Last week, MLB Trade Rumors posted a list of Phillies eligible for arbitration along with their expected salaries for the 2014 season. Let’s quickly run through the list to see what decisions the Phillies should make. Note that The Good Phight blogger emeritus Matt Swartz (@Matt_Swa) developed the model MLBTR uses to project salaries, and it has been proven accurate in the past.
SP Kyle Kendrick ($6.6 million, Arb-4)
Kendrick was a bit Jekyll & Hyde in 2013. During the first half, he continued the run of shockingly valuable pitching that started towards the latter half of the 2012 season. After a discussion with his father and former pitching coach Rich Dubee, Kendrick reduced the use of his cutter and refined his change-up, which brought him a lot of success. Almost exactly halfway through the season, Kendrick turned back into a pumpkin, becoming the replacement-level starter we were so used to seeing in previous years.
Last month, I wrote in detail about the pros and cons of keeping Kendrick around. $6.6 million might be more than you’d like to pay a replacement-level starter, but there are two things that make it worth keeping him around as opposed to bringing in a free agent starter on a much cheaper salary:
- With Kendrick, you have a known quantity. You know his medical history in thorough detail. You know his psychology, what makes him tick, what can be the catalyst of a slump. At Baseball Prospectus three and a half years ago, Swartz’s research showed that teams get more value out of players they re-sign than free agents they bring in from other teams. This is why.
- The Phillies need pitching depth. Right now, only Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are guaranteed spots. The 3-4-5 spots in the rotation are up in the air. GM Ruben Amaro has expressed interest in bringing back Roy Halladay despite a very uninspiring recovery from shoulder surgery in the final month-plus of the 2013 season. Jonathan Pettibone is coming back from a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder. John Lannan, who we’ll discuss shortly, dealt with a strained left quad and patellar tendinitis in his left knee. Lefty pitching prospect Adam Morgan succumbed to a torn rotator cuff. The Phillies are ankle-deep in reliable starting pitching right now.
Having Kendrick around, even if he acts as a swingman — serving in a mop-up role in the bullpen and making a spot start when necessary — is quite valuable. The Phillies can fill out their rotation as if Kendrick isn’t even there. A salary of $6.6 million would create an expectation of about 1.5 Wins Above Replacement. Kendrick reached that plateau in both 2011 and ’12, and came close in 2013 at 1.0 flat. The added insurance, though, would be worth the overpay even if Kendrick isn’t worth it on a strict basis of performance.
Decision: Tender a contract at or around $6.6 million
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SP John Lannan ($3.0 million, Arb-4)
Lannan had his worst season since becoming a regular in the Majors in 2008, finishing the 2013 season with a 5.33 ERA. He twice went on the disabled list for reasons stated above. Overall, his numbers didn’t deviate from his career norms. The outlier was his 64 percent strand rate, well below his career average 72 percent. That is a combination of his propensity to pitch to contact and the inability of his defense to convert balls in play into outs — the Phillies had one of the leagues’ worst defenses.
Due to the injuries and poor performance, Lannan won’t have any leverage. A $3 million salary would represent a raise of a half-million dollars. Surely, the Phillies can non-tender him and, if he is amendable, extend him an invitation to spring training to complete for a back-end rotation spot. Should he win, the Phillies could offer an array of incentives in his contract that could, in total, pay him close to the $3 million he is projected to earn through arbitration.
Decision: Non-tender, but invite to spring training
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RP Antonio Bastardo ($2 million, Arb-2)
Bastardo’s 2013 season came to an unfortunate ending when he accepted and served a 50-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Through his final appearance on August 3, he had posted much better results than he did in 2012, improving his ERA from 4.33 to 2.32. However, that may have been misleading as his strikeout rate, which ranged from 30 to 36 percent from 2010-12, dropped to 26 percent. His fastball velocity has slowly been declining for three years and he has subsequently been relying more and more on his slider.
Aside from closer Jonathan Papelbon and the recovering Mike Adams, the Phillies will likely enter 2014 with a very young bullpen. Bastardo, at 28 years old, is a seasoned veteran by comparison. Papelbon himself is showing signs of decline and the Phillies need a seasoned reliever who can potentially fill in as a closer should Papelbon become unreliable or should the Phillies trade him. You can do a lot worse than $2 million for a reliever who has previously shown signs of utter dominance, as Bastardo did in 2011.
Decision: Tender a contract in the range of $2 million
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OF John Mayberry ($1.7 million, Arb-1)
Mayberry’s career in Philadlephia has been a disappointment. Shortly after being named GM of the Phillies following Pat Gillick‘s departure, Ruben Amaro made a trade with the Texas Rangers, swapping Greg Golson for Mayberry. It was a shrewd move and the Phillies have definitely had the better end of that minor deal. Since shining in 2011 as a part-time player, however, Mayberry’s strikeout rate his gone up while his walk rate and isolated power have dropped. All while providing little to no value on defense and on the bases.
