Phils should get creative, pursue Jose Bautista

Phils should get creative, pursue Jose Bautista

Phillies Nation: Sell high on Domonic Brown?

September 25, 2013, 12:15 pm
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Jose Bautista has 152 home runs and a .390 on-base percentage since 2010. (USA Today Images)

The Phillies are in a strange position.

At the moment, they’re a below-average team filled with older veterans and young players who have yet to prove their value over a full season. Improvements are sorely needed, but spots appear to be filled.

The offense must be better in 2014. Relying on the returns of Ben Revere and Ryan Howard to supply those upgrades would again put the Phillies in everything-must-go-right mode. That type of thinking didn’t work in 2012, and it sure didn’t work in 2013 when Howard, Roy Halladay and Mike Adams all experienced worst-case scenarios.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. likely will be more proactive this offseason, knowing that his job may be on the line. Guys like Darin Ruf and Cody Asche have impressed and done a lot to prove they deserve everyday jobs, but they won’t be guaranteed those spots just yet. Especially if Amaro can find an outfielder this winter.

The Phils’ outfield defense is a major concern. Domonic Brown’s fielding has not progressed substantially with more playing time. He still occasionally takes awkward routes and judges in-between balls poorly, diving when he shouldn’t.

Revere has elite make-up speed in center, but has one of the weakest arms in the game and teams regularly tag up from first to second base on him.

Ruf hasn't been a disaster in right field, but his lack of speed and experience at the position will be magnified over a full season. If it were five years ago and the Phillies had Shane Victorino in center and Jayson Werth in right, maybe then placing Ruf in left field would be an option because of the overall strength of the outfield defense. But this unit already has enough concerns as it is.

Is Ruf better suited to be super-platoon player splitting time between first base and the corner outfield next year? Probably. It’s not like the offense has boomed with Ruf in the lineup. He’s been powerful and patient, but the Phils have hit .236/.300/.363 in the 70 games since he joined the starting lineup.

A more experienced outfielder will be needed. The problem is that all of the best free-agent outfielders bat left-handed, and the Phillies are already predominantly left-handed with Revere, Brown, Howard, Asche and Chase Utley. That would seemingly eliminate Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Nate McLouth from the picture. Not to say the Phillies won’t pursue any of those players for the right price, but they’ll be looking for a right-handed bat.

The top right-handed hitting outfielder on the market is Hunter Pence. He won’t be coming back here, not after being traded for 20 cents on the dollar at the 2012 trade deadline. Pence had a brilliant season for the Giants and will be in line for perhaps a $90 million deal.

The next best right-handed option is Nelson Cruz, who was suspended 50 games in the Biogenesis scandal. Cruz has impressive power even without the PEDs, but he has a lengthy injury history and the Phils have already had three of their major-leaguers suspended for PEDs in the last two seasons. Adding another offender to the mix wouldn’t be the best PR move.

After those two, you’re looking at Carlos Beltran, who is still highly productive at 36. The Phillies missed out by not aggressively pursuing Beltran prior to 2012. He signed a two-year deal with the Cardinals and has been a top-10 NL outfielder in those two seasons.

There’s also Corey Hart, who hit .279 with a .857 OPS, 87 homers and 248 RBIs from 2010-12 before missing all of this season with multiple knee surgeries. Hart would be a solid middle-of-the-order bat if healthy, but does a team with so many injury issues bring in another banged-up player? Plus, Hart recently told the Journal-Sentinel he’d be willing to take a lot less money to stay in Milwaukee.

If Amaro wants a more experienced, productive outfielder, he may have to find him via trade. Giancarlo Stanton is a name that has come up often, but that’s a pipe dream.

Some more realistic right-handed hitting outfield trade candidates are: Josh Willingham (Twins), Carlos Gomez (Brewers) and Michael Cuddyer (Rockies).

One off-the-wall idea ... how about Jose Bautista? The Blue Jays badly need rotation help and have $110 million already committed next year despite having never spent more than $120 million on payroll. Toronto’s offense would still be pretty good without Bautista, but that rotation -- which has the second-worst ERA in baseball at 4.77 -- would be ugly again if it doesn’t improve.

Bautista has had season-ending injuries in 2012 and 2013, but is truly dynamic at the plate from the right side. He’s hit .268/.390/.570 since 2010 with an average of 48 homers per 162 games.

At 32, he won’t cost nearly as much as Stanton. You’d probably have to give up Jesse Biddle, which would turn off some fans. But you would have Bautista under control for two years to try for one final run with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and the aging infield. There's been no real indication that the Blue Jays are willing to trade Bautista, but Amaro does his best work quietly and might have what it takes on the farm to make a deal. If it turned into a serious bidding war, he'd likely disengage knowing other teams would be upping their own offers.

You can count on Amaro to do his due diligence and exhaust all options to improve the Phillies. It’s going to take some outside-the-box thinking to turn this team back into a contender. Should be an interesting winter.