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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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  1. Romus

    February 15, 2016 08:07 AM

    “…..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, ……….. 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.”

    Which then begs the question…….why do 90% of all large market teams, sans Phillies, CWS and Mets (Wilpon/Madoff ill-factor), decide to go that route, along with 4/5 smaller market teams?.

    • Steve

      February 15, 2016 09:17 AM

      If your farm system is not barren, then you can afford to go with quality over quanity. Especially when you are talking about Moncada like levels of quality. Im not sure its the best strategy, but its not much different than throwing 200 milliin dollars ar a FA, knowing it will handicap your ability to sign future FAs.

      • Romus

        February 15, 2016 09:52 AM

        I can understand that. However, most teams thjat are penalized….the Cuba, Yankees, Rangers , LADs et al…..still go for quality AND quantity. The Dodgers appear to want to buy the island of Cuba.
        And the kicker in all this……these GMs are so ingenious, they saw a loop-hole in the MLB restrictive policies and pounced on it. These teams still get their international money pool allocation depending on where they finish in the previous year standings…..and ilo of wasting it under the $300K penalized restriction, MLB allows them to trade ‘monies’ to teams who want it AND in return for that surplus monies, they get prospects in return, ie D-Backs and Phillies trade last year….Phillies get to sign Jhailyn Ortiz with the extra cash, and D-Backs get RHP Chris Oliver and LHP Josh Taylor.
        I find it astounding how MLB decides to legitimize amateur player acquisition…the lifeline of their sport.

    • Bob

      February 15, 2016 10:37 AM

      I agree with Romus. The issue is not that the Phillies are not spending their slot money. The issue is more than a few teams have gone over the threshold and snatched up quality and quantity. The Phillies haven’t done that.

      And I think the international question is a bit bigger than Latin players. Their is some talent coming out of Japan and Korea that we haven’t been in on.

      • Eddie

        February 15, 2016 11:47 AM

        The guys coming from Asia are midcareer guys. Not a fit for a rebuilding club.

      • Bob

        February 15, 2016 12:46 PM

        Kang was ok. I would’ve taken a chance on Maeda. They’re both 27-28ish. I don’t think that’s too old to give a look. Hernadez and Galvis are 25-26ish, so about a year younger. It’s pretty close. Hellickson is 28 and Morton is 22.

    • Eddie

      February 15, 2016 11:45 AM

      In fairness, this is not some longstanding practice. The Rangers basically invented it three years ago, and its only been the last two years that teams have started doing it. Were I running the team, I wouldn’t have gone over last year either; better to wait till this year when so many of the big players are blocked out.

      That said … they probably aren’t busting over this year.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      February 15, 2016 01:40 PM

      I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you don’t have support for your 90% claim. Also, you used the White Sox as an example of a team that doesn’t go for it, despite the fact they gave $68 million to Jose Abreu.

      • Bob

        February 15, 2016 02:25 PM

        I’m unsure of who Romus is characterizing as big market clubs, but I think Romus is referring to:

        Red Sox

        Those are the top five most valuable teams in MLB and they all went over the pool. There were smaller market clubs who went over too, e.g. Rays and Royals.

        I think Romus’ was just referring to going over the international signing bonus thresholds. Abreu was not subject to that, so Romus wasn’t including that in his discussion.

      • Romus

        February 15, 2016 03:41 PM

        First…lets begin with what teams are considered large market teams and also, as a side note, beginning next year, a new provision to the CBA will prevent larger-market teams from receiving revenue-sharing money. Anyway, the list includes the teams in New York (Mets and Yankees), Los Angeles (Dodgers and Angels) and Chicago (Cubbies and White Sox) as well as the Astros, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants,(not the A’s for some reason) Texas Rangers and Washington Nationals….so that comes to 14 teams considered large market team and doing the math that would leave 16 teams as non-large market teams…or small market.
        Now like I said…the Mets ,White Sox and Phillies were the three large market teams that I was aware of that have never been in the penalty restriction phase since they never went over the cap. Abreu does not count since he was over 23 years old when he signed with the CWS….and does not count vs the international cap.
        Additionally, the two-year restrictions began in 2013.
        The teams that went over this since then have been……Yankees. Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, Red Sox, Jays, SF Giants, Rangers and small market teams like Rays, Royals, and D-Backs to name a few.
        For this signing period there will best……at least 10 teams that won’t be allowed to sign pool-eligible players for more than $300,000, with five clubs from last year (the Angels, Diamondbacks, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees) that will be in their second year of penalties and five new teams going over this year.
        I stand corrected on that 90% calculations of large market teams.
        Should have said, currently .8 of the 11 (sans Phillies, CWS and Mets) have went over and been penalized, and this year as reported by Ben Badler…..with two large market ,the Braves and Nats, teams expected to go over this year.
        So the percent should be 72% prior to July 2nd 2016, and possibly 90% thereafter.

  2. Pete

    February 16, 2016 01:29 AM

    …”diversity for diversity’s sake” turns human arrangements into an exercise akin to flower arrangement.

    I hope and think there are better reasons for diversity than it-sure-looks-nice. (Sorry if I’m oversimplifying your meaning.)

    • Adam Dembowitz

      February 16, 2016 12:42 PM

      It was a bit of a buried critique, but all I’m saying is that we should be consciously and actively thinking about diversity when it comes to representation, because the world is full of people who are not white men.

  3. JustBob

    February 17, 2016 03:51 AM

    We’ve been hearing the Phils are going to spend big in the international markets for 2+ years including the Phils being linked to numerous high-profile players.

    Well I’d bet they don’t bust their international bonus pool again this year while the Padres and especially the Braves go hog wild to enter into the penalty joining 13 or 14 teams total.

    Klentak said earlier this offseason the Phils planned to add no additional scouting reports to the international ranks while the Phils still continue to have no full-time presence in Asia. They badly lag a number of other teams in that capacity.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      February 17, 2016 12:03 PM

      Why should they bust their pool when it would restrict them from signing anyone above $300,000 for two years?

      • Matt

        February 19, 2016 12:16 PM

        Personally, I think it would be better to blow past their pool for multiple reasons. They have had much success in that under #300,000 range, so it wouldn’t exactly hamstring them totally. The Phils have plenty of players that could turn into average/slightly above average players. They need difference makers, and difference makers are generally at the top of the market.

        Matian, for example, is being compared to Miggy. Not saying he will reach that level, but for a large market team like the Phillies that has had success in the under $300K range, missing on a large bonus player would be more palatable, since they would potentially still be able to find a few hidden gems in that range.

        Blowing past their pool on July 2nd also gives them more freedom if/when a new prospect from Cuba comes along late that would require a very large bonus. If they are already passed their pool and don’t have to worry about breaking agreements with other players they plan to sign the following period, they may be more open to signing a Moncada-type player. If i remember correctly, the Braves were in on him, but already had a plan in place that they didn’t want to break, so they asked him to wait until the following period.

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