Philadelphia Phillies: Upton Signing, Hanson Trade Show How Far Ahead Braves Are

November 30, 2012 by PHIL KEIDEL  
Filed under Fan News

Hot-stove banter can be fun. If you are an Atlanta Braves fan this week, you have a lot to talk about.

Your team made a big splash in free agency, landing B.J. Upton to play center field for the next five seasons and paying $75 million for the privilege, according to Yahoo.com and the Associated Press.

Then the Braves turned around and moved downward, trading right-handed starter Tommy Hanson to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for erstwhile Angels closer Jordan Walden, per the Los Angeles Times.

These are the sorts of moves that keep baseball fans interested through the desolate winter months.

If you are Phillies fan, though, suffice it to say that this past week was not quite so thrilling.

The two big developments in Hot Stove Land this week for the Fightin' Phils were a trade that did not happen and a drug suspension to a key cog in the Big Red Phillie Machine.

Wilton Lopez was going to be a Phillie, came to town for a physical examination and suddenly he wasn't going to be a Phillie any more, per hardballtalk.com.

Phillies fans got their hopes up briefly. Lopez looked to be a credible answer to the question of what to do about the eighth inning, what with his earned run average just over 2.00 in 2012 and his penchant for throwing strikes.

Lopez' acquisition was going to take some of the sting out of Carlos Ruiz' 25-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program rules by taking a banned amphetamine, per ESPN.com and the Associated Press.

These developments of the past week underscore what every Phillies fan already knows, even if the die-hard nature of most Phillies fans precludes admitting even a shard of weakness.

Sad to say, but the Phillies are now the mediocre also-ran that they reduced their rivals to during their five-year reign in the National League East from 2007-2011.

Think about it. This week the Braves spent $75 million on a career .255 hitter with a career OPS of .758 and no All-Star Appearances. In seven full seasons in Tampa, the only category B.J. Upton led the American League in was times caught stealing.

Upton is 28 years old. The Braves are not paying Upton all this money based on his potential. Upton is a finished product. They're are paying him generational cash figuring that what they see is what they will get.

And here's the thing. When you have Jason Heyward in right field, Freddie Freeman at first base, Dan Uggla at second base and Martin Prado in left field, you do not need your marquee free agent to overachieve. You just need him to do what he has done before.

This is especially so given Atlanta's pitching staff. The Braves will roll out Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm. Some combination of Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran and Brandon Beachy will combine to fill the fifth-starter role. Those are seven credible major league arms.

Atlanta's starting pitching was so deep that they traded 26-year-old Tommy Hanson, he of the 45-32 career record, to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for their former closer, Jordan Walden.

That the Braves could trade a viable major league starter with some upside for a relief pitcher who will not close for them (not with Craig Kimbrel still drawing breath) tells you just how much pitching the Braves have.

The foregoing analysis relates to the Phillies in three ways, and none of them are good if you are a Phillies fan.

First, the Braves have plenty of money to throw around if they choose to. Upton instantly became their most expensive player at $15 million per season. Uggla will make $13 million this year. McCann will make $12 million and Hudson will earn $9 million. Those are the Braves' big earners in 2013.

Contrast that with the Phillies, who have well over $100 million tied up in six players next season (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon.) Even Jimmy Rollins is set to make $11 million in 2013, and he is way down on the list of high-priced Phillies.

And despite spending all that money, the Phillies are still not quite sure who will be playing center field, left field or third base on Opening Day.

Second, the Braves have pitching to burn. Their rotation is deep enough that they could afford to part with Hanson for what is essentially a spare part in Walden. The Braves' bullpen already had three of the most intimidating arms in baseball with Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty. Adding Walden is the equivalent of putting a sun room on a 35,000 square-foot vacation home.

By comparison, the Phillies had no one they could much rely on to get the ball to Jonathan Papelbon in 2012. They sent out the likes of B.J. Rosenberg, Joe Savery and Jakob Diekman in high-leverage situations in 2012, with predictably sorry results.

Finally, this week's goings-on illustrate what is possible when a team like the Braves has affordable talent at several spots on the diamond.

Freeman and Heyward, two of the most promising young hitters in the National League East not named Bryce Harper, both made less than $600,000 in 2012.

Going into 2012, would you rather have had Freeman and Heyward at those prices, or Howard and Hunter Pence at $20 million and $10.4 million, respectively?

The bottom line for Phillies fans is this, and it is not pretty: since the Phillies are not going to catch the Washington Nationals in 2013, passing the Braves for a wild-card spot is probably the best the Phillies can hope for.

But this week's hot-stove action illustrates just how far the gulf between the Braves and the Phillies really is.

