Gillick Isn’t Slumbering This Time

After about a one-week hiatus following a move to a new apartment, I am back in front of my computer monitor, much to the dismay of the rest of the Internets (to those of you sending me mail bombs, please note the change in address).

The Phillies have been the noisiest team thus far in the offseason, unless you count all of the meaningless banter in the media about Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees, and everyone else in between. If you’re a Phillies fan, you have to be happy with the way Gillick has attacked the pressing needs facing the 2008 team.

Despite the in-season rumors of the Phillies attempting to acquire Brad Lidge in a trade with the Houston Astros, it was still surprising to read about the move in the newspaper (yes, I was reduced to that archaic form of media sans Internet, sans cable, sans telephone).

The Phillies sent outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary, and Minor League third baseman Mike Costanzo to the ‘stros for Lidge and utility infielder Eric Bruntlett.

It’s a good trade for both sides, even though Lidge, a free agent after the ’08 season, may only be a one-year rental for the Phillies, who are, in reality, poised for an “’08 or bust” campaign.

Let’s first parse through who the Phillies gave up.

Geoff Geary

Geary is an enigma if there ever was one. He’s been an above-average reliever for each of the past three seasons, with last year’s 105 ERA+ being a severe drop-off from his 158 ERA+ in ’06. He gives up a fair share of base runners (1.399 career WHIP) and his career BABIP is .311, which is only slightly higher than the league average, showing that his propensity for allowing base runners isn’t fluky. In addition, his K/9 of 5.82 shows that he doesn’t have particularly overpowering stuff and he’ll only get more and more hittable as hitters become more familiar with him and as his stuff wanes.

Geary’s departure doesn’t increase the importance of anyone in particular in the Phillies bullpen, just anyone who would potentially be used in middle-relief (for instance, Ryan Madson).

Michael Bourn

Bourn has always been a prized prospect of the Phillies, but it was only because the Phillies’ farm system is so barren. Bourn has the ceiling similar to that of Juan Pierre or Wily Taveras — a singles hitter that can steal some bases and put his above-average speed to use in the outfield.

While with the Phillies for the entire season in the pinch-runner/defensive replacement role, Bourn did show that he is capable of handling an everyday workload if needed. He got on base at about the league-average (Bourn’s .348 to the league’s .349) and was 18-for-19 in the stolen base department.

Fortunately for the Phillies, they already have a guy akin to Bourn, only with a much stronger arm and a bit more power, in Shane Victorino.

Bourn’s loss makes the back-ups in the outfield — Jayson Werth and Greg Dobbs — a bit more valuable.

Mike Costanzo

According to Phuture Phillies, Baseball America ranked Costanzo among the top-20 prospects in the Eastern League.

Last season in AA Reading, Costanzo made huge bounds from the previous season, in which he put up an OBP of .364 and a SLG of .411, to put up an OBP of .368 and a SLG of .490. He hit 27 HR and drove in 86 runs to go along with that.

While his offense looks appealing, his defense does not. He committed 25 errors in ’06 and 34 last season in only 133 and 135 games, respectively. That is an aggregate average of about one error every 4.5 games.

In 2008, the Phillies will use a platoon of Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs, and Eric Bruntlett at third base, so Costanzo’s move doesn’t increase anyone’s immediate value, though the Phillies will have to find a reliable third baseman after the season.

Now let’s take a look at who the Phillies acquired.

Brad Lidge

Phillies fans pessimistic about the trade will cite Lidge’s ’06 effort as an indication that he isn’t everything he’s cracked up to be, but if his ’07 season means anything, then it was just an aberration. His K/9 rate has always hovered above 10 (with a career average of 12.6) and he keeps runners off the bases (1.197 career WHIP).

The interesting part about the Lidge acquisition, though, isn’t Lidge himself — it’s how the move will affect Brett Myers, who is now a part of the Phillies’ starting rotation, just shortly removed from a season in which he was the Phillies’ lights-out second-half closer (2.87 ERA and 21 saves in 53.1 IP). Myers made it clear throughout the season that he liked being a part of the bullpen as someone the team could count on game after game, instead of just once every five days. If Myers doesn’t perform well back in the rotation, proponents of the team chemistry concept will point to Lidge as a reason.

