Crash Bag, Vol. 94: Ben Wetzler Lightning Round

NBA trade deadline, labor strife, Little Big League…we’ve got it all this week.

@truelladelphia: “How great is Sam Hinkie?”

Pretty great. Early in the season, I had an expectation of getting at least one first-round pick (either this year or next) for Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes, but that stopped being realistic a while ago, thanks to the quality of this year’s draft and the NBA’s inscrutable player movement rules, which gridlocked the draft pick market to a certain extent. Hawes and Turner were both going to walk as free agents this summer anyway, so getting literally anything for them was a win. I would’ve liked to see Hawes go to either Oklahoma City or the Clippers, where I think he could’ve played a significant role on a title contender as a rotation big, but Hinkie got a return on Hawes and Turner while not panic trading Thaddeus Young for 50 cents on the dollar. Second-round NBA draft picks are one of the most useless commodities in sports, but this is where the Astros comparison I’ve been harping on all year comes in–if you take over a team without serious assets, you bide your time by placing a bunch of long-shot bets until you can get some assets. Anyway, Hinkie got rid of three veterans (including Lavoy Allen) for which he had no use and took on a net of either five or six (almost certainly six) second-round draft picks. A smart team can get one rotation player out of six second-round picks, or trade them for something else. This is the guy trading the red paper clip for the house.

@kfk5025: “is ratting out these college draft picks the worst thing the Phillies have done with RAJ as GM?”

So…there’s no way I’m not going to talk about Ben Wetzler, huh? Okay. Let’s get into the Ben Wetzler Lightning Round.

For those of you who haven’t been following the story, Aaron Fitt of Baseball America¬†reported Wednesday night that the Phillies had informed the NCAA that Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler and Washington State first baseman Jason Monda had used an agent in negotiations with the Phillies after last year’s draft. Wetzler went in the fifth round, Monda in the sixth, and both decided to turn down the Phillies’ offers and go back to school for their senior seasons.

This is bad because while Monda was cleared of wrongdoing and is back in the lineup, Wetzler has been suspended pending the resolution of an investigation which, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, has been going on since November without resolution.

Anyway…and in the interest of not stockpiling “allegedly”(s), let’s just assume that while I trust Aaron Fitt’s reporting, I’m aware that neither the Phillies nor Wetzler have admitted to or been proven culpable in any unethical act. Let’s just assume, for the sake of clarity, that Wetzler’s agent negotiated directly on his behalf and someone in the Phillies blew the whistle on him.

What Wetzler did is in line with standard practice for every high school senior and college junior who gets drafted–you have to be a special kind of craven, self-loathing advocate of class warfare to suggest that an 18-to-21-year-old, who’s already restricted from earning the market value of his labor by NCAA and MLB rules, shouldn’t have professional representation when negotiating–against professionals–the contract that will sustain them, and in many cases, their families, until they realize a major league free agent dream that only a fraction of a percent will ever realize…I know it’s the rules, but at a certain point, standing up for unjust rules (particularly when their unjustness is so plainly clear the very people…sorry, not people, corporations…who’d stand to benefit from their enforcement look the other way) is to stand up for injustice itself.

As to the original question, I don’t think we can blame Ruben Amaro for this one, even though the buck stops with him, nor do I think Marty Wolever was the tattletale, because whatever you think of the way the Phillies run their baseball ops departments, those guys are pros, and this is a bush league move. Potentially grenading a kid’s season out of spite is childish, and I have faith that Amaro and Wolever know better.

And that’s all this is, spite, because it’s not like the Phillies are missing out on Carlos Rodon here. Wetzler’s the top starting pitcher on the No. 2 team in the country, but he’s a finesse lefty from the fifth round–if you think ratting on him is justified because his returning to Corvallis cost the Phillies a valuable prospect, you know even less about baseball than you do about economic justice.

@Framed_Ace: “Why do you think that people are sometimes so quick to defend ownership/organizations over players?”

Three reasons:

  1. Player salaries and a misunderstanding of the labor theory of value. People see Ryan Howard making $25 million a year to play baseball and they resent that, particularly in the face of rising ticket prices and whatnot, not realizing or not caring that the players’ share of overall revenue is not commensurate with the value they add–i.e. in most sports leagues, it’s about a 50/50 split of revenue between owners and players, when the product being sold is the players themselves. If Ryan Howard were working on an assembly line, he’d be paid for the value of his labor, and his and his confreres’ pay wouldn’t–and shouldn’t–add up to the total value of the car, because the capitalist buys the steel and provides the tools and specifications and so on. But in baseball, there’s no car, no end product. The labor itself is the product, and owners in all sports are taking larger and larger shares unilaterally. But most people don’t see this as an issue of exploited labor, because the labor is extremely well-paid. Ryan Howard is paid $25 million a year for his talents, but much of what he produces goes to multibillionaires who add nothing to the product except having been rich already, and besides are subsidized by the government to the tune of hundreds of millions in stadium costs, infrastructure, tax breaks and so on. Let alone Mike Trout, who made about two percent what Howard did last year, let alone someone like Johnny Manziel, who made millions for Texas A&M but is paid less than a subsistence wage. It’s possible to be very rich and very famous and still be exploited, but most sports fans don’t or won’t see that.
  2. We root for laundry. Nobody except draft wonks and college baseball fans knew who Ben Wetzler was 48 hours ago. Rocco from The Northeast has been rooting for the Phillies (well, let’s be honest, the Eagles, but the Phillies sometimes when they’re good) since 1966–whose side is he going to come down on?
  3. [Redacted 2/3/14]

