Brandon Moss Wouldn’t Have Made A Difference for the Phillies

On Thursday, Ken Rosenthal wrote a column about Oakland Athletics 1B/OF Brandon Moss, who is having another fantastic season. Before joining the A’s before the 2012 season, Moss had jumped around several organizations, spending a majority of his time in the minor leagues. Through 2010, he had posted a .688 OPS in 743 plate appearances in the big leagues despite comparatively better success at Triple-A — he finished with an .834 and .874 OPS with the Pawtucket Red Sox in 2007-08.

Moss was involved in a three-team trade in July 2008, moving from the Red Sox to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He again failed to make an impact at the big league level, and left the Pirates as a free agent after the 2010 season. He joined the Phillies and started the 2011 season with Lehigh Valley. There, he posted an .877 OPS with 23 home runs. The Phillies, in need of a left-handed bat off the bench, opted for John Bowker over Moss. Moss did come up late in September, but went hitless in six plate appearances. After the season, Moss debated re-signing with the Phillies, but eventually signed with the Athletics on a minor league deal. The rest, as they say, is history.

Moss sure would look nice in a Phillies uniform right now in the middle of the lineup. Rather than have MLB odds of making the playoffs at a lousy three percent, they could be at or near the top of the NL East with 50 percent odds.

According to Rosenthal, Moss is still a bit perturbed that the Phillies passed him over:

“Philly had kind of showed me what they thought of me when they were looking for a left-handed bench bat late in the year,” Moss recalls. “I had been having a pretty good year at Triple A for them. And they went outside the organization and got another guy. Things like that are when you see what teams think of you. You see where you stand. I read the writing on the wall.”

[...]

That off-season, as a minor league free agent, Moss’ choice came down to the Phillies and Athletics. He was still upset with the Phillies, mind you. But he nearly re-signed with them, anyway.

“I knew they knew who I was, knew how I played,” Moss says. “It’s always good to be in a place that at least knows what you’re capable of doing. But at the same time, when I found out Oakland had interest, I just felt like it was a good fit.

“The things I do as a hitter are things that they valued. Batting average was not the end-all, be-all of things. They look at numbers outside of that, numbers that usually are in line with what I do well. I thought if I could go show what I was capable of doing, there might be an opportunity to earn some sort of spot. And if not, at least I knew I would be in the PCL (Pacific Coast League).

Moss has become one of baseball’s elite power hitters. In 1,032 plate appearances with the Athletics, he has a .906 OPS with 66 home runs. He has the tenth-best weighted on-base average in baseball at .401, tied with Mike Trout. That sure would look nice on the Phillies, wouldn’t it?

Unfortunately, there was no chance that Moss would have gotten the playing time necessary to show the Phillies what he is capable of doing. The National League doesn’t have the DH rule, so that’s one less spot for him. Then there’s Ryan Howard at first base who is also left-handed, owed a lot of money, and at the time was not nearly as bad offensively as he is now. The Phillies had Hunter Pence in right field who wasn’t being displaced, and Raul Ibanez in left field who was an established player on a World Series contender. There was no chance Moss would displace Ibanez.

So where was Moss going to play? John Bowker took all of 13 trips to the plate, so maybe Moss would have had 19 PA’s instead of six. Still not nearly enough to convince the Phillies he was ready to turn the corner on his previously mediocre performance at the big league level.

The Jason Grilli situation was similar. After leaving the Phillies organization following the 2011 season, Grilli joined the Pittsburgh Pirates and eventually became their closer. Now in his fourth year with the club, the right-hander has posted a 2.78 ERA with 45 saves in 155 1/3 innings. But the Phillies had no room in the bullpen for him.

It stinks that Moss and Grilli have gone on to enjoy such great success with other clubs, but the Phillies were not in a position back then to gamble on minor league veterans with a very sketchy history. The club did nothing wrong in looking past them.

