FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal’s recent column drew attention from Phillies fans because he mentioned that Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels could be available at the 2014 trade deadline. I didn’t take that to be anything besides speculation that the Phillies will be sellers at the deadline. However, there was something else in Rosenthal’s column which I viewed as positive news for the Phillies.
Over the past decade, the trend has been for teams to sign their young stars to lengthy extensions years before they reach free agency. Recent examples include Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Verlander, and Joe Mauer. Teams favor these deals because they ensure that they will retain the services of the star, and they avoid the hefty raises caused by arbitration and free agency. Players have been receptive because they typically receive a significant immediate increase in pay and it limits their risk in case of injury.
With these players removed from the market, there have been fewer elite players available in free agency in recent seasons. As a result, those players who do reach free agency have been able to take advantage of a sellers’ market.
This is a large reason why this offseason has been so lackluster for the Phillies. Even if they are adhering to a self-imposed payroll limit, the team does seem to have some money available to spend. Unfortunately, the prices for the players who are available has gotten out of line with the production they could expect to receive. For instance, if the Phillies were going to spend $153 million on a player, he should be more of an ideal fit than Jacoby Ellsbury would have been.
Rosenthal writes that the trend of players signing early extensions appears to be reversing. Players - or perhaps more accurately, their agents – have noticed how much money is being handed out to free agents. Due to the massive payouts received by the likes of Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, it’s becoming more tempting for players to pass on signing those early extensions and instead take their chances on free agency.
Perhaps this is why next year’s free agent crop looks so promising. While they could still be signed to an extension before then, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are among the players due to become free agents after the 2014 season.
Rosenthal suspects that there will be an increase in trades of players who are one or two years away from free agency. Faced with a choice of either losing a star or re-signing him to a payroll-skewing contract, teams will instead try to trade him beforehand. It is believed that David Price, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Wieters are players who may be available.
For a team with deep pockets like the Phillies, this is all very good news. While there is a sense of disappointment that the Phillies recently signed television contract wasn’t bigger, it is certainly big enough for the Phillies to maintain their status as one of the highest spending teams in baseball. If they feel that a top flight free agent fits their needs, they should be able to sign him.
It would not surprise me if the Phillies attempted to work a trade with a smaller market team looking to unload a star before he reaches free agency. General manager Ruben Amaro is obviously not shy about trading for star players, and the Phillies would seem to have the financial resources necessary to re-sign any player they acquired. For instance, they have already supposedly inquired about Giancarlo Stanton’s availability.
It is possible that the only reason that the Phillies haven’t made a trade yet is because they’ve lacked the prospects that such a deal would require. The Phillies’ farm system has been depleted in recent years, but if some of their better prospects continue to develop, it isn’t a reach to think that by next offseason they will have the capital on hand to acquire a star player.
Hopefully this brightens the mood of Phillies fans who have felt less than inspired by the team’s moves this offseason. Yes, it can be a bit frustrating to watch other teams sign big names like Choo and Robinson Cano while your team’s marquee addition was Marlon Byrd. But if Rosenthal’s thinking is correct, there is reason to believe that more exciting days lie ahead.