Can the Phillies Win the East in 2014?

Dan Szymborski ($) seems to think so. Szymborski’s argument for not counting out the Phils making a serious push to the top of the division hinges around payroll flexibility, acknowledging that Roy Halladay‘s money is off the books and a new television deal is on the horizon, so even though Ruben Amaro has made it clear he wishes to stay below the $189M luxury tax threshold, the safety net is almost in place.

But the amount of work left to do is sizable, and I think we all realize this. Having the resources to accomplish most (if not all) of it doesn’t seem like an outlandish thing to believe; as always, it’s a question of how the resources are allocated.

Cot’s currently pegs the Phillies as having $119.5M on their books for 2014, before accounting for Halladay’s buyout and arbitration raises for Kyle Kendrick, Antonio Bastardo, Ben Revere and (possibly) Kevin Frandsen and John Mayberry Jr., as well as Cuban import Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez’s take. So the payroll estimate probably falls in the $130-140M range, leaving a solid chunk of breathing room between it and the luxury tax ceiling.

The first leak of offseason news tied the Phillies to one of the top outfielders on the market: one of Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson or Nelson Cruz. Each has his own specialty and price tag, with draft pick cost yet to be determined by qualifying offers. And while the outfield could certainly use the boost that any of those players would provide, the pitching staff is the area of more pressing need.

Even before Halladay’s departure became a given, his withering on the mound before our very eyes helped expose a lack of rotational depth. Maybe it’s a little unfair to say that, given the absurd depth of the 2010 and 2011 rotations, but with Halladay injured of ineffective, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels were the only reliable pieces. None of Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone or the recently departed Tyler Cloyd pitched like more than No. 4-types; Gonzalez is an unknown commodity with known injury issues; Ethan Martin seems like his destiny lies in the bullpen. Right now, things only look rosy two of five days on the mound.

Speaking of the bullpen, where struggles were well-lit, things are a bit unsettled there, too. Jonathan Papelbon‘s huge, unmovable contract looms larger as his peripherals decrease and add more uncertainty to the relief corps in the process. Bastardo’s suspension was an annoyance, but at least he can be counted on to pitch well enough. Jake Diekman seemed like he was ready to become a legit Major Leaguer, too. After that, well, the parade of Luis Garcia and Zach Miner and J.C. Ramirez and Cesar Jimenez should tell you all you need to know: just like the rotation, there’s no depth.

The bullpen is where the most tightrope walking has to happen. Adding a free agent piece or two seems like a foregone conclusion, but there are only a finite number of options that, hopefully, will come at a palatable cost for their expected production. Take Indians reliever Joe Smith, who will be 30 on opening day 2014 and has 197 innings of 2.42 ERA and just 10 HR allowed to his name. Not flashy, but effective and not expected to command a closer’s role or bounty. If another lefty is on the shopping list, a number of intriguing southpaws are on the market: Matt Thornton, J.P. Howell and Boone Logan among them. Chances seem good that one hurler of each handedness could be added for less than, say, $10M for 2014.

Keeping that number down could mean the difference between the balls-out, headlong-into-going-for-it approach where the likes of Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka, the latest Japanese enticement, dwell. This is all before trades are even considered, too, though no one expects the Phillies’ current farm crop to land a player on the David Price or Giancarlo Stanton (were he even available) level.

It’s tough to be more finite this early in the offseason, but the 2013 Phillies looked like a club in need of more than one GUY to get them back over .500 and into playoff contention again. Not trading Lee kept them closer to achieving that goal at the cost of a higher-quality rebuild, but that’s a tough battle to win. In surveying the roster and available options, it seems the Phillies could definitely make significant strides of improvement over the winter and get back in the hunt for a Wild Card spot, but winning the division seems unlikely. The Braves could lose Brian McCann and Tim Hudson, but their pitching staff is still in far superior shape to the Phillies’, and the underachieving Nationals could stand to bounce back in ’14.

