Phillies Free Agency: Ranking the Top 4 Options at Shortstop
On Monday, the Phillies declined to pick up the $17 million option on long time middle infielder Jean Segura, a decision which puts them in prime position to sign a shortstop from what is widely-considered to be the best free-agent class in MLB history.
The 2022 free agent shortstop class is possibly the strongest in the history of baseball. All four of the premiere free agent shortstops in the class of 2022 have won a World Series Championship with the original teams and posted above 5 WAR last season.
If you are team looking for a shortstop like the Phillies, it’s a great year to be shopping around. Yet, the market wont be cheap for the Phils, as the top deals could require a commitment similar to the one Bryce Harper received in 2019. A decision like this could impact the ceiling of this team for the next half decade or more.
These are my definitive shortstop rankings (subject to change)
1. Carlos Correa, SS, Twins, age 28
Recently opted out of a $35.1 million guarantee for 2023 with the Twins.
This will be the second straight offseason that Correa will test the free market in the hopes of securing a long term deal with a total value above $300 million. Last year Correa, who is represented by a notoriously tough negotiator in Scott Boras, failed to get the long term offer he felt matched his production and instead shocked the baseball world by signing a 3-year pact with the Minnesota Twins.
That short term deal carried a higher AAV, but gave Correa the flexibility of opting out following the conclusion of each season. Now that his opt-out is official, Correa will hope that an offseason free of the chaos caused by a work stoppage in the winter of 2021-22 will net him a long term deal with a similar AAV in the $30-35 million range. The Minnesota Twins, not exactly known for being a hotbed free agent destination, will surely have trouble making the type of financial commitment needed to secure his services.
22 HR, 64 RBI, 70 R
WAR : 5.4
Career: .279/.357/.479 (129 OPS+), 155 HR, 39.5 WAR in 888 G
Correa’s on-field performance in 2022 was solid despite the fact that he accounted for 30 fewer RBI than in the previous season with the Houston Astros. Much of that can be attributed to an anemic Twins offense rather than any sign of regression from the 28-year-old Correa. His 5.4 WAR was tied for the third best of his 8-year career and after struggling defensively to begin the season, Correa turned in his 8th consecutive season playing above-average defense at shortstop. Despite a few statistics that painted Correa as a negative defensive player in 2022, UZR and UZR/150 put him in the top-15 defensively amongst his peers.
Personally, I think Phillies fans are so enamored with Trea Turner, that they are conveniently forgetting just how good Carlos Correa is. Correa, 28, is a full year younger than Turner which matters when handing out a contract that could reach a decade in length.
Both Correa and Turner have been in the league since the 2015 season. When you compare their statistics over the past 8 campaigns, the numbers done lie. Turner may have had the better 2022 season, but overall Carlos Correa has posted superior numbers both offensively and defensively.
Correa is also the only one of the four shortstop who isn’t eligible to receive a Qualifying Offer this offseason, meaning the Phillies would not have to surrender a top draft pick to sign him. With the Phillies set to pay the luxury tax again in 2023, that would mean surrendering an even higher pick than normal.
I think that Carlos Correa’s involvement with the Houston Astros cheating scandal has a lot to do with Phillies fans apparent apathy regarding his potential signing. He also doesn’t have the connection to Bryce Harper and lacks the pure hustle and playing style of Trea Turner.
Yet, given similar contract lengths and AAV, I have Carlos Correa as the number one option for the Phillies shortstop position this offseason. Correa has produced a whopping 39.5 WAR for his career which is more than every shortstop in history through age 27 save for Álex Rodríguez and Hall of Famers Arky Vaughan, Cal Ripken and Robin Yount.
If Correa can stay healthy he is on track to be a generational talent at shortstop.
Come at me..
2. Trea Turner, SS, Dodgers, age 29
Trea Turner is widely considered to be the best shortstop available on the market this winter. It also helps that he is reportedly great friends with Bryce Harper and that their wives are close. They must know each other well from their four years as teammates on the Washington Nationals. Great so everybody is hunky dory, but should the Phillies really consider Turner above Correa or other possible options?
There is little question as to whether Turner is one of the best all around hitters in the game. He is also incredibly consisting having posted between 2.8 and 4.9 WAR in each of the last 7 seasons. Turner averages a whopping 44 stolen bases a season for his career and between his speed on the base paths and above average defensive work at short he would certainly make the Phillies a better ball club next season.
It’s honestly difficult to find something not to like about Turner when he plays. How can you not want to add a guy that projects to hit around .300? The two-time All-Star hit .328 in 2021 to win the National League batting title and can also play second base and center field if need be, providing the Phillies with added positional flexibility.
His playing style and demeanor would also fit perfectly in Philadelphia and he has clearly documented that he can play winning baseball as evidenced by his World Series title with the Nationals in 2019 and his time on the Dodgers.
21 HR, 101 RBI, 101 R
Career: .302/.355/.487 (122 OPS+), 124 HR, 29.7 WAR in 849 G
Turner and Correa’s career number are very similar in most major statistical categories, which make it extremely difficult to decide between the two. Turner will likely command a deal similar to Correa’s and possible more on the open market. With his current team, the Dodgers, likely to be heavily involved and Turner in high demand, he could easily surpass the total dollars ($330 million) in Bryce Harper’s 2019 free agent deal.
