Crash Bag, Vol. 42: I’ve Got a Brand New Pair of Rollerskates

We’re a little under-length in this week’s Crash Bag, but fear not! …actually, there’s no good reason for that. Sometimes there just isn’t 2,500 words’ worth of baseball to write about.

I recently found myself in a social situation that involved an icebreaker question. Anyone who’s ever been to…I dunno, school, or camp, or any sort of organized social group will know what I’m talking about: you go around the room and everyone says his name, a piece of information relevant to the nature of the gathering and an inane fact about yourself. So if we were going around the baseball internet, I’d probably go: “I’m Mike, I write about the Phillies at Crashburn Alley and the last book I read was The Soccer Men by Simon Kuper.” That sort of thing.

When I taught, I’d use one of these at the start of the semester so I could put names with faces and start to get to know my students. It was clumsy, and sometimes boring, but it served a purpose. But the icebreaker question in this particular social situation was: “What was the last song you had stuck in your head?”

And Lord Almighty, what a horrific experience that question is.

I imagine that of the thirteen people who read this column, only about six or seven of you have ever spent a significant amount of time around me in person. For the rest of you, I walk around whistling constantly. I’ve always got a song stuck in my head, and I’m always singing it, or humming it, or re-writing the lyrics in my head with some outrageous result, such as turning Walk the Moon’s “Anna Sun” into a list of NHL players.

When I was in college, one of the few classes I took with Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee, was a survey of the history of Russian foreign policy. She filled notebooks with relevant information, while I’d listen to the story of Alexander Litvinenko and write: “In Soviet Russia, tea drinks you.” Which, I suspect, is emblematic of why KTLSF went so much farther than I did academically. Anyway, I showed up to that class one day with “I Want it All” by Queen stuck in my head, and I spent the whole class squirming in my chair, trying not to play air guitar. “But at least it can’t get any worse. It’s not like I won’t have a more obnoxious stuck in my head tomorrow.”

The next day, I came to that class whistling the intro to Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe in Anything.” But I left relieved that it couldn’t get any worse.

Boy, was I wrong.

Of course, this constant state of hearing annoying music can be a gift as well as a curse. A friend of mine, Liz Roscher, plays the role of Jack in that ongoing re-enactment of Lord of the Flies we call The Good Phight. But the best thing about her is how tetchy she gets when you try to get “Brand New Key” by Melanie stuck in her head.

There are several ways one can torment one’s friends with this song–by singing it out loud, for one. Or by sending some sort of written communique to the effect of “Do you want to play street hockey? Because I’ve got a brand new pair of rollerskates.” Or by calling your friends on the phone and playing that song for them on the mandolin. Which I have never done. No, sir.

Anyway, if you go around a room and ask each person the last song he had stuck in his head, you’re going to wind up at least thinking about the catchiest part of each song that gets mentioned, and where there was once mental tranquility, there is now only a windswept hellscape of O-Town, showtunes, the theme from Inspector Gadget, “Gagnam Style,” “Brass Bonanza,” the University of Oregon fight song and the greatest hits of Taylor Swift. Which isn’t bad if you get the bitchin’ key change toward the end of “Love Story,” but if you wind up with “I Knew You Were Trouble” boring into your head like a Ceti eel, driving you slowly mad until the only course of action left is to phaser yourself to death…well, that’s a different story.

I don’t even know what we were talking about anymore.

@SpikeEskin: “Now that you’ve covered both teams while bad, what’s more boring, this year’s Sixers or last year’s Phils?”

That’s a tough question. Each one is excruciating in its own way.

One of the best things about this Sixers season (and I swear I’m not just trying to get in good with my blog boss) has been watching Michael Levin descend into a mess of manic-depressive hilarity. And being able to commiserate with him, and the rest of the Liberty Ballers writers, and the excellent commenter and Twitter community there, has taken a little bit of the sting out of a season that’s been the fan equivalent of an eight-year-old being promised a  new bicycle for Christmas and waking up to discover that not only is he not getting the new bike, or any presents of any kind, but he has to shovel the driveway too.

Just as being able to commiserate with my Crashburn colleagues and the rest of the excellent commenter and Twitter community surrounding the Phillies (I mean this about both sites, by the way. The overwhelming majority of internet comments are beyond worthless, but I happened to stumble into writing for not one, but two sites whose readers rise above the mucky-muck of semiliterate alarm dogs) took some of the sting out of an Phillies season that was likewise full of puzzling personnel decisions, bad tactics and world-consuming injury drama.

