Will Brandon Marsh injury finally force the Phillies into the free agent market?

The Phillies' confusing offseason got more complicated on Friday, with the team sending mixed signals over its outfield plans after Brandon Marsh's surgery was revealed.
Will the Philadelphia Phillies sign another outfielder with Brandon Marsh recovering from knee surgery
Will the Philadelphia Phillies sign another outfielder with Brandon Marsh recovering from knee surgery / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages

Following Friday's news that Brandon Marsh will be out for 3-4 weeks after undergoing knee surgery, this surprise injury a few days before the start of spring training has brought the Philadelphia Phillies' lack of outfield depth back into focus.

While the Phillies have publicly pushed the narrative that it's comfortable with the roster as currently constructed, various news reports from baseball insiders are starting to paint a contradictory picture of the Phillies' interest in what remains of the free agent market.

It's becoming clear that Dave Dombrowski knew about the severity of Marsh's knee injury when he made his appearance on SportsRadio 94WIP on Wednesday. Dombrowski remained quiet on the developing situation while speaking positively about Johan Rojas and the questionable depth the Phillies have in the outfield to begin spring training.

The question I'll ask is this: Does Dombrowski actually feel this strongly about his outfield options? Or is he keeping the team's ultimate plans close to the vest? That seems to depend on who's doing the reporting.

Dombrowski claims that Phillies are sticking with their offseason approach

Just two days removed from his radio spot, Dombrowski spoke with MLB.com's Todd Zolecki about the implications Brandon Marsh's absence will have on the club after the injury was announced. Dombrowski was quick to deliver the news that Marsh's knee problem was previously known to medical staff.

“It’s not a new injury," Dombrowski said, per Zolecki. "It’s something that just bothered him when he was working out. They basically found a floating piece of cartilage. It’s old. It’s been in there."

With the severity of the injury put to rest, questions of how the Phillies plan to proceed without Marsh turned towards the possibility of finding outfield help on the free agent market.

“We still think we’re the same way we were beforehand, when it comes to Opening Day,” Dombrowski added, per Zolecki. “[Free-agent outfielders] want guarantees, and we’re just not able to give them those guarantees. ... We talk to people all the time. The reality is that we don’t have guaranteed playing time that some people want. We just don’t have that. It’s not really even a dollar issue as it is playing time.”

While some might read that statement as a definitive no in regards to seeking an established name to fill a fourth outfielder role, in a sense, could this statement actually be more of a recruiting tool?

One insider claims Phillies are reportedly in the market for a fourth outfielder

Matt Gelb of The Athletic was quick to report on the Phillies' needs (subscription required) following the news of Brandon Marsh's knee surgery. While Gelb isn't hearing that the Phillies are trying to make a big splash, the job description of what the team is telling free agents would seem to carry some weight.

“The Phillies, according to major-league sources, have pitched free agents on a fourth outfielder role," writes Gelb. "[And] that would consist of playing twice a week with sporadic at-bats in between.”

The job description sort of matches what Zolecki reported, no?

This scenario for a fourth outfielder seems very much in line with the team's intentions heading into the offseason. With a crowded field of quality free agent outfielders that still includes Cody Bellinger, Adam Duvall, and Tommy Pham yet to sign contracts, it's possible the market remains too unsettled and the Phillies have been waiting to see what's left over.

Should the Phillies still wait?

Another insider has the Phillies waiting to make a big splash

Bob Nightengale of USA Today not only has the Phillies still heavily engaged in the free agent market, but ready to pounce once contract demands for two key names become slightly more reasonable. From Nightengale's viewpoint, the Phillies are waiting out the market for Jordan Montgomery and Cody Bellinger.

"Several executives think the Philadelphia Phillies could be a sleeper for one of the remaining marquee free agents in starter Jordan Montgomery or center fielder Cody Bellinger," Nightengale writes. "Yet, unless their price-tags drop, the Phillies plan to remain patient."

Considering the Phillies have done little else this offseason, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the team could be waiting out a slow market with the intention of making a big signing if and when a free agent target lowers their asking price.

Does Cody Bellinger make sense for the Phillies?

But Cody Bellinger would be a surprise for a couple of reasons. First, the Phillies are already a heavily left-handed hitting team. That's a problem the Phillies would like to get away from, and adding another lefty would likely create another move.

Second, the Phillies already have major financial commitments to six core position players. Signing Bellinger to the kind of deal he's likely looking for would ultimately hurt the Phillies' ability to allocate financial resources to other needs, like the starting rotation or the bullpen in the future.

The rumors regarding the Phillies in the last week have taken on many different angles, and still, there's no hint of what the team might be looking to do in the lead-up to spring training. The reports are all just as intriguing as they are contradictory.

Confused? We all are.