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.

Michael (via email): “I have found myself rooting against the Phils at this point in the season solely because I want us to lose as many games as quickly as possible so that RAJ hits the ‘explode’ button at the trade deadline. Will it actually make a difference? What are guidelines for rooting against your own team?”

This is a great question, and one that’s particularly relevant to Phillies fans right now. Over at Liberty Ballers, we’re freaking out over a Sixers team that’s going to win, like, 16 games next year because there’s a smart GM in charge and you have to bottom out in the NBA in order to build up the draft picks and cap space to build a championship team, so I’ve been struggling with this this question, or some version of it, for some time.

My initial inclination is to say that it’s okay to want your team to blow it up and rebuild, but never okay to root for a loss in a particular game you’re watching. This has the curious effect of making individual game-to-game fandom a no-lose proposition: if your team wins, awesome, but if not, it just improves the draft pick.

But I wanted a second opinion on this question, so I sought the counsel of Jordan Sams. Jordan founded Liberty Ballers and now covers the minor leagues for The Crawfish Boxes, SB Nation’s Houston Astros blog. As a fan of both the Astros and Sixers, Jordan is in the interesting position of rooting for two teams that are shamelessly taking in the hope of a better future, which makes him (I’ve just now decided) The Official Tanking Expert of the Crash Bag. Here’s what he had to say:

I wrote a little bit about this in 2011: 

I think it’s OK to root for losses when A) the Playoffs are completely out of reach and B) when losing is significantly beneficial to your future. That said, I don’t think you should EVER watch your favorite team, rooting for them to lose. If you plan on rooting for losses, avoid the games altogether, and follow from afar. Once you start watching games, rooting for losses, it’s difficult to flip the switch when the time comes.

For the Astros, the Playoffs were completely out of reach to begin the season, and most of the players on the current roster have no place on the next contender. I still enjoy watching the young guys develop, winning Nationally-televised games and/or rivalries, but I’m not upset when they lose. It’s short-sighted and stubborn to have the mindset of “I want my favorite team to win every game,” when it’s a difference between 99 and 103 losses. No one is going to look back at the 2013 season and say, “Man, I’ll never forget when the Astros swept the Padres in September to avoid 100 losses,” whereas a guy like Carlos Rodon could drastically alter the success of the team for a solid decade. He’s there for the ta(n)king.

Don’t think of it as “rooting against” your favorite team – think of it as rooting for future success. While watching the 2013 Sixers, of course I’ll be excited watching MCW, Noel, etc. succeed, and I’d be ecstatic if MCW hit a walk-off shot, but when they lose, I’m not going to be upset  – I’ll know it’s for the best, and I’ll go watch an Andrew Wiggins mixtape. If you need an example of why winning can be extremely detrimental to your team, look no further than the 2007 Sixers, who won a bunch of meaningless games with Andre Miller and Joe Smith leading the charge. Losing, instead, could have meant the difference between 15 years of Thaddeus Young and 15 years of Kevin Durant. 

However; there’s a fine line between rooting for losses for the greater good, and developing a permanent mindset, so root wisely. You have to know when to flip the switch. Can my team make the Playoffs? Is this the core that will competing for a championship soon? If the answer to one of both is yes, it’s time. That’s why next year, when the Astros core includes Springer, Singelton, Cosart (LOLPhillies), Appel, etc., I’ll shelve the ‘wins are meaningless’ mindset. Once the core is in place, it’s time to start learning how to win. 

Thanks to Jordan for his insight. Go give him a follow if you like the Sixers, the Astros or Carlos Rodon.

@dan_camp: “F/M/K mike trout/andrew mccutchen/joey pankake”

Oh, man. Usually the FMK question involves three awful players, not my favorite college player and probably two of my top ten favorite non-Phillies. You’re making things hard on me.

Okay, I’d probably marry McCutchen for two reasons. First, Joey Pankake is going bald pretty rapidly already, and I don’t think he ages well. Second, Pankake is 20 and Trout only 21. Cutch, 26, is the only grown-up in the bunch. I’m not a cradle robber. Plus he’s 5-foot-10 (Pankake is 6-foot-1, Trout 6-foot-2), and I would never be comfortable being married to someone who’s taller than I am. I know that’s hardly the kind of opinion held by someone who’s on the cutting edge of sexual politics, but I’m not that guy.

