From December 10 until December 14, the MLB will host its annual Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida. With a surplus of middle infielders, a need for starting pitching and many other questions surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies, this five-day stretch has the chance to be an extremely busy time for general manager Matt Klentak.
Here are four Phillies-related storylines to watch for:
What happens at first base?
The obvious solution for the Phillies in 2018 would be to have Rhys Hoskins play his natural position of first base, and trade Tommy Joseph to an American League team that he would be of more use to.
However, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports was among those to report during November's general manager that the Phillies were interested in free-agent 1B Carlos Santana. Shortly after the meetings, MLB.com's Jon Morosi noted that the Phillies had continued to pursue the 31-year-old.
In theory, the Phillies could continue to play Hoskins in left field, should they sign Santana to first. Santana, who has a catching background, could also serve as a valuable mentor to Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. But Hoskins, at best, is serviceable in the outfield, and the Phillies want good fielders in the outfield. Besides the fact that he's not a natural left fielder, he slashed .316/.442/.658 with an OPS of 1.100 in 76 at-bats while playing first base. In 94 at-bats in left field, Hoskins slashed .213/.359/.585 with an OPS of .944. Hoskins still hit for power when playing in left field, but you would think that with the rather drastic dropoff in batting average he had when playing left field that the Phillies would want to keep Hoskins at first base.
Since Santana has a qualifying offer attached to him, the Phillies would have to surrender draft compensation to sign him. Spotrac projects that Santana will get a deal that allows him to make $18 million per season. For as much as the Phillies might like to have his bat in the lineup and his influence in the clubhouse, he doesn't seem to make a ton of sense for them at this juncture. But there is smoke.
Lost in all of this has been Joseph, who graded out as the league's worst starting first baseman last season. Joseph has some value because he's cheap and has pop, but it's hard to imagine him fitting into the Phillies future plans. One way or another, first base is going to be occupied by someone other than him. He's a right-handed hitter, so he wouldn't provide a different look than Hoskins off the bench, nor would you take Hoskins out of the lineup for Joseph. He could serve as a DH when the Phillies play in American League parks, but that would be a really niche player for a National League team to carry all year.
The guess here is that Hoskins starts at first base on Opening Day, and Joseph and Santana are both elsewhere in 2018. But I may be singing a very different tune a week from now.
Do Phillies make a serious push for a controllable starting pitcher?
This past summer, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that while the Phillies planned to sell at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, they had 'poked around' on some controllable starting pitchers.
Prior to last month's general manager's meetings, I suggested that the Phillies should be aggressive on the starting pitching market. They should continue to do that this week, in the hopes of igniting talks for a frontline arm that could be paired at the top of the rotation with Aaron Nola.
Toronto Blue Jays RHP Marcus Stroman and Detroit Tigers RHP Michael Fulmer should be the first two names that general manager Matt Klentak makes calls on, though it's unclear exactly how realistic landing either of those two would be.
Pittsburgh Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole and Tampa Bay Rays RHP Chris Archer might be the two most realistic controllable options.
Cole, who turned 27 in September, went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA in 2017, though advanced stats like FIP and xFIP suggest that he was a bit unlucky. Cole went 19-8 with a 2.60 ERA in 2015, one of the two seasons in his career that he's topped over 200 innings. Cole remains under team control through 2019.
As for Archer, he, somehow, is already 29. While that may be a bit older than the pitcher the Phillies would be trading for in an ideal world, it's not 33. He's also signed through 2021 – should his team choose to exercise options in 2020 and 2021 – at a criminally low rate, which balances things out a bit. He's pitched over 200 innings in three consecutive seasons.
In just about any trade, top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez is seemingly not in play. However, with Adonis Medina, Franklyn Kilome, Kevin Gowdy, Ranger Suarez and JoJo Romero, among others, the Phillies have enough talented young pitching to get a deal done.
While there is an argument for just holding onto all of your talented young pitching, acquiring any of the aforementioned controllable starters would help bump the Phillies timeline up. And if the Phillies want to be serious players for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado next offseason, it would behoove them to do that.
Do Phillies aggressively pursue Christian Yelich ?
This one feels unlikely, but unlikely things have happened before at the MLB Winter Meetings.
For the better part of the last six months, the Phillies have drawn headlines for being connected to former Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Virtually every national writer that has connected the Phillies to Stanton has added the qualifier that while they did check in on Stanton, it's his teammate Christian Yelich that they really like.
Stanton, the 2017 National League MVP, was traded to the New York Yankees Saturday. Yelich, who turned 26 earlier this week, seems like a long-shot to be moved at all, but that may not stop the Phillies and other teams from trying to acquire him.
Given his age and that he's signed through 2022 at a very team-friendly rate, the Marlins would likely want a ton in return for Yelich. If the Phillies wanted to meet that asking price, they may be able to do so, as they have a ton of talented young pitchers in their minor league system, and strong outfield depth throughout their organization.
With the aforementioned outfield depth in their organization, a need for starting pitching and money that they can spend in next year's free-agent market, it is fair to ask if making a major trade for an outfielder would make sense.
But like Santana, there's a lot of smoke involving Yelich, so it's something to monitor.
Do trade talks for Cesar Hernandez or Freddy Galvis heat up?
Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported earlier this week that the Phillies have received trade offers for both second baseman Cesar Hernandez and shortstop Freddy Galvis. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic went further, saying that the Padres are interested in Galvis, while the Los Angeles Angels, who have long been connected to Hernandez, continue to show interest. Heyman noted that the New York Mets are also interested in Hernandez.
The MLB Winter Meetings may give us the best indication of just how serious the Phillies are about moving either.
For as much as the Phillies value Galvis as a leader and a fielder, it's easy to see how a progressive front-office wouldn't be especially thrilled with how little he gets on base. Galvis would make a very good super-utility player, but he can be a free-agent after 2018 and is good enough to be playing more than he probably would for the Phillies.
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Hernandez may be more difficult to part with. He's still just 27, has been the team's most consistent hitter the past two seasons, has led the team in walks three years in a row and grades out well as a fielder. What's more, Hernandez is under team control through 2020.
Because Scott Kingery is likely to arrive next May, Hernandez probably won't be able to stay at second base moving forward. The team could turn him into a super-utility player, though he feels overqualified to be doing that. But it will be interesting to see if the Phillies are able to part with a productive and cheap Hernandez if they don't feel like they are going to win the trade.
It's possible that the Phillies are able to resolve their infielding logjam this week, at least to their satisfaction. It's also possible this is the week that it becomes clear that the Phillies really are willing to keep both Hernandez and Galvis in 2018, even if there isn't room for either of them to start a majority of the team's games.