Getting into the playoffs at all seems possible still, but the forces in the now-deep NL Central like the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds, along with the Nats and a potential surprise team like the Diamondbacks, could prove formidable. I would bank on a better record in 2014 than ’13, currently based on nothing more than an expectation that Amaro will make a big move or two that will have a fair share of caveats but will provide fans with a better on-field product. I would not bank on a return to the top of the East, but the winter is long and there’s time aplenty for opinions to change.

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28 comments

  1. nik

    November 04, 2013 02:28 PM

    With a new TV Contract reportedly pending and a protect 1st round pick, I am expecting a splashy signing. If you’re gonna blow picks and have money why settle for second tier QO free agents like Cruz or Granderson? That’s why I think they go hard after Elsbury for CF.

    For Starting Pitcher, I think Nolasco is probably the guy to be the #3 pitcher, MAG as #4 and Kendrick as the #5 with Pettibone hanging out as MAG health insurance. Don’t discount Adam Morgan to make the team as well.

  2. Ryan

    November 04, 2013 03:06 PM

    I’m hoping that we go all-in on the Japanese pitcher and spend the rest on Choo. We need another starting pitcher and the OBP boost badly.

  3. Kevin

    November 04, 2013 03:25 PM

    I would like them to get Matt Garza or Ricky Nolasco for the 3rd slot.

    I’d also inquire about Trumbo and Bourjos. Idea here is to platoon Trumbo/Ruf at 1b/RF against lefties and when there is a righty pitcher have Howard at first and Trumbo in RF.

    Not sure the cost to get those two is worth it however.

  4. nik

    November 04, 2013 03:28 PM

    Trumbo and Bourjos aren’t very good.

  5. Daniel

    November 04, 2013 03:49 PM

    Won’t a healthy Ben Revere and Dom Brown plus a presumed improved season from Hamels be a substantial roster improvement that would lend to a 500% 2014 season? Then, adding a solid number 3 starter and a mid-level outfielder further improve the roster. I guess my question is, weren’t the Phillies looking like a few-games-over-500 team at the All-Star break, but then injuries to Revere and Brown completely sunk that ship?

  6. TheBadgerine

    November 04, 2013 05:22 PM

    Nelson Cruz is one more dirty jar of pee away from being lost for a whole season. That should automatically eliminate him. Ellsbury is a speed guy on the wrong side of thirty, so he should be left to be some other team’s problem. Granderson’s numbers seem inflated by the beer league softball park he’s had the pleasure of hitting 308 ft line drive home runs in, and his speed will be rapidly declining as well. Choo is interesting, but I don’t really think any of these four are special enough to give a pick up for, even if it’s a 2nd rounder. There are some live arms in the upcoming draft, and I would like to see the team take full advantage of a crappy 2013 season.

    I would like to see the team trade Dom and get some strong pieces in return. Or trade him straight up for Cespedes. The A’s love the cost controlled guys, and Cespedes is right handed and can catch line drives hit near him in the outfield. I think Chris Young would be a good OF signing too. Good pitching needs plus defense to thrive.

    I think the 2014 Phillies can be successful if they model themselves after the ’93 team. Platoon all over to maximize each spot in the order. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but the egos need to be left in Clearwater. Jimmy and Ryan need to be moved down the order. Jimmy needs to be rested more and Galvis should get some of his AB’s. Ryan needs to be part of a straight platoon. If he gets a start against a lefty, someone should get fired. Ruf can handle being his platoon partner. I am really curious to see if Franco can handle the glove at third in the majors. A Franco/Asche platoon sounds appealing, and if one clearly takes the lead, the other can be flipped for system depth. These are the kinds of things successful organizations do. I am very excited for this year’s hot stove, and I am going all in expecting the team to do the right thing with their personnel when the 2014 season starts.