It breaks my heart to say this, but Mike Trout is kinda funny-looking. Yeah, he’s always smiling, which is great, but he’s got kind of a stumpy body and a thick neck and, well, he’s just not all that attractive. Plus there’s the whole Mike-on-Mike thing and while neither of us is really all that much of a Piney, that’d be so much South Jersey in one partnership you can almost smell the pork roll.

F: Pankake / M: McCutchen / K: Trout.

@AntsinIN: “what sporting event best captures today’s US zeitgeist? HR Derby? Super Bowl? Hot dog eating contest? Other?”

I see you’re trying to bait me into an answer about the simple-minded excess of American culture. Well it isn’t going to work. Sure, we can be brash and gluttonous and arrogant, but so would other cultures if they were as good as ours.

I’ll throw you a curveball–the most American sporting event is actually not American at all, and only contested by a handful of American athletes in history. It’s the UEFA Champions League. It’s saturated with corporate sponsorship and won by whoever has the most money, or whoever had the most money 30 years ago. You can pull yourself up from the middle class to make some hay, but if you do that the ultra-rich are going to just buy off your best assets (See: Dortmund, 2012 and FC Porto, 2003) and send you tumbling back down to mediocrity as fast as you ascended from it. It’s trying really hard to ignore its racist and sexist history, rather than solving it, and it’s characterized by provincialism and far too frequent bouts of violence.

And you know what? It’s among the best sporting events in the world. Perhaps no other team sports competition brings the best professional teams and athletes from around the world the way the Champions League does. It fosters international commerce, as it’s watched and followed by fans the world over, and it breaks down national barriers. It has tradition, drama, prestige…for as much as everyone bitches about it, the Champions League is beloved and influential. It is absolutely flawed and often unjust, but it’s still better than everything else.

@stashingtonDC: “persuade the average baseball fan into following his/her favorite college’s team. In other words, make the argument for college baseball for an MLB fan.”

It’s a tough sell, and it’s not for everyone, particularly if you’re reading this site, because most Phillies fans didn’t go to a college that places an emphasis on baseball. I went to Temple for three years and I have absolutely no idea if they even play baseball there. No clue whatsoever, on a question that has only two possible answers.

But if you went to a large public university in the Southeast, or in California, or Texas, there’s a better chance your college is good at baseball, which is necessary, because if you’re getting into a sport that’s outside of the cultural mainstream, it’s tough to get enthusiastic about it if your team is losing all the time. Not impossible, but difficult. I’ll be totally honest with you–when I was in high school, I wanted to go to Northwestern, not South Carolina, and if I had I can guarantee you I would not give a tinker’s damn about college baseball. I care about college baseball in large part because my alma mater is in the Super Regionals every year, at least, plays as many nationally televised games as any other school and sends tons of guys to the pros. They care about baseball at USC in a way that very few other schools do. So having never tried to jump headlong onto the Penn State baseball bandwagon, I can’t say for sure, but I bet it’s hard to do.

That said, if you are a fan of South Carolina (or North Carolina or Clemson or Florida or UCLA and so on), here’s the pitch: it’s not as good a product. The level of play is, on the whole, probably at about A-ball level in the major conferences. But it’s close enough to the genuine article that you don’t see kids picking dandelions in the outfield or one kid with a hormone imbalance striking out 19 guys every game–good college players will turn double plays with ease, throw in the 90s with good breaking stuff and generally play sound fundamental baseball.

This may sound counterintuitive, but college baseball is great precisely because it’s a little sloppier and a little less well-played. Sacrifice bunts aren’t automatic outs in the college game–even a routine play might result in a mental error or a hurried 19-year-old catcher sailing a throw into the seats. Routine pop-ups go from being 100 percent surefire outs to 98 percent surefire outs, and that tiny little chance at an error makes every play at least slightly exciting. A lot of the fun weirdness that’s been stamped out of the major league game still exists in college, because not all the players are so stupendously excellent at everything. You see a lot more submarine pitchers and a lot more aggressive baserunning. The hit-by-pitch becomes a viable teamwide offensive strategy and your No. 1 starter is also sometimes your first baseman and DH.

I don’t know that college baseball is an alternative to the professional game the way college football and basketball are in certain parts of the country. But it’s different, and fun, and you get six extra weeks’ worth of regular-season games to start the year, plus an electrifying, March Madness-style playoff just when the guys in The Show are settling into the early summer doldrums. Since I’m a self-referential narcissist, I’ll link back to my college baseball primer from some months back, for those of you who are interested in picking up the college game for yourselves.