Will the things that set Turner apart (batting average, base stealing and defense) translate into his late 30’s? I suppose that’s really the question in baseball’s new age of free agent long term deals reaching a decade or longer. The Phillies seem to have struck gold by inking Bryce Harper to deal that just 3 years in already looks like a bargain.
Turner is fresh off committing a career-high 16 errors at shortstop and traits like elite speed and quickness tend to disappear faster than others. If his speed disappears, Turner will need to increase his HR% and extra base hits to make up for his diminishing ability to leg out singles. (Turner tied for second in the baseball with 34 infield hits in 2022).
Defensively, if Turner is playing second base in 5 years, then I am not sure that a decade long commitment would be a better option for the Phillies than signing Correa.
Correa and Turner are clearly the two best shortstops in the league and it may ultimately come down to a matter of preference
3. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox, age 30
Recently opted-out of three-year, $60 million guarantee
Boegarts originally signed a six-year, $120MM extension with the Red Sox back in April 2019 but is now almost certain to receive a long-term deal with a higher AAV. Previous reports back in June linked the Phillies to Boegarts which makes sense considering president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski held a similar position with the Red Sox and knows him well.
Boegarts is hands down the best pure offensive shortstop in the American League and has been arguably for multiple seasons. He has posted an OPS+ of at least 128 in each of his last five seasons all the while playing in a Boston market that is very similar to Philadelphia.
But unlike Correa, Turner, and Swanson he often grades out as below-average defensively, a red flag for a Phillies team already filled with below average fielders. If the Phillies were to sign Boegarts, they could theoretically slide him to third base in the next few seasons and move Alec Bohm to first.
15 HR, 73 RBI, 84 R
Career: .292/.356/.458 (117 OPS+), 156 HR, 34.9 WAR in 1264 G
But that would require confirmation that Boegarts wants to make that move and it also brings into question whether paying that much per season for an eventual third basemen is a good idea.
If the Phillies believe that Boegarts can deliver at-least average defense for the majority of his contract then there is no question that he would make them a better team. Yet, because of his age, 30, and the fact that the Phillies are already dismal in the field, I have to put Boegarts at #3 in my rankings.
4. Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves, age 28
First off, I hate Danbsy Swanson. He has been killing the Phillies for the last 7 years, even though he is just an average career hitter. He also went to Vanderbilt, which is just so easy to dislike.
According to reports, Swanson the Braves have been engaged in contract talks since the conclusion of their playoff loss in the NLDS to the Phillies. According to Heyman, the Braves made an offer in the $100MM range at some point during the season and now would be considered a lowball deal after posting a career year in 2022.
Fangraphs has Dansby Swanson with 6.4 WAR this season, good for 12th best in baseball and just one spot behind JT Realmuto. That’s a massive jump for a guy that failed to post above 3 WAR in his first 6 seasons in the league. When you combine an elite offensive season with a gold glove level defensive effort, (Swanson was arguably the game’s top defensive infielder in 2022), suddenly Swanson is one of the more interesting free agents in all of baseball.
25 HR, 96 RBI, 99 R
Career: .255/.321/.417 (95 OPS+), 102 HR, 14.5 WAR in 827 G
The 1000 pound elephant in the room is whether Swanson’s career year was a sign of things to come or whether he is destined to regress back to the mean of his career numbers. For that reason Swanson won’t be receiving the contact length or AAV of the three shortstops listed ahead of him.
I don’t know whether or not that $100 million contract offer from the Braves is accurate but I doubt Swanson will be quick to accept such a quick figure, especially as he just witnessed guys on his own team such as Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider receive contracts, albeit longer in length, around the same total dollar value.
There is going to be at least one team out there willing to roll the dice on the former 1st overall pick repeating his 2022 performance. I really think highly of Swanson as a player and a clubhouse leader but I dont’ believe the Phillies should be one of them.
Yes, his elite glove at shortstop is exactly what this Phillies team needs to overcome their deficiencies at six other positions but the questions surrounding his future at the plate and the fact that he struck out out on a whopping 26.2% of his at bats in 2022 would make me hesitant to surrender a 1st round pick as well as shell out a long-term deal.
We also don’t need a filthy Atlanta Brave on this team. We already are doing just fine stealing the Nationals and Mets best players and then beating them. I see little reason to change that up now. That is why Dansby Swanson comes in at #4 in my rankings.
Of course, Phillies General Manager Dave Dombrowski could decide that the long-term contract demands from these shortstops are too-rich for his blood. The Phillies front office will actually have quite a bit of leverage considering they reportedly feel comfortable entering the 2023 season with a combination of Bryson Stott, Edmundo Sosa, and Nick Maton sharing the middle infield duties.
Instead of sinking an estimated $25 million per season into the shortstop position, Dombrowksi could choose to use his available payroll flexibility to sign another top end of the rotation starter pitcher or to bolster the weak Phillies bullpen with another true lock down reliever.
But after the Mets recently signed closer Edwin Diaz to a record-breaking 5 year, $102 million deal, the market for elite relief pitching suddenly appears similar in Annual Average Value (AAV) to what one of these shortstops could receive, albeit on a longer term deal.
It also makes me immediately question whether the contract estimates being thrown out there for Turner, Correa, Bogaerts, and Swanson are way too low. Personally, I would give Carlos Correa and Trea Turner however much they want. I think they are among the elite players in all of baseball and would be a perfect fit for this Phillies team moving forward.