Should Myers be amicable and return to his above-average ways as a starter, this move has gold stars written all over it.

Eric Bruntlett

To Phillies fans, he’s “that other guy” acquired along with Lidge. Yeah, he’s essentially listless offensively (career .323 OBP and .364 SLG) but he has above-average speed (20-for-26 in stolen bases in his career) as well as above-average defense (.847 RZR in 348 defensive innings last season as a shortstop, which would rank slightly behind fifth place if he had enough innings to qualify).

Expect Bruntlett to be used in as a pinch-runner or as a spot-starter at third base in the odd event that Greg Dobbs starts in the outfield and Wes Helms is sitting on the bench.

In the immediate future, the Phillies are clear winners, but don’t be fooled: Geary and Bourn can be cogs in a now youthful Astros roster, with Craig Biggio retired. The Astros could use an outfield of Carlos Lee (31) in left, Bourn (25) in center, and Hunter Pence (24) in right.

Shortly after the Lidge deal, the Phillies re-signed left-handed reliever J.C. Romero to a three-year, $12 million deal.

J.C. Romero

Plucked off the waiver wire by Gillick in June from the world champion Boston Red Sox, Romero quickly become one of only three reliable arms in the bullpen, along with Myers and Tom Gordon, both of whom were injured during the season.

Romero walked his share of hitters (25 in 36.1 IP), but otherwise kept hitters at bay (1.101 WHIP). He averaged just a shade under a 1/1 K/IP ratio, but the most important aspect — his left-handedness aside — is his ability to throw the ground ball, an absolute must in a hitter-friendly stadium such as Citizens Bank Park. In ’07, 60% of his outs were of the ground ball variety, only slightly above his 54.3% career average.

With those deals fleshed out, let’s look at what the Phillies’ 25-man roster should look like, as it stands, come Opening Day.

C – Carlos Ruiz
1B – Ryan Howard
2B – Chase Utley
3B – Wes Helms
SS – Jimmy Rollins
LF – Pat Burrell
CF – ? / Shane Victorino
RF – Jayson Werth

C – Chris Coste
IF – Eric Bruntlett
IF/OF – Greg Dobbs
OF – Chris Roberson
OF – T.J. Bohn

That ? in center field could be Aaron Rowand, it could be another outfielder acquired via free agency or trade, or it could be Victorino, simply taking Rowand’s place.

The Phillies’ outfield reserves currently include Chris Roberson and T.J. Bohn, both of whom are rather unappetizing, so here’s hoping they sign someone like Geoff Jenkins to a one-year deal and use him in a platoon with Jayson Werth in right field (Jenkins, .883 career OPS vs. RHP; Werth .864 career OPS vs. LHP).

SP – Cole Hamels
SP – Brett Myers
SP – Jamie Moyer
SP – Adam Eaton
SP – Kyle Kendrick

The last two spots are tentative. I don’t know this for a fact, but I imagine the Phillies are very open to using blase Adam Eaton in a long-relief role. The Phillies are also hoping to allow Kendrick to develop a bit more in the Minor Leagues, perhaps to develop a put-away pitch that he lacked in his impressive rookie season in ’07.

Rumors have the Phillies most interested in Randy Wolf and Bartolo Colon, but both would be risky propositions given their injury histories. Further down the list are Livan Hernandez and Kyle Lohse. Hernandez is a fly ball-prone pitcher, and Lohse’s agent is Scott Boras, whom the Phillies absolutely detest (see: Drew, J.D.).

Carlos Silva, with his ground ball tendencies (47.5% in ’07; 48.7% career), should actually be the #1 target for the Phillies in terms of cost/effectiveness.

RP -
RP -
RP -
RP – J.C. Romero
RP – Ryan Madson
SU – Tom Gordon
CP – Brad Lidge

The three open relief pitching slots could go to just about anyone who shows up in Spring Training. “Anyone” could include Fabio Castro, Clay Condrey, Julio Mateo, Scott Mathieson, Francisco Rosario, and Mike Zagurski.

One of Castro and Zagurski will make it by the sheer fact of their left-handedness, giving the Phillies increased flexibility with two lefties in the ‘pen.

Mathieson is coming off of “Tommy John” surgery, and Mateo still has some personal problems that prevented him from joining the team last season when he was picked up from Seattle for a handshake.

