The Phillies have had their fair share of regrettable free-agent signings.
The late-night news that Carlos Correa’s free agent mega-deal with the San Francisco Giants had fallen through and he was instead headed to the New York Mets was a real eye-opener. It was also a teaching moment — don’t ever take sports media reports for granted until everything is official between the team and player. The reason for Correa’s quick pivot was understandable, as concern over a medical issue caused the Giants to drag their feet, allowing the Mets to swoop in. But it got me thinking — from a Philadelphia Phillies perspective.
What if some of the Phillies’ free-agent deals that they’ve signed players to over the past few decades could have been similarly expunged?
The “why” doesn’t matter — this is just an exercise to ask “what if?” And so, here are some free agents that we’re going to retroactively take off the Phils’ books in an attempt to rewrite some of the sad history that their fans have had to live through.
Todd Zeile/David Bell
Before Phillies ownership basically had a license to print money, and the team was still toiling away at decrepit Veterans Stadium, Todd Zeile was the best kind of player they could ever hope to get in free agency. Inked to a one-year deal before the 1996 season, Zeile ended up being the primary cleanup hitter for the squad that would eventually get Jim Fregosi fired at the season’s end.
Zeile wasn’t terrible, as he popped 20 home runs to go along with his .268 average. He started the first 106 games of the season at third base until the team decided to move him across the diamond so they could open up a spot for their top prospect — some kid named Scott Rolen. Zeile would then play 28 games over at first base before being dealt away. His contract wasn’t a mistake, but seeing as how it essentially delayed Rolen’s arrival by several months, wiping it out could only have helped the franchise in retrospect.
David Bell’s contract can get lumped in here with Zeile’s because of the similar situation in which it occurred. As the Phillies threw around money before the 2004 season, Bell’s deal got lost in the shuffle because Jim Thome came aboard. And while Bell was perfectly average at the plate and third base during his time with the team, his presence had the bigger issue of blocking Chase Utley.
The solution to the Phillies’ situation would have been to slide Placido Polanco over to third and let Utley — who was not a young player when he debuted in the majors at age 24 — settle in as the man at second base. But with big free-agent dollars at play, the Phils kept trotting Bell out there, effectively costing Utley a whole season’s worth of playing time at the onset of his MLB career.
By making fans wait for the full “Utley Experience” and robbing him of those counting stats, I still believe that Bell is indirectly responsible for Utley not being a serious Hall of Fame candidate. The fact that Bell randomly hit for the cycle one time doesn’t sway my opinion, either.