@dschoenfield: “Is pitching Rivera in the eighth the worst decision Leyland has made since batting Quintin Berry second in a World Series game?”

Dave’s not the only person to question Jim Leyland‘s bullpen management in the All-Star game, but he’s the only one who runs ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, so his version of the question gets answered.

Bringing in Rivera to pitch the eighth rather than the ninth was a weird call, particularly because whenever the American League has had a lead late, Rivera’s been the guy in the ninth, almost literally as far back as I can remember. So what a moment it would have been to have Rivera be the last guy on the mound for what everyone knows to be his last All-Star game, and in New York of all places!

Leyland’s reasoning was that if he’d brought in, for the sake of argument, Joe Nathan for the eighth inning and Nathan had blown the lead, Rivera wouldn’t have gotten to pitch at all. And I’m sympathetic to that argument–if this is Rivera’s curtain call, you want him to actually get in the game. But the American League had a three-run lead, which is a lot, particularly when you can literally bring in a different awesome pitcher for every batter. Leyland could have gone to a fresh arm at the first sign of trouble from Nathan, so the odds of his worst-case scenario actually happening were very, very slim.

In the end, worrying about what inning of an exhibition game Mariano Rivera gets to pitch is close to the least important thing in the world, and we got our great moment anyway (I was certain Mo was going to cry). But Leyland was way too worried about blowing that eighth-inning lead. Very strange.

@JustinF_LB: “What’s your favorite Metallica song? And under what scenario would Tim McCarver read some of its lyrics during a baseball game?”

There’s no way anyone believes me if I say “St. Anger,” is there?

Most of the Metallica I know comes from having been in a band, as a teenager, with someone who was into much harder rock than I was, so my even being able to choose a favorite Metallica song is the result of a defense mechanism I developed as a 16-year-old. That said, I genuinely enjoy “The Unforgiven.”

Even so, I don’t think I can recite any non-titular line from that particular tune. I’m pretty sure Tim McCarver already read all the Metallica lyrics I know on television. So let’s go to the liner notes….actually “What I’ve felt / What I’ve known / Never shined through in what I’ve shown / Never be / Never see / Won’t see what might have been” is a pretty good summary of the public perception of Domonic Brown 12 months ago. Let’s do that.

@uublog: “what was Mandy Hampton up to during the events of What Kind of Day Has It Been/In The Shadow of Two Gunmen?”

I’m pretty sure she was shot and killed during the assassination attempt in Rosslyn. Either that or she made up with the senator she was dating in the pilot and they ran off and had politically-inclined babies and were never heard from again. I doubt you would have asked this question if you didn’t know already, but Mandy Hampton’s sudden and unexplained disappearance has taken on a life of its own as an inside joke among fans of The West Wing, who came to say that any recurring character who disappeared abruptly and for no reason went to Mandyland.

Which is a shame. For reasons that are to this day not entirely clear to me, I’m a big Moira Kelly fan. She keeps showing up in stuff I like, from The West Wing to The Cutting Edge to The Lion King, even if she’s annoying everywhere she goes. She’s like the female Bill Paxton in that respect.

@bxe1234: “Do you care that the Phillies failed to sign their 5th & 6th round picks. How far can Wetzler & OSU go next CWS?”

Well, I’d rather the Phillies had signed all of their picks, since the slot money that went unused is now lost and gone forever, dreadful sorrow, etc., etc. But in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter a ton. In those rounds, really great players are few and far between. I know precisely nothing about Jason Monda, the unsigned sixth-rounder, but Wetzler’s a decent enough pitcher. He’s left-handed and can throw multiple pitches, but none of them are overpowering. He looks like he’ll make the majors, but doesn’t look like he’ll do a tremendous amount once he gets there. But still, if he’s a back-end starter, he’s useful. Championships can be lost for want of a below-average starting pitcher.

