Thursday, July 29, 2010

Well Done, Ruben

Few have been as critical of Ruben Amaro than I over the past eight months. I, like many Phillies fans, have simply been unable to forgive him for shipping Cliff Lee to Seattle for three underwhelming prospects. We could have had Halladay and all know the story.

While I am not ready to concede this argument - I doubt I ever will - Ruben had a great day today and it should be acknowledged.

Amaro landed Roy Oswalt, giving the Phils one of the best rotations in baseball and quite possibly, the best 1-2 punch in the league. In doing so, he gave up J.A. Happ and two low-level (but promising) prospects, OF Anthony Gose and SS Jonathan Villar.

Happ is a fine pitcher and should have a place in Houston's rotation for the next several years at a very low price (he's team controlled through 2014). Gose and Villar are considered raw prospects; they are fast, athletic, and good in the field. It remains to be seen, however, whether either can be solid major league hitters. If anything, both seem to project to be Michael Bourns or perhaps, Shane Victorinos (if all goes well).

All in all, I am very content with this package. Happ does not have dominating velocity or stuff, and therefore will always need to get by on location. He could have an amazing career, but more than likely he's a career #3 or #4. Gose and Villar are a long, long way away from the bigs. The Phils were not forced to concede any AAA or AA guys, and notably, no top pitching prospects.

In addition, the Astros are forking over $11m. to the Phils towards Oswalt's salary in 2010/2011 ($23m.). I never expected that. Oswalt for just $12m. for the next 1.3 seasons is a great deal. Plus, the Phils were able to retain the option of keeping him in 2012 (at $16m). Their only concession was increasing his buyout from $2m to $3m. This, essentially, is meaningless for a team with a $140m. payroll.

Today was an exciting day. If I'd been told 1 year ago that the Phils would have both Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt on their roster today, I'd be ecstatic and speechless. On this day, here's to the one who made it happen. Thanks, Ruben, you had a good day.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Domonic Brown and the Trade Deadline

Domonic Brown played in his first game as a Phillie tonight and didn't disappoint. He went 2 for 3 with a double, 2 runs, and 2 RBI. He had a defensive lapse in right field in the 9th inning, but that's to be expected.

I have long argued that Brown could be a staple in the Phillies lineup for many years. But what should his arrival mean for the Phils' trade deadline plans?

I am a believer that Brown needs a spot in the 2011 outfield. The most logical way to create one is to move Jayson Werth or simply allow him to leave via free agency. I, however, would love to see the Phils consider something different.

Make an honest attempt to keep Werth (maybe 4 yr./52m. gets it done). Trade Raul Ibanez, who is owed $12m. in 2011. Now, I recognize that no team will likely eat this contract in it's entirety. But we shouldn't underestimate the value of a player like Ibanez (whose beginning to heat up) to a team that hopes to contend next year. Rather than take a chance on a player who will require a long-term deal, some teams may prefer Ibanez, who they can let walk after 2011. Let's say the Phillies can trade him for a low-level prospect and a pledge to eat $4 of his 2011 salary. The Phils will have shedded some salary for 2011, kept arguably the 3 best offensive outfield options available to them (Werth, Victorino, and Brown), and retained Werth for the next 4 years.

Having done the above, it is an open question as to whether or not Roy Oswalt's contract is simply too large for the Phillies' 2011 and 2012 budgets. Fair enough. However, we should remember that Jamie Moyer also comes off the books after 2010. While many players (Utley, Halladay, Blanton, etc.) will receive internal raises, there is no reason the team shouldn't be able to increase payroll from $140 to $150m. After all, every game is a sellout and arguably, the addition of Oswalt should make the playoffs (and more revenue) a strong likelihood in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

If money is an issue, then the solution could be to defer much of Werth's money (i.e. 8m, 8m, 16m, 20m). In this scenario, the Phils aren't paying huge money to Werth until 2013, when the current contracts of Oswalt, Blanton, and Victorino are no longer on the books.

Just a thought.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paul Hagen is Wrong

Paul Hagen has written for the Philadelphia Daily News for a long time. He's a good, fair sportswriter and I enjoy reading him. But the other day, he wrote a column which irritated me.

Essentially, Hagen argued that fans need to give Ruben Amaro a break. Specifically, we need to cut him some slack regarding Cliff Lee. Amaro, he argued, was in a tough spot last December. Lee had rejected the Phillies initial contract extension offer. Once Amaro had the opportunity to make the deal for Halladay, it made all the more sense to do it given the uncertainty surrounding Lee. Once this was done, it was imperative to re-arm the farm system --- which he then did for Lee. In addition, the Phils could never afford to keep both pitchers.

This argument is wrong, dead wrong. First, Lee wanted to remain in Philly. Of course he didn't accept the Phils' initial offer; what top-player in their right mind would do that? Lee has said he thought the offer was simply the beginning of negotiations and he planned to counter shortly thereafter. He didn't loudly reject the Phils' offer; he just considered it the beginning rather than the end.

Second, the Phillies could have afforded both pitchers both in the short and long-terms. In the short term, Lee makes the same amount this season that Joe Blanton does. Enough said. They could have non-tendered Blanton (who was arbitration-eligible) and kept Lee. Plain and simple. Over the long-term, each pitcher (Lee and Halladay) is a $20/m. arm. It's steep and it's risky, but the Phillies have sold out every home game for over a year. They have a payroll of $140 million. If you let Blanton go and don't resign Jamie Moyer after 2010, this is very, very doable.

