce Harper! Manny Machado! Andrew McCutchen! A.J. Pollock! Josh Donaldson! Matt Harvey! Clayton Kershaw! And don’t forget that Jason Heyward can opt out, too.
This season, then, should be a stepping stone to the real offseason explosion. See if Roman Quinn can be a starter. Ease J.P. Crawford into the lineup. See if any of the high-risk, high-reward prospects at the top of their system shed some of that risk. Then fill in the gaps next offseason with all that money.
But that doesn’t mean they should sit this offseason out. There has to be one or two free agents this year who’s in the gray area between what the Phillies can’t expect to develop themselves and what might not be there for them next winter. A multi-position guy like Desmond, for example. A defense-minded catcher like Jason Castro, who could complement a young Jorge Alfaro, not block him.
The Tigers weirded the league out when they signed Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez before the team was good. But when the team turned the corner, they had those guys in place right when they needed them. That’s the applicable lesson, here.
Chances of winning the offseason?
Two-and-a-half Prellers out of five.
It’s unlikely, but you never know just how froggy an ownership group can get when they have this kind of room in their budget. Keep an eye on them, though. They already have the pitching to start thinking about the next step.