Weaknesses and Quick Trade Fixes for Philadelphia Phillies

November 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

While most of Major League Baseball’s free agent activity generally doesn’t occur until after Thanksgiving or even until the winter meetings, which start on December 9, the Philadelphia Phillies have been active nonetheless in the open market thus far. They’ve inked outfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract and also re-signed catcher Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million deal.

Where does that leave the Phillies? At the moment, their starting lineup is practically set, barring any other moves yet to come. Byrd is likely to start in right field, and the only way that changes is if the Phillies felt comfortable that Byrd could start in center and they sign another right fielder, or if a center fielder himself is signed. Regardless, that could potentially bode poorly for incumbent center fielder Ben Revere.

As it stands, the Phillies are likely not playoff contenders, and the signings they’ve made will not bring them any closer to the promised land that is October baseball. But they still need a veteran reliever or two and possibly a starting pitcher as well. Simply put, pitching is now the priority.

But who’s out there? The starting pitching market is flush with options, but this being free agency, said options won’t come cheap. And when the best starting pitcher available isn’t even found stateside yet, you know you’re dealing with a weak market.

Concerning the relievers, one of the top options in Joe Smith recently signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels, while Lynn Henning of The Detroit News reported that the Detroit Tigers were moving closer to a deal with reliever and former closer Brian Wilson.

If the Phillies still believe that delving into free agency is their best fit, their options are limited at best. Most of the starting pitchers left require the surrender of a draft pick. For the Phillies, the good news is that their first-round pick is protected, so they would only lose their second-rounder should they sign someone attached to draft pick compensation.

However, Matt Garza lacks the qualifying offer attached to the aforementioned compensation, so in that regard he could be attractive to the Phillies. And if the Phillies are willing to spend a little extra, Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka could be posted for and signed at some point. Going the route of relievers, Edward Mujica, Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour remain as the top setup men, though all three closed last year and could be seeking closer roles and corresponding money.

Considering that the Phillies have already handed out $42 million to two players this offseason and just over $16 million per season for luxury tax purposes, their payroll remains sky-high without a full roster to complement it. This scenario may force the Phillies to dip their toes into the trade market, which is much more flush with talent but also has a higher premium to obtain it.

That doesn’t mean that there are some options out there for the Phillies, though. If the Phillies want to go all-in, they could try to acquire left-handed ace David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays, though it would require the Phillies to trade their top two or three prospects and then some. That means that Maikel Franco, Jesse Biddle and possibly J.P. Crawford would be on the move in addition to some of the Phillies’ other top prospects.

Chances are that other teams can best the Phillies’ prospect package for Price, meaning that the Phillies should and would likely look a little further down the ladder. But who might that include?

From a rotation standpoint, names like Brett Anderson of the Oakland A’s, Brandon McCarthy of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago Cubs‘ Carlos Villanueva could all make sense. Each would come at different prices and the most expensive would likely be Anderson, who’s younger than the other two and also has a club option for 2015. The other two would be free agents after 2014, which would give the Phillies some rotation flexibility in the future as their prospects get closer to reaching the majors.

Yovani Gallardo could also be a possibility, though his reputation might be more valuable than his production at this stage of his career. Although he’ll turn just 28 years old in February, he could require a hefty prospect package in return for his services. Especially considering that the team trading him away is the Milwaukee Brewers, who lack a deep farm system, the return could be even higher.

From a reliever standpoint, Matt Belisle of the Colorado Rockies and Luke Gregerson of the San Diego Padres could make sense from the right side, while Joe Thatcher could be a solid southpaw option. All would also be free agents after 2015, though, so while that aspect would appeal to the Phillies from a rotation standpoint due to prospect depth, the same can’t be said for the bullpen. The Phillies need more plausible depth since most of the younger relievers have not panned out.

Thus, relievers like Casey Fien of the Minnesota Twins and Mike Dunn of the Miami Marlins could make more sense. Both are under team control for at least three years, with Fien under team control through 2018. Their returns could be slightly costly, but neither should command anything inconceivable.

In brief, the trade market is in flux and more will be clear at and after the winter meetings. For now, we can only speculate, but the above options all would make sense in some regards if the Phillies don’t make any moves in free agency. As we’ve seen in the past with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., though, we just don’t know what he’ll do, good or bad.

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Philadelphia Phillies’ Best Fallback Pitching Options Following Recent Signings

November 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

Barring something unforeseen, the Philadelphia Phillies have settled on their everyday eight in the field for 2014.

