Crash Bag, Vol. 66: Destroyed in Seconds
It seems like everyone who went to college had that one professor who really made a profound impact on his or her own life. I had, like, nine. And one of those was Gordon Smith, a political science professor at South Carolina. If you go there, or know someone who does, I can’t recommend Dr. Smith enough as a professor.
Dr. Smith is one of the leading American leading scholars of Russian politics, and his career dates back long enough that he was a visiting professor at Leningrad State law school in the 1970s, where one of his students was the young Vladimir Putin. One of the advantage to taking a class on Russian foreign policy from someone who’d been to the USSR as much as Dr. Smith had is that his lectures are dotted with colorful and relevant anecdotes, such as this one.
On the night the Soviet Union fell, Dr. Smith’s phone rang. It was a colleague from Moscow.
“Gordon,” he said. “You’ll never guess where I am right now.”
“Well, where are you? Are you okay?”
“I broke into the Kremlin. And there’s nobody here.”
This has nothing to do with baseball, except I’m getting a fall-of-the-Soviet Union vibe about the Phillies right now.
Thanks again to Justin Klugh for filling in last week, but I’m back now and I’m ready to answer some questions.
@SJHaack: “can you create a giddiness scale to accurately rank how much Utley’s extension fills your stomach with butterflies?”
I’m not particularly giddy about it. I’m pleased, sure, but it doesn’t warm the cockles of my heart the way Hamels’ contract extension did. Utley’s extension has been in the works publicly for a couple weeks now, so insofar as giddiness requires a modicum of surprise, this extension is lacking. However, it will likely keep Utley in Philadelphia for the rest of his career, while protecting the Phillies from a cataclysmic financial outlay for an aging player who’s had trouble staying on the field. There’s not much to say–it’s a great deal. I’m not giddy, but I absolutely approve.
@AaronGleeman: “I was in Philadelphia for five days last week. Why are there so many attractive women in Jonathan Papelbon jerseys?”
First of all, I hope all the out-of-towners enjoyed the SABR convention, which I really regret not being able to make it to. Next year, I hope. I haven’t been home in almost eight months, but last I checked, weren’t all the hot chicks wearing Utley shirts? (Well, not all, because KTLSF has a Halladay t-shirt, not an Utley or Papelbon shirt. Phew. Almost got myself in trouble there.)
Here’s what I’ll say. I’m from South Jersey, and I went to college in the Southeast, largely because I liked my chances better down there. There are plenty of good-looking women to be found in Philadelphia and New Jersey, but in South Carolina, not only is “traffic-stoppingly gorgeous” the standard, all the men down there are gape-mouthed, knuckledragging hayseeds who dress like your dad. And it worked–during my time there, I acquired a southern lady, and soon we will be married and we will raise rabbits and she will cook them for me. And we will live in Montana and I will drive a pickup truck, or perhaps a recreational vehicle.
But this might just be the function of my not getting invited many places where pretty girls are, but I always found that among Philadelphians, there is no greater concentration of pretty women than at Citizens Bank Park. I don’t know why. I know that the Phillies, with Utley, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and in earlier days, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, have their share of heartthrobs. Lord knows the thoughts I’ve had about Cole Hamels. But I don’t think that’s quite it either, because in my interactions with women Phillies fans, I’ve found them to care and know just as much as, if not more than, on aggregate, their male counterparts. I’m not saying that to sound enlightened or diplomatic–it’s actually true. The Phillies do seem to have a substantial female fan base, and not only of pink hat types who are only there to look at Domonic Brown in tight pants.
@jagenic15: “if the 2013 Phillies were a basketball team, who would be your starting 5?”
I like this question, because baseball sure isn’t working out for the Phillies nowadays. I think it depends on the level of competition. If they’re just playing pickup with five guys from the local YMCA, it opens up a lot of possibilities. But if they’re playing a college or pro team, you need to place a premium on size. Looking at Phillippe Aumont and Roy Halladay, for instance, I wouldn’t imagine either would be able to shoot a basketball all that well. But if you’re playing the Villanova Wildcats, you’re going to want a couple guys who are 6-foot-6 or taller and built thickly enough that they won’t get backed down in the paint.
So let’s say you’ve got a team of five professional baseball players–they’re most likely going to run any group of five weekend warriors out of the gym. But to maximize the embarrassment:
- C: Phillippe Aumont. By far the biggest player on the team. If he can move his feet at all, he’d be unstoppable. If not, well, the Jazz went to the NBA Finals with Greg Ostertag, so how bad could he be?
