I’m a little bit of a sports video game loser, not because I’m bad at them (I’m not) or because spending as much time as I do playing NHL or FIFA makes you a loser (it does), but because when I buy a new video game, the first thing I do is take my favorite team and rebuild it in such a manner as befits my own beliefs and biases. So, for instance, taking Arsenal in FIFA 12 and getting rid of Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, and Nicklas Bendtner to finance, in part, the acquisition of a running buddy for Robin van Persie (Fernando Llorente) and a box-to-box midfield destroyer to fill the near-decade-long gaping void left by Patrick Vieira (Yann M’Vila). Or taking over the Flyers and trading away the albatross contracts of Bryzgalov, Pronger, and Hartnell to make room for Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond, and Luke Schenn. But no one cares about your video game stories, so I’ll stop.
It’s always been fun to live in this world of fantasy because things always seem to work out in video games, but playing out the thought exercise hasn’t been as fun with the Phillies of late because, well, over the past five seasons they’ve been one of the best teams in baseball. They’ve had the best record in MLB two years running, and they’ve won five division titles on the trot. Only one other team (the Yankees) even has an active streak of three straight playoff appearances. So going in and blowing up a team that’s won 292 games since 2009 seems a little greedy. Y’all know all of this already, but it’s nice to spell it all out like that while we still can.
Nevertheless, like most fans, I’ve lusted for players on other teams as a matter of habit, and to that effect I wrote several hundred words on my irrational but all-consuming man-love for then-Royals pitcher Jeff Francis last winter. This winter, because pro baseball doesn’t start for three months and because, as a Virginia Tech fan by birth and South Carolina fan by education, my college football season ended last night and college basketball ranks somewhere below cricket on my sporting radar, I’m so bored that I’m willing to try the thought experiment out with the Phillies. What follows is a list of players that, if I lived in a fantasy world where I ran the Phillies, I’d try to acquire if they could be had and the price was right, for no reason other than I love them.
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Boston Red Sox
I have never wanted a sports transaction as much as I wanted the Phillies to draft Bradley this past year. Let’s put this in perspective. I can tell you where I was, what chair I was sitting in, and which way my phone was oriented, and the person I was composing a tweet to when the Phillies took Larry Greene with the 39th overall pick in June, then watched the Red Sox scoop up Bradley with the next pick. Jackie Bradley was the MVP of the 2010 College World Series, a five-tool outfielder who would (at the time) have fit in between very nicely between Dom Brown and Jonathan Singleton in the Phillies’ outfield around 2013 or so. Bradley was widely regarded as a top-15 pick before a wrist injury cost him most of his junior year, and while he struggled to stay on the field his last year at college, he posted a .368/.473/.587 slash line in 67 games as a sophomore for the national champions, and as a freshman he put up a .349/.431/.537 in 63 games.
Though he’s only 5-11 and 180 pounds, Bradley makes the most of his physical attributes with a sharp lefty swing, good speed, and outstanding baseball intelligence. This interview with David Laurila of FanGraphs, published in November, made me want to put my head through the wall: a guy with tools and an almost academically thoughtful approach to hitting? Of course the Phillies passed on him.
Bradley is regarded as a good baserunner and a center fielder who not only possesses the speed and arm to make plays, but the ability to read balls off the bat. And, by all accounts, he’s a great guy whose public reputation and Twitter profile persuade me to put him just below Hunter Pence, but in the neighborhood of Cliff Lee on the List of Guys Who Are Easy to Root For.
While Bradley doesn’t really have a single elite tool, and might not have more than doubles power at the major league level, his on-base ability, speed, and personality, combined with my massive Gamecock homerism, makes Bradley the No. 1 trade priority for my hypothetical video game Phillies.
Jaff Decker, OF San Diego Padres
Decker, like Bradley, is a left-handed outfielder born in 1990 who puts up insane on-base numbers (16.5% walk rate in AA last year) and has a little bit of speed. This might not surprise people in Bradley’s case, because he’s built like a basestealer. Decker, however, looks like Vance Worley ate Joe Blanton. Despite this, he’s stolen 40 bases in four minor-league seasons, and while the Padres have seen short, fat guys put up seasons with a .400 OBP and 20 stolen bases before, Decker’s true potential is probably somewhere more in the neighborhood of Nick Swisher than Tony Gwynn. Still, his plate discipline numbers conjure up images of Bobby Abreu and his name conjures up images of a bounty hunter from Star Wars. I want Decker in my hypothetical future outfield as well.
