There Are 41 Games Left, and the Phillies Need Information

Tonight, the Phillies open up a three-game series against the Giants in San Francisco. With a 53-68 record and 11 games out of the second wild card, the season is realistically over and has been for quite some time.

The journey that has left them 15 games under .500 hasn’t been entirely fruitless, however. The Phillies learned a lot about some players: Domonic Brown still needs work, Ryan Howard is over the hill, Ken Giles is pretty good, and the bullpen in general has the potential to be great. That’s vaguely-stated, but those are some of the overarching themes the Phillies will take with them into the off-season, when there will be plenty of roster turnover.

Kyle Kendrick will become a free agent. Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, John Mayberry, and Antonio Bastardo may be traded. It’s possible that the Phillies will begin to fill in their new roster starting with a rotation led by David Buchanan and a bullpen with Giles at the back end, and with Jake Diekman and/or Justin De Fratus in the set-up roles. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins could each change their minds about refusing to waive their 10-and-5 rights as well, which would leave the Phillies with a starting lineup that includes Carlos Ruiz, Howard, Cody Asche, Brown, and Ben Revere.

So what about that future? We’ll likely see some of it in September, as Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis could rejoin the team (Galvis could even return sooner, perhaps later this month). 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola may be given a chance to win a rotation spot out of spring training. Jesse Biddle is back with Double-A Reading after a mental and physical break, and could go to Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the first time in his professional career next season. 19-year-old shortstop J.P. Crawford could begin next season with Reading.

We know who’s likely out, and who’s likely in, and where many of the question marks remain. As a result, the Phillies’ job between now and the end of the regular season is to attempt to answer as many of those questions as possible by obtaining information. The Phillies obtain that information by, well, watching the players. Here are some of those questions:

  • What, exactly, is Darin Ruf? Can he handle major league pitching — from both sides — on a regular basis, or will he eventually be relegated to a bench role? The only way to find out is to play him. Thus, between now and the end of the season, Ruf should be getting most of the playing time at first base regardless of match-ups.
  • Is Maikel Franco ready? Franco started the 2014 season, his first ever at Triple-A, slowly but has caught on lately, posting a .798 OPS with five doubles and five home runs in 109 plate appearances since the All-Star break. Bringing him up in September for an up close and personal look will give the Phillies around 100-125 plate appearances to see what he can do against big league pitching, and how he handles third base defensively.
  • Where does Cody Asche fit in? If the Phillies truly believe Franco is their third baseman of the future, then Asche will have to find another position (outfield was briefly discussed), accept a bench role, or the Phillies will have to consider moving him. If the Phillies consider Asche to be of importance, then Franco has to slide across the diamond to first base, which will nudge out Ruf. And unless the Phillies think Ruf can hit and play a passable outfield, he is the odd man out. Two of the three should be getting a lot of playing time over the final 41 games which will help the Phillies make this decision.
  • What about Freddy Galvis? Galvis missed two months with a fractured clavicle. Since returning to Triple-A, Galvis has slashed .289/.337/.526 with 16 extra-base hits in 106 plate appearances. Obviously, there’s no room for him at first base, and both second base and shortstop are usurped by 10-and-5ers Utley and Rollins. Getting Galvis playing time is of much less importance than it is for Franco and Ruf, so he can serve in a super-utility role through the end of the season. Even if Galvis is horrible, he should still wind up with a bench role to start next season, but some information is still better than no information. The same goes for Cesar Hernandez. As a result, we should see Andres Blanco and Reid Brignac leave to create roster space for the duo.
  • Can Dom Brown figure it out? Brown started each of the last two games after getting more or less two weeks off following a battle with strep throat. Ruf and Grady Sizemore got the playing time in left field in Brown’s place. Sizemore has absolutely no long-term future with the Phillies, so he should be reduced to a bench role over the final 41 games, and Brown should start as much as possible. Lots of people seem to have their minds made up about Brown — just as they did about Pat Burrell after 2003 — but it hurts no one to give Brown the rest of the season to see if he can’t make some kind of positive stride. He turns 27 in September and can still be a very productive member of the Phillies once they get back into contending shape a couple seasons from now. There are zero reasons to close the book on him.

