The Right Field Solution
We’re rapidly approaching the point in the season where looking ahead become the norm. It isn’t about scoreboard watching anymore; now, it’s about calendar watching.
Hope for a positive end to this season ended long ago, even with more than 30 games still left to be played. But hey, we still want to be productive with our time, don’t we? There’s work to be done, and now is the time to armchair GM (well, I guess there’s no wrong time for that with this club).
There are a number of positions the Phillies will have to address during the upcoming winter – solidifying third base and the rotation, catcher, detonating the bullpen with a truckload of C-4 – but this particular focus is on right field.
It seems obvious that the only way Domonic Brown will be allowed to play right field again is if he forcefully plays himself there alongside whoever is written into the lineup for that spot, which would problematically leave lots of grass vacant in left. He’s in left field and that is apparently that. Ben Revere will continue to play center field when he returns, and that solves two thirds of the issue.
So what, then, are we to make of right field? Your answer will probably vary depending on what you think 2014 holds in store for the Phillies.
The likeliest course of action is to aim for contention and acquire someone who will improve upon the current level of RF production. Maintaining Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, as well as re-upping Chase Utley, goes most of the way toward signifying just such contending intent. Will the internal options cut it?
- Roger Bernadina: .179/.249/.289, 3 HR in 190 PA (Arb2 in 2014)
- John Mayberry Jr.: .242/.302/.424, 10 HR in 324 PA (Arb1 in 2014)
- Darin Ruf: .266/.358/.532, 11 HR in 176 PA (Pre-Arb in 2014)
- Casper Wells: .128/.188/.149, 0 HR in 76 PA across three teams (Arb1 in 2014)
There’s the dark horse option of Freddy Galvis, but I wouldn’t put much stock into it. After that, the graveyard of right fielders past from this season is littered with names like Delmon Young and soon-to-be-trivia-answers Ezequiel Carrera and Steve Susdorf. See a winner in that group?
The closest we’d get to anything resembling a solution is Ruf but, despite some improvement, his defense remains a question. The bat is no sure thing, either,as Ruf has shown pop but is buoyed by a .352 BABIP that his speed won’t sustain. For now, Ruf has a spot on the club in 2014, and it’s deserved, but how long he’ll be able to hold onto it is a timeframe yet to be established. He still seems, to me, best suited for a platoon role, but his ultimate fate is yet to be determined.
The external options certainly have brand name appeal.
The downside there is that Choo is certain to get a qualifying offer – upping his cost to include a non-top-10 pick forfeiture – and Beltran isn’t even a longshot for the same despite his age. If the team continues to play well and somehow keeps itself out of the top 10 (they’re outside that range of protection right now), signing one of those two guys might not be a risk worth taking.
What’s more, Choo is a left-handed bat that, as some have pointed out previously, would create a huge lefty skew in the Phillies’ batting order. Ryan Howard, Cody Asche, Brown, Revere and Utley are all projected starters who swing from the left side. The argument is quickly diffused if said lefties could all hit lefty pitching, but that’s far from a sure thing. Beltran, a switch-hitter, has been a personal favorite for years and his production is still at a high level. The further a player gets into his 30s, though, the higher the risk that production abruptly bottoms out. Unless, of course, you’re Raul Ibanez, apparently.
Then, digging deeper, we come upon the less-sexy options. Guys like Jason Bay, Nate McLouth (also a LHB) and Philly legend Marlon Byrd are set to be free agents, are likely to come cheap and all have even greater question marks if expected to be starters. To me, the most potentially intriguing name set to hit the market is the currently suspended Nelson Cruz. Cruz has been known for having a few dings and dents – namely, nagging hamstring issues – but played in a career high 159 games in 2012 and played nearly every game this season before landing under the ban hammer.
Cruz is an aggressive hitter, walking in just under eight percent of his career PA and striking out in more than 22 percent of them. Those numbers seem a bit daunting, but Cruz has still posted a .272/.332/.512 line in more than 2,500 PA since becoming a regular for the Rangers in 2009. Cruz will turn 34 next summer, but is likely to see a lower price tag coming off a Biogenesis suspension.
With Ryan Howard’s power in flux as he nurses his legs back to full strength, Brown is currently the only member of the club slugging over .500 in a significant number of PA. Cruz, while not a perfect player and not the OBP fiend that Choo is or the balanced switch-hitter that Beltran is, seems to fit the bill of a potential mid-range free agency buy with a lesser chance of attached draft pick compensation. Given the current state of the team and a need to balance risk and reward with contractual value, an early call of snagging Cruz could be the short-term right field answer this team is looking for.