I have a very narrow-minded attitude towards position player free agent signings. The Philadelphia Phillies do not need to sign an outfielder this offseason. They need a right-handed right-fielder with consistent power.
Humor me, and work under the assumption that we will only consider players who match these standards (AKA no Ellsbury, Choo, etc – they aren’t what we need and cost too much money anyway. We’d have to figure out another way to fill the right-handed void, which just creates another acquisition we shouldn’t need, and cost more money).
There are five free agents in 2014 who match these criteria (In order of probable contract size): Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, Marlon Byrd, Corey Hart, and Michael Morse. Every one of these players has a knock against them.
Nelson Cruz has both the obvious PED issue, and the qualifying offer making him less appealing. However, in a weak right-handed class, Cruz’s cost will be driven up by wide-spread market for his talents, and his age is more appealing than that of the other major free agent (Beltran).
On his side was his 40 HR pace before his suspension in 2013, and his career .285 average against LHP.
Cruz is the player my brain most logically pictures being on the Phillies in 2014, in all likelihood he’s who Ruben wants, and on a two-year deal I couldn’t fault it. But he’s expensive, and he will cost a second-round pick in 2014, which is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Carlos Beltran probably has the least baggage attached to him – he’s arguably a Hall of Fame-caliber talent, he’s a switch hitter, and hasn’t ever really had a bad season. However, his age and apparent injury in the World Series should be of concern to some GMs. In addition, he’ll probably be tagged with a qualifying offer.
My main concern with Beltran is that his 2013 is strikingly similar to 2008 Raul Ibanez. Going into his deal with the Phillies, Ibanez was the same age, and was actually worth slightly more in terms of WAR (2.7 vs. 2.4).
If we were to get the first two years of Ibanez’s deal from Beltran, then it’s a no-brainer to sign him. If we get the second and third year, however, then stay far, far away.
Marlon Byrd is by far the least likely for the Phillies to sign (hopefully). I don’t doubt that someone will offer him a two year deal, after his out of nowhere mammoth 2013, but it shouldn’t be Philadelphia.
I don’t like his age, his strikeouts (144), and his inflated .353 BAbip. He’s due for some regression next year. He’s the only one on this list with passable defense at this point (0.6 dWAR this season), but his bat is too risky for my blood.
Corey Hart didn’t play in 2013. He had two knee surgeries and missed the entire year, so how he functions in 2014 (think Chase Utley‘s knee issues, here) is completely up in the air.
That being said, he has averaged .300/.370/.526 against left handed pitching, and he’ll be dirt cheap and on a one year deal. However, he plays roughly 2/3s of his games at 1B as opposed to RF, so that also makes him less than ideal.
A platoon with Ryan Howard would be nice (especially since, in his SSS of PAs, Darin Ruf actually has reverse platoon splits against LHP, so not a platoon candidate), but we need someone who is primarily an outfielder. Also, all indications point to his willingness to take a pay cut to remain in Milwaukee.
This gets us to the point of this article. Mike Morse, guys. Mike Morse. His 2013 WAS basically a lost cause. In 337 PAs, he batted .215/.270/.381, spending time in both Seattle and Baltimore. What one notices when looking into his advanced stats, however, is that his BAbip was at a staggeringly low .254 – the MLB average is .297, and his career average is .330.
That tells us that his season was either incredibly unlucky, something caused him to make much weaker contact to make his balls easier to field, or both. I’m willing to bet both. But here’s some evidence of the latter, in this article from the Baltimore Sun:
Outfielder Michael Morse … will undergo surgery Wednesday to fix a bone outgrowth in his left wrist, according to an industry source.
Doctors estimated that the outgrowth of the capitate bone … was caused by trauma and probably occurred sometime in May, which likely affected his power and extension during his swing.
Well, howdy do. Let’s look at his numbers in May. I don’t know the exact date this injury would have happened, but as late as May 18, his OPS was still .809, with 10 HR (a 46 HR rate). For the rest of his season, he went .182/.231/.288 with 3 HR. That’s a pretty stark difference. His BAbip during this time was also .231.
His BAbip from Apr 1 – May 18 was (a still low) .283 – much more in the range of “bad luck”. I’d be willing to bet that this period of production would be his floor for 2014. The above article also goes on to say that his rehabilitation should be complete in 8 weeks. He’d be 100% well before Spring Training.
Also, look at his career averages, which he should move closer towards next year. .281/.334/.473 with 23 HR/162. You know whose numbers those look like? Hunter Pence, who for his career has gone .285/.339/.483 with 25 HR/162.
Mike Morse is one year older, with fewer career games than Pence, but considering Pence’s 5-yr/$90 million extension with San Francisco, the idea that the Phillies should be able to get Morse on a one-year deal in the $5-7.5 million range (if that) should be considered a major steal.
He’s a low-risk signing with long term solution potential. In addition, his platoon splits indicate he could also double as a 1B platoon with Howard, as Ruf isn’t really a candidate (.224 vs LHP).
If its coming down between Cruz and Morse, you couldn’t be blamed for picking Cruz. For me, however, I think it’s about Cruz’s older age, longer commitment, qualifying offer, and potential regression after PED suspension vs Morse’s potential progression after injury and bad luck, one year commitment, and career averages. It makes me feel better spending $5-7 million vs $25+ million.
Complementing Domonic Brown in LF, and Ben Revere in CF (actually a reverse platoon split also, .300 vs LHP, .277 vs RHP, so he’s actually more important to keep around that one might assume), this would be a very effective OF with both power, on-base ability, and some speed, for about $6-8 million. It’s the Francisco Liriano deal for 2014.