One of the best free-agent fits for Phillies no longer an option


While most of the free-agent activity this week has not directly affected the Phillies because they were not expected to sign a starting pitcher or middle infielder to a nine-figure contract, a deal reached late Tuesday night impacts their search for a closer.

One of the best fits for any bullpen-needy team is now off the board in closer Raisel Iglesias, who is returning to the Angels on a four-year, $58 million deal, according to multiple reports.

Iglesias was the best closer on the market coming off a 2021 season in which he saved 34 games, finished a league-high 59, posted a 2.57 ERA with 103 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 70 innings, and received Cy Young votes.

It's unclear whether Iglesias was the Phillies' top bullpen target. He did receive and reject a qualifying offer from the Angels, so any other team that signed him would have forfeited an early draft pick and that was not the Phillies' preference.

The Phils are pursuing late-inning reliever Corey Knebel, a high-strikeout right-hander who blossomed with the Brewers and spent last season with the Dodgers. He would help late in games but wouldn't be their only bullpen addition.

The top free-agent closers are Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. Josh Hader of the Brewers and Craig Kimbrel of the White Sox are trade targets, with Kimbrel a near-lock to be moved. The White Sox have Liam Hendriks in the ninth inning, they recently signed Kendall Graveman to set up and Kimbrel did not perform for them after a midseason trade. They picked up his $16 million option with the idea of trading him.

Most of the other early free-agent activity has involved players at positions the Phillies didn't need to fill. Corey Seager for $325 million, Marcus Semien for $175 million, Javier Baez for $140 million, Kevin Gausman for $110 million, Robbie Ray for $115 million ... these guys just weren't realistic Phillies targets given the construction of their roster. They'd all help, of course, but the Phils feel good about their rotation with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Kyle Gibson and Zach Eflin. Their top position player prospect is a shortstop (Bryson Stott), and their main holes are in the outfield and bullpen.

So after days of top free agents coming off the board, only a few other than Iglesias hurt from a Phillies perspective. 

Starling Marte agreed to a four-year, $78 million contract with the Mets. He was the top free-agent centerfielder and would have been a good fit for the Phillies.

Byron Buxton, one of the top center field trade targets, agreed to a seven-year, $100 million extension with the Twins and it includes a no-trade clause.

Mark Canha was another outfield option who landed with the Mets on a two-year deal. He doesn't come with big name value or one standout tool, but Canha does everything pretty well and has an .807 OPS (above the league average by 24%) the last four seasons.

The Phillies still have options in the bullpen (aforementioned names), corner outfield (Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto) and center field, though the center field market looks much thinner than the other two at this point. 

Chris Taylor can play center but his main source of value is in his versatility. Ideally, you're paying him to play everywhere, not to be your everyday centerfielder. Kris Bryant can play center but it's not his best position and probably will not be where he spends the majority of his next contract. After those two, you're looking at a steep drop-off to Brett Gardner-level free agents or defensive specialist trade candidates like Kevin Kiermaier and Jackie Bradley Jr.

Dave Dombrowski may have to get creative in figuring out the center field solution. There are intriguing trade candidates in Cedric Mullins, Bryan Reynolds and Whit Merrifield, but they will be pricy to acquire and all three teams (Orioles, Pirates, Royals) would likely be looking for a slew of young pieces in return. The Phillies' minor-league catching depth creates trade possibilities, but it's unlikely any of those three clubs would value Rafael Marchan or Logan O'Hoppe as the centerpiece of a deal, particularly Baltimore, which drafted catcher Adley Rutschman first overall two years ago. He's viewed as one of the top five prospects in baseball.

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