Third baseman Cody Asche will join the veteran trio of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins in the infield. Carlos Ruiz and his three-year contract extension will be behind the plate.

Free-agent signing Marlon Byrd will set up shop in the Phillies outfield along with Ben Revere and Domonic Brown.

If you are holding out hope that the Phillies have a blockbuster trade in them, don’t. “We may look to try to improve our lineup somehow or tweak our lineup somehow,” said Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. in the wake of the Ruiz signing.

That does not sound like a man sitting on a bombshell. What you see on the roster is pretty much what you will get, as far as hitters and fielders are concerned.

So the likely adds to the Phillies roster, if any are forthcoming, will be made to the pitching staff.

MLB.com beat writer Todd Zolecki’s recent conversation with Amaro Jr. suggested as much, with Amaro Jr. saying this: 

If we can still improve the rotation and our bullpen, we will try to do that. We had a lot of six-year free agents pitching in the rotation, so we’re going to try and create some depth on the pitching side.

Which pitchers make sense for the Phillies?

Ryan Lawrence’s recent Philadelphia Daily News article named all of the usual suspects. They fall into two categories.

Veteran pitchers who would command short-term, short-money contracts (and come with lower expectations, naturally) include Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Burnett and Ryan Vogelsong.

Phillies fans would probably far prefer a younger, more expensive option who could realistically win 15 games in 2014 if everything breaks right. Names who fit that description are Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Ervin Santana.

In a lot of ways, Jimenez, Garza and Santana are very similar. All three are power arms who have had extended periods of dominance pockmarked by significant stretches where they were injured and/or could not get anyone out.

Given Amaro Jr.’s commitment to winning in 2014—misguided as it may becheaping out on pitching help now would be penny wise and pound foolish.

David Schoenfeld of ESPN.com posted recently to his SweetSpot blog why the Washington Nationals should sign Jimenez over Garza or Santana:

Jimenez is the one who can provide the most upside and probably comes in a little less expensive. Plus he has a rubber arm, having made more than 30 starts six seasons in a row, one of just 13 starters to have done that. Garza has battled some injuries, and Santana has been inconsistent and homer-prone despite playing in pitcher-friendly parks.

Accepting that logic on its face, it is as applicable to the Phillies as it is to the Nationals. Perhaps more so.

The Phillies resisted long-term contracts for pitchers for years due to fear of injury, making Garza an unattractive gamble. And Citizens Bank Park is a bandbox, which suggests that Santana might struggle there.

So Jimenez may well be the right choice. Whether the Phillies can afford him is up to Amaro Jr.

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Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Terrifies Fans in Effort to Calm Them

November 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. recently spent half an hour talking to Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic. The presumptive goal of Amaro Jr.’s participation in the interview was to placate Phillies fans.

Unfortunately, nothing Amaro Jr. said much advanced his cause. If anything, Amaro Jr. came off as a man stuck in the vast gulf between desperation and deep denial.

Addressing the recent signing of Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million deal, Amaro Jr. said, “Did we have to step up and do an extra year to bring him here? Yes. Did I want to do a third year on him? No. Do I want the player? Yes.”

Credit Amaro Jr. for admitting that even he recognized the difficulty inherent in guaranteeing Ruiz a third year when he will be 37 years old. But debit him for not holding the line on two years.

Having Ruiz at catcher in 2014, as opposed to a cheaper or younger alternative, will not put the Phillies in the playoffs by itself.

As to the aging nature of the roster, Amaro Jr. had this exchange:

Q: Isn’t it kind of a pipe dream to think that these older players can continue to play better?

A: Well, we analyze this stuff as you can imagine as well. It’s not necessarily that they need to play better but we need to just keep them on the field because if they’re on the field and they’re playing, they’ll play effectively.

Missanelli followed up by saying that it is similarly unrealistic to think that the old core players (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and others) can stay healthy. Amaro Jr.’s answer? “We have people to basically step in and be able to help.”

Then Amaro Jr. named Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis as the people who could help.

In other words, the plan for 2014 is the exact same plan as 2013, which was to hope the aging, expensive players could stay on the field long enough to limp into contention.

That plan worked to the tune of 73 wins in 2013.

Asked whether he ever considered a rebuilding phase, Amaro Jr. was truthful. And the truth hurts:

A: Well I don’t know that in this marketplace that we can look the fanbase in the eye and say ‘okay, we are going to completely blow up this team’ based on where we are as far as our commitments and what we think is our talent base and expect to just turn things around…I don’t think that’s fair to the fanbase, I don’t think that’s fair to the people who have been so loyal to us.