Which is not to say that either the 2012 Phillies or the 2012-13 Sixers are/were anywhere near entertaining. Let’s clear that up from the start.

But on balance, I’d say last year’s Phillies were more boring. The air got sucked out of the balloon really quickly with the bad start they got off to, so the rest of the season was really just a slog through the mud to a dull and inevitable demise characterized by an almost Camusian ennui.

In short, the Phillies don’t have Nick Young. As great as Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are, nobody on the Phillies keeps you on your toes like Swaggy P. Carlos Ruiz was close last year, but he wouldn’t walk up to you on the street, pull down your pants and cover you in silly string for no good reason. As Nick Young does.

@tomchapman722: “who’s the idiot who started the Mike Stanton rumors?”

First of all, it’s not “Mike Stanton” anymore. He’s changed his name to Giancarlo Stanton, after which I changed his name to The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. And I don’t know how that silly rumor got started, but I think David Murphy of the Daily News handled the trade rumor, if you can call it that, just about perfectly when it came out on Tuesday, with a three-paragraph-and-change blog post that treated its topic with such contempt you can almost hear the dismissive wanking motion in the background.

The idea of the Marlins trading The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton in general, and to the Phillies in particular, is so stupid that I feel bad for piling these two paragraphs on top of the three that David Murphy posted earlier in the week. And if anyone takes them seriously or wants to discuss trading for the aforementioned Mighty Giancarlo Stanton as an option for the Phillies, you have my permission to grab that person’s nose and shake his or her head back and forth violently.

@JimmyFricke: “would and or should and or could the Phillies give up what is left of the farm to acquire Giancarlo Stanton?”

First of all, it’s “The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton.”

And second, I’m going to have to grab your nose and shake your head back and forth violently. Sorry. Them’s the rules.

@Wild_Phils: “Jimmy’s nickname for Revere is Tootsie Pop, what candy brands compose the rest of the roster? Presumably old and stale”

That’s a very silly question and I’m not going to answer it. But it does raise the perfectly reasonable question of how many licks it takes to get to the center of Ben Revere

@mattjedruch: “how different would the Phillies 25-man roster look for this season if Crashburn Alley took the place of RAJ?”

How far back in time do I get to go in this little thought experiment?

@mattjedruch: “Let’s say you’ve just made a decision about Howard in April 2010″

Okay, well the first thing I’d do is not give Ryan Howard that contract. It was too much money for not good enough a player way too soon before free agency. And it’s not like that was a particularly controversial topic, even at the time, for people who aren’t too stupid for me to want to talk to.

This would be a lot easier if someone had compiled a list of every significant transaction Ruben Amaro has made in his career. Actually, I know just such a man.

You know what? Up until 2011, Amaro was actually doing a decent job. He made a couple of huge trades for top-of-the-line starting pitchers in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and while he paid top dollar in prospects, it’s worth paying a steep price for pitchers that good. I’d have gone after Adrian Beltre as a free agent in the 2009-10 offseason rather than Placido Polanco (this isn’t just hindsight–I wrote as much at the time, 2 blogs ago, though I will not link to that post here because it was an example of horrific writing that I’m embarrassed has my name on it). But it’s not like Polanco was a total disaster. Neither would I have signed Danys Baez that offseason, but apparently that’s done.

The first major deal after the Howard extension was the Roy Oswalt trade, which was a good move at the time, and still looks good in hindsight. I would have let Jayson Werth walk as a free agent, as Amaro did, particularly considering the sum of money he was owed.

But while I would not have extended Ryan Howard’s contract in mid-2010, I would absolutely have done so for Cole Hamels. Coming off a year where public perception had turned against him, but his peripherals had moved not one iota, I’d have proposed a long-term contract extension in mid-2010 for Hamels at the very latest. That could have saved the Phillies (if you use Jered Weaver as a comp, as was common practice at the time) somewhere around $35 million over the life of the contract, when you consider Hamels’ contract extension was a year longer than Weaver’s.