If you want a decision to get upset over, try this one: according to a report from Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle, the Phillies included Domingo Santana in the Hunter Pence trade with the Astros due to a clerical error:

Less than two months after they picked George Springer from the University of Connecticut, the Astros sent Pence and cash to the Phillies on July 29, 2011, for Cosart, Singleton, Zeid and a player to be named, which ended up being Santana. In spring training, a Phillies official admitted that Santana wasn’t actually supposed to be on the list that was given to the Astros to pick from to satisfy the final piece on Aug. 15, 2011.

Santana, a 6-foot-5, 224-pounder from the Dominican Republic, has usually been one of the youngest players at each minor-league level. He’s 21 now at OKC hitting .292 with nine home runs, 36 RBIs and an .858 OPS over 58 games. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s up in the majors this year.

GM Ruben Amaro denied that such a mistake was made, per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. Ortiz, however, is sticking to his report:

There are two possibilities here, and both are unappetizing:

  • Ortiz’s report is accurate, and the Phillies sent a fantastic prospect to the Astros due to a clumsy mistake
  • Amaro is correct about there not being a mistake, which means the Phillies intentionally sent Santana to the Astros. That means the Phillies A) overvalued Pence and B) did not correctly gauge Santana’s value

The Pence trade is bad enough without even considering Santana. There’s your player to retrospectively lament losing.

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23 comments

  1. SteveH

    June 09, 2014 09:50 AM

    The name Hunter Pence and the trades involving him will hunt the Phillies for 15+ years. I have always tried to understand how Carlos Beltran got the Mets Zack Wheeler and how Hunter Pence and his team controlled extra year got the Philles a damaged goods catcher, an outfield filler they didn’t even try to keep, a bag of balls, and a sweaty Bruce Bochy 2010 NLCS worn cap. Ruben Amaro Jr is actually what Bill talked about in his Phillies loyalty post. They are so loyal to him I think he could run public executions before home games behind second base at Citizens Bank Park and this team higher ups would defend his actions as part of how this organization runs its business. I love baseball and I love the Phillies but god these stories and maneuvers really really hurt my baseball soul. If I were the core guys like Utley, Rollins, Lee, Hamels, Howard I would want out. There is seriously no place that any of them could go that could also afford their salaries that would be any worse then the RAJ run Phillies.

  2. tom b

    June 09, 2014 10:06 AM

    being that ibanez was having a lousy year and was replaced the next year i can’t really agree. they had room for russ gload,but i forgot this is amaro making the calls. and as far as no room in the bullpen, well i guess as long as you don’t want to eat one of your lousy contracts and cut come ballast loose technically maybe there was no room. honestly there was a lot of crap in that bullpen

    • Bill Baer

      June 09, 2014 10:12 AM

      From the Grilli article:

      Ryan Madson: 60.2 IP, 2.37 ERA
      Antonio Bastardo: 58.0 IP, 2.64 ERA
      David Herndon: 57.0 IP, 3.32 ERA
      Michael Stutes: 62.0 IP, 3.63 ERA

      What high-leverage innings was Grilli going to pitch in? He would’ve been a non-factor replacing someone like Michael Schwimer or Danys Baez.

      • tonycpsu

        June 09, 2014 10:18 AM

        Yeah, people forget how good our bullpen was during that stretch. I think everyone knew Herndon was a flash in the pan, but Stutes really looked like he had something before his injury issues, and Madson and Bastardo were both peaking at the same time. Oh, to have just one guy other than Papelbon with that kind of reliable performance in the bullpen right now.

      • Bob

        June 09, 2014 10:56 AM

        Grilli would’ve been looked at to take the place of either Stutes or Herndon. Looking at xFIP, Grilli had a 3.54 in 2011 and less than 3 three in the two subsequent years. Stutes and Herndon were both over 4.

        Grilli posted a 3.05 SIERA in 2011 as compared to a 3.69 for Stutes and 3.86 for Herndon. The difference is not insignificant. His K% was about 4% higher than Stutes. Herndon was much further off the pace. All of their walk rates were about 10%.