This was a soft-peddle way of saying that the Phillies, having committed over $140 million to 10 players in 2014, cannot afford the thousands of repetitively empty blue seats at Citizens Bank Park that a rebuild would bring.

Amaro Jr. underscored the extent to which he is chained to players like Utley and Rollins by speaking of them in terms normally reserved for all-stars in their primes and up-and-coming studs, rather than the declining players they are.

Amaro referring to Utley as “the backbone of our club, he’s a guy that I believe that will…propel this club and help us continue to make the transition” should produce shivers in the spines of Phillies fans. In 2011-12, Utley played little more than one season’s worth of games.

On the basis of a bounce-back 2013, Utley is now “the backbone of our club”? Oh boy.

As for Rollins, Amaro Jr. said this:

A: Jimmy’s our shortstop. I fully expect him to be there Opening Day and to play out the rest of his career with us. Again, Jimmy and Chase in my mind are lifers here with the Phillies and hopefully we can bring another championship to the city with those guys in the middle.

Well, there you have it. Utley and Rollins will be in the middle of the Phillies infield until they do not want to play baseball any more.

Reviews of Amaro Jr.’s performance were, um, not encouraging:

Once upon a time, the great writer David Foster Wallace once referred to applause at a lopsided tennis match as being “so small and sad and tattered-sounding that it’d almost be better if people didn’t clap at all.”

Ruben Amaro Jr. should read some David Foster Wallace the next time he considers going on the air to address the ruins his Phillies have become.

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Playing Fact or Fiction with the Latest Philadelphia Phillies Rumors

November 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

Ordinarily the opening paragraph to a piece like this would have some pithy, breezy prose commenting on the quality and quantity of the rumors swirling around the Philadelphia Phillies this offseason.

You are going to have to do without that, though. Within hours of this writing, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer posted this tidbit to his Twitter feed:

It is officially white flag time for Phillies fans.

Read the comments under my posts on this page and the raging undercurrent is some version of “you’re too negative.”

But how, exactly, am I supposed to react when the first two major Phillies signings of this offseason are Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz? Are these really causes for optimism?

Here is how Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com recapped Byrd’s 2012 season

Byrd started 3 for 43 (.070) for the Cubs before being traded to the Red Sox. He was released by the Red Sox June 12 and later had to serve a 50-game suspension for violating the league’s Joint Drug Agreement.

At the end of the 2012 season, Byrd’s career looked to be all but over. Did he have a good season in 2013? Definitely.291/.336/.511 with 35 doubles, 24 homers, 88 RBI and 75 runs is no joke. 

Byrd’s 2013 season was also a grotesque outlier for a player with a slugging percentage of .425 and 106 home runs in a 12-year career.

Byrd made $700,000 as a 36-year-old journeyman outfielder in 2013. He will get $8 million in 2014 from the Phillies, and will do so again in 2015.

ESPN.com’s Keith Law put the absurdity of the Byrd deal best:

The Phillies are paying (Byrd) more than part-time money and seem to think he’s an everyday player who’ll stay healthy for two years and whose history of PED usage isn’t relevant…paying him as if he’ll be more than a .270/.315/.450 guy…assumes his legs will stay healthy enough for him to get to 20-odd homers each year.

You know what the worst part of the Byrd contract is? As of now, it is the second-stupidest of the two Phillies signings in the past week.

According to Gelb‘s report, the Phillies will pay Ruiz “$8.5 million per season from 2014-16″ despite the fact that Ruiz “has required a trip to the disabled list in each of the last five seasons and averaged 97 games started over the last three seasons.”

Law, again: “(G)iving Carlos Ruiz, a 34-year-old catcher with platoon problems who’s coming off a PED suspension a three-year deal is absolute lunacy.”

Law, continued: “Right-handed pitchers blew him up in 2013 (.257/.301/.335 line against), and he didn’t hit any kind of velocity as his bat had clearly started to slow.”

So much negativity. Why can’t anyone write anything upbeat about the Phillies?

Could it be that the starting nine on Opening Day 2014 could look like this (including the ages they will be on Opening Day)?

  • Cliff Lee, 35
  • Carlos Ruiz, 35
  • Ryan Howard, 33
  • Chase Utley, 35
  • Jimmy Rollins, 35
  • Cody Asche, 23
  • Domonic Brown, 26
  • Ben Revere, 25
  • Marlon Byrd, 36

Five of those players are closer to 40 than 30. Howard moves like he’s 50. Asche, Revere and Brown will need to steer clear of the Geritol-spiked Muscle Milk in the Phillies clubhouse for the foreseeable future.

