The Phillies are smart to be thrifty with contract years this offseason
An offseason predicted to be full of splashes has been disappointing for many Phillies fans early on. While the team has been connected to the biggest free agents available they’ve struck out more than they’ve hit on players.
Many projected the Phillies to land multiple free agents after owner John Middleton said the team might be a little stupid about how they spend money. Those comments put a ton of pressure on general manager Matt Klentak in an offseason the team and fanbase have been targeting for years.
After failing to sign pitchers Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ it’s been reported the Phillies were unwilling to give each pitcher an additional year to their deal, six for Corbin and three for Happ.
Now there are reports the club won’t give Dallas Keuchel a five-year contract despite being desperate for a left-handed starter at the top of the rotation.
There’s a lot of directions to go with this dilemma for Philadelphia, but the first is to recognize the front office’s commitment to financial flexibility. Klentak took over an organization that previously locked themselves into bad long-term contracts for stars like Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, and Cliff Lee. Klentak has been frugal with contracts leading up to this offseason with the longest guaranteed contracts signed during his tenure being for five years with Odubel Herrera and six years for Scott Kingery, both designed to buy out arbitration and free agent years.
Klentak knows this team likely isn’t playing for a championship in 2019 and has to keep their options open going forward. Teams like the Dodgers and Cubs are locked out of free agent raffles this offseason because of old deals limiting their financial flexibility.
If the Cubs didn’t pay Jason Heyward or Yu Darvish they’d be atop the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.
Speaking of Harper, where do the Phillies stand in terms of giving years to a superstar like Harper or Manny Machado? The team is obviously interested in both of them, but will they offer 10-year deals if they’re unwilling to give a pitcher five?
There are some major differences between signing Harper/Machado to a 10-year deal and Keuchel or Corbin for half of that time. Machado and Harper are 26-years-old, and hitters aren’t as prone to major injuries like Tommy John or shoulder problems.
The age factor is an important piece in this dilemma. Rarely do superstars hit the market this young. There’s a big difference in giving a 26-year-old hitter and a 30-year-old pitcher long-term deals, primarily for the reasons listed above.
I think the Phillies are willing to do whatever it takes to get a hitter they can build their franchise around for the next decade, but that doesn’t mean Klentak will get stupid with the years he offers. At the same time, it might make sense for a free agent to take a shorter deal so they can cash in for a second time after Mike Trout resets the hitters market in a couple of years.
That’s the gamble for free agents this offseason, deciding whether to take the money with the years or take the money and hope they can cash in five years down the road.
Both Harper and Machado want record deals in some form, and someone will pay them, so expect the Phillies to be stupid in some ways, but controlled in others.