The Outfield of the Future

Quick, name the five most valuable outfielders in the National League in 2011. Let’s see… Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Justin Upton… who else was in there? Would you believe Shane Victorino? That’s right, the Flyin’ Hawaiian, if you don’t remember, was a legitimate NL MVP candidate through August last year. The Rule-5 pick finished with 5.9 fWAR, fourth-best in the league, despite missing 27 games due to a thigh strain and a thumb sprain.

The chatter throughout the off-season centered on the Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon situation, as well as the still-unfinished Cole Hamels contract issue. Perhaps just as importantly, 2012 could be Shane Victorino’s last year in Philadelphia. The center fielder, now 31 years old, will earn $9.5 million this year in the last year of a three-year, $22 million contract. Since becoming a Phillie in 2005, Victorino emerged from a bit player to a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, providing value in all facets of the game. His bat was vital in the 2008 NLCS as the Phillies trampled through October competition en route to their first championship since 1980 and he became a premier base runner under the tutelage of former first base coach Davey Lopes.

PECOTA expects Victorino to regress in 2012. Victorino projects to go from a .301 true average (TAv, where .260 is the baseline) to .276. In terms of WARP (the Baseball Prospectus version of WAR), Victorino projects below 3 WARP each. That isn’t bad by any means, but it’s not at the 2011 echelon. Despite the drop-off in production, though, Victorino is far better than any other options the Phillies have.

In the event Victorino is unable to be signed to a contract extension, the Phillies will have to pick from players currently with the organization such as Domonic Brown (presently learning to play left field), John Mayberry, and Tyson Gillies (who played in just three games last year). Otherwise, the Phillies would be forced to draw from an uninspiring free agent class with B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn at the top, or acquire an outfielder via trade, something that will be difficult to do with the 25th-best farm system according to ESPN’s Keith Law.

Logically speaking, it is just as important for the Phillies to retain Victorino. Roy Halladay is under contract through at least 2013 and most likely ’14 as well, while Cliff Lee will be around through at least 2015. With an easier ability to patch the back of the rotation via free agency and minor trades, as well as the emergence of Vance Worley and the expected emergence of prospect Trevor May, the starting rotation is less of a priority. Of course, there is some risk involved with Halladay and Lee that is much less present with Hamels as mentioned here.

That is not to say that these issues are mutually exclusive. The Phillies have $108 million on the books for the 2013 season according to Cot’s Contracts, so they could certainly fit in $20 million for Hamels and $15 million for Victorino without hamstringing themselves in other areas. However, it does illustrate that the one issue that seems to be overlooked is the potential changing of the guard in the outfield — it is a very big deal, and something that will have a profound effect on the Phillies’ competitiveness as their so-called window shrinks.

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19 comments

  1. nik

    February 13, 2012 08:23 AM

    Pence is not a free agent after 2012.

  2. Brian

    February 13, 2012 08:45 AM

    I thought Pence was arbitration eligible for 2013 still. If that’s the case, and he gets let’s say $15, and Hamels is locked up at $20 for that season (and going up over the life of a deal), the phillies are looking at $143 million on 8 players (Lee, Doc, Hamels, Pap, Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Pence). Can they survive, let alone be expected to win the division and compete for the World Series with 8 guys getting 79.5% of their payroll (assuming they stay under $180, which presumably could be the luxury tax cap that year)? That’s $37 million divided by the remaining 17 guys. I guess that means goodbye Shanf and Chooch and the very minimal? Figure they can round out the rotation and bullpen for under $10, leaving about $25 for Mayberry in center, Brown in left, _____ playing third, and a bench? It could be doable, but that seems a little too top heavy, especially considering 6 of the 8 of that 79% will be in their mid 30s with the other two low 30s.

  3. Phillie697

    February 13, 2012 10:00 AM

    Sure makes the Howard and Papelbon contracts look even more silly, doesn’t it? I know what detractors are going to say, “We’re in a win-now mode.” Win now doesn’t mean signing stupid contracts. You know who else employed the “win now by signing big (i.e. stupd) contracts” method? The Mets. Guess what, they didn’t win jack.

  4. Dan K.

    February 13, 2012 12:15 PM

    @697,

    Point taken, but that is quite clearly not the only reason the Mets are where they are. For one, they have been terrible with their farm system and drafting. Our farm is ranked 25th right now, but that is only because of the trades we’ve been making. Keith Law himself admits there is a metric ton of talent in our low minors, and as some of them start to turn heads our ranking in farm system will go back up.

    In short, we’re not the Mets.

  5. DP

    February 13, 2012 01:11 PM

    Related to Brian’s comment (i.e. 80% of payroll being locked up on 8 guys in 2013), have there been reports on the Phillies TV related revenue? For example, much has been made about the crazy TV deals for LA and Anaheim, is it possible the Phils are capitalizing on a new TV contract and therefore the luxury tax threshold isn’t as much of a barrier as we may think it is? I’m not saying the Phils want to cross it b/c Monty tends to side with the old guard (e.g. not over slotting in the draft and essentially doing what Selig says), but more along the lines that they could cross the threshold if they felt the had to if they were close enough to keep winning.

  6. Bill Baer

    February 13, 2012 02:55 PM

    Confirmed from Jeff Euston, creator of Cot’s Contracts:

    Pence is not a free agent until after the 2013 season. So he’ll be under Philadelphia’s control and arbitration-eligible one more time after this season.