@ChasingUtley: “who is the worst: NCAA or NFL?”

The NCAA. I love college sports. Love love love college sports. The thing about being a fan of SEC football is you have to try really really hard not to think about how you’re watching a bunch of unpaid (mostly poor, African-American) kids engage in an activity that causes deadly brain trauma for an organization that’ll revoke what little financial and academic support they give if the wrong person buys the kid a pizza, all for the amusement of a (largely white, middle-class) audience who won’t remember most of those players’ names in five years, much less in thirty, when they’re all dying peniless of Lou Gehrig‘s Disease. That’s overstating the case a little, but I try really hard not to think about the moral implications of college football. At least the NFL pays its players.

Come on, there’s got to be at least some way to have some fun with the Ben Wetzler thing before I lose everyone in a haze of left-wing animus.

@CrawfordChrisV: “What college senior would you like to see the Phillies draft in 2013?”

Ah, yes. Because juniors and high schoolers won’t negotiate with them, you see? There is only one answer: Karsten Whitson.

University of Florida pitcher Karsten Whitson, famously beaten into dust as a freshman by my man Michael Roth in the deciding game of the 2011 College World Series. Former No. 9 overall pick of the Padres, Whitson opted to go to school in one of the most baffling draft negotiations of all time. Occasionally, you’ll see a prep pitcher turn down late first-round money to go to school (Gerrit Cole and Mark Prior both did this, and it worked out), but it’s a massive risk. Not only do you have to maintain your effectiveness and improve enough to be more attractive at 21 than you were at 18, but you have to not get hurt in three years of the meat grinder of college baseball. Whitson was pretty good at Florida–he was one of three first-rounders (Brian Johnson of the Red Sox and Jonathon Crawford of the Tigers were the others) in the Gators’ rotation in 2012, though the best pitcher in the bunch was Hudson Randall, who had the kind of stuff that gets college hitters out but doesn’t get you drafted before the seventh round–see: Ben Wetzler. Anyway, Hudson Randall was amazing in college. I saw him for the first time and immediately thought “Ginger righty Cole Hamels.” But that’s not the point. He’s getting the crap beaten out of him in the Tigers’ system right now.

Whitson was pretty good his first couple years at Florida, but heading into his junior year, it was unlikely he was going to better his No. 9 overall status. Then, on the eve of the 2013 season, he had shoulder surgery and missed the whole year. The shoulder, by the way, is the joint pitchers don’t want to injure. Wreck your elbow and you can get Tommy John and be back in 18 months. Wreck your shoulder and all bets are off.

So I’m interested to see if Whitson can get back to his 2011-12 form, and if so, I’d love for the Phillies to take a chance on him.

@MikeFerrinSXM: “Nah, make it tough. Joey Pankake gets picked by the Phillies, goes back to school, gets ratted out: pick a side.”

Apparently that last question wasn’t tough. But neither is this one. See how strongly I reacted to Ben Wetzler? I don’t give a tinker’s damn about Oregon State. America west of the Rockies could fall into the sea tomorrow and I wouldn’t notice. And I’m pissed about Ben Wetzler. Imagine if the Phillies (not the whole organization obviously, but some rogue employee) screwed over my favorite player on my favorite college baseball team–hellfire would rain down.

@Lawson890: “What is the meaning of life?”

I’m not sure. I’d say find the thing in life that’s the biggest deterrent to killing yourself and try to live your life in service of that thing. You’ll be happier that way. And try not to be an asshole to other people if you can avoid it. Which is really more of an aphorism than a meaning. I’m not even sure how a “meaning of life” is supposed to be constructed. Is it a goal? A credo? A theory of everything? Maybe that’s why we don’t know the meaning of life–we as a species suck at asking questions.

@Phillycopa: “what happens first – Sixers win a playoff series, eagles go to a super bowl or Phillies make the playoffs?”