Right, I am supposed to talk about the latest Phillies rumors now. That’s actually crazy easy after the Byrd and Ruiz signings.

The Phillies’ reported interest in the following players is now most likely FICTION: Carlos Beltran, Nelson Cruz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Brian McCann. Having paid Byrd and Ruiz everyday money, the Phillies quite literally cannot afford to bring in higher-priced options at those positions.

Almost certainly the Phillies’ reported willingness to give a quality setup reliever a three-year contract is a FACT. Whether that arm ends up being Edward Mujica, Joaquin Benoit, Joe Smith or someone else is basically immaterial, since any of these pitchers would be an upgrade over what the Phillies have in the bullpen.

Also residing in the FICTION file is the idea that the Phillies can now afford to spend the outsized dollars a marquee player like Jacoby Ellsbury might command.

And it is not money that will keep the Phillies from prying David Price away from the Tampa Bay Rays—it is the dearth of quality prospects in the Phillies minor league system.

Mark Zuckerman of natsinsider.com speculated that the Washington Nationals would need to give up their two best prospects (Anthony Rendon and Lucas Giolito) plus two more good ones to get Price out of Tampa.

The Phillies do not have four prospects of that quality in their system, much less four they can afford to trade for one player.

So the FACT is that the Phillies might have one more big signing left in them this offseason.

From what we have seen so far, though, “big” and “good” are not necessarily the same thing.

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Phillies’ Early Offseason Moves Show Delusion of Team’s Short-Term Title Hopes

November 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

After a 73-89 season, the Philadelphia Phillies should be in rebuilding mode. Instead, led by general manager Ruben Amaro, the front office continues to fancy itself a title contender.

Just a week after handing Marlon Byrd a $16 million contract, the Phillies have re-signed catcher Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million contract, according to Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The moves signal a win-now approach by a front office that inhibits a team with little shot of competing in 2014.

At 34 years old, Ruiz is coming off a poor season, yet was afforded a substantial raise on his 2013 salary of $5 million. In 92 games, the veteran catcher produced a .688 OPS, good for 11th among catchers with at least 90 games played in 2013. The contract will keep Ruiz in Philadelphia through the 2016 season.

When the World Series concluded, Philadelphia’s offseason approach was unknown. Would it retool? Did Amaro have enough in the farm system to acquire a young impact player like Giancarlo Stanton or David Price? Was it time to finally give credence to a rebuild by trading veterans like Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon and Jimmy Rollins?

After spending $42 million on a pair of older, flawed hitters, it’s clear that the Phillies are lost.

Just months after finishing behind the Braves, Nationals and Mets in the 2013 NL East standings, a clear picture has not emerged within the Phillies offices. If it had, the team would not be spending millions of dollars on multi-year contracts for players that won’t be part of the next contending club at Citizens Bank Park.

Unfortunately for Phillies fans, the current approach is delusional and poised to delay a rebuilding process that will soon become the work of another executive. That work becomes more burdensome every time Amaro hands out another head-scratching contract. As of the Ruiz signing, the Phillies owe Ryan Howard, Byrd, Ruiz and Jonathan Papelbon a combined $54.5 million in 2015, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. That quartet combined to provide 8.8 wins above replacement (per Baseball-Reference) in 2013. If age or injury plagues that group over the next two seasons, the Phillies could be spending more than $50 million on four below-average performers.

Of course, the problem isn’t with Byrd or Ruiz. In a vacuum, both players can help winning clubs by providing power, clutch hits and leadership. Unfortunately, those attributes will be lost on a club that doesn’t have enough high-end talent on the roster to play meaningful games in August or September of 2014 or 2015.

This past season, Byrd was a major contributor to Pittsburgh‘s playoff push, and Ruiz has been a key member of winning teams in Philadelphia since becoming a starter during the 2007 season. If clubs like, say, Pittsburgh or Kansas City gave veteran contributors those types of contracts, it would be understandable. The risk of overpaying or signing a player past his expiration date would be justified by trying to put a young, rising roster over the top and into October.

In Philadelphia, “young” and “rising” were words associated with Phillies teams circa 2006 and 2007. After dominating the National League East for years, capturing a World Series title and making annual appearances in October, the window is closed in Philadelphia. Yet, the franchise continues to pry it back open under the delusion of winning in 2014.

