Free agency starts at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday and there are 147 players on the market looking for a home. A few of those free agents will inevitably end up in Philadelphia after the team completed its first losing season since 2002 in 2013. The Phillies need help in their starting rotation, relief corps, possibly at catcher and in the outfield.
The Phillies are locked into contracts with 1B Ryan Howard, 2B Chase Utley, OF Domonic Brown and OF Ben Revere. All four of those regulars hit left-handed. If you assume Cody Asche is the starting 3B in 2014, that would make five out of eight regular starters who hit left-handed. That rules out McCann and any of the free agent lefties who play the outfield.
Speaking of the outfield, I think Amaro's No. 1 target in free agency should be Nelson Cruz.
Yes, I know Cruz got suspended for PEDs last season, but that only makes him more attractive. Think about it. Only the most naive fan thinks that the majority of major leaguers are clean. Most of those who cheat are simply smart enough to be taking something that the league doesn't currently have a test for. That fact doesn't make Cruz more attractive, but the fact that he has the stain of PEDs associated with his name means that he can be had for a discount.
The Phillies already owe eight players approximately $118.5 million for next season and the luxury-tax threshold is $189 million. That means the Phillies can't just sign the biggest stars for the most money. Look at how that record-breaking Jonathan Papelbon signing turned out. Now, I'm not talking about a bargain of under $10 million here, but Cruz can be signed to a two- or three-year contract for up to $45 million. Sadly, that is a discount in the crazy world of free agent contracts in the billion-dollar industry of professional sports
The Texas Rangers are sure to extend a qualifying offer to Cruz, which would guarantee him $14.1 million on a one-year deal. That also would give the Rangers a first-round draft pick from any team that decided to sign Cruz as a free agent, if he doesn't sign the offer from the Rangers. But the Phillies have a top 10 pick in the next draft, so they wouldn't have to surrender their first pick, as they have done in three of the last four years for signing free agents.
Amaro has already said he doesn't consider Darin Ruf to be an everyday player. The other impact free agent outfielders are all left-handed (Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury & Shin-Soo Choo) and all will get more money and longer-term contacts than Cruz.
Cruz, 33, has averaged 27 home runs per season since 2009 and, besides the 50-game suspension, has remained healthy the last two seasons after battling injuries earlier in his career. His 2013 stat line: .266/.327/.506, 27 HR, 49 R, 76 RBIs, 5 SB in 413 AB. I'd give a 3-year, $45 million contract for those numbers, especially considering he is a right-handed bat who would provide much-needed protection to all the lefties in the Phillies lineup.
Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter, might be a better option, but he is sure to get more money than Cruz and he's three years older. And Amrao's dream of trading for the Marlins 24-year-old OF Giancarlo Stanton is just that, a dream. The Phillies would have to trade Dom Brown, Jesse Biddle and another top prospect like Maikel Franco and even then the Marlins would probably still say no. It's nice to dream, but we live in reality, so let's stick with what's actually available for the Phillies. Besides, signing Cruz would leave Amaro with enough money to get some bullpen help, like possibly Jose Veras. That is also a priority.
I know it won't be a popular signing in Philadelphia, but I feel that Nelson Cruz is the best possible free agent for the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason.
Bob Whalon is a life-long Philadelphia sports fanatic who follows the home teams religiously, but isn't above pointing out what they're doing wrong. The highlight of his sports fandom was the Phillies' 2008 World Championship, and he isn't quite ready to let go of the greatest era of Phillies baseball just yet.
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