  7. JT

    November 04, 2013 09:56 PM

    I think they should kick the tires on Ryan Braun. Really have no idea how much he’s worth at this point, but it seems like he has burned some serious bridges in Milwaukee and his contract is quite interesting. He makes 10 million in ’14, 12 in ’15. Then an average value of 19 million for the next five years taking him to age 36. The way the economics of baseball are going 19 million won’t be that big of a deal in 2019 and 2020)

    Could the Phillies get him for something like Brown? Maybe Biddle and another lesser prospect? Again, I have no clue. He’s an interesting case. But I’m pretty sure he will remain an elite hitter for the next three or four years, and it would be well worth it if Ruben could get him on some sort of douchebag discount.

  8. Bob

    November 05, 2013 12:11 AM

    If we get either Cruz or Trumbo . . . they’re both such RAJ type players.

  9. Brian

    November 05, 2013 01:27 AM

    I think the Phillies most important contracts are the ones they already own: Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon.

    As much as I didn’t like Papelbon’s ridiculous contract the minute it was signed, I like his personality less.

    He is getting it done more or less on the field, so I guess that has to count for something; however, any time I hear him open his mouth I think he is trying too hard to be the zany reliever stereotype.

    I think Howard and Darin Ruf are very similar hitters, except Ruf hits right-handed and makes about 1/50th of what Howard makes.

    Which means Darin Ruf will be my starting 1B.

    To move Howard, the Phillies would likely need to eat at least half of his contract; we all see that Howard isn’t the upper echelon player they thought – susceptible to injury and breaking balls – but he could be worth $10-15 million, especially to an AL team.

    While it may seem foolish to pay that much for Howard to play elsewhere, the money is already spent; any amount you can save could represent an investment toward improving the pitching.

    The biggest addition this team could make would be Giancarlo Stanton: young right-handed power and a strong outfield arm.

    Miami can say whatever they will in November, but see how close a package of 3B Cody Asche, LHP Adam Morgan, 1B Tommy Joseph and either Ruf (if you can’t trade Howard) or OF Aaron Altherr could get us to Stanton.

    Talents like Jesse Biddle & Mikael Franco should be unavailable in trades… even for Stanton.

    Let Franco, Tyler Henson or even Cesar Hernandez vie for the 3B job in Clearwater this spring.

  10. Schufan

    November 05, 2013 03:04 AM

    Last season I thought the #1 dumb move would be whoever signed Delmon Young. RAJ obliged. This year I think the #1 dumb move would be to trade a meaningful prospect for Mark Trumbo and his sub-.300 career OBA. I fear RAJ will oblige.

    Throwing a lot of money at Nelson Cruz would be dumb too but at least we have a protected pick so the damage would be limited.

    If we can avoid the obvious-to-everyone-but-RAJ dumb moves, the team can be a fringe contender. But I’m not hopeful.

  11. Eric D

    November 05, 2013 08:36 AM

    Thebad- glad you’re not running this team . . I didn’t think there was a worse gm out there then RAJ but you would fit that bill to a T.

    Trade Brown for Cespedes? Trade someone who is coming into his own and trending up for someone trending down (.240/..294/.442). Brown was a better player across the board not to mention is younger and 9.5m cheaper! Please give me reasons why anyone would make that move . . .

    Chris Young . . . Really? He hasn’t hit over .250 but once in his career and hasn’t played in more then 100 games in over 3 years. His HR totals have continued to plummet as well. Mayberry Jr is pretty much the same as Chris Young.

    Galvis taking ABs from ANYONE is a crime. There’s a reason why he was only seen as a defensive player and its because he can’t hit, no way He’d perform better then Rollins (even in Rollins worst statical year he is better then Galvis.

    Ruf platooning . . . His career splits are better against RHP then against LHP and its really not even close . . So scratch that off the list of “Things to do as the new GM”

    Platooning Franco and Asche . . . First off Franco isn’t ready, he’s only played half a season at the AA level. Mid season call up at the earliest and you don’t platoon someone who you want in there all the time, that would just impede his development ESP when only 30% of games are started by a LHP (think it was 32% last year).

    The Granderson comment you made was off base a little too . . Of the 64 HRs that he’s hit at New Yankee Stadium 58 of them would have been out of CBP so the short porch wasn’t a huge difference maker (One of the Phillies websites did this research)

    I’m struggling to find something you’ve said that would make sense, I really am.