- PF: Domonic Brown. A 6-foot-5 lefty with long arms and legs that are actually less good for an outfielder than they would be for a baseball player. I imagine him as a rim protector on defense and a slashing scorer on offense.
- SF: Cliff Lee. Boy, Jayson Werth would have been a monster at this spot. But Lee’s got decent size (6-foot-3) and it’s probably not a good thing that most of the Phillies’ position players are either tiny or slow or both. But it was down to him or Hamels and Lee moves a little better.
- SG: Chase Utley. He would be an absolute asshole defensively. NBA comp: Andre Iguodala, maybe?
- PG: Jimmy Rollins. I wanted Ben Revere at first, because of his blinding speed and the fact that he is (believe it or not) bigger than Rollins. But J-Roll isn’t quite in Derek Fisher territory yet, and you want the vocal leader of the team running the offense. Or you could just play Revere as kind of an Eric Bledsoe.
I also have no idea if there are actual basketball players on the team, like, Sandy Koufax, Tony Gwynn and Kenny Lofton all played basketball in college. Obviously if any such men exist, they take precedence on this team.
@TyLau27: “But seriously, why isn’t Twitter solely dedicated to bringing together McDonalds Monopoly pieces?”
Guys, I’ve got two of the three orange pieces. I will go to the Super Bowl with anyone who has Tennessee Avenue. Maybe not anyone–if you’re a total creeper I might ditch you at the airport. But seriously, let’s make this happen.
I think it’s got to be because the pieces aren’t evenly distributed. I remember hearing (and Wikipedia backs this up) that there’s one piece from each set (including Tennessee Avenue, unfortunately) that’s produced in much smaller quantities than its brothers, in the interest of limiting the number of potential winners. So if you got Boardwalk on your Big Mac and you knew how this worked, it’d probably just be more cost-effective (and delicious) to buy large orders of fries until you ran into Park Place, rather than split the $1 million grand prize with a partner. Unless someone you loved already had Park Place, in which case you’d split the money anyway.
@CrashburnAlley: “what singular event from the season best sums up the 2013 season?”
Probably not trading Michael Young at the deadline when such a trade was available. I don’t know that there’s a specific corner outfield misplay or blown late-inning lead that’s particularly distinctive. There was a show called Destroyed in Seconds which, in one episode, featured a tractor-trailer full of lemons falling off a bridge in Brazil, spilling its payload all over the highway below. I couldn’t tell you which lemon was most representative of the incident, only that there were lots of lemons. Destroyed in Seconds: the 2013 Phillies Video Yearbook.
@DashTreyhorn: “Breaking Bad. That’s the question.”
Don’t watch it. Not because I have any moral or artistic objection, but because I was late getting to it and never found it convenient to do the binge-watch catchup the way I did with Mad Men and Game of Thrones. I’m sure I’ll watch it end-to-end soon enough. I will say that I’ve always been a huge Bryan Cranston fan, and find it hilarious that he’ll have two television roles that could not be more different, in Walter White (one of the darkest TV character ever) and Hal from Malcolm in the Middle (one of the silliest TV characters ever).
@Derosatheo11: “project the 2016 AllStar starters”
Not sure how aggressive to be with predicting player movement. I do know that it’ll be in a National League park, so no DH. Here’s what I’d go with:
- Catcher: Matt Wieters (Yankees)
- First Base: Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)
- Second Base: Jurickson Profar (Rangers)
- Third Base: Miguel Sano (Twins)
- Shortstop: Manny Machado (Orioles)
- Outfield: Mike Trout (Angels), Byron Buxton (Twins), The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton (Red Sox)
- Pitcher: Carlos Rodon (Astros)
- Catcher: Buster Posey (Giants)
- First Base: Freddie Freeman (Braves), because people are idiots.
- Second Base: Alex Bregman (Phillies)
- Third Base: David Wright (Mets)
- Shortstop: Andrelton Simmons (Braves)
- Outfield: Bryce Harper (Nationals), Jason Heyward (Braves), Christian Yelich (Marlins)
- Pitcher: Jose Fernandez (Marlins)
Someone remind me I did this in three years so I can see how close I was.
