Crash Bag, Vol. 7 & 8: Dreams of 2017
When you haven’t had a Crashbag since Thanksgiving, the only thing better than one Crashbag is a double portion. Grab a snack, and let’s get into it right away.
@adamd243 if the Phillies young players develop this year, is Strasburg a logical target for the team?
— Llcooolg (@g_linwood) December 6, 2015
This winter’s free agent class was deep and talented. In a way, the timing of such a bumper crop of free agents was unfortunate given the Phillies’ development as an organization, but despite the (understandable) desire of fans for the team to spend big on recognizable names, there wasn’t really a long-term fit for the Phillies this winter. Even Jason Heyward would have been a bad signing, because despite Corinne and I openly campaigning for the Phillies to sign the gold glover, Heyward’s contract (opt-outs included) would not have been good for the team. After enduring years of terrible baseball and a drawn-out rebuilding process, it’s entirely reasonable to want a big splash to show that the team is ready to take the next step. I believe that is coming in November 2016.
The Phillies have so many young players now that even if some of them don’t develop as we’d like, there will be enough talent to form the core of the next great Phillies team. Maybe J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro, Roman Quinn, Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, and Jerad Eickhoff don’t all turn into stars, or even regulars. When that happens, there will be plenty of players left. In my opinion, it’s not a question of if for this Phillies team, but when. I’ve long maintained that the team will be ready to contend in 2017. What better way to make that dream a reality than signing the division rival Nationals’ onetime ace, Stephen Strasburg? The estimable Matt Winkelman has been driving the Strasburg train now for a while, and for good reason.
Strasburg is elite. He’s a strikeout machine. In his career, he’s struck out 28.7% of the batters he’s faced, and walked just 6.1% of them. Quick math, and … that’s a 22.6 K-BB%. Phillies fan favorite Cliff Lee, historically and famously stingy with the free passes, has a career K-BB% of 15.3. Obviously, anyone who’s been awake for the last ten years knows Cliff Lee wasn’t blessed with the God-given talent of Stephen Strasburg. What about Strasburg’s teammate Max Scherzer? He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, yes? 19.4%. Taking a quick look at the 2015 K-BB% leaderboard, and…
Where’s Strasburg? Ah, yes. Indeed. He didn’t pitch enough innings to qualify. Therein lies the story of Stephen Strasburg and why 2016 is such an important year for him. He’s got the stuff, but … yeah. He debuted in 2010, got hurt, missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery, and emerged in 2012 as the dominant ace he was always supposed to have been. The Nationals infamously shut down Strasburg in the home stretch of 2012. The next two seasons were healthy, full years for Strasburg, in which he accumulated 7.7 fWAR. Strasburg pitched just 127.1 innings last year, so naturally the questions about his ability to stay healthy persist heading into 2016. Is this the kind of pitcher the Phillies should give $250 million to for the 2017-2023 seasons? That’s what Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail need to figure out, if they haven’t already.
I want the team to go for it. Strasburg will be by far the best starting pitcher available in the 2016 offseason, when the Phillies will have an unseemly amount of money to spend and, judging from what we know at this point, an open spot at the top of the rotation for a True Ace. Back up the truck.
— Glenn Quagmire (@GlennQSpoonerSt) December 2, 2015
— Steven Cohn (@spcohn) December 8, 2015
These are separate, but related, questions. Glenn’s question is a bit loaded, as it presupposes that the Phillies are not spending internationally, even though all evidence points to the contrary. Let’s set aside for now that Glenn also presumes that the international market is the best place to procure young talent, which may be true if you use the word “buy” instead of “procure” to differentiate from the domestic amateur draft. I surmise that Glenn is really asking what Steven asked, which is, why didn’t the Phillies sign Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu or Yasmany Tomas or Hector Olivera or Yoan Moncada? First, to fully destroy Glenn’s premise (as I promised on Twitter I would do), the Phillies have been spending (and acquiring) quite a bit of money in the international free agent market. As Phillies prospect guru Matt Winkelman wrote last March, the Phillies spent more money internationally than all but six teams in 2014. In July 2015, the team signed 16-year-old Jhailyn Ortiz and gave him a $4 million bonus. At the time of his signing, the 6’2″, 260-pound Dominican first baseman was one of the top international prospects and was considered to have some of the best raw power in the class (if not the best). Also in July, the Phillies signed 16-year-old Venezuelan catcher Rafael Marchan, also a top international prospect. It’s important to note that the worse your major league team is, the more money you get to spend in the draft and the international market. So as the Phillies have been dreadful in recent years, they’ve also been in a position to outspend almost the entire league when it comes to acquiring amateur players.