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Selecting the Philadelphia Phillies’ All-Time Free-Agent Bust Team

November 30, 2012 by Greg Pinto  
Filed under Fan News

When owners of Major League Baseball teams give their general managers millions of dollars to spend on the free agent market, it's kind of like giving money to a kid who wants candy. You tell them not to spend it all in one place, but know they're going to do it anyway. 

And that's because the free agent market is a fickle mistress. Like any good gamble, one pull of the handle could send you home with your pockets weighed to the floor or broke like a joke. 

The Philadelphia Phillies must know the feeling. The free agent market has changed since its inception. Teams no longer pay for past production. They pay for what a prospective free agent could do for them in the future. Nowadays, it's easy to go broke. 

But one fundamental aspect of the free agent market that has never changed is that it is incredibly easy for you to spend millions of dollars on a single player and not be guaranteed that he is going to produce at the highest level. Is that the way the cookie crumbles? 

Some free agents are just "busts"—and for the sake of this slideshow—we will define a "bust" as a player who came to the city of Philadelphia with a certain level of expectations and did not perform up par. That's it. There are no qualifiers other than that, but obviously, certain players are "busts" at different levels, so keep that in mind. 

We will pick a free agent "bust" at every position that you would normally build a 25-man roster with and hope that history doesn't repeat itself. 

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Will B.J. Upton Signing Lead Phillies to Sign Josh Hamilton?

November 29, 2012 by Robert Knapel  
Filed under Fan News

One of the top items on the Philadelphia' Phillies agenda this winter is signing an outfielder that can make a significant impact in 2013. The Phillies were pushing hard to sign B.J. Upton, but they finished behind the Atlanta Braves in that sweepstakes (h/t Bob Nightengale of USA Today).

Now, the Phillies need to make a decision about which top free agent outfielder they want to focus on. Josh Hamilton is the best player on the market, but his contract demands could be prohibitive. Also still available this winter are Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher.

While both of these players are talented, they would not have the same impact that Hamilton would have on the Phillies lineup. This fact has certainly been recognized by those around the league and both an agent and a scout believe that the Phillies will be a team to watch with regard to Hamilton (h/t Jerry Crasnick of ESPN).

The market for Hamilton seems to be getting smaller and smaller by the day. In addition to the Braves being out of the running, the Washington Nationals will not be pursuing Hamilton after trading for Denard Span (h/t Associated Press via ESPN). The most likely suitors for Hamilton are now Philadelphia, Baltimore and Texas.

Both of these recent moves also put pressure on the Phillies to make a splash. Two of their division rivals have significantly improved their roster and the Phillies will need to find a way to respond.

Signing Hamilton is certainly seen as a risky move because of his past off-the-field troubles and the salary commitment that it will require, but it is a move that could pay great dividends.

Hamilton has dominated the American League over the past five seasons to the tune of a .305/.363/.549 line with 142 home runs and 506 RBI. Moving to the National League could actually lead to an improvement in his numbers even as he ages.

Ryan Howard would provide great protection for Hamilton in the Phillies lineup and that pairing would give the Phillies a formidable middle of the order.

Adding Hamilton to the mix in Philadelphia would not solve all of their problems, but it would put them in a very good position for the 2013 season.

The team will still need to find at least one other outfielder, but after signing Hamilton, they could go after a low-cost option such as Delmon Young or they could attempt to bring Shane Victorino back to Philadelphia.

With the Phillies top-flight pitching staff already in place, it will not take much to get the team back to the postseason. Hamilton would be a huge step in the right direction for the Phillies.

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How the Phillies Coming Up Empty on B.J. Upton Could Doom Their Offseason

November 29, 2012 by Ian Casselberry  
Filed under Fan News

The Atlanta Braves introduced new centerfielder B.J. Upton to media and fans on Thursday (Nov. 29), making his free-agent signing official.

Meanwhile, what is Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. thinking after the Braves and Upton agreed to a five-year, $75.25 million deal?

At first glance, this appears to be a major blow to the Phillies' offseason plans. Upton would have filled two of the team's major needs, providing a centerfielder and a right-handed power bat that the lineup is sorely lacking. 

Sure, there are several other centerfielders still available on the open market, a couple of whom are superstar talents. But Upton seemed to be the best fit for the reasons mentioned above. So where do Amaro and the Phillies go from here? 

First of all, the Phillies and their fans might reject the notion that they lost out on Upton. The Phillies tend to get their man, whether through free agency or trade, so perhaps losing Upton to the Braves indicates that Amaro didn't want him as much as believed.