Over the last two seasons, the Phillies have lost 170 games, a feat matched or surpassed by only 10 teams in baseball. Outside of the Blue Jays, a club that is attempting to compete in 2014 after an injury-plagued 2013, none of the other losing teams (White Sox, Twins, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Marlins, Cubs, Rockies and Padres) have attempted to add veteran pieces to their 40-man rosters this early in the offseason. By understanding their place on the win-curve, those teams will try to improve with an eye toward the long-term future.

Right now, it’s clear that the focus is on short-term title hopes in Philadelphia. If it wasn’t, Byrd would still be on the open market and Ruiz wouldn’t have garnered a three-year contract after a poor year.

Even before any other true contender acquires a free agent or makes an impact trade, the Phillies are still behind Washington, Atlanta, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Los Angeles in the National League hierarchy. Their recent activity on the free-agent market is moving the Phillies within striking distance of mediocrity, but still realms from contending for a title anytime soon.

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Philadelphia Phillies Rumors: Pros and Cons of Top Offseason Targets

November 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

Earlier this week, the Philadelphia Phillies jump-started both their offseason and that of the entire major leagues, striking first to sign outfielder and former Phillie Marlon Byrd to a two-year, $16 million contract. Byrd, who hit 24 home runs in 2013, is one of the less expensive sources of right-handed power, and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. felt compelled to sign him quickly for that reason.

What Amaro may not have considered as much was that Byrd is 36 years old and is coming off a season that is hard-pressed not to be deemed an anomaly at this point. Given that Byrd was terrible in 2012 and was suspended 50 games for a banned substance, $8 million a year for two seasons—with a third-year option—is a bit excessive, to say the least.

Each free agent has his pros and cons, and it’s Amaro’s job to judge them before pursing a player extensively. Whether he did that with Byrd is immaterial now, but he can make sure that he does his due diligence before signing any more free agents to major contracts.

With that in mind, here are the pros and cons of five top offseason targets for the Phillies.

Begin Slideshow

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Phillies: How Ruben Amaro Jr. Assembled a Collection of Defensive Misfits

November 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

Baseball fans in Philadelphia would like to see general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. exiled to the same lonely island as Pete Rose. If anything, a one-for-one swap of Rose for Amaro Jr. would be more encouraging. After all, the doom-and-gloomers of Phillies baseball lore were rightthings are bad for Philly, and it’s only going to get worse.

Months ago I wrote that it’s “time to change course” with Amaro Jr. and the Phillies organization. The personnel decisions have become highly questionable. This past season, the Phillies were second in declining attendance. While revenue jumped by $30 million from 2012, its operating income settled in at $600,000 for 2013, down from $14.5 million in 2010. Simply put, the Phillies are heading in the wrong direction financially and on the field.

Much has been ballyhooed about the lack of offensive production in the Phillies lineup. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard have become shells of their former selves. Ben Revere has never had a Major League home run. The now departed Carlos Ruiz had one bombastic season, but he was using performance enhancing drugs.

While Chase Utley continues to stay the course, many are wondering how much longer he can perform at his current rate.

Domonic Brown emerged as an offensive threat, but some are wondering if he can match or exceed his 2013 numbers in 2014. Additionally, fans in Philly are inflamed with Brown over his actions off the field, including when he tweeted “Philly doesn’t love me.”

The question marks on offense are not the most important factors in the demise of the Phillies though. On defense, they are one of the worst units in baseball.

In 2013, the Phillies were dead last in defensive runs saved with -103. To put this in perspective, the Kansas City Royals were tops with 92. The San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants split the median with 10 and 6, respectively. The next worse after the Phillies were the Seattle Mariners with -97. After that a huge drop-off occurs. The Detroit Tigers ranked 28th in Major League Baseball with -63.

How is it that the Phillies, ranked 30th in MLB, were 40 defensive runs saved worse than the 28th worst in baseball? Let’s take a look at each position individually.

Since he only started 74 games due to injury, first baseman Ryan Howard doesn’t qualify as a regular first baseman in the final tally for runs saved. However, his statistics indicate that he would have fallen below the median set by Royals’ 1B Eric Hosmer (3). Howard sat at -1 in defensive runs saved. This was worse than Mark Trumbo and Todd Helton. Only four qualifying 1B regulars fared worse than Howard.

Chase Utley finished with -4 in defensive runs saved. This tally puts him at sixth worst among regular second basemen. Marco Scutaro, Rickie Weeks and Dan Uggla were all worse than Utley while Gordon Beckham, Howie Kendrick and Brian Dozier finished better.

