Michael Conforto and Starling Marte are NOT the answer for the Phillies
Despite the shadow of a pending labor stoppage looming over the league, November and December is an exciting time of year when Phillies fans dream of signing the next star or unearthing a hidden gem that will push the club over the top and into the playoffs. I’m guilty like many others of playing the fantasy out in my head of Corey Seager and Kris Bryant anchoring the left side of the infield for the next five seasons.
Unfortunately for the Phils the roster is already filled with expensive free agent signings in Bryce Harper, JT Realmuto, and Zack Wheeler. Add in a mix of overpaid veterans such as Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura and even Scott Kingery, who will be paid 4 million to bat .200 for Lehigh Valley next season and the payroll is larger than it should be for a .500 team.
A well run franchise should be able to fill in these gaps using young players developed in the farm system and veteran bench pieces. Unfortunately, past organizational failures have left little hope that someone like Mickey Moniak or Adam Haseley will make the leap and become a productive everyday player.
A number John Middleton and ownership have consistently made clear they are unwilling to surpass. Arbitration increases in the salaries for players like Rhys Hoskins and Zach Eflin will only decrease that number making Dave Dombrowski’s task of ending the National Leagues longest playoff drought that much more difficult.
The hot stove is currently abuzz with rumors linking the Phillies to corner outfielders Michael Conforto and Starling Marte, as well as a number of other high priced free agents. While it is exciting to think about plucking a starter from a division rival, do these signings even make sense considering the glaring needs of this team?
The Phillies finished 30th out 30 clubs in the MLB in 2021 with -52 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). The #1 team was the St. Louis Cardinals which enabled them to rip off a torrid September and grab the wild-card. Unless The Phillies are able to improve their defense it is difficult to envision adding enough to the roster to reach 90 wins.
Signing Michael Conforto to a multi-year deal while surrendering valuable draft picks to a division rival does little to alleviate the Phillies defensive problems or bolster their floundering farm system. Yes, Conforto is a former all-star and in his prime at only 28 years-old. But given his resumé it is unlikely that he will sign for less than a multi-year deal in the range of the qualifying offer of $18.4 million the Mets just put forward. The truth is Conforto plays the same position as Bryce Harper. Even if the National League adopts the DH next season, Conforto will be a below-average defensive player anytime he take the field. A combination of Conforto/Harper/CF platoon is a recipe for ensuring the Phillies are at the bottom of the defensive ratings again next season.
“Conforto is a great fielder and can cover ground in the outfield very well.”
Sorry Luke my boy. A quick look at the advanced statistics paint Conforto as a below average RF. Last year he put up very similar numbers to Bryce Harper and while I would agree that the metrics tend to underrate Harper’s fielding, Conforto’s arm and overall movement don’t meet the eye test. Even more important, Conforto doesn’t play LF! In fact, he hasn’t logged a single inning at the position since playing 84 games in 2018. Im sorry, I can’t defend paying a player all-star money when they doesn’t have a track record of extended success.
Starling Marte would be a good fit defensively in South Philly as he plays above average defense in both CF and LF. But Marte will be 33 years old when the season begins, missed over a month last season with a fractured rib and has a history of oblique injuries. Everyone just witnessed first-hand the rapid decline of a similar player in Andrew McCutchen. Signing Marte to a multi-year deal and hoping he will become less injured as he ages is unwise and sadly a typical move for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade.
Rather than spending lavishly on declining corner outfielders why not bring back McCutchen on a one-year deal with a mutual option for a second? If the NL approves the DH this would be especially prudent. A squad that often lacks a pulse could certainly benefit in the return of a veteran presence and a professional hitter.
I trust that Dave Dombrowski just saw the Braves win the World Series with outfield trade deadline acquisitions Eddie Rosario (projected to sign a 1-year $10mil deal this offseason), Jorge Soler and Joc Pederson. The Phillies have so many other holes on the roster–notably the bullpen and back-end starting rotation–that it would be an act of hubris to think a multi-year deal for an average defensive outfielder would push them over the top and ahead of their talented division rivals.
Instead they should focus on signing veterans with plus defensive metrics to short-term ‘prove it’ deals in which they can platoon with Moniak, Haseley and Vierling. Im aware this is not the sexy move that most fans want to see but a lack of self awareness is exactly what got the team into this trouble to begin with.
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