Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Official; Cliff Lee is Returning to Philly!

Multiple sources now confirm that Cliff Lee will sign with the Phillies. The deal is believed to be for around 5 years/$115 million. It also includes an easily attainable option for a 6th year. Lee took substantially less guaranteed money to return to the Phils. Considering that the team abruptly traded him just one year ago, this can only be described as stunning.

I have never seen a turn of events quite like this during the free-agent period.

At the moment, the Phillies have a rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.

Pinch me.

Report: Phillies May Re-Acquire Lee

In a truly stunning development, the Phillies appear to be in hot pursuit of left-handed starter Cliff Lee (32). For weeks, speculation has centered on mainly the Yankees and Rangers, but for days a "mystery team" has been making waves. Today, it was confirmed by multiple sources (Jayson Stark, Jon Heyman, etc.) that the Phillies are indeed this team.

Lee was famously traded by Ruben Amaro about a year ago for 3 lousy prospects in a move coordinated with the acquisition of Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. But Lee reportedly loved his time in Philly and may take a shorter contract to return. If Amaro is able to sign Lee, it will be yet another in a series of bold moves since he became team GM two years ago.

The move could give the Phils the most impressive on-paper rotation in recent MLB memory. In doing so, they would almost certainly need to move Joe Blanton and the $17 million he is owed over the next 2 seasons.

It is too early to get excited about this possibility, and I will not yet assume it is wise (we have no idea what the numbers would be). That said, this is shocking, exciting, and fascinating.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Carl Crawford Myth

I can’t take it anymore; the conventional wisdom is driving me crazy. Carl Crawford is overrated! I can say with confidence that whoever signs Crawford in the coming days will make an even bigger mistake than the Nationals did yesterday with Jayson Werth.

Crawford, the so-called “prize” of the 2010 FA class, is actually only a slightly above average hitter. He has a career .781 OPS --- 21 points lower than Marcus Thames. He has never hit 20 homers in a season, nor recorded an OBP north of .364. Yes, he is a prolific base stealer, but is this really something that teams should bank on as he gets into his thirties? (any contract he signs will likely take him to about 35-37). According to Baseball Reference, Crawford’s career progression compares most closely to Roberto Kelly, a sometimes starting outfielder for 8 different clubs (most notably the Yankees) between 1987 and 2000.

Even in his career year of 2010 (which was also his contract year), Crawford posted an .851 OPS…about 20 points lower than Pat Burrell --- who just signed a 1 year, $1 million deal with SF.

Jayson Werth, who also has speed and plays a great rightfield, was clearly the best offensive free agent on the market this year. Werth has posted a higher OPS than Crawford’s career year in each of the last 4 seasons. And somewhere after Werth, Adam Dunn and possibly a few others (Adrian Beltre, V-Mart, Lance Berkman) lies Carl Crawford.

I understand that rate stats aren’t everything, but Crawford represents the other extreme. He is the prototypical “tools” player… the guy who can “hurt you in so many different ways.” But baseball isn’t about hurting the opposition through various methods… it’s about net production. On that count, Carl Crawford is a good player who probably represents the 70th percentile of big league outfielders. Despite this, he’s about to be paid like one of the 3 or 4 best players in all of baseball.

The Nats may have erred by committing big money and years to Jayson Werth, but I applaud them for at least identifying the best outfielder on the market in 2010.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Amaro: Phils May Not Add Right-Handed Bat to Replace Werth

Ruben Amaro, who apparently offered Jayson Werth "Jason Bay money" (about 4 yrs./$66 million), said today that the right-fielder's departure does not necessarily mean the Phils will seek out an external replacement for him.

Such a statement would not have been surprising three months ago. But since, Domonic Brown has finished the 2010 season with a .210 average and played very poorly in winter ball.

I actually think entering the year with a Ben Francisco/Dom Brown platoon isn't crazy at all. Francisco was an above-average hitter this past season, while Brown's stumbles are being over-analyzed. If either or both turn out to be busts in 2011, then the Phils can always address the issue at the deadline... there's never a shortage of right-handed outfielders. That said, if a bargain becomes available in the off-season (Jermaine Dye for the veteran minimum?), I'd like to see us jump.

I would recommend that the team's primary focus be on adding 1 or 2 solid lefty relievers before Spring Training.

Werth Signs with Nationals

Jayson Werth, the best Phils' hitter in 2010 and an integral part of the 2008 championship team, is gone tonight.

Werth signed a 7 yr./$126 million deal with the Washington Nationals, the NL East's perennial last place team. With all due respect to Werth, who I continue to think is underrated by many baseball fans, the terms of this contract are a bit ridiculous. A seven-year deal for a 31-year-old player with a history of wrist issues is way too risky. $18 million/year is a fine price for an elite player, but Werth has only been a top outfielder for 2 years. Each of these years came at Citizens Bank Park with a top lineup around him. He now heads to DC, where he'll play in a big park alongside a decent lineup, at best.

The move makes even less sense coming from the Nats. If the Red Sox or Angels threw this $ at Werth, I'd think it was too high, but would understand that these teams are wealthy and may (rightfully) believe that Werth is the piece separating them from contention, or even a championship. But the Nationals are not one piece away. They remain, even with this signing, arguably the worst team in the NL East. They also have very low fan support and therefore little payroll flexibility. Does it really make sense to spend 25%-30% of the team's payroll (for years to come) on 1 player who may lead you to 75 wins? I think not.

I've been to Nationals Park many times. The crowd is uneducated, disinterested, and small...very small. Perhaps Werth was given a false impression of the DC crowd playing for the Phillies. When the Phils come to town, the crowd is loud and large. The reason: Phillies fans are there. I hope (actually, I don't give a s*it) Werth is ready for an adjustment. He has just chosen to leave one of the most exciting baseball cities in the country (with over 100 consecutive sellouts) for one who routinely struggles to sellout it's home-opener.

Thanks for your service Jayson, but I think the best and most exciting days of your career are behind you.