There are a few less pressing questions as well, such as Jake Diekman’s ability to handle right-handed hitters, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez‘s potential, and Cole Hamels’ ability to stay healthy (he continues to be, by far, the most overworked pitcher in baseball). Ultimately, the rest of the season is a freeroll and the Phillies can choose to use it in a responsible and productive way, or they can continue to stay the course and try to eke out as many meaningless wins as possible.

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36 comments

  1. crow

    August 15, 2014 08:50 AM

    Well, I don’t understand “Ruf should be getting most of the playing time at first base” and “then Franco has to slide across the diamond to first base.” Nothing has changed as far as I can see about the 1st base situation. Ryan Howard is untradeable, he is not going to be released, and neither Sandberg nor anyone else is going to sit his $25M a year to play a guy making a $1/2M. Pretending things are otherwise won’t make them so. Ruf is still a guy without a position as a starter and Asche has done nothing with a bat to justify consideration as an outfielder. Bah!

    • wooddt

      August 15, 2014 09:22 AM

      But isn’t that the Sunk Cost Fallacy? Yes, no team will take Howard’s $25M/Year, that doesn’t mean you play him just because he is getting paid that. You’ve spent it, you know what it’s worth and there’s no getting that $ back. You are better off finding the value for the future. While it’s painful for Sandberg, RAJ, the Phillies and the fans to sit Howard while paying that money it’s the most practical decision.

      • crow

        August 15, 2014 12:11 PM

        I wouldn’t argue that at all. It’s just not going to happen.

    • hk

      August 15, 2014 02:38 PM

      Crow,

      I’m not sure whether they are ready to cut Howard loose or not, but maybe if Ruf shows that he can hit RHP’s and LHP’s and handle 1B, it will push them in that direction. Another benefit of Ruf showing that he can play is that maybe he’ll net them something in a trade. Regardless, they should be giving Ruf the great majority of the playing time at 1B until this miserable season comes to an end.

      • Bob

        August 15, 2014 02:49 PM

        I don~t think that crow is saying that playing Ruf shouldn~t happen or that it~s not the best, forward-thinking course. He~s saying that he has no faith that the Phillies management would endorse a plan to sit Howard who they~re paying 25mm in favor of Ruf who RAJ has previously said that he isn~t high on.

        Personally, I believe the Phillies should sit Howard in favor of Ruf, but I have no illusions that the Phils management would consider this. As misguided as it may be, I think they look at Howards HR total and RBIs and think he is having a productive season.

      • Greg

        August 15, 2014 09:46 PM

        I think even if Ruf just rakes against RHP, Billy Beane may come calling….

    • Roger Freed

      August 16, 2014 02:26 AM

      What’s wrong with this line for a cleanup hitter?

      R Howard 1B 4 0 0 1 0 3 15 .217 .298 .370

  2. hhoran

    August 15, 2014 11:26 AM

    In light of the Ryan Howard sunk cost problem, the options aren’t limited to “pay him $25m to play first base everyday” and “pay him $25m to play golf”–there’s something in between. Isn’t one of the key questions whether he can provide anything useful in role where he has a defined role but doesn’t play everyday? Can Howard handle such a role or will his pride/ego cause his production to fall even further? One plausible inference from the Phillies actual behavior is that they think he won’t be able to handle it, and however bad is current production is, it would get worse and wouln’t be offset by the playing time made available to Ruf or others. But they’ve never really tried it, and if these 41 games would be the ideal time to find out for sure.

    • Andrew R.

      August 15, 2014 11:48 AM

      Ahhh like johnny Mize? I agree with that a little bit. But I’m also ok if Howard finishes the year as a first baseman, with the understanding that this is his last season here. Maybe he has an ounce of trade value to someone, if we eat enough money. So if he plays for that purpose, let him go out and play. He’s a traditional second half performer, so maybe a hot end could wind up with him being traded. If there are no takers, give him the axe and commit to ruf for next year. What’s 6 weeks, really?

      • Greg

        August 15, 2014 09:48 PM

        Heck, if the Giants were willing to try out Uggla…
        Sure, he was released, but still… Bochy’s never seemed to be in love with Brandon Belt. If the phils could get the Giants to eat ANY of that contract, it’d be a win.

