The Phillies and the Second Half

The group projects keep rolling along. ESPN asked a representative from each of the Sweet Spot blogs to discuss their team and what to expect in the second half. You can read my answers here, but you can also catch them and the responses of others over at ESPN. I wanted to see what Paul and Jeff had to say, though, so I emailed them to get their thoughts.

What’s the most important thing that needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?

Bill: Although the Phillies finished off the first half on a high note, scoring 14 runs against the Atlanta Braves, the offense will need to pick up if the Phillies want to create more distance between themselves and the Braves in the NL East race. The Phillies averaged a bit over 4.1 runs per game, which is right around the league average, and the team overall had an OPS+ below 100 (below 100 is below-average). The rotation is great, but run-scoring is as important as run-prevention.

Paul: Call this a toss-up between (1) get healthy and (2) improve the offense. It’s not as apocalyptically bad as some of us might have feared for a while, but it’s still not exactly 2007, either. I’d rank the need to find a capable left fielder above strengthening the bullpen, although both could certainly be used, especially if arms continue to get injured. Starting pitching, it appears, will not be an area of need in this deadline season.

Jeff: Continue Domonic Brown’s Development.  The young outfielder has shown flashes of the potential that made him our one untouchable prospect over the past few years.  Heading into the stretch run, his development in the Phillies best chance to add a weapon to the lineup.  With continued trust from Charlie, and the at bats that come with it, Dom could really be hitting his stride come October.

Top item on trade deadline shopping list

Bill: A right-handed bat, ideally. The Phillies have been linked to names such as Josh Willingham and Michael Cuddyer, but they have to worry about hitting the luxury tax. Most likely, any moves the Phillies make will be small in nature. Otherwise, they will be looking at relief pitchers, but that’s a distant second priority.

Paul: See above: improve the offense. Really, the search shouldn’t be limited to a corner outfielder. With Placido Polanco slumping miserably and now coming up lame, adding a player who could provide some pop and passable defense at the hot corner could be good insurance. Adding on the the bullpen is less of a luxury now with so many arms hurt – despite the emergence of so many previously unheralded hurlers – so that could also be considered an area to target. Really, I believe the calls of financial restrictions this year; I don’t think the Phils have much payroll flexibility to work with, so unless they can find cheap options at every turn, they may have to settle for picking one improvement and living with it.

JeffCarlos Beltran.  It’s going to be hard to convince the Mets to send him within the division, but he’s a perfect target for the Phillies.  Beltran has put up a .878 OPS while playing average defense in right field this season.  The switch hitter doesn’t struggle from either side of the plate, and his defense would likely be above average in left field.  The Mets also lack leverage due to Beltran’s full no trade clause and since they are contractually obligated to not offer him arbitration (that would net them draft picks when he leaves).  The Phils may need to convince the Mets to pay some of his salary to avoid the luxury tax.  But this is the one possible trade piece I see that could greatly enhance the Phils World Series chances.  It’s a “swing for the fences” move, and we have just the GM to do it.

Player to watch in the second half

Bill: Domonic Brown. Recently on the blog, I wrote about Brown’s surprisingly productive first half and why there is reason for optimism with the highly-touted rookie. The outfield corners have been an offensive black hole for the Phillies, so if they can get Brown to take it to the next level, they should be just fine.

PaulRyan Howard, for better or for worse. He’s made a reputation of being a hot second-half hitter, and if he can provide power along 2007 or ’09 lines, the Phils could be in even better shape. He may or may not continue this trend of explosive Augusts and Septembers, no one can really say for sure. Facing weaker, expanded-roster pitchers in September could be a boost for everyone, and I’m sure the pitchers wouldn’t complain about not having to pitch in a tight game every start. Who knows? An extra run here or there could mean the difference between using a starter for another inning or saving pitches for deeper in the stretch run and into the playoffs. Maybe.

Jeff: Ryan Howard. Philly’s most debated player could be incredibly important in the second half.  The Phillies’ lineup is a completely different beast when Howard is on a hot streak.  He’s known for being better after the All Star break.  If that’s true again, it could go a long way into reestablishing the Phils as one of the NL’s best offensive teams.

Feel free to provide your own answers to the three prompts in the comments.

You can follow Bill on Twitter @CrashburnAlley, as well as Paul (@Phrontiersman) and Jeff (@Utley4God).