Logically, that leaves Condrey and Rosario to the last two spots, assuming the Phillies are done acquiring relief pitchers. In all likelihood, they are not done shopping, so they could still target someone like David Riske or LaTroy Hawkins to set up for Lidge, and moving injury-prone Tom Gordon to a role in which he is not expected to pitch 70 games throughout the season.

As for the other fun-packed part of the off-season: awards…

How did Jimmy Rollins get the Gold Glove at shortstop over Troy Tulowitski? If there’s one thing both baseball statistical traditionalists and Sabermetricians can agree on, it’s that Tulowitzki was the better defensive shortstop. Rollins is a hell of a defender, but even as a Phillies fan, even I cannot give him the nod on this one.

Compare the statistics.

Rollins: .808 RZR, 65 OOZ

Tulowitzki: .861 RZR, 87 OOZ

Good to see that Aaron Rowand got a Gold Glove, but again, I take exception with it this year. He was sixth among qualified NL center-fielders in RZR (.861) and second in OOZ (69). His 69 OOZ aren’t too much more than the three behind him (5th-place has 63), so if you look at the five ahead of him in RZR…

A. Jones: .921 RZR, 80 OOZ

Beltran: .915, 64 OOZ

Pierre: .902, 63 OOZ

Cameron: .894, 53 OOZ

C. Young: .875, 66 OOZ

…you can find three slightly more deserving candidates. I’m not saying it’s a travesty that Rowand won, but if we’re being specific, he was just a shade under the cut.

Charlie Manuel, who placed second in Manager of the Year voting, should have won over Bob Melvin. His Diamondbacks were fluky, out-performing their Pythagorean W-L by an historically large 11 games. My reasoning for Manuel was laid out here:

Like Torre, Charlie Manuel has had a ton of injuries, a bad pitching staff, and media scrutiny to deal with all season long.

In this article, I listed the 15 Phillies to be put on the disabled list at the time. Since then, Cole Hamels missed time with a strained left elbow, and Antonio Alfonseca was described by Manuel as “out of gas.”

Manuel has had to make do with a horrible bullpen that GM Pat Gillick failed to improve during the off-season. In fact, the bullpen was so lousy that Manuel moved then-starter Brett Myers to the set-up role for Tom Gordon (Myers became the closer when Gordon was injured).

Myers’ statistics as a closer: 45.2 IP, 1.226 WHIP, 2.96 ERA, 56 K, 16 BB, 17 saves in 20 opportunities.

In addition, despite the injuries to 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard, 2007 MVP candidate Chase Utley, speedster Shane Victorino, and a horrid first-half for Pat Burrell, the Phillies have, by far, the National League’s best offense. First in runs, triples, walks, hit batsmen, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Second in at-bats, hits, doubles, home runs, and stolen bases.

When the Phillies lost to the Mets on April 17, Charlie Manuel blew up at “journalist” Howard Eskin during the post-game press conference, the team dropped to a 3-9 record, quickly 5.5 games behind the Mets for fourth place in the NL East. Now, the Phillies are 12-games above .500 — an 18-game swing — and are battling for playoff berths in either the NL East or in the Wild Card, as they are 2.5 GB the Mets and Padres, respectively.

Tulowitzki should have won NL Rookie of the Year over Braun, and while there weren’t any mind-blowing AL candidates for the award, I still think Jeremy Guthrie should have taken it over Dustin Pedroia.

Good to see the voters got something right through in awarding the AL Cy Young to C.C. Sabathia.

We’re still waiting on the NL Cy Young award (Jake Peavy, obviously) and both MVP awards. John Brattain makes an interesting case for Jimmy Rollins as the NL recipient. I don’t agree, but as a Phillies fan, I won’t complain if Rollins wins it. If he does, it will be the first time a team has had two different players win back-to-back MVP awards since Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds in 2000 and ’01.

What’s Out There?

If anyone is in a helpful mood, please link me to anything interesting that was written in the past week in which I’ve been gone. It’s quite overwhelming to have to catch up on so many blogs, so point me in the right direction! I’ll probably be putting up a “links” blog soon, so E-mail me (CrashburnAlley [at] Gmail [dot] com) if you’d like me to link to you.