    Thanks for catching that, Nik and Brian.

  7. Hunterfan

    February 13, 2012 03:19 PM

    I dunno that Vic is far and away better than any other option…if Bourn would come at a similar price, I don’t know that I wouldn’t prefer him.

  8. Phillie697

    February 13, 2012 04:17 PM

    Dan K.,

    If we’re not careful we’re going to BE the Mets. No organization (no, not even the Rays) can trade away 17 top prospects in the span of five years and not feel its effects (certainly can’t continue this way that’s for sure), and no team can sign ridiculous contracts without feeling its pinch. Because of a confluence of events, and the 2008 WS title, RAJ inherited a LOT of room for mistakes, which he has all but squandered away in a short span of 3 years: We now have a farm devoid of high-level talent, unable to replenish the major league club even tho majority of the lineup is aging, and the payroll is so maxed out we can’t really sign any significant free agents to replace them that way either (we’re having a hard time KEEPING what we’ve got as it is). And guess what, we haven’t won a WS since he took over.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think RAJ is that bad of a GM; he does some things well. But he had the unique opportunity to turn the Phillies into a perennial powerhouse, ala Yankees of the NL, but at the rate he’s going, I don’t think we can sustain this. You can look at this and say, “well it’s better than the late 90s and the early 00s,” but if “better than mediocre” is all you’re looking for, then I guess you really haven’t grown out of the mold of our losing days that I had high hopes that we can forever put away.

  9. Gaël

    February 13, 2012 05:36 PM

    697,

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but “we haven’t won a WS since [Amaro] took over” isn’t a terribly convincing argument. The Phillies have made the playoffs every year since Amaro became GM, and were the best team in MLB (in terms of single-season results) the past two years. Yes, there are a number of legitimate concerns going forward, but the team’s failure to win a World Series those past three seasons isn’t Amaro’s fault. The playoffs, after, are still a crapshoot.

  10. jauer

    February 13, 2012 09:37 PM

    “Yes, there are a number of legitimate concerns going forward, but the team’s failure to win a World Series those past three seasons isn’t Amaro’s fault. The playoffs, after, are still a crapshoot.”

    Which is why Amaro’s unsustainable strategy (Papelbon contract, Howard contract, constant demolition of the minor league system) is probably not the best way to run the team.

  11. John

    February 14, 2012 11:00 AM

    Brian,

    I like the salary breakdown for 2013. They could probably shave a few more million off your bullpen allotment (sans Paplebon) of $10 million. There are supposed to be quite a few good relievers in the pipeline, so we’ll see some of them added this year, and a few more can come up next year, all making the minimum. Lets say $6 million total for (Kendrick), a retread LOOGY and a “veteran presence RH,” and then $2 million more gets you 4+ at the league minimum, for a total of $8mil.

    As for the rotation, Worely stays at the minimum, and if all goes well at AA this year, there might be another starter to plug into the rotation slot #5 in 2013 at the minimum. That gives you a five man rotation at somewhere around $66-67 million, which sounds better to me than thinking about how $66 million of that would be going to just 3 guys if they get Cole back at $21million.

    That gives you a pitching staff for under $90 million, leaving another $90 million for the rest of the team. Not sure if Victorino fits, but it might be better to let him go a year or two earlier than I might have hoped, rather than ride out his decline. If Mayberry/Gillies/someone else produces with a decent CF glove this year, it might not matter too much in 2013, and that’s another $10-12 million saved by going with the minimum instead of paying Shane.

  12. Phillie697

    February 14, 2012 11:43 AM

    jauer hits the nail on the head exactly; the BEST way to win a WS is to put yourself in contention every year, not trying to shoot the moon for two or three years and then suck for the next 15, since, after all, the playoffs are a crapshoot. I mean, winning 102 games didn’t exactly help us, did it?

  13. jeff s.

    February 14, 2012 12:16 PM

    I’d rather go after Upton than sign Victorino to an extension. 4 years younger. More power. His strikeouts are a downside, though.

  14. Phillie697

    February 14, 2012 01:42 PM

    Upton is an enigma. I don’t know what to make of him. It’ll all depend on what his market value is going to be. If he will cost AAV of around $10M, I would snatch him up in no time.

  15. Richard

    February 14, 2012 04:17 PM

    mistakes have surely been made, but there is no reason to think the Phillies are going to suck for 15 years, nor are they in danger of becoming the Mets; let’s drop the hyperbole about how Amaro has “squandered” his opportunity to keep the Phillies good for a long time

  16. Phillie697

    February 14, 2012 08:01 PM

    Until it’s a hyperbole no more. It’s always a “hyperbole” until it becomes true. Unfortunately, it’s too late when it becomes true.

  17. jauer

    February 15, 2012 12:31 AM

    It’s not hyperbole to express concern that Amaro might run this team into the ground; it would be hyperbole to say that Amaro HAS run the team into the ground.

    If we listen to you and NEVER express our concern, then when we do get to the point where Amaro actually ran the team into the ground, then people would say “well no one disagreed with his decisions at the time, hindisght is 20-20, etc”.

    This is why forums like this exist. It’s early February; it’s not as there are a ton of topics to discuss anyway.

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