But you know what? Good for him. Barring injury, I can’t see Wetzler’s stock rising or falling precipitously, so why not go back to college, take another run at a title and enjoy being the BMOC for another year before submitting to the merciless grind of low-minors baseball. He will never get girls more easily than he does now. The Beavers look to have another strong team next year–they lose another veteran starter, Matt Boyd (who, according to Baseball Reference, now goes by Pat Boyd, though they got Wetzler’s name wrong too), but they return starter Andrew Moore and slugger Michael Conforto, who had a breakout College World Series this past season, which is why, after this past season ended, Aaron Fitt of Baseball America pegged Oregon State to make a repeat appearance in Omaha in 2014. I see no reason why Oregon State won’t make the tournament again, and if they do, anything can happen. This year, UCLA won the title despite being by far the worst team to make it to Omaha, while the year before that, minnows like Stony Brook and Kent State made the final eight. I certainly wouldn’t bet on one particular team to win the title this far out, Beavers fans should be optimistic.

That’s all for this week’s Crash Bag. If you’re in place where it’s oppressively hot (like the entire United States at the moment), don’t be a hero–board up your house like you’re preparing for The Purge and put the A/C on as high as it will go. Have a pleasant weekend.

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  1. Dave D.

    July 19, 2013 08:00 AM

    Is Carlos Rodon the one that looks like a Teradactyl?

  2. Sean O'Connor

    July 19, 2013 11:00 AM

    To answer the question everyone (that is, actually no one) wants to know: Temple has a baseball team. I tutored one of their players back in my undergrad days.

  3. Joe Baylor

    July 19, 2013 02:00 PM

    I am so tired of hearing Ruben decimated the farm system. Who has he traded that has done anything significant in majors? Nobody. Brown has accomplished more this year than anyone we trader. So even if they didn’t get that second World Series it isn’t like they gave up anything that came back to haunt them. Thus other than Biddle and Franco I see no reason not trade prospects in order to go for it.

  4. Scott G

    July 19, 2013 03:21 PM

    Michael Baumann,

    How can you say Utley will not be a contributor if the Phillies are able to rebuild in 3 years? Chase Utley is still 5th among 2B in fWAR this year.

    Assuming Charlie Manuel is fired after this year (he should be), a sane manager might be able to rest Utley the requisite 1 or 2 games per week that would more likely add to his potential time on field.

    Trade Lee. Trade Papelbon. Trade Young. Don’t trade Utley for fan and value reasons.

  5. Phillie697

    July 19, 2013 04:36 PM

    “when the Astros core includes Springer, Singelton, Cosart (LOLPhillies)”

    Dick 😛

  6. Brian

    July 19, 2013 06:04 PM


    Because he’ll be 37 by then and he had bad knees when he was 31.

    There’s only been 18 2Bs to ever play past the age of 37.


  7. hk

    July 19, 2013 08:43 PM

    Joe Baylor,

    2 years ago, the Phillies traded 21 year old Jarred Cosart, 19 year old Jonathan Singleton, 18 year old Domingo Santana for Hunter Pence. Are you judging that as a good trade for the Phillies because none of those 3 has proven anything in the majors yet?

  8. Dan

    July 19, 2013 10:59 PM

    To Baumann’s point — I went to Northwestern, actually, and our baseball team was so bad (and Big Ten baseball as a whole was so bad) that we had all kinds of minor-league-level-crazy promotions to try to draw crowds. They even added a trio of games against Illinois at Wrigley Field last year, which was awesome, but still only about 100 fans showed up.

    Ah, well. At least they nurtured J.A. Happ into a respectable Phillie.

  9. Dan K.

    July 20, 2013 11:21 AM

    Sean’s correct, Temple has a baseball team. They are pretty terrible, though. In fact, if I felt like getting myself back into baseball shape I could probably walk on and start…

  10. Jody Jamieson

    July 20, 2013 11:57 PM

    As a Scottish Phillies fan, I was kinda drawn to your comment about the Champions League. Never has a tournament been so flawed yet so brilliant at the same time.

    And yes I’m a misery. I don’t tend to watch the Champions League much due to the fact it’s elitism at its finest, and its a tournament my team will never qualify for let alone win. But there’s no denying that while in some ways it’s a terrible tournament that could be played on a balance sheet, it’s still captivating.

    As for college baseball, I’ve seen some College World Series and I do agree. The element that nothing is routine is for me it’s best selling point. There’s something brilliant about seeing something you’ve never seen before at a baseball game, and in college that possibility is heightened. I’ll always love the Phillies and MLB (I’ve not long laid in bed and watched A’s-Angels from start to finish for no other reason than it was a baseball game despite the stupid time here) there something a bit too orderly about Major League Baseball at times.

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