    Ok ok . . Sitting Ryan Howard against LHP. I found something I agree with you about. He is TERRIBLE against LHP so there would be no issue w me sitting him against LHP. 2 players I’d look at for the platoon are Michael Morse who is a career .284/.340/.479/.819 against LHP or Cory Hart .300/.370/.526/.896 career against LHP. Wouldnt be the easiest to talk them into platooning but they both would be perfect platoon guys with Howard. However, when Howard is in the line up he’s your clean up hitter, he should be moved down.

    ps I was going to try and work Chris Young into the RH platoon bat with Howard (yes I know he’s an OFer but was trying to get him in there since you mentioned him) however Mayberry Jr has ou up better numbers so the internal option would be better

    And pss you don’t trade one of your better prospects (Asche or Franco) for “system depth”

  12. Ryan

    November 05, 2013 09:13 AM

    Ruf would be fine as a platoon for Howard. His splits only have a small sample size vs. lefties in the majors. His splits in the minors indicate that he’s actually better against lefties.

    Playing Galvis over Rollins has nothing to do with his bat. It’s obviously lesser, but his defense would be a significant improvement over Rollins’ defense from last season.

    I do agree that any of those trade proposals are insane.

  13. Dan K.

    November 05, 2013 12:40 PM

    Leandro Castro straight up for Stanton, Michael Martinez and Ben Revere for Trout, Kendrick straight up for Kershaw, swap Howard for Miggy, Rollins for Simmons and Kimbrel, and Cesar Jiminez for Aroldis Chapman.

    Not that hard RAJ, jeez.

  14. Lucas

    November 05, 2013 02:01 PM

    I agree with Dan K.

  15. Lucas

    November 05, 2013 02:17 PM

    Ruiz is going for the cash lol Bye bye Chooch! Sign Dioner Navarro!

  16. TheBadgerine

    November 05, 2013 04:34 PM

    @ Eric D.
    I don’t believe Brown is coming into his own. I saw someone who had one good month. His below average fielding and base running make him a negative player. I am not married any specific hypothetical trade involving Brown, but I think the best way to maximize his value is to sell him high. Cespedes is a right handed power bat that plays high level defense. Also, that was just a possibility I saw floated around that I did not hate.

    I see Chris Young as a strict platoon player and a late inning defensive replacement. Mayberry falls down in the outfield. If they are pretty much the same, I’d rather have new blood who plays better defense. I’m also interested in Rajai Davis in the same strict platoon/defensive specialist role. There are a myriad of possibilities, but keeping the same players that won 73 games doesn’t seem like the right one.

    Rollins is getting old fast. He wears down. He doesn’t have enough left to play 150 games. In 666 PA Jimmy had 6 HR. In 222 PA Freddy had 6 HR. Freddy won’t cry about batting 7/8, Jimmy will. Jimmy’s ’13 OPS .667, Freddy’s ’13 .668. I never said Freddy will be ’07 Rollins, but neither will Jimmy. They’re a lot more alike at this point of their careers than most like to admit.

    I would love to see Hart or Morse brought in to platoon with Howard and play some outfield, but they’re coming off serious injuries and don’t field anywhere near as well as Young/Davis/Cespedes in the outfield, which is why I offered the possibility of a straight Howard/Ruf platoon and signing or trading for one of those three.

    Finally, I like Asche. I think he’s an everyday player. I think he puts the work in to maximize his defensive abilities. I think he becomes a well rounded ball player that doesn’t blow up a specific segment of a stat line, but maintains his ceiling for a good career. On the other hand, I think Franco is a DH. Just because he’s high on our prospect list doesn’t mean he could be traded for anything other than system depth. He’s a boat anchor at third, and blocked by a lot of money at first, a position he has played a handful of games. Showing off his bat a little, if it even plays at the AAA level, is the only way to get a good return on him. His highest value in the Phillies organization is not on the field, it’s in a trade.