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22 comments

  1. Ken

    July 14, 2011 08:07 AM

    I don’t know that I could say he’s the most important player to watch in the second half because so much of the lineup is important, but I feel like this is so far removed from the club it is without Chase Utley, who has found his groove in the last 3 weeks. He does so many little, unheralded things to help you, it’s ridiculous. Jimmy’s had a half decent year, maybe even slightly better than half decent, but his having not been injured has been maybe taken for granted is the way to put it. He’s had 3-4 3 and 4 hit games, and then mostly fallen back. My suspicion is he’s even better, and more consistent in H2, and I suppose he might be my 1 player to watch in H2.

  2. John L.

    July 14, 2011 08:17 AM

    What do you guys think about Wilson Betemit?
    I know he is not the power rh bat people want, but I think he is a guy who can help. He is affordable, low risk, improves the bench and can play 3rd and outfield.

  3. sean

    July 14, 2011 08:22 AM

    i’d love if the phillies went after a mike aviles to upgrade wilson valdez. defensively he’s a downgrade, though he can play all 3 positions just like caldez, but his bat would be a huge upgrade relative to valdez.

    plus the phillies need at least one bullpen arm, and luke gregerson would be a great get if he’s available since he’s under control for 3 more years. granted he’s not having the best year right now because of an oblique strain, down the road he’s be a great arm to have. heath bell is a one year guy and you’d have to overpay to get him plus he costs a lot. no thanks.

    as far as a right handed bat for the outfield i’m sure ruben will get something in august for that like he did for matt stairs or mike sweeney.

  4. Shawn

    July 14, 2011 08:30 AM

    Sean,

    Something about RAJ’s smugness and outright disdain for things he sees as minor (see: Contreras for 2 yr 5 m lolz), I just don’t see us getting a guy like Luke Gregorson or Mike Aviles. Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, ??Mike Aviles??. Dude’s got streetcred to keep up

    Boom.

    *smugly walks away from this post with hands raised*

  5. MplsPhilsFan

    July 14, 2011 09:23 AM

    For me the top item on the shopping list is to obtain Colby Rasmus. For some reason, he and LaRussa just do not seem to mesh, and various sources are reporting that he could be available.

    My rationale for moving several prospects (other than Cosart) to obtain is to turn left field into a position of strength this year and to hedge against Victorino becoming extremely expensive after 2012.

    Unfortunately, I think there will be a long line of teams who would be interested in a 24 year old CF who had a WAR of 2.8 at age 22 and 3.2 at age 23. Not sure if this would be sufficient, but I would start with an offer of Kendrick (paying his contract for this year), Brody Colvin, Domingo Santana, and Singleton. I hate giving up Singleton, but young cost controlled (no free agency until after 2015) CF prospects who have already succeeded at the major league level are a very rare commodity

  6. sean

    July 14, 2011 10:27 AM

    rasmus won’t get traded, least not for that.

    RAJ does seem to “go big or go home” when he makes trades, but hey i still don’t doubt that he’ll get 1 or 2 pieces in august during the waiver period like he has for the past few years.

    plus RAJ has already said he wants another bull pen arm over getting a bat, and i have to agree. it should be priority #1 since you can’t expect ANYTHING from lidge or conteras at this point, and stutes and bastardo are wild cards. As much as i like both of them they are rookies. Even a team like the braves, who’s bullpen is great, are looking for bullpen help but because of overuse. Plus you can upgrade from herndon and baez.

    For me i’d like another arm from a trade and either justin de fratus or michael schwimer to be called up in late august.

  7. Cakes

    July 14, 2011 10:42 AM

    Jeff Baker, Cubs. Can play corner OF, 3B, 2B. Not a marquis name but seems on the cusp of breaking out with regular time and would get significant PT all over the place. Only problem is that it would make Valdez or Martinez redundant.

  8. MplsPhilsFan

    July 14, 2011 10:45 AM

    Sean, I know that RAJ said that help is needed in the bullpen, but I think you can pick up a veteran bullpen piece from the waiver wire, and you are correct in saying that Schwimmer or De Fratus (or Aumont) could help this club. Schwimmer especially has little to prove at AAA

    You state that the package I listed would not be enough for Rasmus. I would think that a top 25 prospect, a top 75 prospect, a long term but promising OF prospect, and someone who can be long relief or 5th starter would be sufficient, but I may be off on that. What do you think would be an acceptable offer to the Cardinals for Rasmus?

  9. sean

    July 14, 2011 11:17 AM

    i don’t know what an acceptable offer would be but if i’m the cardinals i’m holding on because i’d be selling low at this point plus i need cheap players to support pujols. plus kendrick really shouldn’t be a start of any trade offer. if anything the red birds would ask for dom brown just to start i’d think

  10. sean

    July 14, 2011 11:22 AM

    plus where do you put him? victorino is the center fielder and probably has the ego to say he should continue to play it.

