Reassessing Philadelphia Phillies' Offseason Plan and What's Next
In Philadelphia, plans are subjective to change by the minute. Led by the impetuous nature of general manager Ruben Amaro, the Phillies lack direction.
Thus far this offseason, their handling of the free-agent market and trade rumors circling out of Philadelphia belabor this point: This franchise is heading south, quickly.
After setting the outfield market by handing Marlon Byrd a two-year, $16 million contract in early November, the organization allotted a three-year commitment to a 35-year-old catcher months removed from a poor season.
The same thought process, misguided as it may appear, works in defense of the head-scratching deal given to starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez. Acquiring relief pitcher Brad Lincoln, at the expense of catcher Erik Kratz and lefty Rob Rasmussen, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com, also fits the bill.
As delusional as those moves were, at least they were completed in the name of competing for a postseason berth in 2014.
What's transpired in the midst of those moves is beyond puzzling. As the Phillies take steps to ensure meaningful baseball next summer at Citizens Bank Park, half the roster has appeared in trade rumors.
From the logical (Domonic Brown), to the hopeless (Jonathan Papelbon), to the sentimental (Jimmy Rollins) to the full-scale rebuilding effort (Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels), the Phillies enter the latter portion of December at a crossroads of a critical offseason.
At some point soon, a roster must take shape for Ryne Sandberg's first spring training in Clearwater, Fla. as the man in charge. Juggling multiple scenarios, short-term hopes and long-term dreams are fine for December, but far from it in February.
In Philadelphia, fans want to see winning baseball again. From 2007-2011, no National League team dominated like the Phillies.
It will take time, patience and ingenuity to return a once proud and dominant franchise to respectability in the the NL East.
Here's what should be next for the Philadelphia Phillies.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.
Choose a Direction
In or out?
One question, three words and no clear answer from Ruben Amaro and the front office in Philadelphia.
Considering the payroll, over $141 million, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, committed to next year's roster already, it's hard to imagine the Phillies conceding a season before it begins. The same franchise that traded for Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay can't just morph into a seller overnight.
On the other hand, the talk out of Philadelphia, including the dangling of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, two of the top 10 or 15 pitchers in the world, haven't been cooked up in a lab. It's real and it's spectacular, with this report from CBSSports.com's Dayn Perry only adding to the speculation.
Logical fans in Philadelphia have seen the writing on the wall for years. It's time for the team to get younger, pare down the roster and build it back up again the right way. Holding on to a championship window that's closing by the minute, if not already slammed shut, is foolish.
There's merit to the talk, but not the overall philosophy.
If Cole Hamels is on the trade block, what's the point of signing Marlon Byrd to man right field during his age-36 and 37 seasons? If Cliff Lee is going to be sold to the bidder with the best prospect, why is Carlos Ruiz on the team for the next three seasons?
Creativity isn't a trait Ruben Amaro has shown during his tenure as general manager in Philadelphia.
However, he has shown the ability to be aggressive and fearless. Conviction is a trait imperative to surviving as long as Amaro has in Philadelphia. Now, he'll need those attributes more than ever.
Soon, as in the next few weeks, the Phillies need to choose a direction and stick with it for the remainder of the offseason.
If that means attempting to stave off age and lowly expectations for a run at the 2014 postseason, the Hamels and Lee speculation needs to be put to rest. If a team calls offering a ransom, the call can't go further than pleasantries. If the Phillies are going to win, it's time to act like it.
If that means tearing it down in the name of long-term success, so be it. Attendance in 2014 and 2015 can't change the equation. Loyalty shouldn't play into possible franchise-changing deals. The only objective should be to put the franchise in a position to be annual contenders in 2016 and beyond.
Frankly, which direction the Phillies should go is no longer the actual debate. It's more important that the franchise simply picks a road to traverse the rest of the offseason.
Sell High on Domonic Brown
Regardless of the direction Philadelphia chooses for the rest of this offseason and beyond, one star should be on the move: Domonic Brown.
Yes, the Phillies, an old, over-the-hill team, should trade their only young, ascending talent.
While the notion may feel crazy, it's about supply and demand. On the heels of an All-Star selection, 27 home runs and an OPS-plus of 123, the Phillies have a commodity that many teams can only wish to have: a star-level outfielder under club-control through 2018.
Considering that free-agent right fielder Shin-Soo Choo recently rejected, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, a seven-year, $140 million deal from the New York Yankees, the price of star outfielders is evident.
Brown isn't Choo, but he's younger and poised to cost tens of millions of dollars less over the next four seasons. If Choo garners a contract worth more than $20 million annually, the pre-arbitration-eligible Brown could make $20 million less than Choo in 2014. According to Fangraphs, Brown was worth $8.2 million this past season.