While he only played with the Phillies for 126 games before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Michael Young accumulated the worst defensive runs saved mark among all third basemen in MLB. At -20, a 55 run difference existed between him and 3B leader Manny Machado. Even Todd Frazier, who is not known to be a phenom defensively, finished with a rating of 25 points better than Young.

At shortstop, Jimmy Rollins was third worst in all of baseball with -15. Only better than Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowrie, Rollins was seven points worse than the player in front of him (Omar Quintanilla). Starlin Castro, who made headlines with his horrifying defense, scored seven points better than Rollins as well.

In left field, Domonic Brown finished with -7. This was 23 points worse than the leader Starling Marte. Only three qualifying left fielders finished worse than the breakout star of the Phillies. Known as “the Tank” for his size and lack of speed, Dayan Viciedo finished two runs better than Brown in defensive runs saved for ’13.

Known for having only warning track power and a little league arm, Ben Revere finished with a -5 in center field. Revere didn’t qualify as a regular in CF due to a season-ending injury, but if he had, Revere would have better than just five qualifying regulars at the position. Dexter Fowler, Adam Jones and B.J. Upton all performed better.

Among right fielders, Delmon Young was tied for third worst in defensive runs saved (-19). That is a 58 run swing from the MLB leader Gerardo Parra. We all know how Young’s season ended in Philadelphia but that isn’t the point. The point is that he was brought in and everyone knew what to expecteveryone but Amaro Jr.

Essentially, Amaro Jr. put together a collection of defensive misfits. There is no sure-fire way to assume what an improved win total would look like had the Phillies not tallied a -103 defensive runs saved mark. One can assume though, had the Phillies cut that total in half, the likelihood of finishing with more than 73 wins increases dramatically.

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Big Moves the Philadelphia Phillies Could Actually Pull Off This Offseason

November 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies are a team in need of a significant overhaul. Running back the old, oft-injured core of an 89-loss team is rarely a sound game plan, but the Phillies seem committed to doing just that.

Assuming none of these players is moved, the Phillies are going to pay the following six players the following amounts of money in 2014:

  • Ryan Howard, $25 million
  • Cliff Lee, $25 million
  • Cole Hamels, $22.5 million
  • Chase Utley, $15 million
  • Jonathan Papelbon, $13 million
  • Jimmy Rollins, $11 million

Howard will be the Big Platoon Piece at first base—assuming he stays healthy. Rollins just posted one of the worst offensive seasons of his career, and regrettably, it looks like he will be a Phillie for two more seasons at those wages.

Hamels was a darling of the peripheral-numbers crowd in 2013, but the bottom line on his 2013 season is that halfway through it, Hamels was 2-11 with an earned run average over 4.50 and a 1.30 WHIP. By the time he put things (sort of) right, it was too late to do his team much good.

Papelbon is a good but not elite closer who had decent ratios (2.92 earned run average, 1.14 WHIP) but still managed to blow seven saves. That was the highest number of blown saves for any National League closer who kept his job for the entire 2013 season.

Utley bounced back nicely in 2013. It should be no surprise—if you have read me for the past year, you know how I predicted that last October. Now the question is whether he will stay productive or go back to being an 80-game-a-year player now that the ink is dry on his contract extension.

Only Lee, then, is virtually certain to provide a good return on the investment the Phillies made in him.

Even in a sport like baseball that rewards frequent failure (three out of 10 gets you to Cooperstown, etc.), one probable success story out of six enormous contracts should be enough to get a general manager dismissed.

Instead, the Phillies look like they are about to double down yet again on veteran help in an attempt to prop up the rotting foundation of the franchise.

Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly has done an accurate but dispiriting job of laying out the paths the Phillies seem likely to consider meandering down this offseason

After admitting that Giancarlo Stanton is a “pie-in-the-sky target,” Salisbury spills a lot of bytes on the likes of Carlos Beltran (36 years of age), Nelson Cruz (33), Ervin Santana (31 on December 12) and Matt Garza (30 on November 26).

Then Justin McGuire of The Sporting News tosses out there how the Phillies are “among teams eyeing Bronson Arroyo.” Arroyo is 36 years old with a lifetime earned run average over 4.00, so he fits the profile.

If these are the types of moves the Phillies are going to make this offseason, they are likely to improve the team enough to get back to .500, but they will come nowhere close to getting back to the playoffs.

The big moves the Phillies could actually pull off this offseason are moves that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is not going to make because of the phenomenon Grantland’s Jonah Keri identified in 2002 when he was writing for Baseball Prospectus: dissonance between the Phillies’ needs and his own.