  11. MplsPhilsFan

    July 14, 2011 11:50 AM

    Actually, I would say that Singleton, one of the top 25 prospects in baseball, would be the start of the offer, with the other pieces built around him. If I were the Cardinals, there is no way I would trade Rasmus, but with the trade speculation around him now for over a year, I am thinking the relationship is damaged beyond repair.

    As for where to place Rasmus: LF. Take out Ibanez, place Gload on the 60 day DL, use Raul as your left handed bat on the bench. When Shane becomes too expensive after 2012, you have a CF ready to step into his place

  12. Travis

    July 14, 2011 03:29 PM

    I know it doesn’t make any sense, but league average OPS+ is 94 which is exactly equal to the Phillies OPS+. Perhaps because it is calculated across both leagues and the AL has the DH? Don’t really know how it is calculated.

  13. Chris

    July 14, 2011 07:25 PM

    I’d take either bullpen help or a LF solution, although I’d probably put more emphasis on LF. Although I’d rather not have to use our starters for 7 innings every game, having the luxury of them being able to do that consistently is useful in that we only need Madson and Bastardo to close out the game. If we can get any useful production out of Lidge and/or Contreras then I’d say the bat is a much bigger need, assuming no more injury issues in the bullpen.

  14. kc

    July 14, 2011 08:34 PM

    As much as a Kemp, Pence, or Rasmus deal would make my week, what about a low-cost option like Nolan Reimold and Koji Uehara? The orioles have an abundant supply of OFers and with Uehara off the books after this year, he’d be a good rental to bolster the bullpen.

    While it’s only an assumption, asking price shouldn’t be too much.

  15. hk

    July 14, 2011 08:52 PM

    To me, the keys to the 2nd half are health (particularly Utley’s) and Charlie’s managing. Without Utley in the first 46 games, the Phils went 28-18 and scored 3.82 runs per game. Since Utley returned, they’ve gone 29-16 while scoring 4.62 runs per game. If they had had Chase all season and produced 4.62 runs per game, they would be 3rd in the league in runs scored. My bigger concerns are with Charlie’s shortcomings and points that Bill has made all season about his bullpen mismanagement, poor lineup construction and unwillingness to platoon in LF. It seems to me that Pete Mackinin is no Jimy Williams when it comes to advising Charlie as the management of the team has left a lot to be desired since Jimy left. Unfortunately, Charlie’s mismanagement has the potential to really rear its ugly head in the small sample size of the post-season where one screw-up can be the difference between a title and disappointment.

  16. LTG

    July 14, 2011 10:04 PM

    I’m going to give a counter-argument to the “I wish we could have Rasmus” position. Although he is young and has time to get better, he has been only a little better than average with the bat this year and less than average in the field. On offense he has a 109 OPS+ with a .292 BABIP. Last year he had a 134 OPS+ with a .354 BABIP. That BABIP is unsustainable. So, this year’s results seem more in line with his future production level, unless he gets better with age. We have players on our roster right now who can bring us Rasmus’s level of production for this year. Mayberry’s OPS+ is 110 and Brown’s is 102 and rising (BABIP ~.260). I know people who read this blog think Mayberry is a career minor league player, and I’m not suggesting that Mayberry is a long term solution. Perhaps it would be a good long-term move to acquire Rasmus (only if one assumes that he will improve), but for the present Rasmus does not buy us anything we do not already have.

    On defense Rasmus surrenders runs in CF. He projects to be a corner outfielder not a CF and has a somewhat weak arm. So he is a LF and if Shane leaves he is not a viable replacement in CF. (I take some of this information from comments written on Fangraphs by authors and readers.)

    In conclusion, I would not include Rasmus on a list of Kemp and Pence as OFs that would be exciting for the Phillies to acquire. Kemp and Pence would significantly improve the Phils offensive production for this season. Rasmus probably would not. The best argument for acquiring Rasmus is one about the future, and the risks involved in betting on Rasmus improving are not worth the loss of top prospects.

    I, at least, will continue dreaming only of Kemp and Pence.

  17. Joe Schuetz

    July 14, 2011 11:31 PM

    Any possibility that Phils could make a run at B.J. Upton? 26 years old, great defense, rh pop. Change of scenery might be all he needs. And younger and cheaper than Beltran. Am guessing Dom Brown would have to be in the deal, along with someone else, but based on the current lineup, and the presumed freeing up of payroll next year, I think Upton is worth a look.