Finally, Ruben got garbage in return for Cliff Lee. Of the three trades made involving Lee over the past year, any baseball executive will tell you the Phillies got the least return in prospects. And this isn't a situation whereby some top prospects have been surprisingly disappointing. In reality, these prospects were never that highly touted. None of the three prospects involved in the deal projects to be an MLB star. Given their performance thus far in the minors, each would be lucky to ever play in the big leagues. Had the Phillies offered the same package to Seattle for Lee this week, it would have been laughed out of the office. Ruben rushed the Lee deal to make everything work with Halladay, and he got badly robbed.

So in response to Paul Hagen, I refuse to stop talking and complaining about the Cliff Lee matter. The Phillies lost the opportunity to have the best 1-2 rotation punch since Johnson-Schilling in 2001. It didn't have to be this way, and Ruben Amaro deserves continuous, unrelenting blame.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Infante Update

ESPN announced tonight that Charlie Manuel chose Omar Infante because MLB instructed him to choose a utility player for the roster. Interesting. Beginning this year, each manager will be able to designate one player who may re-enter the game after exiting. If this player is able to play multiple positions, then he obviously offers more flexibility in the event of an injury, etc. Hence, the selection of Infante, who plays seven positions.

Joe Girardi chose Ty Wigginton (.776 OPS, 14 HRs), a player previously discussed as a possible Chase Utley replacement, as his utility man.

If this claim is true, then my criticism of Manuel (see previous post) was a bit unwarranted. I still, however, feel that it is unfortunate for players like Joey Votto and Jayson Werth to get snubbed from the All-Star Game in favor of a journeyman like Omar Infante.

The Omar Infante Affair

For the second straight season, Phils' skipper Charlie Manuel is managing the NL squad at the All-Star Game. With that comes the responsibility of choosing a handful of the team's reserves. Manuel chose the following players:

- Brandon Philips, 2B, Reds.
- Ryan Howard, 1B, Phils.
- Chris Carpenter, SP, Cardinals.
- Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers.
- Tim Hudson, SP, Braves.
- Evan Meek, RP, Pirates.
- Arthur Rhodes, RP, Reds.
- Omar Infante, 2B, Braves.
- Michael Bourn, OF, Astros.
- Chris Young, OF, D-Backs.

Other all-stars were chosen by the fans and the players.

One of Manuel's picks has attracted more attention than the others. It should be clear. Omar Infante? Really? Manuel picked a below-average NL hitter who starts less than half of his team's games to play on the NL squad. This seemingly-indefensible choice was made at the expense of a number of deserving players, including Reds 1B Joey Votto, who leads the NL is OPS (.988) this season.

Infante, whose greatest asset is that he plays seven positions, has the following numbers this season:

Starts - 35
AB - 177
HR - 1
RBI - 22
AVG - .309
OBP - .341
SLG - .376
OPS - .711
SB - 3
OPS+ - 95

Infante is essentially a slap-hitting, utility player whose hit for some average this season, but done little else. He has no power, little speed, and doesn't take many walks. In addition to Votto (.988 OPS, 19 HRs), he was taken over Cardinals centerfielder Colby Rasmus (.916 OPS), Braves first baseman Troy Glaus (.822), Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.880), Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder (.867), and Manuel's own Jayson Werth (.901).

What bothers me is that the manager of my team is able to make such an obviously poor baseball decision. There is no way to conclude that Infante is more valuable than any of the above players. Yes, he plays lots of positions. So what. The all-star rosters are huge and there are plenty of guys to get through the game. He has a responsibility to pick those enjoying the best seasons. It's the fair thing to do and it gives the NL the best chance to win.

Manuel should know better than anyone that the All-Star Game counts. Home-field would have been nice in either the 2008 or 2009 World Series.

I do believe, however, that Manuel wants to win. I just think he disagrees with, or fails to understand, the proper ways to evaluate offensive performance. The fact that he can sleep at night denying the NL's leading OPS guy from the game tells me the statistic means little to him. The idea that Omar Infante's .309 average looks like a major asset, despite the fact that his OBP is only .341, suggests that Manuel is reading the wrong part of the baseball card.

Perhaps Infante will surprise us and record the game-winning hit in the All-Star game. It's baseball and of course that's a possibility. The point is that Manuel failed to execute his responsibility when he chose an inferior player for the roster over many, many more-deserving hitters.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Update: Chase Utley Out at Least 8 Weeks

Our worst fears have been realized. Chase Utley will miss at least 8 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn muscle in his right thumb. If all goes well, he'll be ready to go around Labor Day. In order for it to matter, the Phillies will need to remain in contention in an increasingly-competitive NL East until then.

Placido Polanco will not require surgery on his elbow, but is suffering from tendinitis and will miss 3-4 weeks.

I would have to think the team will now certainly consider it's options on the trade market. Starting some combination of Juan Castro, Greg Dobbs, and Wilson Valdez on an everyday-basis is a bit scary, especially considering that starting catcher Carlos Ruiz is also out. is As noted in an earlier post, Awi Iwamura and Ty Wigginton are options. Garrett Atkins, a disappointment with the Orioles, could also be obtained on the cheap.