  3. bigred

    August 15, 2014 12:53 PM

    I would like to see :
    CF:revere
    SS:JRoll
    2B:Utley
    1B:Franco
    C:Chooch
    LF:Dom
    RF:Asche/Ruf
    3B:Galvis
    From here on out.

    • bigred

      August 15, 2014 12:58 PM

      I could be talked into cameron rupp at catcher too. and galvis at third would be just fun to watch his glove work..it would be like Baltimores Machado, except without you know, being able to hit.

    • Bob

      August 15, 2014 04:48 PM

      What people are failing to realize is that….

      1. Moving Franco from third to first severely decreases his value as a hitter. He is not a 35/40 HR guy. But if he can hit .270-25-80, that value is better at third than first.

      2. We are not competing for anything until at least 2017, maybe 2018-2019 if we trade Hamels, so there is no rush moving guys all around. Play Howard until we have a better alternative (and trust me Ruf is not the future).

      3. Going on with Ruf. He is and has the look of a .220 hitter who strikes out a higher rate than Howard. But he is perfect to come off the bench as a pinch hitter. Play the occasional game against lefties. Maybe fill in for a pinch….

      The future is Crawford at SS, Franco at 3rd, Quinn in CF. Hopefully Hamels, Biddle, and Nola in the rotation. Let Lees, Howard, Utley, Rollins, Ruiz, Burnett, Byrds contracts get off the books, then work with whatever money a smart GM has to work with.

      • Bob

        August 15, 2014 05:29 PM

        What makes u think Quinn is the future? He has a .315 wOBA in A ball and is striking out at 20% rate. Ben Revere had a .350 wOBA in A Ball and never struck out that much. I’m not saying Quinn can’t make it to the majors or is without talent. But he still has a long way to go to be an MLB player.

      • Roger Freed

        August 16, 2014 02:21 AM

        Sounds too logical. Try again.

  4. Steve Kusheloff

    August 15, 2014 01:52 PM

    Plenty of roster turnover? Why? Before the trade deadline we were told the Phillies would look very different after the trade deadline. Nothing happened. This team is overseen by a General Manager who has no idea about building a ball club, other than going out and signing the biggest name on the market – Halladay, Lee, Pence, Papelbon. So don’t expect the few prospects in the organization, e.g., Franco, Biddle, to have much of an impact anytime soon. Instead, expect another season of Rollins, Utley, Howard, and a bunch of 35-year old journeymen.

    • Roger Freed

      August 16, 2014 02:19 AM

      Well they have to put people in the stands, don’t you know.

    • Sweetwied

      August 16, 2014 07:20 AM

      Total agreement…….will feel like Ground Hog Day

  5. Adam

    August 15, 2014 03:19 PM

    What are the changes Kelly Dugan gets some time with the club this September? He’s been hitting very well at AA since he came back from his injury while showing the patience (albeit not the power) that alluded him in Reading at the end of last season.

  6. George Callanan

    August 15, 2014 06:12 PM

    top 10 bums- #10 Steve Henderson,#9-Bowa,#8-Sandberg,#7-AJBurnett,#6-Montgomery,#5-Brown,#4-Bistardo,#3-Howard,#2-KK,#1-RAJ. The good news we have the Taney Dragons!

  7. Greg

    August 15, 2014 09:39 PM

    Fool, the Phillies don’t need your nerdy “information”! They rely on gut and feel!

    • George Callanan

      August 16, 2014 11:52 AM

      Explain gut and feel?

      • Dan K.

        August 16, 2014 03:04 PM

        It’s sort of like sarcasm.

      • George Callanan

        August 16, 2014 08:36 PM

        Now the phillies are getting their information from this site Fool?

  8. Ali

    August 15, 2014 09:39 PM

    This article contradicts itself in too many places. Ruf/Howard, Franco/Howard, saying there’s no room for Galvis at first??

    And to play D Brown like he has something left, but say Sizemore has no future??!! Which one has actually has had the better career and will contribute the most next year?