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
I’ve tried to avoid established major league stars so far, because it doesn’t take a whole lot of creativity to go on the internet and say that if you were running the Phillies in a video game, you’d trade for Clayton Kershaw and Evan Longoria. But Beltre is different, perhaps the only active player whose Hall of Fame case is better than Chase Utley‘s but will wind up, when all is said and done, with fewer advocates for his enshrinement. Beltre, in 2004, posted one of the best seasons ever for a third baseman, then went off to sign a five-year deal with the Mariners, where he was widely regarded as a disappointment. Of course, what mainstream writers chalked up to some sort of moral failing on Beltre’s part was more likely a product of 1) it being really hard to put up good power numbers as a righty in Safeco, particularly when your team sucks and 2) the understandable dropoff from 2004 to 2005, considering that Beltre’s 2004 was one of the five best seasons ever for a third baseman.
After an outstanding 2010 with Boston and a very good 2011 with Texas, Beltre stands with more career bWAR than two of the nine current Hall of Fame third basemen, and going into his age-33 season, coming off the second-and third-best seasons of his career, Beltre is in a position to make a run at Scott Rolen for the title of best third baseman of this generation. Of course, everyone knows about Beltre’s hitting–he has a reputation as an impatient hitter with power, whose career .329 OBP and nine 20-home run seasons speak to that fact, but Beltre is quietly one of the best defensive third basemen in the game, a notch below Rolen in his prime or Evan Longoria now, but still worth between one and two wins for his glove alone. Not knowing what to expect from Placido Polanco going forward, and with no young third baseman on the horizon, video game me would make a move for Beltre.
Ben Zobrist, UTIL, Tampa Bay Rays
If Beltre is underrated, I’m not sure what to call Zobrist. In 2009, FanGraphs rated Zobrist as the most valuable position player in the Ameircan League, which was probably a fluke of the ratings system. However, he can play almost literally every position on the diamond, hit anywhere in the lineup, and he posted a 131 wRC+ last year. I’d foresee using Zobrist, a switch hitter who, like Shane Victorino, hits lefties better than righties, at first base instead of Ryan Howard against left-handed starting pitchers a couple times a week, then to spell Chase Utley at second once a week to keep his rapidly deteriorating body in better shape, then in left field, third or shortstop as necessary–essentially, exactly the same way Joe Maddon used him in 2009 and 2010, giving him six starts a week at four different defensive positions. Zobrist’s bat and glove are valuable enough on their own, but that value is compounded by the fact that those assets can be used anywhere on the diamond.
Brandon League, RHP, Seattle Mariners
I know, I know, never ever spend money on relief pitchers, and with Papelbon and Tony No-Dad already in the fold, it’s not like the Phillies, or even a hypothetical Phillies team, is in a position where they need to break that rule. However, League has a killer splitter (my favorite pitch in the game) and a blistering fastball, which make him not only a rather effective relief pitcher but an entertaining one as well. Plus he wears glasses and is all tatted up, so imagine a combination of Ryan Madson, Vance Worley, and Dennis Rodman and you’re beginning to get the picture.
I know that none of these trades will happen anytime soon, though every day that passes without Jackie Bradley, Jr. getting traded to the Phillies is a day that makes me want to curl up in bed and weep the embittered tears of a sorority girl who just found out her boyfriend got that fat slut from Chi O pregnant, while drinking wine coolers and watching A Walk to Remember. On her birthday. The night before a final that she (wipes tears from her cheeks) needs to get a good grade on to pass this class or else my parents aren’t going to let me study abroad in Barcelona next year.
But I’ve come to terms with all that.
The point is that if I were dictator of the world, these five guys would be Phillies. Given the weather and lack of otherwise compelling sports to watch and talk about, sometimes it’s healthy to indulge in such fantasies as these. Feel free to leave your additions in the comments.