The Philadelphia Phillies are an interesting team. Everyone expected the worst from them in 2016, but they jumped out to a 25-19 start behind their talented, young pitching staff. That didn’t last long, though. Philadelphia’s nosedive started around the time they dropped a three-game series at Comerica Park in May, and culminated in a 71-91 finish, fourth in the National League East.
For better or worse, that hot start gave the Phillies hope that they could start to contend in 2017. According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Phils are looking to add a big bat to a lineup that scored the fewest runs in all of baseball last season. Most of the online baseball community freaked out on Tuesday because Rosenthal mentioned beleaguered slugger Jose Bautista as one Blue Jays target. Sadly, that appears to be false. Michael Saunders, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Moss are a few of the other names littered about Rosenthal’s article.
One player Rosenthal did not mention is J.D. Martinez, a name that has been bandied about constantly this offseason. However, Ryan Lawrence of PhillyVoice mentioned Martinez and the Phillies as a potential fit a couple days ago.
Detroit also has a right-handed, corner outfield bat in J.D. Martinez that would fit nicely into the Phillies' current game plan, since he’s a free agent after the 2017 season (and thus not blocking any prospects).
The Phils were among the clubs interested in the Tigers’ slugger earlier this offseason, but nothing came of those rumors. No one else bit on Martinez either, even after important people told us it was inevitable. The Tigers were hoping to offload Martinez’s $11.75 million contract in 2017 for younger, cheaper talent during the Winter Meetings.
Martinez’s contract status is a double-edged sword. As a relatively cheap player with just one year of club control remaining, Martinez is one of the Tigers’ most tradeable assets. However, as we have seen this offseason, teams are looking for more long-term security, ponying up for players on club-friendly contracts like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. While Lawrence points out Martinez’s contract as a positive for the Phillies, I imagine they would like to have him for another year or two as the rest of their young team matures.
While Jose Bautista is the biggest name mentioned in concert with the Phillies’ offseason needs, Martinez has been just as productive. Since arriving in Detroit in 2014, Martinez has produced a 143 wRC+ with 83 home runs in 1,654 plate appearances. Bautista holds a sizable edge in home runs (97) and plate appearances (1,856), but park factor adjustments limit him to a 145 wRC+, just two percent better than Martinez over that span. Bautista also holds a slim edge in fWAR, at 12.1 to Martinez’s 10.9.
However, Martinez is probably the more attractive candidate. Bautista’s offensive production fell off in 2016, when he hit just .234/.366/.452 (a 122 wRC+) in 517 plate appearances. Bautista also rejected the Blue Jays’ qualifying offer earlier this winter, meaning the Phillies would forfeit a draft pick if they sign him. Their first round pick is protected, but they would still fork over a high second rounder for a 36-year-old player coming off a down season.
Still, it’s hard to see the Phillies paying up for Martinez with similar options available on the free agent market. Bautista has a draft pick attached to his name, but left-handed hitters like Saunders and Moss do not. Between a saturated market and the Tigers’ high asking price, the Phillies will likely find their corner outfielder(s) elsewhere in 2017.