Everyone In This Room Is Now Dumber

There are no numbers that exist the breadth of stupidity contained within this Bill Conlin article. I haven’t FJM’ed an article in a while, a great sign actually. But this deserves a fisking.

The bulk of Conlin’s article quotes a friend of Comcast SportsNet’s Michael Barkann who proposes a trade with the Seattle Mariners that swaps Cole Hamels and Jonathan Singleton for Cliff Lee. I’ll give you a second to facepalm. And let’s begin…

WHEN I’M King of the World . . .
Ruben and his Merry Men will do some out-of-the-box thinking to help dig the Phillies’ M*A*S*H Unit out of what could become a midseason grave . . .

The Phillies are five games out of first place behind the Atlanta Braves and two games out of the Wild Card behind the New York Mets. Sure, there have been a lot of injuries and inconsistencies but they can hardly be defined as “a midseason grave”. But leave it to the mainstream media to exaggerate for article fodder.

Overreacting to first-half struggles is also not a great decision.

“Daily News Live” host Michael Barkann passed on the spin of a friend, name withheld, who definitely was thinking outside the box.

Case of writer’s block for Conlin, you think?

“Why does no one talk about trading Cole Hamels in a Cliff Lee deal?”

1. Cliff Lee would be a two-month rental. Although you bolster a lackluster starting rotation, the effect is only felt for one year and it is unlikely that the Phillies would be able to lock up Lee to a long-term contract. Consider that they are uncertain that they can retain Jayson Werth, who will come at a cheaper price than Lee.

2. Cole Hamels is signed to a contract through 2011 and has one more year of arbitration in ’12. As much as the mainstream media and most Phillies fans like to think Hamels is a terrible pitcher, having a player with that kind of cost certainty — especially compared to Lee — is valuable. Hamels is earning $6.65 million this year (essentially paying him as a 1.7 WAR pitcher) and $9.5 million in ’11 (2.4 WAR).

3. When the original Lee rumors were surfacing when he was in Cleveland, they were a team attempting a more drastic rebuilding effort. Their goal was to acquire younger players with high upside. However, a team like the Mariners would be more likely to consider accepting Cole Hamels in a trade as they don’t expect to go into full rebuilding mode.

4. If Cole is apparently so bad as Conlin and others assert, why would the Mariners take him in a trade?

The Roy HalladayCole Hamels duo was supposed to give Charlie Manuel a No. 1 and 1A at the top of his rotation.

Steve Slowinski of DRays Bay posted an excellent article yesterday about B.J. Upton and “The Power of Expectations”. Upton, the second overall pick in the first round of the 2002 draft, had one really great season in 2007 and hasn’t measured up since. As a result, he has been viewed as a disappointment despite posting a higher WAR in ’08 (4.6 to 4.2 in ’07), 2.1 WAR last year, and 1.2 WAR already this year.

Slowinski wrote:

In many ways, BJ Upton’s 2007 season was one of the worst things that could happen to him. His .300 average, 24 home run season was fueled by two unsustainable rates – a .393 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) and a 19.8% HR/FB rate. Upton strikes out too much for him to be a .300 hitter; his true-talent level is more in the .240-.260 range. He also isn’t a 20+ home run guy, but more like a 15 home run hitter that will also hit 35 doubles and a handful of triples. He walks a lot, steals lots of bases at a high success rate, and plays above-average defense in center field. He’s not the 5-6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) monster we were expecting, but instead a 3 WAR player. Is that valuable? That sure as heck is, but it’s tough to see that sometimes when our expectations have blinded us.

Similarly, Hamels’ success in ’08 may have had a negative effect. His success that year, helping the Phillies win their first World Series since 1980, confirmed what many of us believed having watched him progress quickly through the Minors — that he can be a legitimate ace pitcher in the Majors on a consistent basis. What most people didn’t see was how unsustainable that level of success was as it was based on a .270 BABIP. Realistically, the expectations for Hamels should have been centered around an ERA in the 3.50 to 4.00 range which is still pretty good. Instead, Hamels was expected to have an ERA in the high 2’s to low 3’s and those expectations simply are not going to be met.

That Hamels hasn’t lived up to his billing is not his fault but the mainstream media’s (and the general fan base). They built him up and now they are tearing him down.

There is a reason for the ongoing wave of fan outrage at the Cliff Lee deal, which looks more and more pointless and arbitrary with each passing day.

I realize that it’s frustrating given the many ways this team has appeared to come up short this season while Cliff Lee has been making short work of American League hitters, but the Lee deal cannot be properly analyzed for at least a couple more years. People tend to look at trades in a vacuum in terms of “Who did we get?” and “Who did we give up?” But it’s not that simple.

The primary reason Lee was traded was to restock a barren farm system after trading for Roy Halladay. Don’t forget that the Phillies gave up Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Knapp to acquire Lee. While they haven’t amounted to much so far, they were still a bulk of the Phillies’ top prospects. Then add in that Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis d’Arnaud were relinquished for Halladay. They were all in the Phillies’ top-10 prospect list according to Baseball America.

While Phillippe Aumont hasn’t had a great season so far, he still has promise as does Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez. Give them more than a half-season to prove themselves before jumping ship.

Additionally, Lee was traded because the Phillies felt they could get more out of him in a trade than they could in recouping two compensatory picks following a rejected arbitration offer after the 2010 season. The players acquired are more Major League-ready, obviously, than comp draft picks.

If the Lee trade is “pointless and arbitrary” you’re not looking at the details hard enough.

If the suits calling the shots had even rented Lee for 2010, Manuel would have had two No. 1s and a No. 1A. Nobody in baseball has that.