@benafflacco: “Are there any moves that Rube can make this offseason that will make u happy? Baseball moves. Not cryogenically freezing himself”
I’m sure there are. The Phillies face a problem: They’ve got several good players, but very little in terms of up-and-coming all-star types. Right now, under team control, they’ve got Domonic Brown…and that’s about it. So they’ve got two options: the first is to accept that 2014 will be kind of rough and spend the season developing and blooding what young talent they have, maybe taking a flyer on a risky free agent or two (look what the Pirates have gotten out of Francisco Liriano this season, for instance) and intend to come back to full strength in 2015 or 2016. You probably ditch Jonathan Papelbon and maybe Cliff Lee too, if you think you can get anything for them. The other is to say “the hell with the luxury tax” and accept that the $40+ million that’s being spent on Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams are what they are: dead money.
The thing is, you’ve got to pick one. Maybe not an extreme, but no more of this pussyfooting around, nibbling the edges, hoping to retool into contention a team of players that’s been too old to win a title for three years. The 2014 Phillies are not a couple stopgaps away from winning the division–this should be painfully obvious by now. I’d blow it up, but there’s not one Right Plan. But having a plan is preferable to just floating along hoping to fall into a 7-win free agent. Those guys exist less and less anymore.
@mdschaeff: “Is Ruf in the 2014 opening day outfield?”
If the Phillies open against a lefty, I hope he’s at first base. Listen, I’m still not sold on Ruf as being a starter long-term, and I certainly don’t think he’s going to OPS .900, but he’s absolutely earned a spot as the Phillies first base/outfield backup and right-handed power bat off the bench for next season. I hope the Phillies get a legitimate right fielder (and a legitimate backup center fielder, by the way), but if the right deal can’t be made, then moving Brown back to right and sticking Ruf in left can work as a stopgap. If he’s going to continue to exceed expectations, I say you let it ride.
But that feeds into this question.
@WarrenCroxton: “Five point realistic plan to fix the Phillies in the off-season?”
The Phillies aren’t going to be fixed over one winter. That needs to be made abundantly clear. They have a lot of the pieces of a good team–rare is the club that boasts two starting pitchers of the quality of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. They have an All-Star in one corner outfield spot, at least a mediocre center fielder and some other interesting pieces as well. Middle infield might be an issue, thanks to Jimmy Rollins’ decline and Chase Utley’s health, and while Freddy Galvis is a superb defender and a very nice backup to have, he’s nobody’s first-division starter. There’s been something of a renaissance of the all-glove, no hit shortstop of late with Jose Iglesias and Andrelton Simmons, but Galvis, while very good, is not in their league with the glove, and he’s not anywhere near Iglesias and Simmons with the bat. He’s the player everybody though Wilson Valdez was a couple years ago. But you kind of have to let it ride at this point.
So here’s what the Phillies need: two starting pitchers, a catcher, a third baseman, a corner outfielder, assorted bench and bullpen pieces and a partridge in a pear tree. Here’s what I’d do
- Sign a good corner outfielder. There are a few available. I’d go for either Nelson Cruz or Shin-Soo Choo. Cruz is a good power bat and might be discounted coming off suspension. My preference is Choo, who might be more expensive and lacks Cruz’s power, and is left-handed, which is troubling for that Utley/Brown/Howard middle of the order, but he’s a better on-base guy and is two years younger than Cruz. I kind of like the idea of just having a lineup full of guys with .330 on-base percentages and okay power. Choo obviously has the potential for more than that, but putting him at the top of a lineup with Ben Revere could be very beneficial for the hitters behind him. Both Choo and Cruz are dreadful defenders, but whatever.
- Accept the new Ryan Howard. Stop starting him against lefties. Stop hitting him cleanup. He’s a platoon bat, and anyone who thinks salary justifies tactics clearly doesn’t know what it means to throw good money after bad. The Phillies, in Darin Ruf, have a right-handed power hitter who’s at least earned a shot to be Howard’s caddy going forward, and even if you don’t think he’s the answer, power-hitting, platoon-friendly first basemen are many, and cheap. Sign Mike Morse or something. Platooning covers up the weaknesses of flawed players and allows the team to get star production, on the aggregate, from sub-star-level players. I’d say the same goes for catcher–there’s no Buster Posey out there, and with Tommy Joseph‘s concussion issues likely ruling him out of catching going forward (and even if they didn’t, he wouldn’t be ready to start on Opening Day anyway), you can get away with another platoon. Maybe Erik Kratz and someone like A.J. Pierzynski. Who knows? There are a lot of okay catchers out on the market.