The Phillies' offer to Upton seems to hint at that. According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the best package Philadelphia proposed was a five-year, $55 million deal. That falls far below what Upton was likely to get on the open market and calls into question just how serious Amaro was about signing the centerfielder

As the Philadelphia Daily News' David Murphy points out, Upton has been the sort of player the Phillies already have, one who doesn't hit for contact nor draw many walks. Obviously, the Braves are betting on his upside, hoping that he'll improve in those areas. But Amaro apparently didn't want to take the risk that Upton is what he is. 

Certainly the Phillies can get a more dependable offensive player.

Nick Swisher would fit nicely in either corner outfield spot. He could also be a right-handed bat at first base when Ryan Howard sits against tough left-handed pitching. While Swisher wouldn't provide the speed that Upton could, he hits for power and gets on base far more. 

If Amaro favors a leadoff hitter, the best available is still on the market in Michael Bourn. Bourn would bring more speed and better defense to the Phillies lineup than Upton would. But he'll also likely be more expensive and is something of a one-dimensional player on offense. 

The market for Bourn may even be tilting in the Phillies' favor. The Washington Nationals were considered the favorites to sign him, but acquired outfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal

The next best option for Philadelphia after Upton could be Angel Pagan. He doesn't have Upton's power, but profiles as a leadoff hitter for the Phillies who can hit for contact, get on base and steal bases. As a switch-hitter, he would also hit right-handed against left-handed pitching. 

A five-year, $55 million contract for Pagan might work. Perhaps that's what Amaro had in mind with that offer to Upton. Maybe that's the figure he had in mind and thought it was worth floating to Upton, even though he knew it would be rejected. But that kind of deal could very well get Pagan. 

That might be why we know the Phillies made that offer, as well. We can scrunch our faces up at it, knowing it would have taken far more to sign Upton. But Pagan and his agent could see that figure and call Amaro up. Upton may not have wanted it, but we'll take it. 

Such a contract could also be appealing to former Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino. Amaro might not be interested in giving that much money to Victorino since he witnessed the outfielder's decline first-hand. Had the Phillies made that kind of offer to Victorino previously, he surely wouldn't have been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers

Then, of course, there's Josh Hamilton. He's the best position player on the free-agent market. And some expect the Phillies to make that move, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick.

Even if Hamilton bats left-handed, he's such an explosive hitter that it likely won't matter to the Phillies. Besides, Hamilton has a .280 average and .808 OPS versus lefties. He's not an automatic out in that matchup.

Two other trade possibilities that Philadelphia may be considering, as pointed out by Delaware Online's Chris Branch, are Peter Bourjos from the Los Angeles Angels and Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies

Another major consideration is that the Phillies have more than one need to address this offseason. Amaro couldn't go all in on a centerfielder. The team needs at least one more outfielder, probably a third baseman and a setup reliever in the bullpen.

It looked like Philadelphia had its setup man, working out a deal for Houston Astros reliever Wilton Lopez. However, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reports that the potential trade has fallen through, most likely because Lopez failed his physical. 

Losing out on Upton and Lopez looks like a nasty one-two punch to the Phillies so far this offseason.

But it's obviously still early, with the winter meetings not even taking place yet and so many players still available on the free-agent market. Amaro could get all of his business done next week (Dec. 3-6) in Nashville.

It rarely works out that cleanly for an MLB general manager. But being patient may just end up being Amaro's best move.

 

Follow @iancass on Twitter

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Philadelphia Phillies: Cheating Carlos Ruiz Is Overrated and Replaceable

November 29, 2012 by PHIL KEIDEL  
Filed under Fan News

Carlos Ruiz' recent 25-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program rules by taking a banned amphetamine, per CBSSports.com, is more than just discouraging news.

It is inexcusable, and it identifies Ruiz as a replaceable piece on the Phillies' roster. 

That statement will likely elicit cries of anguish and/or outrage from the guy in Section 433 at Citizens' Bank Park sporting his "CHOOCH" t-shirt.

That sentiment, though, is another lingering, rotting remnant of the affection Phillies fans have fostered too long for the players involved with the Phillies' World Series championship in 2008 and their National League pennant in 2009.

That same sentiment has caused the team's fans to overrate and overstate the relative merits of the players they like. Ruiz is one of those players.

Ruiz' avid supporters will point to his 2012 All-Star appearance and his having received National League Most Valuable Player votes in each of the past three seasons as proof of his value. (Statistics per baseball-reference.com.)

Given his recent suspension, though, it is regrettable that Ruiz had—by far—his best statistical season in 2012. He was often called on to bat much higher in the order than in past seasons due the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Ruiz came through, posting a slash line of 16/68/.325 in only 114 games.