Of course, this conversation would be ridiculous if Brown was closer to Mike Trout or Bryce Harper's talent level. He's good, not great. He's young, 26, but not as young as some of the recent phenoms. Despite a stellar stat line in 2013 (.272/.324/.494), the numbers were enhanced by a great May (12 HR, .991 OPS) that inflated an otherwise average campaign.
The Phillies would be perfectly fine keeping a player like Brown for the next four seasons, adding talent around him and hoping his 2013 was the springboard to more success.
However, by shopping him to the highest bidder, the franchise could capitalize on a team desperate for offense or by a general manager enamored with Brown's otherworldly month of May.
Commit to Youth in Bullpen
Outside of the rare exceptions to the rule, handing out lucrative, long-term contracts to relief pitchers is the most illogical thing in baseball economics.
There are many, many ways to allocate funds for a Major League Baseball roster. Regardless of market size or budget, every team can choose to allocate a certain percentage to each position. Primarily, smart teams choose to hand bullpen roles over to young, failing starting pitchers or find cheap reclamation projects in the form of veteran free agents.
In Philadelphia, the insane has become commonplace.
Over the course of Ruben Amaro's tenure, he's allocated over $71 million to the following free-agent relievers: Danys Baez, Jose Contreras, JC Romero, Chad Qualls, Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon.
Outside of 2010, that figure is more than the Tampa Bay Rays' entire roster for every season of their existence, per Cot's Baseball Contracts.
For old-school managers like former Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel, youth can be a scary proposition, especially when asked to hold critical leads late in games. Under Ryne Sandberg's regime, the franchise has to change the way business is conducted in the bullpen.
Some of the young arms may fail, but some will emerge as gifted, late-game specialists. Their talents won't just be appreciated, they'll be valued do to pre-arbitration salaries that will help keep the entire team payroll in a more manageable place.
According to MLB Depth Charts, the Phillies have seven young relievers (Antonio Bastardo, Brad Lincoln, Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Joe Savery, Kevin Munson and Phillippe Aumont) projected between the big-league bullpen and a spot in Triple-A.
At some point in 2014, it's time to move away from the reliance on veterans like Mike Adams or the impulse to swing a trade for a proven arm.
Smart teams use ingenuity, not money, to build successful bullpens.
Make Ryan Howard a Platoon Player
Here's a sobering thought, Phillies fans: Ryan Howard will earn $75 million over the next three seasons.
Healthy or injured, productive or futile, the former National League MVP will receive every cent owed to him after signing a five-year, $125 million contract extension in 2010. At the time, Howard was a star and in the midst of averaging 50 home runs per season over a four-year span.
Now, he's a shell of his former self. At this point, the inevitable has set in and the Phillies know exactly what they paid for when inking Howard: his past.
The future isn't bright, but it doesn't have to be as ugly as it seems.
At the age of 34, nearly 10 full years from Howard's MLB debut, he's no longer an everyday player due to a total inability to hit left-handed pitching.
The following represents Howard's OPS marks against LHP since 2011: .634, .604, .539.
To put those numbers into perspective, consider that Darwin Barney, the all-glove, no-hit infielder for the Chicago Cubs, posted a .569 OPS in 2013. At this point, Howard isn't playable when the opposing manager inserts a lefty into the game.
Howard's demise, while underscoring the ridiculous hindsight the contract extension has given baseball fans, isn't totally fair. If Howard was afforded the ability to only start against right-handed pitching, his total numbers would look much different without the abysmal lefty struggles dragging them down.
Using the last three years, here's what an average season would look like if Howard only faced RHP: .272/.358/.521/.879.
Over the last three seasons, only eight first basemen have posted an on-base percentage of at least .358. During that time, only three first basemen (Chris Davis, Joey Votto and Mike Napoli) have posted a slugging percentage of at least .521. From 2011-present, only five first basemen have posted an OPS of at least .879.
During an interview in October on WIP in Philadelphia, Ruben Amaro acknowledged what the rest of the sport had been seeing for years.
“Well, listen, here’s the deal. I mean, It’s about Ryne Sandberg and how he thinks he matches up. Ryan [Howard] has never been a great hitter against left-handers, but when he is in there and he does enough damage against right-handers it’s tough to take him out of the lineup. Now, if we feel like he’s not performing against the left-handers then we put someone else in there to hit,” Amaro said to Angelo Cataldi and the 94WIP Morning Show.
It's time for the Phillies to extract as much as they can from the Big Piece before his power and ability totally dry up. By finding a platoon partner, possibly Darin Ruf or John Mayberry, they can salvage what's left of Howard's career and help the team win on days an opposing lefty takes the mound.