- Wage a war on the bullpen. Smart teams (the A’s, the Rays, the Padres) do this. Get a bunch of young guys who throw hard and try them out. If any one doesn’t work, send him down and call up the next man in. The Phillies will get Antonio Bastardo back at least, and while my preference would be to trade Jonathan Papelbon for just about anything, if the Phillies keep him, that’s another relief spot taken. Beyond that, there’s Ethan Martin, Justin De Fratus and potentially another go-around for Phillippe Aumont. Bring a billion failed starters and guys coming off injury to spring training and see what they’ve got. You know how many closers began life as starter washouts? Like, all of them. Anybody who can throw over 90 miles an hour and spin a slider is welcome. Eventually you’ll find someone who works.
- Get some outfield depth. Back when times were good, the Phillies always had outfield depth. Choo is technically a center fielder, because Dusty Baker‘s putting him there, but Dusty Baker does a lot of things I consider to be ill-advised. Revere must, absolutely must, have a credible understudy, preferably one who hits well enough that putting him in a corner won’t be embarrassing. Chris Young will be a free agent this coming year–he’d do nicely. If not him, how hard would it be to pry someone like Drew Stubbs away from the Indians, or maybe this is finally Tyson Gillies‘ year. I don’t care how they fix it, but John Mayberry had better not be the backup center fielder again next year.
- Pursue free agent pitching, but judiciously. The Phillies are in a good position as regards starting pitching–they’ve got the top two spots in the rotation pretty well sorted, with another pretty good back-end starter in Kyle Kendrick. What they’re looking for is a No. 3 and a No. 5, and with Morgan and Biddle on the way, they don’t even necessarily need a starting pitcher who will be good for long. Which opens up the door for Hiroki Kuroda. I’m sure the Yankees would love to have Big Hirok back, but if he can be had, he’s precisely the kind of pitcher the Phillies should go after. Beyond that, they could pursue whoever they want. No need to splash big money on Jorge de la Rosa or Matt Garza, but I’d like to see a fifth starter with more upside than John Lannan.
- Third Base. A bonus for you. Third base has the distinction of being the Phillies’ greatest area of minor league strength at the moment, with Cody Asche already up and Maikel Franco probably another year, maybe two, behind him. I am not convinced that either will be a first-division starter, but if you’ve got Asche up here already, why not give him a shot and see what he can do? If not, there’s always Galvis or Frandsen.
But Jhonny Peralta would be an interesting option. Peralta is a free agent shortstop to be, but he hits well enough to be a third baseman and fields badly enough to be a third baseman. And that he can at least play shortstop (even if he’s not very good at it) means that if Rollins is well and truly dead, the option remains to slide Peralta back over and let Asche have his shot. Of course, investing what would probably be eight figures annually in Peralta over three or four years means that you can’t let Asche and/or Franco take over third base organically. Which is fine, because either or both can be traded to fill a need elsewhere, as can Peralta. A decade ago, the Phillies were perfectly happy with a left side of Placido Polanco and Jim Thome, but once it became clear that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were going to be better long-term, both Polanco and Thome got moved. Now, signing Choo, Kuroda and Peralta would likely overrun the cost savings of letting Michael Young and Roy Halladay walk as free agents, but if you want to contend and you’ve got $40 million in dead salary, you might have to suck it up and go over the luxury tax. Either that or ditch Papelbon for salary relief, which might be wise anyway.
Now, here’s the catch. Even if the Phillies made all those moves, and even if they all worked out, I’m still not sure they’re any better than an 88-win team or so. The steps I’ve laid out above carry significant risk, both in that they might not work out or that they’ll bear a crippling financial and prospect cost even if they do. There is no easy fix, but if you asked me what I’d do if I were told I needed to contend in 2014, it’d be more or less that. And you know what? If it works, it works, and if not, you get a better chance at drafting Alex Bregman, so screw it.
@SoMuchForPathos: “Do you prefer Stephen Fry‘s answer to the Sochi Games, John Carlos’ approach, or some third avenue?”
It’s a sensitive issue. Russia, for those of you who don’t know, has a nationwide ban on what it calls “gay propaganda,” which demonstrates some combination of hostility to gays and their advocates, a misunderstanding of what “propaganda” means or a hilarious ignorance to the irony of a nation-state with (practically) a one-party political system calling the protestations of a persecuted minority group “propaganda.”
I’m straight, I’m not an athlete, and I’ve never been to Russia, so my opinion probably shouldn’t count for a whole lot, and if you disagree with what’s to follow, your saying so won’t hurt my feelings. But here’s what I will say:
- Fry wants the games played elsewhere. So do I. But we’re six months out and that ship has sailed. The question is to boycott or not to boycott. Some LGBT activists, notably Dan Savage, say boycott, which would be a powerful statement for an athlete, particularly a straight athlete, to make.