The Phillies could trade Cliff Lee for either relief from his contract or a haul of prospects, but probably not both. Either way, parting with Lee would be a big move toward a younger, less expensive future.

Similarly, eating the vast majority of Howard’s contract to trade him and thereby dissipate the black cloud over the franchise he now represents would signal a real change in the club’s direction.

But nothing that has happened in the Phillies’ recent past suggests that the club has any intent on a full gut and rebuild.

Instead, expect more painting, caulking and nailing in plywood over cracks that will continue to worsen until the Phillies finally bottom out and finish behind the Miami Marlins in the National League East.

Which could happen as soon as 2014, when you really think about it.

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What Ruben Amaro Jr. Must Do to Save His Job, Legacy This Winter

November 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

Ruben Amaro Jr. is the general manager of a bad baseball team.

As Major League Baseball enters the offseason and winter months, the Phillies executive is fighting for his job and legacy. Repairing the damage that has been inflicted upon the organization can’t be undone overnight. The path to returning to contention will be long and arduous. Until Amaro realizes that, the team won’t be properly suited to turn around.

From the moment Amaro took control of the Philadelphia front office, the franchise has experienced extremes.

In 2009, Amaro’s first season as general manager, Philadelphia made a second consecutive trip to the World Series, falling in six games to the New York Yankees. In 2010, the team won 97 games and made a third consecutive trip to the National League Championship Series, falling in six games to the San Francisco Giants. In 2011, Amaro’s concoction of talent set a franchise record for regular-season victories (102), but bowed out to the St. Louis Cardinals in a classic, five-game division series.

Since that moment, the wheels have come off at Citizens Bank Park.

2012 brought about the franchise’s first nonwinning season since 2002. Instead of a full, thorough and introspective look at what went wrong, Amaro and Co. decided to push forward in 2013 with an eye on returning to the postseason.

The result? One of the worst teams in baseball. At 73-89, the Phillies finished in fourth place in the NL East, behind the lowly New York Mets. No team in the National League posted a worse run differential. Outside of the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia’s was outscored at a higher clip than every team in professional baseball.

Now, as Amaro gears up for his sixth offseason at the helm in Philadelphia, his job and legacy are on the line. If he can’t transform the Phillies back in a winning outfit, he won’t be around much longer, especially after firing manager Charlie Manuel in August. When the passionate Philadelphia fans look for accountability, Amaro will be the only one to take the fall. 

Unfortunately for the 2009 PSWA (Philadelphia Sports Writers Association) Executive of the Year, job security and legacy are two separate and distinct entities. Due to the dearth of young, ascending talent in the organization, Amaro’s fate may already be sealed. At the end of 2014, his tenure as Phillies GM could end. 

Amaro’s legacy, however, can still be saved. If the GM prioritizes a winter plan that focuses on long-term contention, not a Band-Aid approach for 2014, he can still be remembered as an integral piece in Phillies history.

That’s right, folks. Forget big-game hunting for names like David Price or Giancarlo Stanton. Eschew the notion that Carlos Ruiz is a priority. Eliminate the idea of two or three-year deals for flawed relief pitchers.

It’s time for the Phillies to retool the farm system, prioritize 2015 and 2016 over 2014 and accept this as the inevitable state of the National League East: As of this moment, the Philadelphia Phillies are the least likely team in the National League East to go on a sustained run of success over the next half-decade. Forget catching the Braves and Nationals atop the division, the New York Mets and Miami Marlins have more young talent on their 40-man rosters.

Of course, before any of those goals can be accomplished, Amaro needs to see the writing that is plastered on the wall. If it takes a magnifying glass, so be it. If it requires a monocle, no expense should be spared. If it takes every media personality in the city of Philadelphia to stage a fan intervention, let it happen.

Next week, some of the brightest minds in the sport will convene for the annual GM meetings. Within days, Amaro must shed the thought process that has been permeating out of Philadelphia since September. That thought process centers around the Phillies adding major pieces this winter with an eye on contention in 2014. In other words, the wrong approach.

In September, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News asked Amaro if it would be fair to say this coming winter wouldn’t feature big-name acquisitions in Philadelphia. Amaro’s response was blunt.

“Nope,” said Amaro.

More recently, CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury pieced together a primer on Amaro’s impending offseason direction. Among the many highlights: Prioritizing the re-signing of 35-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz, adding a right-handed hitter to the outfield mix, possibly Stanton, but more likely signing Nelson Cruz or trading for Mike Trumbo, and adding veteran relief pitchers to the bullpen.

