Jack McCaffery Wears Bad Idea Jeans

Long-time Daily Times columnist Jack McCaffery had a doozy published today. He has a suggestion for the Phillies and it’s wearing Bad Idea Jeans. Let’s jump into it FJM-style, in honor of their reunion on Deadspin yesterday.

The title of his column is “Valdez might make Rollins expendable”. If not for the “might” qualifier, I’d have had McCaffery committed.

One year, Aaron Rowand is winning hearts for displaying his, the next year his Phillies uniform is a throwback. Pat Burrell rode into the ballpark on the front championship-parade float, then was told to leave the joint with everyone else. Cliff Lee won two World Series games, and soon after was traded for three wobbly promises.

One of these things is not like the other. Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell were two aging, injury-prone outfielders (which are easier to replace than their shortstop counterparts) and Lee was a highly valuable commodity with one year left on a very affordable contract.

McCaffery ultimately brings the trio up to compare them to Jimmy Rollins. But consider that Rowand was replaced by Shane Victorino, Burrell by Raul Ibanez, and Lee by Roy Halladay. The Phillies either broke even or made a significant upgrade, and in the case of Halladay, they were able to sign him to a below-market three-year contract extension. If we assume for argument’s sake that Halladay and Lee pitch at equivalent levels, would you rather have Lee for one more year or Halladay for four?

The question that no one wants to ask: Does it have to be Jayson Werth who leaves, and not Jimmy Rollins?

Yes. Werth’s heir is apparent: Domonic Brown. Jimmy Rollins‘ heir would be Wilson Valdez. The Phillies traded away one of their better shortstop prospects in the Roy Oswalt deal, and otherwise have no one ready to step up and provide Major League-level production. The Phillies also exercised their club option on Rollins for 2011, and Werth is expected to command as much as $100 million on the free agent market (although I think he will eventually have to settle for something in the $70 million range).

It’s becoming a nightly ritual, as predictable as the mascot mounting the dugout roof. Charlie Manuel meets the press a few hours before the game, shrugs, and says he doesn’t know exactly when Rollins again will be his shortstop.

I think this is because they don’t want to place Rollins on the 15-day disabled list, even if they place him there retroactive to September 9.

If Jimmy Rollins wasn’t close to returning, he’d have been placed on the disabled list. While he has been sitting on the bench, the Phillies were fortunate enough to play exceptional baseball, winning their last ten games and increasing their lead in the division to six games over the Atlanta Braves. There is no rush to get him back.

And, yes, Wilson Valdez has been productive recently. That is likely why the Phillies have been extra cautious with Rollins. But in no way, shape, or form do the Phillies think Valdez is an equivalent player to Rollins, and neither should anybody else.

Then, he plugs in Wilson Valdez and sees remarkable major-league defense and enough offensive punch to know that the reserve infielder’s .260-ish batting average is no false dawn.

Wilson Valdez: career .268 wOBA.

Jimmy Rollins: career .337 wOBA.

Even this year, a season during which Rollins has been placed on the disabled list twice and once more missed significant playing time, Rollins is way out-producing Valdez offensively: .319 to .288 in wOBA (.324 is average). With similar plate appearance totals, Rollins has stolen 17 bases in 18 attempts; Valdez has stolen five in five attempts.

Over the last three seasons, Rollins has way out-performed Valdez defensively, ~11 to ~5 in terms of UZR/150. However, Rollins has had the luxury of nearly six times the amount of defensive innings as Valdez. Even considering Rollins’ recent injuries, one would be very generous to even call the two equivalent defenders.

Valdez has been a nice stopgap for the Phillies given all of their injuries. He has made a positive impact on the team, for sure. But to use 342 plate appearances and 421 defensive innings as the basis for replacing the franchise shortstop? That is wearing Bad Idea Jeans.

“You know something?” Manuel said. “I don’t know if he can hit .260 playing every day in the big leagues, but he can definitely help you defensively. He’ll save you some runs. He’s hit .300 in the minor leagues for his career. And there’s not too many of those guys left down there either. He definitely held his own this year. He has about 300 at-bats (314 heading into play Wednesday). And 300 is kind of a ‘chance’ in the major leagues. Domonic Brown has 100 at bats. That’s not a good chance. But 300 is a chance.”

Chris Shelton, 2005 in 388 at-bats: 18 HR, .870 OPS. He didn’t play in the Majors in 2007 or ’10, and in limited opportunities in ’08 and ’09 he struggled mightily. 300 at-bats is not a sufficient sample size. It takes 500 plate appearances for OBP, SLG, OPS, singles rate, and pop-up rate to stabilize, and 550 for ISO. In 300 at-bats, you may get an idea of the player’s plate discipline or propensity for hitting ground and fly balls, but that’s about it.

Valdez might not hit .260 in the bigs, but he can hit .245, which Rollins is hitting this year, or .250, which Rollins hit last year.

What Rollins does, that Valdez does not, is hit for power. He gets on base more as well, but in recent years that hasn’t been his calling card. Rollins also steals bases more often and more efficiently. Although Valdez is 5-for-5 this year, he came into this season with a 4-for-9 track record.

It goes without saying, but batting average is not a metric worth using to evaluate the abilities of baseball players.

And if he can, then why spend close to $9 million on a 32-year-old, injury-battling Rollins next season if that same money could be invested in Werth?

Werth won’t cost $9 million. At the very least, expect the average annual value of Werth’s free agent contract to be at least $15 million. Don’t be surprised if it’s $20 million.

As mentioned above, the Phillies have a replacement for Werth and he happens to cost only $400,000. Rollins + Brown, for $9.4 million, will out-produce Werth + Valdez for $15.5 million.