  18. MplsPhilsFan

    July 15, 2011 07:19 AM

    Travis, OPS+ needs to be looked at in relation to the league, where it always sits at 100 for both the NL and the AL. With the DH, it skews the data in favor of the AL, which accounst for the 6% difference

    LTG, fair points on Rasmus, but you should look at his 2009 numbers also, not just his 2010 and 2011 stats. They are fairly close in line to his 2010 numbers, which may be more indicative of his true talent level.

    His defense this year has been subpar, btu his defense in the previous two years was good to excellent, depending on the metric. Not sure I trust any defensive metric with as young a player as him, but my initial take would be that he is at least a decent defensive OF player, if not a good one.

    Kemp is not going anywhere, especially since he is one of the leading MVP candidates this year. I doubt that Upton will be moved either, as he fits many of the parameters the Rays love in their players.

    Pence could be traded, but I think there will be a high cost attached to him and he ain’t that cheap, although he is cost controlled for the next 18 months

    Still say that Rasmus, costing only $443,000 this year, and cost controlled until 2015, is the best OF option for us, and that the Cardinals are making a huge mistake if they make this guy available

  19. LTG

    July 15, 2011 11:03 AM

    On Rasmus,
    1) His 2009 numbers are worse than his 2011 numbers: OPS .714, OPS+ 89, wOBA .311. His WAR is better in 2009 because his dWAR is positive instead of negative, as it has been the last year and a half. I’m not sure why you think his 2009 numbers are more in line with his 2010 numbers, but if you only looked at WAR then you did not do enough analysis.

    2) UZR/150 takes about 3 years to give good info so we are slightly shy of the sample size, but it looks like he is a sub-par CF (note: CF not OF). He has a -1.5 in CF and it has been negative for the last year and a half. (You seem to think he was a good defender in CF last year; why?) If you have to make a decision about him now and you are wondering about his defense, it goes in the negative column unless scouts tell you he can improve.

    3) As you say, and as I said in my original post, Rasmus could be an investment, but that is not the same as being a right-now guy like Kemp and Pence would be.

    4) I don’t believe we will acquire either Kemp or Pence (or Rasmus for that matter) but dreaming is fun.

  20. MplsPhilsFan

    July 18, 2011 10:19 AM

    LTG,

    In looking a bit mroe deeply into the analysis on both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference, it appears as though Rasmus was even worse in 2009 offensively than in 2011 (89 OPS+ and 88 wRC+ respectively)

    As for his defense, B-R has him as a plus OF in 2009 and a slight negative in 2010. FG has him as really good in 2009 and fairly bad in 2010 and this year. You correctly stated that it takes 3 years for data to stabilize on the defensive metrics for a player, but with variations of this magnitude, it may take longer. So i think making an assumption about him being a sub-par CF is a bit premature

    I do not anticipate the Phils acquiring Rasmus, Pence or Kemp, but I do think that, of all three of those, Rasmus would be the best fit both in terms of present cost and in long term value

  21. LTG

    July 20, 2011 04:32 PM

    To clarify the way to reason with the incomplete defensive data: since the data currently points in a negative direction, one needs counter-evidence which can only be supplied by people watching him play, i.e., scouts as I said above. Otherwise, when you consider his value one should mark him as a sub-par CF and weigh him accordingly. One has to reason with the evidence one has not the evidence one might have later. It would be a mistake to ignore the incomplete data and treat Rasmus as a good defender when deciding his value to the Phillies (unless the scouts tell you differently).

    I also can’t imagine how Rasmus would be a better fit for the Phillies than Kemp (although maybe better than Pence since Pence won’t retain his value for much longer). Kemp is in his prime and ought to be good for the next few years during which the Phillies project to be a good team. Rasmus is all unproven potential, and if you listen to Cardinals fans talk about him, they aren’t sure he has any. Moreover, his stats suggest he isn’t that good yet. So, to acquire Rasmus, you would have to trade prospects for a prospect. That is not a good move for a team trying to win right now. It is not really a good move ever, unless one team is deep at one position but needs prospects in other positions. Besides one year of incredible luck, there is not much difference between Rasmus and Brown (okay, that’s not entirely true, Rasmus is a better fielder than Brown). Rasmus has shown a little more power but strikes out more. I don’t think the best move for the Phillies this year is to acquire a piece that is meant for winning in the future but not the present. The Phillies need to win now. For the future we already have a stable of prospects, including Brown, that we need not trade.

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