How likely are Phils to make a big free-agent signing before season?

February 7th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

It speaks to the reputations of John Middleton and Dave Dombrowski that the Phillies are perpetually linked to every big free agent, regardless of interest or fit.

Middleton is one of baseball’s most aggressive owners, willing to commit hundreds of millions to try to win a World Series, while Dombrowski is an executive with a history of bold and occasionally unexpected moves. So it was no surprise to read a USA Today report Sunday that several baseball executives think the Phillies could be a “sleeper” for or . Apparently, rival executives can’t believe Dombrowski will not make another monster move before Opening Day, despite signing to a seven-year, $172 million contract in November, and even as they try to sign to a presumably massive contract extension this spring.

It would be fun to see Bellinger in the Phillies’ lineup or Montgomery in one of baseball’s best rotations. But sources told again this week that another big free-agent signing is unlikely, unless the market changes drastically in the coming weeks.

Bellinger, 28, is not only seeking a contract worth more than $200 million, but he declined a qualifying offer from the Cubs, which means the Phillies would have to forfeit their second- and fifth-round Draft picks, plus $1 million in international bonus pool money, to sign him. Montgomery, 31, also is seeking a nine-figure deal, although he does not have a qualifying offer attached to him.

The Phillies have five nine-figure players signed beyond this season: ($330 million through 2031), ($300 million through ‘33), Nola ($172 million through ‘30), ($115.5 million through ‘25) and ($100 million through ‘26). The Phils want Wheeler, who is in the final year of a five-year, $118 million deal, to be the sixth.

Signing Bellinger or Montgomery could complicate that.

Also, while it is not a popular opinion among some fans, teams need young, controllable talent on their rosters. Every spot can’t be filled with a $100 million, $200 million or $300 million player. For the Phillies, it means , , and get opportunities to play. There are questions about Rojas’ ability to hit big league pitching following his postseason struggles, but those concerns can be addressed later in the spring, if Rojas doesn’t show enough improvement. But right now, the Phils have every intention of making him the Opening Day center fielder, with Marsh in left.

Montgomery would deepen the Phillies’ rotation, which is thin behind No. 5 starter . But does signing Montgomery to a five- to seven-year deal make sense if the Phils plan to have Wheeler and Nola locked up on multiyear deals? (Don’t forget, is signed through 2026, too.) The Phillies need some youth and flexibility in the rotation. That includes and Sánchez in the present and , and others in the future.

The Phillies made a special exception in late December for , who signed a $325 million deal with the Dodgers, because of his age and talent. The Phils made a strong enough offer that they were in the hunt until the very end. But their pursuit of Yamamoto does not mean they plan to throw that type of money to everybody.

The craziest thing about the Phillies’ offseason might not be that Nola was their only major transaction. It is that the $173 million they spent on free agents in Nola and left-hander , who will provide rotation depth, still ranks as the second most in baseball behind only the Dodgers.

Other teams haven’t spent like the Phillies yet. The bet is that some of them will, and Bellinger and Montgomery will end up somewhere other than Philly.