Rounding Out the Roster

By the look of things, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. could be done adding to the roster for a while. The Winter Meetings are on the horizon, but the Phillies have few spots left to fill and will be closely monitoring the shortstop market as their primary focus. Jimmy Rollins is expected to seek a five-year deal, something that should and probably will make the Phillies apprehensive.

How best to round out the roster? Let’s take a look at what a realistic roster, at the present time, would look like.

Infield (8):

Outfield (5):

Starting Rotation (5):

Bullpen (7):

Let’s start with the infield. Obviously, Howard will start the year on the DL. Additionally, Jim Thome isn’t going to be able to play everyday or even semi-regularly as he hasn’t played more than 20 innings in the field since leaving the Phillies after the 2005 season. Thome hits right-handed pitching significantly better, so a platoon is clearly a necessity at first base. Wigginton, recently acquired, does not have much of a platoon split but does hit left-handers slightly better. A third option could be John Mayberry, Jr., who crushed lefties in his first dose of semi-regular playing time last season.

The most logical way to fill the void at first base appears to be giving Thome two or three starts a week (against right-handed pitching only) with the remaining starts going to Wigginton and Mayberry. As the Wigginton signing is a direct response to Howard’s Achilles injury, that is the likely role for the former Baltimore Oriole; however, were it up to me, I would let Mayberry get the majority of at-bats against southpaws at first base. It remains to be seen exactly how Charlie Manuel will split up the playing time, but Wigginton’s bat profiles better with less playing time at first base.

Second base isn’t too hard to figure out; one need only search for the man with the L.A. Looks hair gel. In the past, Manuel promised to give Utley time off during the season, but it did not happen on a regular basis. After returning to the lineup on May 23 last year, Utley started 100 of the final 116 games (86 percent). I’d like to see that change in 2012, especially since Placido Polanco can slide from third to second and Wigginton can take over at the hot corner. This would be particularly useful against a tough lefty.

As mentioned, Polanco will be found at third base. After a great April (.972 OPS), Polanco tanked, posting a depressing .591 OPS the rest of the way. Although he has already more than paid for his three-year, $18 million contract already, he has shown signs of aging and decline. He set career-lows in isolated power (.062), batting average (.277), and wOBA (.304) in 2011. While Wigginton won’t provide much of an upgrade (especially when factoring in defense), it would be helpful to Polanco’s long-term durability if he were to be given a day off every week.

The question on everybody’s mind right now is “Who will be the Phillies’ shortstop in 2012?” Rollins is seeking a five-year deal and it is very hard to see the Phillies doling out such a contract to a 33-year-old with a recent injury history. Outside of Rollins and Jose Reyes, the shortstop market is very thin, so the most likely scenarios involve the Phillies bringing Rollins back, relying on Wilson Valdez, putting all their eggs in the basket of Freddy Galvis (very unlikely), or signing a free agent (such as Rafael Furcal or Alex Gonzalez) to a team-friendly one- or two-year deal.

Let’s say the Phillies are unable to bring back Rollins and Reyes gets his mega-deal somewhere else. I would be content with the Phillies moving on with a player like Gonzalez, who plays above-average defense and hits just well enough to be average at his position (NL average wOBA for shortstops last year was .309; Gonzalez’s career average is .296). Furcal is better all-around, but also riskier as he has spent considerable time on the disabled list during the past two seasons (58 days in 2010; 69 days in 2011). In the past, I’ve pointed out that an elite team like the Phillies should aim to reduce variance as much as possible, so Gonzalez fits ever so slightly better than Furcal, and he will be cheaper as well (most likely). Rumors have Furcal seeking a multi-year deal, and the shortstop market may just be barren enough that a team is desperate enough to agree to such a deal.

The return of Rollins will significantly affect how the Phillies fill out the rest of the roster. If they are not on the hook paying him eight figures in 2012, they will have more payroll space to patch up other areas and even sign Hamels to a contract extension. For instance, the Phillies could sign Michael Cuddyer (assuming he will be available at that point), or go after a left-handed outfielder such as Johnny Damon or David DeJesus. Perhaps the extra payroll flexibility allows Amaro to bring in another reliever as well.

The outfield is more or less set. Victorino and Pence will be found in center and right field, respectively. Left field can be filled a number of ways in the absence of Raul Ibanez. The Phillies have three immediate candidates for the position in Mayberry, Francisco, and Brown. Previously, however, Amaro stated that he wanted Brown to get another full season in Triple-A, so that leaves the Phillies with two right-handers. As mentioned, depending on exactly where the Phillies stand with respect to their payroll, a lefty could be brought in, and there are a swath of lefty outfielders available: the previously mentioned Damon and DeJesus, as well as Ibanez, Laynce Nix, Jason Kubel, and Kosuke Fukudome, among others.