        Stutes and Grilli had about the same WHIP with Grilli coming out slightly ahead. Herndon’s was the highest. Stutes had the lowest BABIP at .256 in 2011, which is surprising because he was terrible at inducing GB. His GB% was 33% whereas Grilli was at 45% and Herndon led the way with a pretty cool 57% in 2011. Grilli has since come to earth in later seasons with only about a 30% GB rate, which is scary.

        All things considered, Grilli was a better option than either Stutes or Herndon in 2011 and moving forward. But Herndon’s GB% is worth a longer look.

        With the influx of data and statistical analysis as well as changes to the draft and international signings, games are even more decided by slight advantages on the margins. The Phillies have failed to identify where they can exploit these small differences like letting Moss walk who would’ve been a bench upgrade over Bowker. But when small differences add up over the course of a season, this could mean the difference in making the playoffs with the expanded wildcard format.

      • tom b

        June 09, 2014 11:17 AM

        yes but you would have grilli the next few years. what has stutes and herndon and madsen done lately. not saying they needed him so much at that moment but there are future years to think about. imo that is a big problem with the phils, no forward thinking

      • lorecore

        June 12, 2014 09:32 AM

        in 2014, Bill Baer just made a point by solely using Reliever’s ERA in ~50IP samples. Remember this.

  3. tonycpsu

    June 09, 2014 10:16 AM

    Even if Moss had stuck around after 2011, we were trying to find a spot for Domonic Brown in the outfield at that time, and I don’t think people would have taken too kindly to a guy like Moss getting regular ABs ahead of a top-5 MLB prospect. For every one of these Moss or Grilli situations, there are dozens and dozens of guys who wash out and never earn a regular MLB roster spot. There’s plenty to criticize RAJ about without making shit up based on the fact that one or two lottery tickets panned out after they left the organization.

    • whatmighthavebeen

      June 09, 2014 11:03 AM

      Despite a lack of obvious room, they failed miserably at evaluating the talent on hand. Phillies’ scouts/coaches/etc. got to see 500+ Moss ABs in 2011 and didn’t recognize what they had. This wasn’t an injury situation (e.g., Dodgers and Werth). They had a former prospect for a year and he had a good one! If they miss on someone they can touch and feel over an extended period of time, how can we expect them to have any success in the draft, trades or free agency?

      Oh.

    • tom b

      June 09, 2014 11:21 AM

      yes and the phils sign most of those guys, oh by the way how is that dom brown thing working out for ou

  4. Andrew R.

    June 09, 2014 11:26 AM

    “…but the Phillies were not in a position back then to gamble on minor league veterans with a very sketchy history. The club did nothing wrong in looking past them”

    Michael. Martinez.

  5. tom b

    June 09, 2014 11:28 AM

    bill, i understand they would have to sign grilli, but i believe he has cost the pirates less than 8 million for 3 yrs. really my gripe with the phils isn’t over a couple of missed opportunities, just the seemingly inept leadership in general. i haven’t heard any good things said about the organization by anyone but a few diehard fans

  6. SteveH

    June 09, 2014 12:30 PM

    I don’t mind the Moss thing simply because he is a position player that would’ve has no position with the team at the time. The Grilli thing is annoying because what do we all say around playoff time. “You can never have too much pitching.” They could’ve easily swapped him with Schwimmer and seen is he could’ve helped in the Majors. No guarantees he could’ve but I feel like Bill had a post stating his AAA numbers were good which would’ve made the gamble worth while.

  7. Chris S.

    June 09, 2014 12:43 PM

    I hated that Hunter Pence trade when it happened cause of Singleton alone, but then when Santana was announced as part of the trade I was outraged. Now that I know it is a clerical error that we don’t have Santana anymore I am even more upset about the trade for Pence. Santana could have been a corner stone on this team for years to come with J.P. Crawford!

  8. Major Malfunction

    June 09, 2014 01:24 PM

    There are two possibilities here, and both are unappetizing:

    1. RAJ and administrative staff are incompetent

    2. RAJ and talent staff are incompetent

    Won’t admit to #1 for it makes them look stupid. Won’t admit to #2 for it makes them look stupid.

    The real outcome for BOTH situations is that all involved should be severely disciplined up to and including firing. But instead, the Phillies have the same incompetent bunch pulling the strings and building the future World Series champions.