Part of the international signing game is, much like free agency, teams biding their time and pooling their resources for when they feel the time is right for them to strike. If a team goes overboard and exceeds its allotted pool of signing money, there are significant consequences in subsequent signing periods. Here is a great summary of the process, courtesy of Baseball America’s Ben Badler. If a team spends more than 15% above its allotment, it cannot sign a player for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods (read: years). That’s a stiff penalty, taking a team out of the running on almost all of the best international prospects, and one only worth paying in the most unique of circumstances. So if you’re going to basically destroy your international signing ability for two years, you have to be pretty damn sure that you’re getting Jose Abreu and not Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
The Phillies are well-established as a scouting organization, and despite the snarky negative connotation that can have, it’s also one of the franchise’s great strengths. There was no way the Phillies were a fit for Abreu, a first baseman/DH destined for the American League, when they already had such a large contractual obligation to Ryan Howard. The team was burned by its signing of MAG, and was rightfully cautious about Tomas when scouts expressed concerns about his defense and physical conditioning. Those concerns were borne out in 2015, when Tomas showed very little in-game power and proved to be a poor fit for any position but an outfield corner. The Phillies are also known as a team that, for better or worse, makes players earn their spots on the big club. When you sign Yasmany Tomas to a six-year, $69 million deal, you’d better believe you’re playing him every day … unless you’re the Diamondbacks, in which case, shrug emoji.
The Phillies have been biding their time for the July 2, 2016 signing period and will make some serious noise in the international market this summer. With the Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and Yankees out of the way due to their exceeding their allotments already, and with the Phillies already holding the largest pool, the Phillies are in a strong position this year.
— Matt (@Halladay90) December 8, 2015
If the answer pool is limited to movies I saw in the theater, it’ll be a short list. Kevin Hart short. I have a kid and uh, well, we don’t get out much. However, I do love me some Netflix and Amazon video. Thanks to this question, I discovered you can browse your Netflix viewing history. Apparently, in 2015 I watched some decent stuff. In no particular order, the highlights were: Defiance, Stardust, Silver Linings Playbook, Hugo, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. But that’s not really what you wanted to hear. The three best movies I saw in 2015 were Ex Machina, The Good Dinosaur, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Ex Machina was a pleasant surprise, but only because of my lack of awareness of Inside Llewyn Davis. Oscar Isaac was tremendous (and also, clearly, incredibly handsome). Domhnall Gleeson held his own as the foil to a fantastic character. The premise and setting were both interesting and curious. For me it’s not the type of movie I need to see in the theater, so I was pleasantly surprised to have it offered for free on Amazon Prime.
The Good Dinosaur was, like so many children’s movies, constructed around the premise that one (or more) parent(s) dies or disappears. It’s a common trope for fairy tales and Disney movies alike, and while it’s a disturbing construction, it helps focus the narrative on the protagonist/child’s progression. The movie was well done, and my perception of the somewhat heightened level of violence is due to my being the parent of a two-year-old. My wife and I were very happy with this being our son’s first theater experience, he enjoyed it immensely, and I’ll be happy to buy a digital copy when it comes out later this month.
And now, for Star Wars. I saw it twice in the theater, first with my equally nerdy father-in-law, then two weeks later with my wife. My general reaction is that I liked the movie a lot, otherwise I wouldn’t have seen it twice, but I have a pretty big reservation that’s been noted by many others. Given 30 years to come up with a new Star Wars movie, I was hoping the plot line wouldn’t be, more or less, a reconstructed, regurgitated version of A New Hope. Nevertheless, I was really impressed and happy with the performances of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. Adam Driver was somewhat trapped with the whiny Skywalker male character complex, though I’m intrigued to see how he advances his story in the next two films in the series.
I think diversity for diversity’s sake is actually a good thing, considering that the overwhelming proportion of starring roles and directing duties go to white males. That’s not to say that I think Ridley or Boyega were handed anything: they clearly earned their roles. But I think, especially in the context of living in Los Angeles and having the industry be much more in my face than before I lived here, that there can only be good to come from intentionally focusing on better integrating women and people of color into major motion pictures. Given the three films above, Star Wars was my favorite.
@adamd243 true. Now, a Crashbag question: give the odds for players in the system who could reach Utley-levels of beloved was in Philly
— Ethan Witte (@ethan_witte) December 10, 2015
Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford are the obvious leaders here for me. I’m so excited for both players and am hopeful that beginning the moment Crawford gets the call to report to Philadelphia — whether in 2016 or 2017 — the Phillies will have the left side of their infield locked down for 10 years or more. Franco, the power-hitting, right-handed third baseman hitting in the middle of the order, and Crawford, the slick, speedy shortstop with All-Star chops on defense and at the plate. These are players to dream on, and if my optimism is clouding my judgement, so be it. I see the next Rollins/Utley type of dynamic productivity from these two. The City of Brotherly Love will fall for them, and fall hard.
This coming season is still going to be difficult to watch at times. We still have to watch Ryan Howard play, and even though Brett Oberholtzer isn’t Jerome Williams, he isn’t David Price either. Yet the time will soon be at hand when a late September game will have a hell of a lot more meaning than beating out the Reds for the worst record. Before you know it, J.P. Crawford and Maikel Franco will be battling through their third at-bats against Matt Harvey with a playoff spot on the line. If that doesn’t get you excited enough to watch one more year of sub-.500 baseball, I can’t help you.