B.J. Upton Signs With Braves

A major free agent domino has fallen, sportsfans, as former Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton has agreed to terms with the Native American Warriors of Atlanta on a five-year, $75.25 million contract, the richest free-agent deal in franchise history. Upton was my dream choice for the Phillies if they went the free agent route with a center fielder, and while the 28-year-old is hardly a bargain at $15 million a year, there’s great potential for him to be worth that and more.

Upton, as you all probably know now, has great speed and is a good defender, with power that comes and goes. He should easily be an offensive upgrade over Michael Bourn (who we can probably assume is on his way out now), while losing a little bit with the glove and one bases. But that’s only because Bourn is one of the best defenders and baserunners in the game. With Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons in the fold, Upton should continue to keep the Braves’ team defense on a “sick nasty” level. And given the way Braves fans treated Heyward, an extremely talented player who underachieved due to nothing more than injury, I’m sure that Upton’s reputation for not exhibiting Brett Lawrie-esque levels of insane, self-destructive on-field intensity and showy effort will go over EXTREMELY WELL in Atlanta.

But anyway, while Bourn to Upton is something of a lateral move for Atlanta, most interesting is its effect on the rest of the market. Not only are the Phillies in need of an upgrade over John Mayberry, but the Nationals acknowledge that while Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth are good athletes and very good defensive corner outfielders, neither is the long-term answer in center field.

Not that the market lacks for options. Angel Pagan is still out there as a free agent, as are younger players like Denard Span and Dexter Fowler (potentially) via trade, but then there’s this:

To which I say:

First of all, I don’t think I have to tell you why signing Hamilton is a bad idea, but in case you’ve been asleep, here’s a primer: he’s a very good player, but he’s going to earn a lot of money going forward, and his skills and physical history suggest that the sands of time will erode him in a particularly dramatic way. Phillies fans, of all people, should know better than to want Hamilton after watching Ryan Howard crumble like Lot’s wife escaping from Sodom and Gomorrah. But these are the same folks who lived through the Hunter Pence trade and still think it’s a good idea for the Phillies to mortgage Boardwalk and Park Place to trade for Chase Headley. Like the Lotus-eaters, we trundle through life just kind of sleepily ignorant of all the turmoil that surrounds us.

There’s a possibility that all 30 major league teams will feel this way, realize that Hamilton can’t stay healthy, has terrible plate discipline and most likely will not be able to play center field much longer, and the market will evaporate, leaving him in much the same situation Edwin Jackson and Ryan Madson found themselves in last year. So if January rolls around and Hamilton can be had for, say, three years at $20-ish million per, then maybe we talk. But this:


That’s the kind of out-of-touch, glib disregard for financial prudence that one could only expect from someone who managed to get himself elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. An answer so cravenly, Harrison Bergeron-y populist that it makes clear, as if one wore a sign of neon lights on one’s head, and did a dance, smiling broadly and clicking your castanets, like some sort of sick, dystopian Carmen Miranda-in-Tron, that you pay only cursory attention to the state of the world as it is. A combination of ignorance and delusion that makes me wonder how in the hell this guy only lasted one term, because voters usually eat that kind of thing up.

Anyway, that’s the kind of contract that I’d like Josh Hamilton to get from another team.

As far as the impact of Upton’s signing on the rest of the market, I can’t say, because I don’t have any information. Which doesn’t stop some people from flinging around unsourced rumors like confetti. Because a scout and an agent think Hamilton ends up in Philly? Well, that and 17,000 credits will get you from Tatooine to Alderaan without any Imperial entanglements. Which, if I recall correctly, is the real trick, isn’t it?

A scout and an agent, presumably not Hamilton’s agent…so that’s two people who know a lot about baseball but have zero input in any process that would bring the Phillies and Hamilton together. That might as well be James Bond and the main character from To Kill a Mockingbird for all the good that does. If Bill and I say Josh Hamilton is going to Baltimore, or to Panera Bread for breakfast tomorrow, or to Mallorca for a nice offseason getaway with his wife, what then? We’re two guys who know a lot about baseball and have zero input in Hamilton’s professional future, would you believe us?

The point is not that what Crasnick said isn’t true, or that he’s even necessarily being irresponsible for reporting it. I’m just saying that it’s nothing more than what all of us are doing–speculating. So don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Phillies Close to Aquiring Reliever Wilton Lopez from Astros

Update: The deal has not been finalized yet, despite reports.

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Lopez was one of those mentioned in my “Guys Hardly Anyone Talks About” column from September. The right-hander turns 29 in April and is arbitration-eligible through 2015, meaning that the Phillies will have a quality reliever for at least three seasons. He earned just over $515,000 last season.

In 66.1 innings last year Lopez struck out 54 and walked only eight, good for a (K-BB)/PA of 18 percent. Among free agent relievers, only two have a better mark than Lopez in that regard: Jason Grilli at 28 percent and Sean Burnett at 19 percent. Aside from his incredible control, Lopez induces a lot of ground balls. His 55 percent ground ball rate ranked 16th-highest out of 88 relievers who threw at least 60 innings in 2012. The league average for relievers is 45 percent.

In three full seasons, Lopez has shown durability and reliability, accruing at least 66 innings and a sub-3.00 ERA in each year. His SIERA ranged from 2.53 (last year) to 3.03 (2011) indicating that Lopez’s success has not been fluky and that he certainly belongs in the conversation among baseball’s elite relievers.

Lopez will set up for Jonathan Papelbon and could easily slot in the closer’s role in the event of an injury or just the odd day off. Having been previously linked to Texas Rangers reliever Koji Uehara, the Phillies address their desire for a quality set-up arm and can now focus on getting a center fielder. Behind Papelbon and Lopez, the Phillies will likely rely on many of the young arms that we saw so often last season.