As it was happening, the fervent hope was that Ruiz was a player with a career average that had hovered around .270 "putting it all together." Given the suspension, though, the sad truth is that Ruiz' amphetamine use almost certainly enhanced his on-field performance. His 2012 line is thus tainted.

More importantly, though, the suspension raises the question of what Ruiz will do if compelled to play "clean" going forward. Ruiz will turn 34 in January; catchers especially are not known to age gracefully given the grueling physical demands of the position they play.

And while Ruiz will be eligible to participate in spring training, he will be suspended for the first month of the 2013 season. For a team that free-fell from playoff contention in late June in 2012, a fast start in 2013 will be essential. Ruiz will not be around to help.

Meanwhile, despite the generally-depleted state of the Phillies' farm system in the wake of the trades that yielded Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence and others, the one position the Phillies seem to have covered at the minor league level is catcher.

Per the Philadelphia Inquirer, touted prospects Sebastian Valle and Tommy Joseph will begin the season at AAA Lehigh Valley. As such, while Erik Kratz will likely fill in for Ruiz at the beginning of the season, Valle and Joseph will have a month to perform at the AAA level and make a case for promotion to the big club.

The Inquirer report indicates that prior to the announcement of the suspension, it was believed that the Phillies and Ruiz would negotiate a contract extension beyond 2013. That is probably not a prudent course now.

Perhaps the wisest move for the Phillies in this situation would be to examine the trade market for Ruiz. Granted, the suspension does not do much for his trade value. 

But given the dearth of quality catching in Major League Baseball—per espn.go.com, the New York Yankees are being held hostage by Russell Martin, who hit .211 last season—some team is likely to see Ruiz as an upgrade over what they have behind the plate.

Perhaps this is not the best time to cite to the way the Philadelphia Eagles manage their personnel as an example to be followed. One thing the Eagles do well, though, is ignore fan loyalty when it is time to cut ties with a beloved player.

Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Jeremiah Trotter are just a handful of the players the Eagles traded or waived whose careers, while not over, were headed that way quickly. Ruiz may well fit into that category now.

Regardless, Carlos Ruiz is a replaceable part now, and the time to replace him may be sooner than anyone thought a week ago.

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Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Most Overpaid Players of the 2012 Season

November 29, 2012 by Alec Snyder  
Filed under Fan News

Now that the Major League Baseball offseason has finally had its kick start thanks to free-agent center fielder B.J. Upton signing a five-year, $75.25 million contract with the Atlanta Braves, big-name signings should start to increase in frequency over the coming weeks.

Add that with the Winter Meetings next week, and you've got a frenzy on your hands, albeit one that's fun to watch.

For the Philadelphia Phillies, the offseason will be focusing on improving three main positions: center field, third base and the bullpen.

With the bullpen seemingly taken care of in light of the Phillies' acquisition of Wilton Lopez from the Houston Astros (who else?) as their new setup man, barring any other bullpen additions, that's one item that can be crossed off on the checklist.

As for the outfield, Upton's signing creates a new discussion concerning the Phillies' center field preference, as he was rumored to be the Phillies' top target.

And then there's third base, but that doesn't seem to be as high of a priority to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

In the meantime, with players signing new deals left and right, it's also important to take a look back on players from this past season and see how they fared in terms of worthiness on their contracts.

Some players, from Juan Pierre to Jimmy Rollins, were worth much more than their salaries indicated. Likewise, there are a few players who failed to live up to expectations, both on the field and contractually.

This slideshow will examine the Phillies' top five most overpaid players for the 2012 season using FanGraphs' dollar value statistic. A player's overall value was determined by subtracting the player's FanGraphs value from their 2012 actual salary.

In terms of eligibility for this list, I only chose players who spent the entirety of the 2012 season with the Phillies. Current free agents who were on the Phillies for all of last season are eligible, however.

Without further ado, I present to you the five most overpaid Phillies of the 2012 season (ranked in ascending order).

*Salaries courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

4 Ways the Phillies Can Replace Carlos Ruiz During His 25-Game Suspension

November 28, 2012 by Ian Casselberry  
Filed under Fan News

Carlos Ruiz apparently felt he needed a little pick-me-up. But since he tested positive for a banned stimulant, the Philadelphia Phillies catcher incurred a 25-game suspension from MLB.

Ruiz was flagged for using Adderall, an amphetamine typically used to control attention deficit disorder. It's still a performance-enhancing drug. But since Ruiz was caught for using a stimulant, rather than a steroid, he draws the shorter suspension under MLB's drug policy. 