Personally, I would immediately rule out Ibanez, Nix, and Fukudome. Damon seems like a great fit. Corey Seidman went over the pros and cons at Phillies Nation recently, writing:

Damon would also bring some speed, which can’t be said of any of the other impact leftfielders on the Phils’ radar. Damon is the only one of the bunch who could be penciled into the two-hole just as well as the six-hole.

[…]

If Damon can be had on a one-year, $4.25-4.5 million deal, he’s pretty much a no-brainer. Signing Damon would give the Phils three solid depth bats – Damon, Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome – for less than the cost of one year of Michael Cuddyer.

DeJesus is the best of the bunch when it comes to defense. Like Damon, he is coming off of a career-worst season offensively (his first season outside of Kansas City). In a typical year, DeJesus hits close to .300 with above-average on-base skills, so he would be an asset hitting at the top of the lineup behind Victorino. Kubel is your typical mediocre left fielder with occasional power. Although the Phillies ranked seventh in the league in slugging percentage last year, they were nearly as unimpressive in the on-base department, and given the lack of diversity in the lineup, Damon and DeJesus seem like much better fits.

Moving on… the pitching is, of course, the easiest part of this equation. The starting rotation is more or less set in stone with Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Worley, and Blanton. In the last year of his three-year contract, Blanton (earning $8.5 million) could be used as trade fodder during the summer if he shows improvement and good health in the first three or four months. Other than that, there is nothing exciting going on with the rotation, aside from the inevitability of a Hamels contract extension.

The bullpen may see one more outsider brought in, but any remaining gaps will be filled internally and shouldn’t be the cause of heated debate. Kendrick is an interesting case as he is arbitration-eligible for the second year. The Phillies paid him $2.45 million to avoid arbitration last year. MLB Trade Rumors projects Kendrick at $3.2 million this year, so the Phillies have the option of simply releasing him. Although he posted unexpectedly good results last year (3.22 ERA), his performance leaves a lot to be desired and doesn’t project to be anything better than a replacement-level pitcher. Such an arm, of course, would not be worth upwards of $3 million.

To recap, these are the important story lines between now and spring training:

  • First base sans Howard (Thome, Wigginton, Mayberry)
  • Shortstop with or without Rollins
  • Left field, whether it is filled from within or externally
  • Extending Cole Hamels

At the moment, the Phillies have roughly $125 million committed to 13 players. There are five potential arbitration cases (Hamels, Pence, Kendrick, Valdez, Francisco) and a handful of players earning at or slightly more than the Major League minimum (Mayberry, Herndon, Bastardo, Worley, Stutes, Schwimer). MLB Trade Rumors projects the five arbitration-eligibles to earn a combined $31 million. Taken all together, the Phillies are at about $160 million, just barely under last year’s $166 million Opening Day payroll. The luxury tax has been set at $178 million, which gives the Phillies under $20 million of wiggle room. Amaro will certainly have to perform some financial gymnastics to address the final questions, which makes the next three months all the more intriguing.

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75 comments

  1. LTG

    November 30, 2011 02:38 PM

    Hey, at least we signed Scott Elarton.

  2. hk

    November 30, 2011 02:43 PM

    LTG,

    I think you mean, at least we signed Tuffy Gosewisch, who’s only 28, thereby showing that RAJ does at least recognize that players under the age of 30 exist.

  3. Scott G

    November 30, 2011 02:52 PM

    The only thing I think we need more than a good bullpen arm is a SS. I don’t think the Phillies will try and get Reyes, and since I am fairly confident no one will sign Rollins (or any other meaningful SS) before Reyes, then there’s no other position that NEEDS to be filled more than closer at this point in time. I guess I’m coming from the mindset that it doesn’t matter if you sign Papelbon then Rollins or Rollins then Papelbon so long as Rollins (my hope) and Papelbon are on the team.

    P.S. I don’t really like Papelbon aside from the fact that he’s pretty good.

  4. JB Allen

    November 30, 2011 03:05 PM

    Phillie – 5/75 or even 5/70 is way too much for Rollins, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter happens. Hey, Derek Jeter made $15MM+ at age 37, and any agent worth his weight in horsecrap will argue that Rollins is a more valuable player from here on out. Great glove, decent bat, disruptive on the basepaths, and he’s a fan favorite! Also, RAJ isn’t afraid to sign hitters through their late 30’s. None of this is how I look at it, but I think this is a way of looking at it that may stick with RAJ.