I’m going to go with Sixers win a playoff series over Phillies make the playoffs, but it’ll be close. If I had to pick a year for both, I’d say the Sixers next win a playoff series in 2017 and the Phillies next make the playoffs in 2018, though that depends on how well their respective rebuilds go. If the Sixers draft Jabari Parker and he turns out to be end-stage Hedo Turkoglu, that might set them back some. Which is not to say that I wasn’t a huge Hedo fan when he was playing point forward for Orlando back in 2009, but you know. Anyway, I think both the Phillies and Sixers are about at the bottom of their respective parabolic rides, but where the Sixers are going to wind up in this draft, plus the shorter lead time on NBA prospects, gives them the edge.

I’m not touching the Eagles Super Bowl thing because it relies on winning multiple single-elimination playoff games and the NFL playoffs are almost as crapshooty as baseball’s as a result. I think the Eagles will be in position to achieve that goal first, but thanks to the vagaries of playoff football, they could make the Super Bowl next year or they could go 50 years before the next one. Basketball and baseball, at least to the parameters of the question, are a little more predictable.

@Ugly_Finder: “Who’s best alongside Ramsey in the pivot? Wilshere, Arteta, Flam or Ox?”

I was kind of a fan of the rotating scythe of Song, Wilshere and Fabregas that Arsenal had in 2011, but Ozil doesn’t play as deep as Fabregas did, so that’s not really an option. I know it’s not Arteta, because he’s reached the point where he’s a decent free kick taker who, in the run of play, is kind of okay on the ball and looks like some dude they plucked off the street when he doesn’t have it. And I think with Ox’s speed, he needs to play on a wing.

I was never a huge Flamini fan in his first go-around with Arsenal, but since he left, I’ve come to appreciate that it might be nice to have a dedicated defensive midfielder in the side from time to time. I guess my answer is that I don’t really buy your premise, that Aaron Ramsey’s got to be one of Arsenal’s two holding midfielders. If hey’s healthy, I’d rather have Wilshere, who combines Ramsey’s ball skills with Flamini’s hard-tackling-ness. And beyond that, I’d probably put Ramsey in the side, particularly if Arsenal needed to take the game to their opponent. But definitely not Arteta.

@asigal22: “if they remade little big league this year, what 5 current major leaguers would you want in the movie?”

Ah, fantastic. Who do you figure were the five biggest parts for MLB players were in the original? And I’m not counting Kevin Elster (Pat Corning) and Brad Lesley (Blackout Gatling), who didn’t play themselves. You’ve got to go with Griffey and Randy Johnson, obviously, but after that there’s a divergence between people who talk and people who influence the plot. Because Wally Joyner talks to Lou and is nice, and Mickey Tettleton talks to Mark Hodges (played by former minor league catcher John Minch, no relation to the Pittsburgh murderer of the same name) and is an asshole. There might be others, but they don’t come immediately to mind. But neither Joyner nor Tettleton really advances the plot the way Rickey Henderson does, even though he doesn’t appear on screen. And Dave Magadan, Carlos Baerga and Sandy Alomar serve as shemozzles, through whose misfortune the Twins advance.

So if this is going to be a real remake, you need a sort of smiling devil position player who exudes cool and a starting pitcher who’s as intimidating as Randy Johnson who can make the surprise relief appearance. I think Mike Trout would be perfect in the Griffey role for both his reputation and his smile, but the two badguys have to be on the same team and C.J. Wilson coming out of the bullpen isn’t quite as intimidating.

The Tigers would be interesting, because you could use Verlander or Scherzer–though both seem like really nice guys and neither generates the kind of fear and awe Randy Johnson did, but the real problem is Miguel Cabrera. He could hit the home run, but does he make the game-saving defensive play? I think not. (Chase Utley and Roy Halladay would’ve been fantastic as a 2010 Griffey and Johnson, for what it’s worth.)

No. The answer is that you can’t use the Twins–it needs to be a National League team, because the pitcher/hitter combo that would work best is Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig. Give it a year or two and maybe you could work in Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen with the Pirates–Cutch fits the Griffey mold better than Puig, actually–but I like the added gravitas the Dodgers have. We’ve got to work on Puig’s English, because if he’s still using an interpreter to pick up girls at bars, he can’t very well banter with Lou Collins, can we?

Let’s replace Wally Joyner’s Royals with Joey Votto‘s Reds, so Lou Collins gets the meaningless single and he banters with Votto, who’s one of a select few National League first basemen who 1) have any personality whatsoever and 2) play for a team with a sense of humor. Imagine if Paul Goldschmidt wanted to have a cameo in Little Big League 2–the Diamondbacks would shut that down and Miguel Montero would go desecrate Jason Robards’ grave. That’s three.

Beyond that, I’d love to see the role of the Indians–whom the Twins beat in four straight to force the one-game playoff against Seattle–taken over by the San Francisco Giants. Having Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval hamming it up onscreen would be great.

So….Puig, Kershaw, Votto and two of Lincecum, Pence, Posey and Sandoval. That’s my five MLB players for Little Big League 2: Medium-Sized Big League.

That’s also it for this week’s Crash Bag. Have a pleasant weekend and GO USA.


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