So the Phillies don't have their All-Star catcher and MVP candidate available for the regular season until April 28. That's quite a blow, since Ruiz was the team's best hitter this season, batting .325 with a .935 OPS, 16 home runs and 68 RBI in 114 games. He's also currently Philadelphia's only consistent right-handed bat.

How can the Phillies replace Ruiz while he's absent for the first month of the season? Here are four possibilities for the team to try.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies: How Should the Club Handle Center Field?

November 28, 2012 by Michael Pizzutillo  
Filed under Fan News

For weeks, it appeared that the Philadelphia Phillies had a sure bet in center field this offseason. B.J. Upton was the club’s favored free agent to fill voids in center as well as the club’s much-needed right-handed presence in the lineup.

Insert Philadelphia's NL East rival, the Atlanta Braves.

According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Upton and the Braves have reached a multi-year deal, pending a physical.

But were the Phillies ever the favorites for Upton, or was it a smoke screen by Ruben Amaro Jr.?

In a recent interview with Jim Salisbury, Amaro stated, “We can’t put all our resources into one area and not address others.”

What are the Phillies’ plans exactly?

There are still viable free agents out there to fill the void in center field. Angel Pagan, Michael Bourn, Shane Victorino and even Josh Hamilton are just a few names being tossed around the rumor mill.

The Phillies could also upgrade the position via trade. B.J. Upton’s younger brother, Justin, has been mentioned along with Peter Bourjos, although the Diamondbacks and Angels will be looking for starting pitchers at the major and minor league levels in return.

Bourn now appears to be the front-runner for the Phillies' center field spot, but is he the right fit for the club? The Phillies do need a natural leadoff hitter, but Bourn will come with a hefty price tag, leaving little wiggle room for other positions.

Pagan could be another free-agent option. He isn't a better fit than Bourn, but he's a different fit. Pagan is a switch-hitter with the ability to play multiple outfield positions.  The Phillies would also save some money in signing him, leaving enough funds for a third baseman.

Victorino and Hamilton are both longshots. It’s difficult seeing the Phillies bringing back Victorino, and Hamilton is just too expensive.

If the Phillies were to conjure a trade with the Diamondbacks and acquire Justin Upton, it would be the ideal situation, even if this means unloading Vance Worley or Kyle Kendrick.

This is wishful thinking.

The Phillies face an interesting dilemma since their division rivals just made a big splash for next season. Yet fans should not be surprised if Amaro executes a miraculous signing or trade as he has done in years past.

It just goes to show you that rumors are just that—rumors.

Don't you just love the offseason?

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5 Free Agents the Philadelphia Phillies Might Steal at the Last Minute

November 28, 2012 by Joel Reuter  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies have a solid track record of coming out of nowhere to make a big splash in the offseason.

From their acquisitions of Roy Halladay via trade and Cliff Lee via free agency, to their at least somewhat unexpected signing of Jonathan Papelbon to a big contract to close last offseason, their major offseason moves always seem to be swift and without warning.

With needs in the outfield, bullpen and perhaps rotation, there are a number of guys the team could emerge and sign this offseason. Here is a look at five guys who the team could steal at the last minute.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

Philadelphia Phillies Trade for Eighth-Inning Setup Man Wilton Lopez

November 28, 2012 by Jason Amareld  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies have finally started to address some of their team's issues. According to CBSSports.com writer John Heyman via Twitter, "Phillies have an agreement to acquire reliever Wilton Lopez from the Astros for minor leaguers. Finalizing details."

This is a great move for the Phillies and exactly what they need to do to complete a consistent bridge to closer Jonathan Papelbon. Lopez will also be under Phillies' control until 2015 and will turn 30 in mid-July.

In 2012, Lopez made $515,000, he will be due a relatively small raise through the arbitration process, somewhere around the $1 million range, making his salary somewhere between $1.3-1.5 million for 2013. That's a steal considering what they will pay Papelbon in 2013 ($13 million). 

Wilton has been in the major leagues since 2009, has pitched 223.1 innings and has accumulated a career 3.14 ERA in that time.

Since 2010, he has not posted an ERA over 2.96 and had the best season of his career in 2012, posting a 2.17 ERA in 66.1 innings.

Also in 2012, his WAR was an impressive 2.2 compared to Papelbon's WAR, which was 1.6. Lopez also only gave up four home runs in all of 2012. Papelbon gave up eight in just 3.2 more innings' pitches.

One of his most impressive statistics is his strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2012, 54/8, walking just 1.1 batters per nine innings pitched. Walks killed the Phillies bullpen last season, especially in the eighth inning. 

The players heading to Houston have still not been made public, but we will keep you up to date as the trade becomes finalized. 

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