    • Hey

      August 16, 2014 05:21 PM

      Dom is under control for a while, on the cheap. Sizemore is a rental. It would be great if we could trade Byrd resign Sizemore though. Then trade Sizemore next year and make room for Dugan.

  9. Roger Freed

    August 16, 2014 02:15 AM

    How ’bout those Phightin’ Phillies!

    • Roger Freed

      August 16, 2014 02:18 AM

      Expect the expected. Let the water carriers — the guys who are actually producing and trying to be professional — go, and keep the dead weight.
      Take your pick of examples from the past six years.

  10. Joe

    August 16, 2014 10:16 AM

    What’s wrong with playing Sizemore? We may have found something in the trash. He is not too old. If he continues to play well you can possibly trade him,but if he keeps playing well and outfield of revere, Sizemore, and brown/ruf platoon is what I would like to see. See if ruf or brown can get going that way. Still have a younger veteran out there in Sizemore

    • Brian

      August 17, 2014 08:46 PM

      Sizemore’s an FA at year’s end, and is almost certain to leave the Phillies for greener pastures. No reason to play him over Ruff at this point.

  11. George Callanan

    August 16, 2014 09:18 PM

    The Giants are considering Howard and Billy Beane is looking at Ruf…..Sure.

  12. JRVJ

    August 17, 2014 02:40 PM

    Frankly, a lot of things start with the Phillies biting the bullet on Ryan Howard.

    Me, I’d DFA him (or trade him to some AL team if it means even saving a $1MM total), leave Asche at 3rd and play Franco at 1B.

    There’s a SMALL chance of upside with Asche and Franco on the field, but there’s a higher chance of ONE of the two amounting to something (phrased differently, don’t get rid of Asche and push Franco to 3rd just because of the huge contractual commitments to Ryan Howard).

    • ASK

      August 18, 2014 07:02 AM

      I agree, but at this point I would wait until after the season and take one last chance at trading him. At that point, maybe they can save a few million dollars by trading him and most of the remaining money on his contract to a low budget AL team (KC and TB come to mind) that would take a chance on Howard being a productive platoon DH. If the Phils pay ~$56M of the $60M he’s owed, I would think there’s a GM out there who would pay him ~$2M per year to find out whether this year’s performance vs. RHP’s is a fluke. If not, they should release him.

      If this is the front office’s plan, they should also immediately install Darin Ruf as the every day 1B to (a) learn whether they think he can handle the job until they find someone better and/or (b) maybe drum up some trade interest in him. If he can’t handle the job, they’ve at least gained something…the knowledge that he can’t handle the job.

      • ASK

        August 18, 2014 07:06 AM

        Addendum: I agree that it’s time to bite the bullet on Howard. However, I don’t agree that they should move Franco to 1B. As one of the dueling Bob’s mentioned above, moving Franco to 1B immediately devalues him. As a 1B, his bat looks to make him a mediocre prospect at best. As a 3B, if he can handle it defensively, he brings a lot more to the table. If both Asche and Franco project to being everyday 3B’s, what to do with them would be a good problem for the Phils to have. Intentionally devaluing a 21 year old makes no sense.

  13. Renmiked

    August 17, 2014 07:42 PM

    The only thing I disagree with is that Dom could be “a very productive player” at any point. I agree they should play him to see what he is but at this point, it seems, the best hope is for him to be average. His defense will hold him down, even if he rebounds offensively and it just seems the likelyhood of him “finding it” is remote.

    • ASK

      August 18, 2014 06:54 AM

      Yes, but an average player while he is cost-controlled is very productive. The successful teams are often those that can get average performance from their players who make < $3M of salary. Just think about how much better the Phils would have over the past few years if they had been able to get 2 WAR rather than negative WAR from the positions filled by the likes of Ty Wigginton, Delmon and Michael Young, Laynce and Jayson Nix, John Lannan, etc.

      Now, I'm not suggesting that Dom will ever be a 2 WAR player, but he is only one year removed from a 1.7 WAR season. He also seemed to be getting it together in July before strep throat seems to have put him back in his pre-July ways. The point being that Grady Sizemore had a fluky BABIP-induced good first month here, but continuing to give him playing time at Dom's expense is and will continue to be foolish.

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