    Scott G – Fair point that IF the Phillies aren’t concerned about cash limitations, trying to sign the best players makes sense. But assuming the Phillies don’t care about throwing money around, I would be happy if the Phils signed the best available players to enormous one-year contracts. Signing a guy like Rollins or Howard to a high-price, multiyear contract means that three years from now, the Phils will be stuck with high-priced, second-rate position players. And even that wouldn’t be such an issue if the Phillies were willing to acknowledge those contracts as sunk costs and move on. But given how the Phils kept trotting out Ibanez last year when better options were available, I don’t see that sort of thinking happening in the years to come.

  5. hk

    November 30, 2011 03:16 PM

    Scott G,

    JB Allen’s right. While Phillie697 and I are really just complaining about overpaying Papelbon in 2012, another concern about that deal is how they will use him in 2014 and 2015 (and 2016 if his option vests) if he begins to decline. Judging from their insistence on keeping Lidge as closer and Ibanez in the regular lineup, I fear they could be running Papelbon out to close in the latter years despite the fact that the bullpen may have better arms in it.

  6. JB Allen

    November 30, 2011 03:22 PM

    I meant to say that Rollins is a more valuable player than Jeter from here on out.

  7. hk

    November 30, 2011 03:26 PM

    Last year, Wilson Valdez, Michael Martinez and Pete Orr combined for 638 plate appearances…more than 10% of the team’s total. With the team getting older and the likelihood that Howard will miss at least a month, I would think that the utility players will account for a similar number of PA’s if not more in 2012. Since I really don’t see Thome getting much more than 100 of those PA’s, I would be more comfortable if the other ~538 went to better players than Wilson Valdez and Ty Wigginton.

  8. Scott G

    November 30, 2011 03:55 PM

    Why do we assume Papelbon will be garbage in the future? Since 2006, Papelbon has had only 2 seasons with BB/9 over 3 (never over 4.00), and virtually no seasons with K/9 under 10.

    In 9 seasons, Brad Lidge only had 2 seasons UNDER a 4.00 BB/9.

    Papelbon is not Brad Lidge, and we’ll end up paying the same AAV for them with their contracts ending up when they’re both 34.

    This is clearly a better deal than for Lidge, especially considering inflation. And yes, I do realize that just because one deal is better than a bad deal doesn’t make it a good deal.

    re: sticking with people who suck (Ibanez). I’d be willing to bet that Manuel has just as much to do with that as RAJ, and this is one reason why Manuel is bad in my opinion (I wish Robby Bonfire still commented here).

    I will never argue about the Ryan Howard extension the same way I am about this. I’d much rather we all bash the organization for paying Howard twice as much as Papelbon, than have to try and defend the possibility that the Papelbon deal isn’t the worst thing in the world.

    Also, further down the line, while we might be paying for Papelbon, we may not/will not be paying people like Halladay, Utley, Ibanez, and Jamie Moyer (arguably the worst contract of all of them).

  9. hk

    November 30, 2011 04:28 PM

    I don’t think anyone’s arguing that the Papelbon deal is close to being as bad as the Howard deal or that Papelbon will be garbage – although we cannot eliminate the possibility that he declines or gets injured. We are just saying that the Phils probably could have signed him for fewer years and dollars and doing so would have been beneficial, even if they end up filling all of their holes.

    As far as further down the line is concerned, when the Phils won’t be paying the likes of Halladay, Utley, etc., they will have to replace them and that is another place where overpaying Papelbon might bite them. Right now, the Phils have ~$96M committed to five players (Halladay, Lee, Papelbon, Howard and Utley) for 2013 or slightly > $100M committed to six if they pick up Chooch’s $5M option.

  10. jauer

    November 30, 2011 05:30 PM

    free bonfire!

  11. Phillie697

    November 30, 2011 10:54 PM

    Okay, Scott G, here is how I would have run the Phillies’ off-season:

    Trade Victorino for Matt Thorton and Alexei Ramirez.

    Pencil in Brown in LF, tentatively put Mayberry in CF. Decline arbitration on Kendrick, bring up Aumont.

    Sign David DeJesus, trade for Martin Prado (not sure what I would trade, but I’m pretty sure it’s doable). Sign Giambi (who, btw, would have been a better signing than Thome IMO. We at least know he can play the field still).

    The end result? Got our SS, have a three-way closer audition between Thorton, Bastardo, and Aumont. Have DeJesus as super OF sub, or CF replacement if Mayberry sucks there. Prado will pick up the 600 at bats we inevitably have to give him because of injuries, and we’ll play Giambi at 1B while Howard is hurt, or as a better Gload when Howard comes back. We can also play Mayberry at 1B and DeJesus at CF depending on matchup. And oh, we’ll be about $20M below the luxury tax cap, which we can use to give Hamels an extension, and have still enough left over to spend for a rainy day. I might think about signing Matt Capp if I think my 3-headed closer monster needs a 4th head. Or if you don’t like Giambi, sign Carlos Pena. I’ve got enough cash for that too.