And to Amaro’s credit, it would not have occurred to me to sign Cliff Lee as a free agent in the 2010-2011 offseason. I know the fans were clamoring for it to happen, but it was something of an unprecedented deal. A lot of that money would probably go into trying to out-bid the Rangers for Beltre, though ideally I’d have had him for 2010 when he was with Boston and tried to sign him to an extension once it became clear that four years in Seattle hadn’t broken him completely.

But in mid-2011, it really goes off the rails. He drafts Larry Greene Jr. in the sandwich round (after forefeiting another first-round pick to sign Lee). Given that I’d have been too chicken to do that, I’d have taken Jackie Bradley 33rd overall (again, I was clamoring for the Phillies to take him at 39 the night of the draft), then, if I’d signed and extended Beltre in 2010, turned around and selected Josh Bell six picks later and paid him that absurd bonus with some of the money I’d saved by not signing Cliff Lee.

After that, I’d have done absolutely nothing at the trade deadline. And if I had, it would have been something like trying to get in the middle of that Blue Jays-Tigers-Cardinals trade and walking away with Colby Rasmus and benching Raul Ibanez instead of sending Domonic Brown down. After the 2011 season, I’d have traded Shane Victorino immediately to maximize the prospect return, particularly if I had a center field replacement ready (in Rasmus) or a year or so away (in Bradley).

Apart from that, I’d probably try to buy low on a couple young major leaguers whose prospect status is wearing out, fill in the bullpen with young arms and try to concentrate as much of the team’s financial resources as possible on true star talent.

There’s probably a decent-sized paperback in answering this question if I did the research it would take to do real second-guessing, but here’s a back-of-the-napkin guess at how the 25-man roster would look like today if I were the GM:

Or something like that.

Plus Jonathan Singleton and Domingo Santana in the minors, plus whoever gets taken with the 31st pick (the Red Sox took Florida pitcher Brian Johnson, which I probably wouldn’t have done, but it would have been somebody) when you consider there’s no Jonathan Papelbon signing. Nolasco and Rasmus would cost a couple prospects each in a trade (probably not as much as Pence and Ben Revere cost), and you can insert whatever bench or bullpen players, or back-end starters, you like. This is a thought experiment. Maybe you trade for Denard Span instead of signing Upton. Who knows?

But consider a savings of, let’s say, $8 million for signing Hamels earlier, plus $25 million each on Lee and Howard, plus $12 million for Papelbon and $6 million each for Mike Adams and Michael Young. That’s $76 million in contract extensions and free-agent signings, less about $60 million for Beltre, Swisher/Upton, LaRoche, Nolasco and Uehara.

By not extending the wrong contracts, not jumping on aged players too early in the free agent market, knowing when to cut bait on aging, expensive players and not paying too much in prospects for veteran help, the Phillies could have placed a team of roughly equivalent value on the field for 2013 and saved money and preserved the farm system so they could continue to contend well into the future.

I still don’t think the Phillies, as I’ve constructed them in this counterfactual, could challenge the Nationals and Braves, but they’d be a damn sight better off in the long run than they are now.

@MikeMcgoo: “Phillies as NJ shore towns”

Delmon Young as Ship Bottom, because I want him to be completely underwater for more than a day.

What a silly name for a municipality, Ship Bottom. Y’all can ponder that this weekend. Enjoy the start of the Grapefruit/Cactus League schedule, if you’re into such things.

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19 comments

  1. The Howling Fantods

    February 22, 2013 09:16 AM

    Ugh, dare to dream.

    I have a feeling, barring a hugely unexpected turnaround or several major prospect breakouts, we’re going to see a lot of posts about Amaro’s failures for the next several years. I know this isn’t hugely insightful, but it just hit me after reading your alternate reality.

    Imagine what the Phillies would be like with their payroll, their farm system managed more sanely over the past few years, and a GM that understood Sabermetrics. Dare to dream. The true Yankees of the NL.

  2. Phillie697

    February 22, 2013 10:55 AM

    Maybe we can trade RAJ for Stanton. I feel like RAJ is perfect for that big bowl of mess down there. I mean, at some point, if you try really hard to intentionally be bad, doesn’t it become entertaining again?

  3. Phillie697

    February 22, 2013 11:09 AM

    @MB,

    Just a couple of minor differences between your fantasy Phillies team and mine…

    At the end of 2011 season, I too proposed trading Vic, except my target would have been Alexei Ramirez, so I would probably have him on the team than Jimmy Rollins. Would have saved some more money and gotten a younger SS.