This is without mentioning that Rollins is a fan and media favorite, unlike Werth. The Phillies risk alienating a part of their fan base, however small, by abandoning Rollins. It’s not good business.

Not that the Phillies can’t afford Werth, Rollins, Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee and the hidden baggage fees for airlines. They can.

If the Phillies’ owners wanted to, they could out-spend the Yankees I’d imagine. But is it smart, and would they make money by doing so? Probably not. As much as we loathe the hidden owners, whom we picture as silhouettes laughing evilly in their dimly-lit offices counting stacks of $100 bills, it is in our best interest for them to continue to make money. Spending an extra $25 million “just because we can” isn’t smart; it’s risky, and oftentimes dumb. How many championships did the Yankees win after relaxing the collective grip on the wallet going into the 2002 season? With a homegrown group, they won four World Series and lost another. From 2002-08, they reached the playoffs in six straight seasons and made the World Series just once and they lost.

Spending money does not always equal success.

And if they allow Werth to leave at season’s end and blame it on the cost of doing Scott Boras business, they should be ridiculed by the close to 4,000,000 people who will have just completed a full season of sellouts.

Even casual readers of this blog — and most of the Philadelphia sports media — know how big a fan of Jayson Werth I am. I have put in a lot of effort trying to educate the fan base so that they can understand and appreciate his skill. But even I can admit that it may not be in the team’s interest to engage in a bidding war for Werth’s services. That is especially true if it comes at the cost of replacing Rollins for Valdez.

There is no reason the Phillies cannot afford to keep their own players, financially or otherwise. They have the cash.

This logic needs to go another step: is spending the cash sensible?

Bill Gates has a ton of money. He has the cash to throw a fistful of $100 bills into a paper shredder. Should he do it?

But if they won’t, and that’s where it is headed, then why not look at what is, not what used to be, and realize that Werth is peaking and Rollins isn’t?

This may very well be the case, but one needs to look at who would be replacing each player. As mentioned above, Rollins + Brown will outproduce Werth + Valdez.

Additionally, if it is so obvious that Rollins is becoming such an unproductive player — one such that Valdez is deemed a reasonable replacement — then what team would take on his $9 million salary? Or would the Phillies eat the $9 million to get prospects?

Why not consider moving Rollins for value — for a back-end-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and the salary relief — and use his money to fund a Werth re-signing?

With a 2011 rotation that includes Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, why would the Phillies focus on the back of the starting rotation? With Joe Blanton as a #4, the Phillies have a lot of candidates that could take the last spot, including Kyle Kendrick (again), Vance Worley, and others. It would make sense to trade Rollins to fill an obvious pressing need, but not to fill a #5 spot in the starting rotation.

Why not trust Valdez at shortstop, which is what they have done often enough this year to draw the honest conclusion that, yes, he can play regularly for a contender?

Because Rollins is still much more productive than Valdez? With similar PA totals, Rollins has 2.1 WAR compared to Valdez’s 0.5. Only 0.6 of Rollins’ WAR advantage comes from the not-yet-reliable defensive metrics.

Could the Phillies drag Jonathan Sanchez out of San Fran for Rollins, who probably could be nudged to approve a trade to the Bay Area?

Mental exercise: assuming they were not teammates, would you trade Rollins straight up for Joe Blanton?

  • Sanchez: 4.22 career xFIP
  • Blanton: 4.37 career xFIP

At the time, giving up Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman, and Matt Spencer for Blanton was considered too much.

Additionally, why would the Giants trade Sanchez — one of their best pitchers this season — for an aging, injury-prone, declining shortstop especially considering their home ballpark?

And if so, would they ever lose with a Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Sanchez, Joe Blanton rotation? And with that arsenal, wouldn’t a splendid defensive shortstop — Valdez, for instance — be enough?

Again, this isn’t the appropriate question. It should be: would the Phillies win more with Rollins, Brown, and their home-grown #5 starter than with Valdez + Sanchez + Werth?

Rollins has been a special Phillie, the 2007 MVP, a leader-type. But he cannot continue to be top-of-the-order energy drain.

So move him down in the lineup.

Shane Victorino is better suited for the job.

So move him up in the lineup. This is irrelevant to justifying crowning Valdez the heir apparent to Rollins.

Rollins, no longer close to a 30-homer threat, is better toward the middle of the order — but that middle of the order would be flat without Werth.

While “flat” may be exaggeration, I agree that the Phillies become too prone to LOOGY’s in swapping Werth for Brown. But again, this is irrelevant to McCaffery’s main argument.

The Phillies are going to have to long-range budget for another Hamels raise. That will impact the Werth decision.

Not really. If anything, the contract extension awarded to Ryan Howard severely impacted the likelihood of re-signing Werth. $125 million contract extensions can have that effect.

But were they to plop Rollins’ $9 million atop the $7 million they are already spending for their leading right-handed power hitter, the Phillies could satisfy any Boras demand for Werth.

Yes, Werth for $16 million. Sounds reasonable. Oh, Werth wants guaranteed money over a period longer than one year? Zounds!

No, it would not be a popular move. The Burrell, Lee and Rowand moves weren’t popular either.

They also fall under categorically different circumstances.

Winning sure seems to have a certain appeal, though. Check the turnstiles. Monitor the ratings.

In all likelihood, they would win less with this proposal. Even if they broke even, they would be spending a lot more money to do so.

And if it comes down to one or the other, the Phillies would win more in 2011 with Jayson Werth than with Jimmy Rollins.

Luckily it doesn’t come down to one or the other. Rollins has nothing to do with Werth’s chances of staying or going.