  12. Phillie697

    November 30, 2011 11:18 PM

    Oh, and I would look REALLY hard for a way to give Charlie a brain transplant, because I don’t think I can just outright fire him without causing a tsunami-sized PR nightmare. All those interchangeable parts I just got for Charlie will surely make his head explode in Spring Training.

  13. Phillie697

    December 01, 2011 09:17 AM

    Two trades is exactly one more than RAJ made this off-season, and there are already rumors out there how both the Braves and the White Sox are looking to trade Prado and Thorton respectively, so it’s not like I’m going out on a limb here.

  14. Scott G

    December 01, 2011 10:39 AM

    1) I’m sure the Braves and Phillies are dying to work out trades with one another.

    2) I’ll give you credit that the White Sox probably undervalue Thornton, but why would they want to part with their relatively cheap SS who they have signed through the 2015 season for a CF who they will need to re-sign after 2012?

    I’d also be willing to bet since you’re assuming the Phillies have this limitation on salary (they very well might, but it has been increasing rather rapidly), that had we given you the role of GM last off-season, we wouldn’t have heard about signing Cliff Lee because you, nor anyone else, has any idea what the owners are allowing RAJ to do.

  15. JB Allen

    December 01, 2011 02:36 PM

    Scott G – Hey, the Phillies traded Estrada for Millwood in 2002, so there’s precedent!

  16. Phillie697

    December 01, 2011 09:45 PM

    @Scott G,

    Actually, if Alexei Ramirez is not available, I would still have made the trade for Prado, but I would pencil Mayberry at 1B and Dom at LF and went after Reyes. And still have enough money to re-sign Hamels. Yes, you’re right, I don’t value closers. Paying $20M a year for Reyes is STILL better than paying $12.5M for Papelbon. Like I said, it’s not about not spending money. It’s about spending money wisely. I ain’t got a problem with spending money.

    And oh, I would trade Galvis for Ramirez in a heartbeat, so if the White Sox want to work some kind of a deal for that, I’d be willing to listen too. Victorino + Galvis for Ramirez + Thorton + something? I don’t even think that “something” needs to be very much to convince me. A cost-controlled SS with 4-5 WAR a year through 2016 is worth pretty much all but the very best of prospects.

  17. Scott G

    December 02, 2011 09:19 AM

    There’s a huge difference in his fWAR and bWAR. Why would the white sox ever make this deal? Galvis probably makes them less interested. He’s awful.

  18. LTG

    December 02, 2011 12:43 PM

    bWAR undervalues defensive contributions. fWAR might overvalue it, but UZR becomes pretty reliable over 3 seasons. fWAR is the better representation of Ramirez’s value. White Sox need a CF, Galvis might turn out to be another Ramirez. Really good glove, not so good bat but good enough. His increased strength seems to have made him a potentially viable MLB player. In fact, this discussion already happened here, where I played Scott G and Phillie played himself. (Clearly, Scott G is more versatile as an actor than Phillie.)

  19. Scott G

    December 02, 2011 04:19 PM

    Freddy Galvis can barely a .700 OPS at the AAA level. His career minor league triple slash line is .246/.292/.321.

    Also, that last sentence went over my head. Care to elaborate? haha

  20. Phillie697

    December 02, 2011 09:29 PM

    I think the White Sox will take any good OF, nevermind a good CF. Right now, they can generously be described as having three Ty Wiggintons in their outfield.

  21. hk

    December 03, 2011 07:21 AM

    If, as reported, the Braves want Seth Smith and a good prospect from the Rockies for Prado, it is unlikely that the Phils would have been able to make a deal for him. However, if the rumors that Rockies are looking to move Seth Smith and/or Ian Stewart are true, I still don’t get why the Phils had to rush into the Wigginton trade and why they didn’t pursue his younger, better teammates Smith and Stewart. Maybe because Wigginton’s already 30 while Smith and Stewart are still in their 20’s?

  22. Phillie697

    December 03, 2011 02:32 PM

    @hk,

    That and RAJ probably thought he got Wigginton “on the cheap.”

    Wow, Seth Smith AND a good prospect for Prado? Maybe the Braves GM smokes the same crack RAJ does.

  23. LTG

    December 04, 2011 06:31 PM

    I was just joking around. A few weeks back, Phillie and I went back and forth over whether the risk-reward balance favored making the proposed trade for Ramirez. You are now taking the side I took, sort of. Hence the acting comment.

  24. hk

    December 04, 2011 06:58 PM

    Phillie697,

    I guess RAJ probably thinks he got Laynce Nix, who had never signed for more than one year in his MLB career, “on the cheap” too.

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