    This is the most fun the Phillies dreadful season allows us and I’m having a good time living in the hypothetical for now. I don’t particularly understand your snarkiness, but I’m sure you’re right about going into 2014 with the same players from the 2013 plus Corey Hart. At least we’ll get another protected pick.

  17. Bob

    November 05, 2013 04:48 PM

    We have 2/5 starters and no one solid in the bullpen. The offseason focus should be pitching, pitching, pitching.

  18. pedro3131

    November 05, 2013 05:44 PM

    Dan K. I think you’re selling Ben Revere short in that scenario, I’d say he’s worth a least a working time machine and the last 4 years of Sandy Koufax’s career

  19. Dan K.

    November 05, 2013 07:32 PM

    Plus Pedro Martinez in his prime.

  20. Eric D

    November 06, 2013 10:03 AM

    Wait a min . . The number 1 phillies prospect (Baseball America) and top 30 (projected Baseball America) MLB prospect (who some scouts have said is the best offensive player in MiLB, who was the break out player of the year) isn’t valuable to the Phillies on the field? I’ve seen Asche and Franco play many times and Franco in my opinion is a better defensive 3B (some scouts see him as potentially being a plus defender at 3B) . . He has softer hands and a cannon for an arm. He doesn’t lack speed (he is slightly below average once he gets moving) like many say, he lacks quickness. Franco over Asche is a no brainier. If the Phillies were to move Franco and only got system depth out of it well then they got robbed.

    Not sure where I said that I want to see the same team on the field . . I just said that I don’t want Chris Young who is basically John Mayberry Jr but more expensive. Galvis isn’t a big enough upgrade defensively at SS over Rollins to justify him taking ABs away from Rollins and the HR total to me doesn’t mean anything bc they both aren’t and should be HR guys (I don’t care what Rollins as done in the past HR wise but I can also promise you that over a full year next year Rollins would put up better numbers across the board).

    I don’t understand your comments about Cruz, Ellsbury and Choo. Cruz has never tested positive for PEDs so I wouldn’t be concerned about that issue, his 50gm suspension will actually drive down his price along w the fact that Texas extended him a QO. Either one of these 3 would help the team a lot. They’d either get a 25-35HR RHB in Cruz, a CF who has some power, will lead the lead in SBs and plays a solid CF in Ellsbury and in Choo they would have a 20/20 guy who gets on base at a .400 clip walking 100x.

    If you were the gm outline for me your off season and what your line up and rotation would look like next year and I’ll give you my off season plans as well.

  21. hk

    November 06, 2013 11:14 AM

    * The Phils won 73 games last year.
    * Their pythag W-L was 66-96.
    * Their players combined for 16.7 fWAR.
    * The NL East champion won 96 games.
    * The average MLB division winner won 95 games.

    The Phils have about $35M of payroll that they can add before they’ll have to pay the luxury tax. We can argue all day about whether it is better to sign McCann or Ruiz, Garza or Nolasco, Balfour or Crain and/or Ellsbury, Choo or Nelson Cruz, but it seems to me that whichever free agents they sign will only put a small dent in the ~22 additional wins that they’ll need. To me, for the Phils to have a legit chance to win the NL East, most of the ~22 win improvement the team needs will have to come from players who are already in the system or from getting value from under-the-radar pick-ups. To me, the answer to the question in the title will depend upon:

    * If MAG produces ~2.2 WAR and is a ~3.0 win upgrade over Halladay.
    * If a 1B platoon of a healthy Howard plus Ruf produces a few wins more than the 0.5 WAR that the team got from the 1B position in 2013.
    * If Asche or an Asche / Frandsen platoon provides positive value as an upgrade over the -0.4 WAR that the team got from the 3B position in 2013.
    * If Ben Revere plays like he was playing before his injury and if 2014 Dom Brown > 2013 Dom Brown.
    * If the team can get better results from the bullpen.
    * If all of the other players produce (in the aggregate) slightly better than they did in 2013.

