No Reason to Panic

I don’t know if any of you out there have heard, but the Mets traded for two-time Cy Young Award-winner Johan Santana. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are. I could’ve sworn that the Red Sox and Yankees offered better packages. But the Twins’ front office isn’t who I want to criticize right now (plenty of people will be doing that between now and the end of the regular season); I want to question Don McKee’s logic in an article he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He titled it “Phils Fall Back in Arms Race.” It’s clever, probably unintentionally so. Does he mean that the Phillies are falling back, as in a relapse of sorts? Or does he mean that the Phillies are falling back, as in lagging behind the Mets? Probably the latter, but he spends the rest of the article implying the former.

McKee provides a summary of the Santana deal, then hammers out this doozy:

So here’s a friendly little road map that could guide the Phillies back to another of those scintillating stretch runs with their most hated (is it even close?) rivals.

First, send something to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Matt Morris, who has 121 career wins and too big a price tag for the team with the majors’ fourth-lowest payroll. (Since Morris is scheduled to make $9.5 million this season, the Bucs might be willing to accept Wes Helms, who makes about a third of that.)

Then ship Adam Eaton to Minnesota, which will be seeking an arm to fill out its rotation. The Twins could have some big problems without Santana: Francisco Liriano missed all of last season after elbow surgery and former Phillie Carlos Silva signed with Seattle as a free agent.

If you know who Scott Baker, Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey are (the rest of Minnesota’s rotation), you get a stack of old Mike Lieberthal cards.

Morris has won at least 10 games in seven straight seasons and won 22 with St. Louis in 2001. He has had a losing record the last two seasons, but that may have had more to do with his teams (San Francisco and Pittsburgh) than him.

Is he Johan Santana? No. But neither is anybody else out there. And with every single arm in the Phillies’ projected rotation a question mark, Morris would be a welcome addition.

He suggests trading Wes Helms to the Pirates for Matt Morris. That sounds reasonable since we’re talking about Wes Helms, a mediocre player, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose front office has made a hobby out of collecting as many mediocre players as possible since 1992.

Morris is owed $9.5 million for the ’08 season and he has a $9 million club option with a $1 million buy-out clause for ’09. Helms is owed $2.5 million this season and he has a $3.75 million club option with a $750,000 buy-out clause for ’09. That’s a total of $6.25 million the Phillies would be required to take on this season. Not bad.

But if you look at the free agent market, once name sticks out: Kyle Lohse. Lohse doesn’t throw as many ground balls as Morris, but he’s a free agent, and that’s key. Instead of having to give up Helms to round out the rotation, the Phillies can sign Lohse, whose price tag drops with every passing day, and then flip Helms to some third base-desperate team who is willing to part with a relief pitcher. As anyone who watched the Phillies last season knows, you can’t have too many relief pitchers.

Lohse will probably take a three-year, $27 million deal, an average of $9 million per season. This also allows the Phillies the flexibility to add another arm to the bullpen by trading Helms.

Even more laughable is that the Phillies can just dump Adam Eaton on the Twins, as if their front office is collectively unconscious following the Santana trade (who knows, maybe he’s right). Dumping Eaton on the Twins would require eating a lot of his remaining salary, which is $7.635 million this season, $8.5 million in ’09, and a $9 million mutual option in ’10 with a $500,000 buy-out clause. The Phillies would have to fork over about half of Eaton’s ’08 salary, most likely.

So, here’s McKee’s plan in the big picture:

Phillies Get

Matt Morris ($9.5 million)

Some random Twins Minor Leaguer who will be serving fries in two years

Phillies Give Up

Wes Helms ($2.5 million)

Adam Eaton ($4 million of $7.635)

To find out how much money the Phillies would have to have, just add up Morris’ salary and the cash they’d send with Eaton, and subtract from it Helms’ salary. That’s $11 million they are paying essentially just for Matt Morris, a pitcher whose poor ’06-07 seasons McKee wrongfully labels as aberrations or due mostly to bad teams.

Take a look at the trends Morris has shown. In 2005, he was with the Cardinals, ’06 with the Giants, and split ’07 between the Giants and Pirates.

K/9

2005: 5.47

2006: 5.07 (-.40)

2007: 4.62 (-.45)

Career: 6.08

BB/9

2005: 1.73

2006: 2.73 (+1.0)

2007: 2.76 (+0.03)

Career: 2.53

WHIP

2005: 1.277

2006: 1.353 (+.076)

2007: 1.515 (+.162)

Career: 1.305

Fly Ball %

2005: 29.8%

2006: 33.4% (+3.6%)

2007: 31.5% (-1.9%)

Career: 31.7%

You can’t blame that on Morris’ teammates. He is striking out less hitters, walking them more, allowing more overall base runners, and is becoming slightly more fly ball-prone.

Also, isn’t it hilarious that McKee thinks it’s some trivial thing to know who Baker (MLB experience since ’05), Bonser (since ’06), and Slowey (’07 rookie) are? It’s not like all of America watched Baker attempt to hold down a perfect game in the 9th inning, or Bonser wasn’t included in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, or Slowey was the 17th-best overall prospect in 2005 according to Baseball America. You’d have to be the Schwab to know those guys.

So, the Mets got Santana. It probably makes them the pre-season favorites barring any other significant moves by the Phillies or Braves. It doesn’t mean the Phillies have to panic and just start randomly acquiring pitchers. Even if the Phillies don’t acquire Lohse and go into the season expecting Adam Eaton to start once every five days, it at least means the Phillies will have some funds available to make a mid-season trade if a player becomes available.

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2 comments

  1. MoonDog

    January 31, 2008 01:15 PM

    I heard about it Tuesday night. If he can return to form, this gives the Mets a decided advantage. Bullpens and defense will be even more important now.

    I’d be careful with Morris. He has shown the last several years of wearing down near the midway point. If you can’t get at least 5 innings a game from him over his last 15-20 starts, what’s the point of having him?

  2. CJ

    January 31, 2008 09:27 PM

    Nice perspective.

    Don McKee used to do time on WIP. I don’t know if he still does. But it would explain an approach that aims to satisfy disappointed fans more than anything else.

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