Crash Bag, Vol. 63: Some Massive Betrayal of the Faith

Some free advice to anyone who drives a mid-2000s Toyota Corolla. If you have an FM adapter for your iPod (which you all should, since Toyotas of that vintage have neither a tape deck nor an MP3 plug-in, you can make your steering wheel sound exactly like a cowbell. Just hold the wheel with your left hand at 9 o’clock and bang the adapter against the wheel at around 4 o’clock. It makes a sound like a cowbell and you’ll hum “Low Rider” to yourself every time you get behind the wheel.

Your questions:

@asigal22: “Crashbag Question: If the phils trade Papelbon and M. Young, but sign Utley, that is a win-win?”

The Phillies, according to Baseball Prospectus, have a 6.3 percent chance of making the playoffs and about half that chance of winning the division. And while that’s certainly not a precise number and it’s not literally impossible for them to come back, it’s probably not too far off the truth. And if you’re one of those people who thinks wanting to reload for next year (to say nothing of years to come) in the face of overwhelming evidence your team is beaten is some massive betrayal of the faith…in other words, if you’re one of those people who decides to forge ahead in the face of the overwhelming likeliness of defeat, spouting all the while that idiotic line from Dumb and Dumber, then maybe you hang on, win 82 games instead of 81 and lose Young for nothing at the end of the season. But major league GMs are paid to make smart decisions based on significant available information, not to shield you from have to confront a state of the world you find inconvenient.

The Phillies bought low on Young, and he’s played okay so far this season–.288/.344/.414 is well above average for an on-base guy this season, even though his defense has been so bad as to beggar belief. Scuttlebutt is that teams are interested in Young, and as a veteran right-handed bat, he could be quite a useful pickup for a team with designs on a playoff run. Would you get a top-100 prospect for him? Almost certainly not, but the Phillies are just now rebuilding a farm system that was decimated in service of building five consecutive division winners and if Ruben Amaro and his men have their eye on a sleeper prospect in the farm system of an interested team, absolutely trade him. Besides, even if you can’t do math and think the Phillies are still in it, they could plug Kevin Frandsen in at third base and probably not lose a whole lot in terms of 2013 production.

Papelbon may actually be at the peak of his trade value right now. Relievers, particularly relievers with lots of career saves, are overvalued at this point in the season, as general managers of contending teams 1) get nervous and try to just add any extra talent or 2) actually view another good relief pitcher as the last piece of a championship team. Even with his ridiculous contract and declining fastball velocity, someone would give up an asset for Papelbon, plus you’d clear upwards for $40 million from the team’s books by trading away the rest of his salary for 2013, plus the next two years, plus his vesting option in 2016. Which you know he’d hit because whoever has the most career saves is the closer until his arm falls off.

Now, to Cliff Lee. He’s still one of the best, most consistent, most durable starting pitchers in the game. Yes, he’s getting paid $25 million for the next two seasons, plus a $27.5 million vesting option in 2016, his age 37 season, if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or 400 in 2014 and 2015 combined. Which, considering that he’s done so or is on pace to do so in eight of the past nine seasons, looks likely. It’s a lot of money.

And you know what? I’d pay it to him if I had plans to win a World Series in that time, particularly considering the increasing scarcity of bankable free agents. Lee is the Phillies’ most valuable realistic trade chip, the only player they can move for multiple significant assets, and that’s why he’d be a good player to trade, not as a salary dump but as a piece to move for younger, cheaper players. But considering Lee’s repertoire and durability, maybe it’s worth keeping him around and seeing if you can rebuild in the next three years. I’d at least listen to offers, but if nobody ponies up something too good to turn down, there’s no harm in keeping him.

Which brings us to Utley. Utley is 34 and has a checkered injury history, and could be a massive upgrade at second base for Oakland, Baltimore or Los Angeles. Even Tampa, if they wanted to bolster their chances, could move Ben Zobrist elsewhere on the diamond if they wanted Utley. You couldn’t get multiple impact prospects for him, but I bet you could get one good player, someone who would fit in with Jesse Biddle, Maikel Franco and Adam Morgan as a back-end-of-the-top-100 type, or somewhere thereabouts. Odds are Utley won’t be a significant contributor to the next good Phillies team even if they do keep him, so the rational thing to do would be to trade him.

But that’s where my rationality ends and my fandom begins. Utley’s never played anywhere else, he was the best player on the best stretch of teams in franchise history and the closest thing to a true Phillies Hall of Famer for 20 years in either direction. He’s said he wants to stay. So I’d extend his contract, even if it’s not the best thing to do for the team on paper.

So I think the situation you described–trade Papelbon and Young, re-sign Utley–is my ideal scenario, again, depending on what kind of offers they get for Cliff Lee.

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