Carlos Ruiz Suspended 25 Games for Using Banned Substance

Via Todd Zolecki on Phillies.com:

Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz has been suspended 25 games for using an amphetamine. The suspension begins at the beginning of the 2013 season, which means Ruiz is unable to play until April 28 against the Mets at Citi Field.

The amphetamine in question is Adderall, a drug commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Amphetamines affect athletes differently than drugs such as steroids and growth hormone: instead of promoting muscle gain, amphetamines provide a burst of energy. Its effect varies from person to person, but Ruiz is one of many baseball players — including Willie MaysMike Schmidt, and Barry Bonds – to have used them. Amphetamines were officially banned in Major League Baseball in 2006.

As a result of Ruiz’s 25-game suspension, the Phillies will be without their star catcher until April 28. GM Ruben Amaro said to reporters that the initial thought is to replace Ruiz internally, much like they did during the 2012 season when Ruiz missed time due to plantar fasciitis. This likely means Erik Kratz, the presumptive back-up to Ruiz, opens up the season as the starting catcher. Humberto Quintero, a veteran catcher recently signed to a Minor League deal, is the favorite for the back-up role but the Phillies will no doubt leave that open for competition.

For many, Ruiz’s failed drug test puts into question not only his great 2012 season in which he set many career highs (H, R, 2B, HR, RBI, AVG, SLG, OPS), but the entire progression of his career, from a light-hitting game-caller in 2007-08 to the backbone of the Phillies’ offense between 2010-12.  In 114 games, Ruiz was the third-most valuable catcher in baseball in 2012 according to both FanGraphs WAR (5.5) and Baseball Reference WAR (4.4).

The news of Ruiz’s suspension comes at an unfortunate time in Philadelphia sports where none of the four major teams are providing much in the way of optimism. Fortunately, Ruiz will only be gone 25 games rather than the typical 50 games for players caught using steroids for the first time. Additionally, the Phillies will have four months to decide how to approach the beginning of the season without their backstop. In the grand scheme of things, this could have been worse and the Phillies should be able to get by without him in the first month of the season.

The Future is Unwritten: Cody Asche

I just looked up Phillies third basemen on Baseball Reference to see when they last had one who performed at an above average offensive clip. I had to go back to my freshman year of high school, to David Bell’s 107 OPS+ in 2004, before I was comfortable anointing him. If you visit this site regularly you’ve been saturated with recent discussion regarding the Phillies situation at the hot corner. Offensive futility has reigned supreme at third base for nearly a decade now. While it was certainly fun watching Pedro Feliz play gorgeous defense there for a few years and Placido Polanco has been likeable, if demure, in various facets of seamdom, we justifiably want more from that position.

We’ve examined external options via trade and free agency but only in passing/comments have we mentioned what some may now feel is an internal option at third base, if not now, in the near future. That option is Cody Asche. I saw plenty of Asche in Reading during the second half of this year but waited on writing up a formal report on him when I heard he had been assigned to the Arizona Fall League. I wanted to see if any notable development would occur after new instructors from other teams got a hold of him for a month.  After another handful of my own evaluations and some talks with people who get paid to have an opinion on baseball players, I can present to you an ironclad assessment of what Cody Asche is and what he might be.

The first thing I look at when evaluating a player is his physical composition. What does the body look like now and what will it look like in three, six and nine years from now? Asche has an average body with no notable physical limitations (he’s not fat or hurt) and no exceptionalities (he’s not built like Yeonis Cespedes, either). He has skinny forearms which contribute to a lack of raw power (which we’ll talk about later). He has little to no physical projection remaining, unless he decides to eat his way out of baseball. A rather uninteresting physique.

Asche’s bat, on the other hand, is quite interesting. He’s limited by below average power, but he should make plenty of contact. It all comes from incredibly sound hitting mechanics. Asche displays quiet feet, quick hands that explode forward from a good hitting position and a bat path conducive of contact. He’ll spray balls all over the field and should gap quite a few doubles. My ESPN colleague, Keith Law, has stated that Asche is loading his hands deeper than he was in college which opened up the possibility for Asche to hit for more pop, even if it’s modest pop. It all boils down to a slightly above average hit tool and below average power. The below average power could harm his on-base skills in the majors as pitchers challenge him, unafraid of Asche doing any real damage on his own.

Asche’s defense at third base was the main hang up for me whilst watching him this season. He looked so terrible at times that I thought working him in both outfield corners and at first base for the next two years was the best course of action, hoping he could become a useful, four corners bench bat. He showed marked improvements in Arizona. Asche will now comfortably make routine plays and exhibits confidence attacking softly hit balls in on the grass. He wasn’t doing these things during the summer. He has a fringy arm, at best, and his hands aren’t soft enough to cleanly field well struck balls, even when they’re hit right at him. He’s still not good over there, but he’s now passable. Asche is also a below average runner, timed between 4.34 and 4.27 from home to first.

To recap, the tools look like this:

Hit: 55

Power: 40

Run: 40

Field: 45

Throw: 45

It’s the profile of a below average regular but keep in mind these things don’t occur in a vacuum. The Phillies scored plenty of runs with Abraham Nunez suiting up at third base almost every day so Asche might just have to be a reasonably un-embarrassing fallback option. It’s not a sexy OFP, it’s not an exciting profile to put together, but this is the job. I’d send Asche back to Double-A to start 2013 and move him to the Lehigh Valley if he keeps hitting. He could see a cup of coffee in September or earlier if injuries force him up.