- But Savage and Fry don’t speak for all such activists. Johnny Weir (who’d be the first openly gay Winter Olympian to come to most people’s minds) is vocally opposed to a boycott, as is the leader of Moscow Pride (who’s planning a demonstration on the eve of the Games) and Patrick Burke of You Can Play.
- If we’re taking it as a given that something must be done to protest an openly homophobic government hosting the Winter Olympics, I don’t think a boycott is the most effective political protest. I was swayed by Burke’s argument about John Carlos and the 1968 Olympics. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar refused to play in those Games to protest the state of race relations in the United States. Nobody knows this. Everyone–everyone–remembers Carlos and Tommie Smith on the medal stand. The Russians could, if they so chose, arrest just about every men’s hockey player for spreading the message to kids that gay and straight people are on morally equal ground, thanks to You Can Play. Boycott the Olympics and it’s a news story for a couple weeks, particularly if there’s no organized walkout of nations with a greater appreciation for human rights. And judging by President Obama being either unwilling or unable to satisfactorily advance that cause in his own country, there’s no way the USOC could deliver on a boycott on the scale of, say 1980. Go to the Olympics, however, and if the police start beating up protesters, or if they throw Claude Giroux or Dustin Brown or Zdeno Chara in jail for two weeks for speaking out in favor of gay rights, or even if some clueless government functionary makes noise about doing so, the international pressure generated by such an event would be orders of magnitude greater than what a boycott could generate. So I’d love to see the West take a stand like a boycott, but I think going and speaking out in Russia would be a far more effective form of protest.
Talking about matters of international human rights import makes me nervous. Let’s get back to the trivial before I pass out.
@j0brown31: “is Ryan Madson ever going to be a great reliever again?”
Well that’s depressing too. No, probably not. Tommy John is almost a sure thing nowadays, but not everyone comes back, and it looks like Madson is going to be one of the unlucky few. Which sucks, because that guy was the stone cold balls for about five years here. One of the underrated great players of the Phillies’ run.
@fschultz35: “I think we can agree that Mike Trout has a shot to be, but who is the greatest compensatory pick ever right now?”
I think Jackie Bradley‘s going to be the greatest comp pick ever, but for now it still might actually be Trout. He only turned 22 on Wednesday, but he’s already in the top 20 all-time in WAR among Angels position players. Which is…well…it’s hilarious.
But let’s take a look anyway. In the interest of my not knowing how to search this easily on Baseball Reference and not spending the next several years figuring it out by hand, let’s limit the scope to first-round compensation picks only, which (near as I can tell) started in 1978 with Rex Hudler of all people. In 1980, Terry Francona, Billy Beane and John Gibbons went with back-to-back-to-back compensation picks, but the three combined for -4.2 career WAR. Playing and running a team appear to be two different skill sets.
But yeah, I think I’ve got your answer: in 1985, as compensation for losing free agent Tim Stoddard to the Padres, the Chicago Cubs picked Rafael Palmeiro No. 22 overall. Though only 2.8 of his 71.8 career WAR came with the Cubs before he was traded to Texas with Jamie Moyer (!) and a guy I’ve never heard of for Mitch Williams (!) and a bunch of other guys I’ve ever heard of.
However, if you’re interested in value for the team that drafted the compensation pick, the Indians picked Charles Nagy No. 17 overall in 1988 and got 25.2 WAR out of him. Rondell White (No. 24 overall, 1990) was worth 19.2 wins to the Expos in eight seasons before moving on. In 1993 the Twins, as compensation for losing John Smiley, picked Torii Hunter with the 20th overall pick and collected 27 of his 50 career WAR. In 1999, as a sandwich-round pick gained when Palmeiro walked, the Orioles drafted Brian Roberts No. 50 overall, in which time Roberts became one of only six active players to play 10 or more seasons in the majors, all for one team (the others: Mariano Rivera, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter and Justin Morneau), collecting 27.7 WAR along the way.
But the big winner, at least until Trout plays another couple years in the majors, has to be the New York Mets, who, in 2001, got David Wright in the sandwich round after losing Mike Hampton to that hilarious contract in Colorado.
So in absolute value, Palmeiro. In value to the team that drafted him, Wright. Trout will probably pass both of them at some point.
Thank you for consuming another Crash Bag. Until next week.