    And I don’t know if I would have signed either B.J. Upton or Swisher knowing that Justin Upton could be had, and had for not that much cost (I could easily match that Atlanta package since my farm would be, you know, not barren). Instead, I’d take that money I saved by not signing B.J. or Swisher and invested it in a pitcher. Anibal Sanchez sounds good. Although thinking back, I would have most definitely tried to sign Chris Capuano a year prior and not let the Dodgers have him. I liked him a lot last off-season. I could still sign Sanchez anyway tho; Capuano made less money than Kyle Kendrick. That’s right boys and girls, you read that right… Chris Capuano made less money than Kyle Kendrick.

    Yeah, I don’t know about Ricky Nolasco… Used to love him, but he’s turned underachieving into an art at this point.

  4. JM

    February 22, 2013 12:15 PM

    I in no way believe Stanton could be had by the Phillies right now, but to dismiss that Loria would trade him to save $.02/ton on peanut prices would be the height of naivete’…

  5. Cutter

    February 22, 2013 12:31 PM

    I find it interesting that in your fantasy GM scenario, with the benefit of hindsight, the team is marginally (if at all) improved over the team that exists in reality.

    Plus, the team would have likely been worse in 2011 (hard to say about 2012 due to injuries)

    Admittedly, they would have saved money over the past two years (Which as fans, we really shouldn’t care that much about) and had some more prospects on hand going forward.

    But even with that team, it sure looks like there’s a rebuilding/reloading process ahead.

  6. Phillie697

    February 22, 2013 03:50 PM

    @Cutter,

    I wouldn’t call a team with big upgrades at 1B, 3B, and OF “marginally” improved. Everywhere else it’s essentially the same, minus maybe the starting rotation because no Lee, although I would argue a rotation of Halladay/Hamels/Sanchez/Capuano/Worley is not that much worse, and actually pretty comparable, to Halladay/Hamels/Lee/Kendrick/Lannan.

    As far as rebuilding/retooling, with this fantasy team, there is actually resources to use to rebuild, whereas with RAJ’s team, there is none. This fantasy team will have a pipeline; RAJ’s team will just have headaches.

  7. Phillie697

    February 22, 2013 04:12 PM

    In fact, let’s use some numbers. LaRoche (2012 fWAR of 3.8) over Howard (-1.0); let’s call that a 4-WAR improvement. Beltre (6.5) over Young (-1.4); I have actually been on record to state that I think M. Young will rebound, so let’s call that only a 4.5-WAR improvement. Dom Brown, non-mismanaged-division over Dom Brown, RAJ-version; let’s call that maybe 1 WAR, or hell, 0.5 WAR. Colby Rasmus (1.4 WAR) over Ben Revere (3.4 WAR), -2 WAR. Justin Upton (2.5) over Delmon Young (-0.7 WAR), 3 WAR.

    For those of you doing math at home, that’s 10 wins above the current lineup. That’s marginal improvement? And a OF of Dom Brown/Colby Rasmus/Justin Upton has boatloads of all-star potential.

    Let’s check the starting rotation just for kicks and jollies. Halladay and Hamels remain the same. Sanchez (3.8) over Lee (4.9), -1 WAR, but I’ll throw in another 0.5 for Lee just because, so -1.5 WAR. Capuano (2.1) over KK (1.2), about 1 WAR. Worley (1.9) over Lannan (0.5), extrapolating Lannan to comparable innings, Worley is maybe 0.5 WAR better. Hey, look at that, we just about break even in the rotation, as I suspected.

    Conclusion, fantasy team >>> RAJ team.

  8. Cutter

    February 22, 2013 05:21 PM

    Funny stuff, Phillie697!

    The way you sarcastically portrayed the stereotypical “Stat geek who thinks games are played on computers” was brilliantly clever.

    I mean, when traditionalists mock sabermetrics fans, that’s almost exactly the type of “analysis” they point to.

    Good work, I certainly LOLed!

  9. Phillie697

    February 22, 2013 05:29 PM

    Way to go to rely on the good old “I mean, when traditionalists mock sabermetrics fans, that’s almost exactly the type of ‘analysis’ they point to.” Original! Thanks for fighting what you perceived as a cliche with an actual cliche. No further comment necessary from me :)

  10. Cutter

    February 25, 2013 09:38 AM

    Cliches often exist for a reason.