    I’m not too optimistic…

  22. Pencilfish

    November 06, 2013 02:24 PM

    hk,

    All your points regarding the existing roster are reasonable, but to to say the FA signings will “only put a small dent in the ~22 additional wins” is overly pessimistic. All you expect from Ruiz/Nolasco/Balfour/Ellsbury is a “small dent”? The combined WAR of these players in 2013 was 10.7 WAR.

  23. hk

    November 06, 2013 03:15 PM

    Pencilfish,

    I don’t think they can sign Ruiz, Nolasco, Balfour and Ellsbury and stay under the luxury tax. The Fangraphs Contract Crowdsourcing Projections have those four combining to sign for $47.4M of AAV. What I wrote was based on them having $35M to spend on free agents.

    Also, I wouldn’t include Balfour’s WAR in the calculation because I don’t think WAR for relievers is a particularly worthwhile calculation and you shouldn’t include Chooch’s WAR in the equation because he’s replacing himself. If you want to say that they could sign Ellsbury and Nolasco and add 8.8 wins if those two repeat their 2013 seasons, I’ll give you that and I’ll give you that 9 wins is more than a small dent. However, I don’t expect them to sign Ellsbury, so Cruz + Nolasco + Balfour plus re-signing Chooch gives them an additional 6 wins, which means a lot of other things have to go right with their returning players for them to be in contention for the division.

  24. derekcarstairs

    November 07, 2013 09:35 AM

    Bob: I agree about the pitching. I would offer KK arbitration and trade him. I would then go after two SPs with high upsides and not requiring comp.

    My targets would be two of Tanaka, Josh Johnson, Haren and Hudson.

  25. Pencilfish

    November 07, 2013 12:57 PM

    hk,

    Using Paul’s $130-140M commitment in 2014 and assuming $10M must be allocated to benefits, the Phillies have $39-49M available before they hit the luxury tax threshold of $189M, so your $35M is very low. Second, reaching 95 wins would be best, but the Reds won the WC with 90 wins. The Phillies would have to make up 17, not 22 wins, to reach the playoffs, hypothetically speaking.

    Obviously, making up 17 wins is not a small feat, but if 6-9 wins can come from FA signings, then we are talking about getting 8-11 extra wins from the existing roster. Easy? No. Achievable? Yes, if a lot of things go right.

    The picture looks every brighter if we subtract Doc’s -0.9 WAR, Michael Young’s -1.1 WAR and Delmon Young’s -1.2 WAR and assume their spots on the roster yield a very conservative 0 WAR.

  26. hk

    November 07, 2013 01:30 PM

    Pencilfish,

    The title of the aticle is “Can the Phils win the East in 2014?” Therefore, I responded to that question and my opinion was – and still is – that it is very unlikely, but not impossible. If you lower the bar to the Phils just qualifying for the playoffs next year, my opinion is that their chances improve from very unlikely to unlikely. We agree that a lot of things will have to go their way – many of which I listed in my original post – for them to contend next year.

    Questions for you:

    1. Do you think it is more likely that they’ll sign Jacoby Ellsbury or Nelson Cruz?

    2. Do you think that they’ll sign Nolasco or any other SP for 3 or more years and $12M or more of AAV?

  27. Pencilfish

    November 08, 2013 02:07 PM

    hk,

    This early in the off-season, it is impossible to predict whom RAJ will sign. Rumors are flying faster than writers can type them (ie, Phillies supposed interest in David Price, A’s shopping Trumbo, Dodgers making Ethier or etc).

    I think the best strategy is first determine the most glaring needs (easy): C, 2 SP, OF, and RP. Then, prioritize them (see my suggested priority above), and sign (or trade for) them. Obviously, if the Phillies resign Ruiz or a FA catcher like Salty or Navarro on team-friendly terms (ie, 2 years for $12-14M), we have more clarity (and money) to pursue the next priorities.

    Also, we shouldn’t rule trades, though impact trades will cost us ML and MiL talent. Guys like Hernandez, Galvis, Brown and Ruf can be moved for the right players.

  28. isaacbrookins

    February 16, 2014 11:50 AM

    Howard need 2stp fanning so much&learn how 2hit a breaking ball

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