  9. SteveH

    June 09, 2014 02:48 PM

    Does anyone else find it as funny as I do that at the end of the day Ed Wade looks like he got one over on the Phillies with the Pence deal?

    • Bob

      June 09, 2014 03:26 PM

      The problem with the Pence deal is that the Phillies then traded him for nothing. Last year, he put up 5.4 WAR, which was good for 19th best in baseball and 8th best in the NL for position players. Our RF put up -2.9 WAR in 2013 – the worst in baseball and one of only five teams league-wide to post a negative WAR in RF in 2013. This year he’s at 1.9 WAR and Byrd is at 0.6.

      The players we got back have produced a grand total of 1.8 WAR in the majors since the trade (Rosin = .1, Joseph = 0, and Schierholtz = 1.7), which is less than Pence has put up in 2014 so far. That’s bad.

      For a team with a supposed win-now mentality, dealing someone who can give you wins today for future wins is illogical unless you plan to either replace those wins at lower cost or increase wins through the allocation on the market of resources saved.

      The Phillies did not have a plan to add Pence’s wins from a different source as evidenced by their patchwork RF in 2013. There’s no conceivable way that Delmon Young, whose highest WAR ever was 1.6 could replace Pence. Discussing Adams, Durbin, Lannan, etc. isn’t even worth the time because it’s obvious the money saved on Pence was not reallocated in free agency. The Phillies trade of Pence was purely a salary dump to come under the luxury tax because Amaro (1) thought that the return of Howard, Halladay, etc. from injury would generate enough WAR to get us to the playoffs or (2) didn’t care about wasting his resources thinking that the market would bear a serviceable replacement at lower cost. Either way, this was a huge blunder.

  10. awh™

    June 09, 2014 02:52 PM

    Bill, things your post is missing:

    One, the 2011 Phillies were cruising to a division title, and they could have given Moss more of a look while resting Howard in September, who was playing on a bad tendn that eventually tore..

    Two, while it’s easy to say “there’s no place on the Phillies for Moss today”, he sure would have looked good in a Phillies uni in 2012 when Howard was recovering from surgery (after his first 15 PA his OPS never dropped below .810). That would have brought two benefits, the first one being that it would have allowed them to rehab Howard as long as he needed, and the second, he could have served as a trade piece to get something of value back before the 2012 deadline.

    Three, Moss, if he were still in the Phillies org, would not be blocked by Ryan Howard. He would be blocked by Ryan Howard’s CONTRACT! At this point in time he looks to be the younger and superior player, and I say that from the standpoint of Howard being my favorite of the Phillies.

    The fact is he was upset because he was passed over for a guy who wasn’t even in the organization – and THAT – despite your defense of the FO – was a major fail in talent evaluation by the Phillies scouts.

    Blocked or not blocked, Howard or Gload or Bowker, there really is no other explanation.

  11. Cutter McCool

    June 11, 2014 08:52 AM

    What all this adds up to is–they need to fire Rueben Amaro (already) before tis season is over. Preferably yesterday.

  12. lorecore

    June 12, 2014 09:25 AM

    Disagree strongly. The Phillies acquired Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton, and Jim Thome in the 2012 offseason, knowing that Howard had a long term injury. Moss would have been the perfect fit, especially coming off the AAA season he just put up for them. Even if they didn’t give him a fulltime gig, he still could have been the platoon 1B for the majority of 2012. That season might have had a better outcome if his PA were there instead of Wigginton/Nix/and the rest of the trash that played 1B that season.

    Also, did you just say the Phillies had NO ROOM IN THEIR BULLPEN? You are a lunatic. Before releasing Grilli, they were recalling Andrew Carpenter, Mike Zagurksi, and Joe Savery over him! Not to mention keeping David Herndon and Danys Baez on the roster.

    • Mike Lacy

      June 13, 2014 01:14 PM

      Except Moss left before the 2012 season because he chose the A’s over the Phillies. Maybe if he had come back, Nix and the rest wouldn’t have happened.

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