There’s probably not enough Web space to chronicle why all of those ideas have downsides, but let’s start here: Prioritizing any 35-year-old catcher is foolish, chasing an impossible fish to catch (no pun intended) in Stanton is a waste of time due to limited farm system chips, Cruz is an awful defender and comes with questions off a 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension, Trumbo just posted a .294 on-base percentage for Los Angeles and allocating resources to veteran relievers is one of the biggest wastes of money in professional sports. 

The problem, more than the actual players bantered about, is the ideology. Rebuilding teams don’t prioritize players like Ruiz, attempt to surrender major assets for a superstar like Stanton or look to bring in a flawed power-hitter like Trumbo. Those are moves made by a team on the cusp of contention or with a nucleus in place that can offset the downside (risk, money, prospects lost, player weaknesses) that all those moves, in some capacity, come with. 

As you are probably screaming at your computer or phone while reading this, a rebuild or retooling of the roster is much, much easier said than done. Even if Amaro wants to go that route, ownership, with millions more in their pockets due to Major League Baseball’s new national television contract, per Fangraphs, can’t just cut payroll and expect fans to flock to Citizens Bank Park. While that’s understandable, fans are as well educated in 2013 as any time in the history of sports. If presented with moves that make sense for long-term success, they’ll buy in.

Now that the blueprint is laid out for Amaro, how can a plan actually be implemented? Well, to steal a word from the GM himself, the Phillies need to be creative. MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki asked Amaro about what it will take to win big again in Philadelphia.

“We have to try to be creative, maybe a little more creative if we can,” said Amaro. 

It’s likely that Amaro was thinking about ways to creatively get better, not worse, in the short term. Yet the same thought process can be used to set the franchise up for long-term success, possibly even one similar to the run from 2005-2011. Over those seven years, Philadelphia averaged 92.2 wins per season.

In the past, Amaro Jr. has shown the creativity to swing major deals for Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and attempting (and failing) to garner a preemptive strike on a team-friendly Ryan Howard contract extension before the market on power hitters exploded.

Now, that same creativity is needed to put a competitive product on the field within the next few years for the city of Philadelphia. Outside of 29-year-old Cole Hamels and the recently re-signed Chase Utley, no member of the organization should be off-limits. 

If ace Cliff Lee could net a franchise-changing prospect like Texas‘ Jurickson Profar in a trade, it must be explored. If the just hired, via Hardball Talk, “stat-guy” in the front office doesn’t rate prospects like Jesse Biddle, Cody Asche or Maikel Franco as highly as Amaro, trading them for similar prospects can’t be ruled out. If Domonic Brown, Philadelphia’s lone 25-or-under All-Star-caliber hitter, is coveted by a contender, cashing him in for two or three potential future stars is wise.

With those assets, the Phillies sank in 2013. Without them, it’s hard to imagine a .500 season in 2014, but Amaro’s legacy in Philadelphia could be restored if the next group of young Phils become contenders in 2015 and beyond.

If the beleaguered general manger continues to try to extract contention out of a roster that has seen it’s window of contention slammed shut, the short and long-term future won’t be pretty for Phillies fans.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

5 Dream Free-Agent Pickups for Philadelphia Phillies

November 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

The Philadelphia Phillies are headed for a critical offseason. With holes in the bullpen, rotation, at right field and at catcher, the Phillies will have some work to do this offseason if they plan on fielding a contender in 2014.

Even if the Phillies can’t realistically expect to contend for the postseason in 2014, they can still do more than just patchwork. While this year’s free-agent crop is thin, it’s headlined by its fair share of stars who could make an impact on any of MLB‘s 30 teams.

Given the Phillies’ already hefty payroll and likely unwillingness to exceed the $189 million luxury tax, they will only be able to do so much with their vacant dollars on the free-agency front. While it’s not far-fetched to think that the Phillies could sign a top free agent, the chances that they will sign three or four are probably slim to none.

With free agency officially starting at 12:01 a.m. EST Tuesday, November 5, the clock is ticking for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Co. to determine which positions should be prioritized and who to sign to fill them. If he had his way, chances are that Amaro would sign the top free agents at each necessary position.

Today, that’s what we’re going to consider.

Amaro has the resources to sign at least one of the five players to be mentioned in this slideshow. Here are five dream free-agent pickups the Phillies would want to (and could) make.

Begin Slideshow

Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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