In Mayberry’s defense, he has been miscast, sometimes out of necessity (e.g. using him in center field following Ben Revere‘s ankle injury) and sometimes out of stupidity (refusing to use him specifically against left-handed pitching). Over the span of his career, Mayberry has hit lefties for a .360 weighted on-base average compared to just .296 against right-handers. The Phillies would have maximized Mayberry’s value by platooning him either at first base with Ryan Howard or in right field with Nate Schierholtz, as I suggested before the latter was non-tendered.
The disappointing trend of Mayberry’s career, combined with the fact that the Phillies will probably never use a platoon again, leads to a clear situation in which the Phillies will compile their bench with other players.
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OF Ben Revere ($1.5 million, Arb-1)
Last week, I wrote about why the Phillies should be happy to go into 2014 with Revere in center as opposed to a high-priced free agent like Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. After a slow start out of the gate in April, he heated up through the end of the first half before breaking his right foot on a foul ball. From May 1 through July 13, in 240 plate appearances, he hit .347/.380/.404 with 17 stolen bases in 23 attempts. His defense was hit or miss, as he took some questionable routes, did not display good instincts, and opposing runners took advantage of his weak arm, but his speed and range made up for some — but not all — of his shortcomings.
The Phillies have until the December 2 to decide to tender Revere a contract. If Amaro plans to go after a free agent like Ellsbury or Choo, he will have to do so in November. That means that Amaro would most likely end up overpaying for his free agent center fielder since the best free agents have the most leverage early on due to the number of teams displaying interest. In that case, Revere would be a fall-back option if the Phillies are priced out. Given their success with multi-year deals in recent years and the fact that free agents have been providing less and less return on investment lately, the smart, conservative play would be to tender Revere a contract. Perhaps a multi-year contract extension, in which Revere’s remaining arbitration years are bought out, would be advisable.
Decision: Tender a contract near $1.5 million
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IF Kevin Frandsen ($1.3 million, Arb-2)
Kevin Frandsen’s 2012-13 seasons provide a stark illustration of the vagaries of hitter BABIP. In 2012, he hit .338 with a .366 BABIP. In 2013, he hit .234 with a .245 BABIP. His line drive rate declined by six percent, which represents a shift of 25 percent. Because Frandsen doesn’t provide value in any other area — he doesn’t hit for power, he runs the bases poorly, and he plays mediocre defense at best — he needs to hit for average to be worth anything. Unfortunately, a .245 BABIP is much closer to what he has done over his career than .366, thus the Phillies would have to hope he once again benefits from good fortune the way he did in 2012. Ultimately, there are cheaper, more versatile, and less volatile bench players out there.
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OF Roger Bernadina ($1.3 million, Arb-2)
The Phillies took a flyer on Bernadina after he was put on waivers by the Washington Nationals in August. They had been using Mayberry in center for a majority of the time following Revere’s foot injury, but it wasn’t working out. Bernadina was having a tough year, hitting under the Mendoza line, but he was coming off a year in which he was an above-average part-time player with the Nats. Due to his speed, he still provides value defensively even when he isn’t hitting.
The Phillies will be revamping their outfield. Depending on how it is configured, Bernadina may have some use off the bench as a late-game defensive substitution or as a pinch-runner if the Phillies happen to sign a slow corner outfielder like Corey Hart, for example. At $1.3 million, Bernadina would only have to be marginally better than replacement level for the Phillies to break even on his salary. Even if they wind up having no use for him, it seems like tendering Bernadina a contract is a +EV move for the Phillies.
Decision: Tender a contract near $1.3 million
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OF Casper Wells ($700,000, Arb-1)
Wells was with a litany of teams in 2013, but finished out the year with the Phillies after they picked him up on waivers from the Chicago White Sox. Wells performed poorly, posting an aggregate adjusted OPS of -7 (yes, negative seven) in 102 trips to the plate. The right-hander, who turns 29 in November, showed moderate power potential while with the Tigers and Mariners early in his career.
At the end of August, after Wells’ season had ended due to vision problems, I wrote about why the Phillies should keep him around. I likened him to Jayson Werth back in the early days of his career, when he had limited success in the Majors and numerous teams passed on him. Gillick, however, took a flier on Werth and it turned out to be a franchise-altering decision. Is the ceiling for Wells as high as Werth’s? Not at all. (Though, would anyone have put Werth’s ceiling where it is right now back when he joined the Phillies?) But it’s still a low-risk move that can potentially pay huge dividends. Wells can be the team’s right-handed bat off the bench and if he hits well enough, he could usurp playing time from whoever is not hitting at the time.
Decision: Tender a contract near $700,000
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- Kyle Kendrick: Tender a contract at or around $6.6 million
- John Lannan: Non-tender, but invite to spring training
- Antonio Bastardo: Tender a contract in the range of $2 million
- John Mayberry: Non-tender
- Ben Revere: Tender a contract near $1.5 million
- Kevin Frandsen: Non-tender
- Roger Bernadina: Tender a contract near $1.3 million
- Casper Wells: Tender a contract near $700,000