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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.