    Back on subject…

    Even if you think Michael’s projected team is better, even he says it looks like a 3rd place team this season.

    As for going forward…

    Sure, the team would have kept the prospects from the Pence and Revere deals, but trading for Span/Rasmus/Nolasco or whoever is going to cost them some as well.

    If anything, this reads almost like a defense of Amaro, since this scenario barely – if at all – improves the team’s outlook.

  11. Phillie697

    February 26, 2013 12:58 PM

    For someone who clearly thinks that the Phillies, as currently constructed by RAJ, has a shot at the playoffs in 2013; when presented with an alternative construction of the team that clearly has an improved roster, even for 2013, which would further enhance the team the ability to make the playoffs for 2013; instead resort to someone else’s realistic assessment of the team’s chances in 2013 as being a defense of RAJ.

    In other words, you think we have a chance this year, but when told that we could have a even better chance if better moves were made, you instead suggest that RAJ is defensible because in either case, the Phillies are unlikely to make the playoffs anyway. So basically, you think RAJ is doing a good job because you still think we have a contending team, but he’s also doing a good job because this team cannot contend no matter what he did. Wow, and you literally have the audacity to claim that other people’s logic are flawed…

  12. Cutter

    February 26, 2013 05:14 PM

    You’re confusing my opinion of the actual 2013 Phillies with Michael’s opinion.

    If an Amaro critic can’t build a team that he thinks will contend, then it seems foolish for HIM to say that Amaro did a bad job.

    Personally, I like the 2013 Phillies better than Michael’s projected team.

    Michael’s team is definitely cheaper, but that’s not a huge concern to me. I care about results, not money. It also MIGHT be better positioned going forward (Very hard to predict, esp. in the “what if” world)

  13. Phillie697

    February 27, 2013 11:18 AM

    Except you have no idea what Michael’s team would have done the last few years. If his team wins 2 more WS during the last 5 years, but end up with a 2013 team with similar outlook as RAJ’s 2013 team (which btw I do NOT agree with), are you still going to say RAJ did a good job? It’s all conjecture of course, but the point is we are not just criticizing RAJ for 2013; we’ve BEEN criticizing him ever since that Ryan Howard contract. The fact that the core of the team aged and declined was not RAJ’s fault; not being prepared for it is.

  14. Cutter

    February 27, 2013 01:37 PM

    Well, my opinion is that the actual 2011 Phillies would have been better than Michael’s version.

    In 2012, his team probably has an advantage mostly because of Howard’s injury. (And please don’t say anything about that proving it was a mistake. At the time when the deal was signed, I don’t recall anyone saying it was a bad deal because he was going to suffer a major injury)

    Plus, the team Michael listed isn’t really better prepared for the future. There are still a bunch of guys on the wrong side of 30. Even if the minors are better stocked (and they wouldn’t be as much as you seem to think) there’s still some rebuilding ahead.

  15. Phillie697

    February 27, 2013 02:27 PM

    @Cutter,

    People said it was a bad deal because he’s going to be old and decline. If you go and check the data, I’m pretty sure there is a HUGE correlation of that “decline” to the increased occurrences of injuries. It’s like you don’t want to look at the big picture and just want to focus on the little details that may “win” you the argument. Feel bad for whoever you’re married to.

    Well… Let see… Team 697 (similar to Team Michael) had Upton, Brown AND Bradley, Ramirez who doesn’t need replacing anytime soon, as opposed to Rollins. Has Singleton around when he’s ready and we are done using up whatever elixir of youth LaRoche seemed to have found, and a future HOFer at 3B who’s at least good for a few more years. Sure we’ll need to find someone to play 2B, and we’ll need to find out if we have a viable replacement at C after Ruiz, but that’s a position where finding offense is less important, and good defensive catchers are less valued. Every team has one or two positions in transition at any given moment, even contenders. We’ll still have a strong rotation with loads of talent in the pipeline, and more money to go out and buy whatever else we need. What rebuilding?

  16. Cutter

    February 27, 2013 05:07 PM

    Sorry, all I can picture is George Costanza going: “I think I may have found a way for us to get Bonds and Griffey, and we wouldn’t have to give up that much!”

  17. Phillie697

    February 28, 2013 11:50 AM

    Quite frankly, I might prefer Costanza as the GM than RAJ. At least Costanza would be out after a year, max two.

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