But what of 2011 and beyond? Focusing on one year is completely understandable if you’re a fan but at least be realistic. I, too, would have enjoyed a rotation of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and they would likely have been World Series favorites from the start, but you can’t put all your eggs in one basket, especially if you’re the GM of the team.

I don’t defend Ruben Amaro too much but I will defend him for the Lee trade.

So, what about Halladay and Lee without Hamels (6-7, 4.05), who is having another pedestrian season and falling short of being a No. 2, let alone a 1A.

Again, not his fault. And he has actually pitched quite well as his 3.48 SIERA indicates (15th-best in baseball, 8th best in the National League). He’s averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and he’s a hair over three walks per nine. A 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn’t quite at Halladay or Lee levels, but it’s quite good nonetheless.

Once again this year, Hamels has been victimized by bad luck. He has a slightly higher-than-normal BABIP at .309 but he has been really unlucky on fly balls turning into home runs (16.1%).

However, he does deserve some blame for his struggles. I can’t understand why he has been using his change-up so infrequently. It has accounted for fewer than one out of every four of his pitches compared to nearly one out of every three in previous years. Over the course of a game in which he throws 100 pitches, that’s a difference of 8 change-ups. Essentially, he has swapped out eight uses of his best pitches for inferior pitches, never a good sign.

Barkann’s friend explains:

“Hamels would be perfect in Seattle. They would have 1 1/2 years to sign him long-term. He would be back on the West Coast with zero pressure . . . and he can go 17-12 every year for Seattle making $12 million a season.”

There’s no way Hamels makes $12 million in 2013 and beyond. He’ll earn nearly $10 million next year and he will get a raise in his final year of arbitration in ’12. He obviously wouldn’t be giving any hometown discounts, so it is more likely that Hamels makes $15-16 million annually when he signs his next multi-year contract.

At that point, Barkann’s friend flies into a Fantasy League froth of moves that brings back Cliff Lee and his off-the-charts numbers for Hamels and Low Class A teenage first-base phenom Jonathan Singleton.

There may be some general managers in baseball who will overvalue one really good half-season at Single-A but not too many and I certainly doubt that Jack Zduriencik will. The Phillies haven’t been loud about the value of their prospects (despite trading them for significant value). The New York Mets and New York Yankees (notice any similarities?) have done well in recent years in generating hype for otherwise mediocre prospects.

It would take more than Hamels and Singleton to outbid several other teams for Lee’s services. And, frankly, if I’m the Mariners, I don’t trade Lee for anything less than Domonic Brown.

Then Ruben wraps up Jayson Werth “for 4 or 5 years at $13 million per season.”

Fans love to throw other people’s money around, don’t they? Here’s the Phillies’ payroll for the next few years. Notice at the bottom of 2011 it says $134.7 million. And notice how many players have salaries filled in that column (17). They have five arbitration-eligible players (Dobbs will likely be the only player not given an offer). How do you add $13 million and still round out the roster? Factor in that the Major League minimum salary is $400,000 and the young players used this year will be given slight pay raises. Factor in that more than 25 players will be utilized throughout the season. Factor in that the Phillies may want flexibility to make an in-season trade.

For the Phillies to re-sign Werth, one of two things needs to happen: Werth would need to accept a heavily back-loaded extension, or the Phillies would need to unload a lot of salary. Raul Ibanez is the obvious target, but the market is not exactly ripe for 38-year-olds owed $12 million after slugging under .400 (his SLG currently sits at .393).

Shane Victorino is traded in the winter and there is a flurry of moves and contracts aimed at tightening up the bullpen.

If you’re going to play GM, be specific. What is Victorino’s market? What does this market have to offer?

Which relievers will be available to aim these contracts at?

It’s fine to make these vague statements in a bar conversation or an IM chat, but to put this to press for mass public consumption? This is totally irresponsible.

And what about Lee’s deal? “Lee will cost $18-20 million for 4 or 5 years.” OK, stop the movie right there. Ruben Amaro was instructed to draw a line in the sand. No deals for a starting pitcher longer than 3 years. Lee was offered the same length and terms as those accepted by Halladay. Before Lee could make a counteroffer, he was a Seattle Mariner. And in shock.

So… is Conlin refuting Barkann’s friend’s contract assumption? It’s not clear. At any rate, Barkann’s friend wants the Phillies to add $13 million annually and Lee at $20 million annually, so the Phillies are adding $33 million in payroll for just two players. That would balloon their 2011 total to nearly $170 million. Apparently, the Phillies are playing with Monopoly money.

There was an interesting observation at the end of all the proposed wheeling and dealing.

“I am still convinced that the Phillies ‘parked’ Lee in Seattle and with [Pat] Gillick’s relationship to the Mariners, Amaro will get a right-of-first refusal on trade offers thrown at Seattle.” Pat does have a history of maintaining cordial relations with the first three ballclubs he successfully served as general manager. That said, I don’t see Cliff Lee ever wearing a Phillies uniform again.

Because nothing says “facts” like “I am still convinced”. There is absolutely no evidence given for this claim besides the circumstances of Gillick’s ties to Seattle. Apparently, this guy is saying that Gillick intentionally took an inferior package from Seattle just to put him there, where he and his suave ways could talk the Mariners into taking an inferior package from the Phillies in another trade. The Mariners’ front office is made up of masochists, didn’t you get that memo?

Finally, at the end, Barkann’s friend lets us know that the whole exercise was a waste of time. More importantly, though, it shows us exactly why 99.99% of fans would make absolutely awful general managers. And it shows us that Bill Conlin is mailing it in a weekly basis (or however often he musters up the energy to pen a column).