Phillies take tactical approach into free agency

Phillies take tactical approach into free agency

PHILADELPHIA -- The Cubs just won their first World Series in 108 years.

It has been eight years since the Phillies snapped their 28-year World Series championship drought. They hope it does not take another 20 years (or 100, if they are as brutally unlucky as the Cubs) to win another. But it will take time. The Phillies finished 71-91 last season. They hope to take another small step forward next year, and one way to improve is by finding a few players on the free-agent market.

The Phillies will have money to spend, but they are unlikely to be the proverbial "mystery team" that surprises everybody and lands one of the top free agents. Instead, expect more modest improvements as the Phillies give most of their opportunities to the young players already in the system.

Free agency opened at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday. Here is a look at how things might break for the Phillies:

Arbitration eligible: Outfielder Cody Asche, infielder Emmanuel Burriss, shortstop Freddy Galvis, right-hander Jeanmar Gomez, second baseman Cesar Hernandez, right-hander Frank Herrmann and outfielder Jimmy Paredes.

Free agents: Infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Peter Bourjos, catcher A.J. Ellis, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, right-hander David Hernandez, first baseman Ryan Howard and right-hander Charlie Morton.

Biggest potential free-agent loss: Hellickson anchored an improved rotation in 2016, going 12-10 with a 3.72 ERA in 32 starts. The Phillies made him a qualifying offer ($17.2 million for 2017), but he is expected to reject it and pursue a multi-year contract. The Phillies are not expected to retain him, but they could find another veteran starter on the free-agent market. They also just might move forward with one of the dozen or so young starters already in the system. It is a group that includes Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Alec Asher, Adam Morgan, Ben Lively, Mark Appel, Nick Pivetta, Phil Klein and David Buchanan.

Potential free-agent targets: Phillies manager Pete Mackanin desperately wants an established veteran hitter to help what was Major League Baseball's worst offense in 2016. Look for that help to come in left or right field. There is no chance the Phillies pursue somebody like Yoenis Cespedes, who is expected to opt out of his contract with the Mets in pursuit of a massive multi-year deal. Ian Desmond is searching for a similar deal, so he does not seem to be a fit, either.

It is more likely the Phillies look at corner outfielders who could be signed to one- or two-year contracts -- players looking for bounce back seasons. Matt Holliday and Carlos Gomez come to mind.

The Phillies also need to improve their bullpen. They acquired right-hander Pat Neshek on Friday in a trade with the Astros, which is a start. But they seem likely to add at least one more veteran to the 'pen. Again, think about relievers that could be signed to one- or two-year contracts. Relievers like Joe Blanton or Blaine Boyer might make sense. Teams that make a big commitment to a free-agent closer like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon might lose their own free-agent relievers in the process. That means teams like the Giants (Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo), Nationals (Marc Rzepczynski), Dodgers (Blanton and J.P. Howell), Cubs (Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood) and Yankees might see their own relievers headed elsewhere.

Wild card scenario: It is difficult to imagine the Phillies straying from their rebuilding strategy, but if a prominent free agent lingers on the market longer than expected, he might be willing to take a shorter deal and try free agency again after next season, much like Cespedes did with the Mets and Desmond did with the Rangers last winter. In that scenario, the Phillies could make a last-minute run at him before Spring Training.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.