Crashburn Roundtable: Grading the Phillies Offseason

With pitchers and catchers having reported this morning to the Phillies Spring Training Facility in Clearwater, Florida, there seems no better time to place some closure on the most recent offseason. We’ve already seen a number of attempts to grade MLB teams’ offseason pop up over the past couple days and the coming week should see many more such posts. In what follows, we, the writers at Crashburn Alley, enter our contributions to the Phillies offseason grade book.

What grade would you assign the Phillies offseason?

Adam Dembowitz: The Phillies are a year away from the 10-year anniversary of the unforgettable 2008 World Series title. For most of those 10 years, unfortunately, there’s been a ton of disappointing baseball on the field and heartbreaking stories off of it. Along the way, the best team in franchise history “only” got one ring, leaving a feeling of unfinished business. I’ve been aggressive over the last few years in projecting a borderline playoff contender in 2017 (as in, win more than 80 games and make some Wild Card noise) and I’m not sure how far off base that is considering the state of the roster going into Clearwater. Speaking of which, to the question at hand, a brief review of the Phillies’ offseason (in general order of importance):

-5-year contract extension for Odubel Herrera
-qualifying offer for Jeremy Hellickson
-signing Michael Saunders
-trade for Howie Kendrick
-trade for Clay Buchholz
-trade for Pat Neshek
-signing Joaquin Benoit
-signing Ryan Hanigan and Chris Coghlan
-signing Bryan Holaday, Daniel Nava, Pedro Florimon, Hector Gomez, Cesar Ramos, Sean Burnett, Pedro Beato
-trade for Mario Sanchez
-trade/release/DFA of Darin Ruf, Cody Asche, Severino Gonzalez, Michael Mariot, David Buchanan, Jimmy Cordero, Darnell Sweeney and others.

Well, damn. That’s some serious roster turnover, and it was sorely needed. Matt Klentak and company locked up the team’s All-Star centerfielder and retained the mostly reliable staff ace, acquired two veteran “professional hitters,” picked up a reclamation project for the rotation, and got some perfectly adequate relief help. Everything else was roster depth, which will make Spring Training fun and help fill out the upper levels of the minors. Also, bon voyage to Ruf and Asche, who no longer have to feel my wrath.

Is the lineup better now than it was in 2016? Without a doubt. The rotation? Yes, though that depends on the elbow of Aaron Nola. The bullpen? Yes (a thousand times). I’m giving Klentak a strong B+, and I’ll explain why below.

Ben Harris: Inherent in the question posed is the assumption that everyone will grade the offseason on the same criteria. Mine may be different than yours (and different potentially from my fellow writers) so keep this in mind: my grade is not a commentary on how close the Phillies came to making themselves a playoff contender. Listening to Scott Franzke and Larry Anderson’s Spring Training preview show on WIP this Tuesday (god it was good to hear their voices again), a fan called in asking why the MacPhail/Klentak didn’t break the bank and sign Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and Mark Trumbo this offseason and make a run at the playoffs.

Let’s ignore the faulty logic that led this fan to ask why a rebuilding team shouldn’t add three first basemen to a lineup that already needs to see what they have in their own current young first baseman. This postseason was not about leaping towards the playoff race and jeopardizing their true window which should open in a year or two, it was about inching toward mediocrity and watchable baseball by adding low-risk, potentially high-reward one-year veterans (Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, and Clay Buchholz) to incrementally add wins and ease the pressure off of the team’s younger players.

Even signing Odubel Herrera to his extension locked up a good player to a team-friendly deal that, should too many minor league outfield prospects pan out, could allow the team to deal Herrera for a significant return. See the Adam Eaton trade from the White Sox to Washington this summer.

Given their position, the front office nailed the offseason about as well as you could have asked. I’ll give it a hard B. Feels weird to give them an A even though they did all that I could have hoped, but maybe that grade gets bumped up a half a letter grade or so if they flip one (or two) of their vets at the deadline.

Eric Chesterton: I started playing guitar in a traditional Irish music group early in high school. I wasn’t very good at the time, but I wanted to be seen as impressive–mostly by various females. The result was that I tried to do more than perhaps my skills allowed. It was a mess.

The first formal lesson I received in accompanying Irish traditional music came with one simple bit of advice: sometimes the ballsiest move you can make is to do nothing. You see, most Irish tunes are effectively accompanied by three chords, and, in some cases, one chord. It’s flashier to do more, but sometimes, it is just as effective, and takes more guts, to stand up on the stage and wail on a “D” chord for minutes at a time. That, in fact, is precisely what happens from the 2:00 to 2:45 mark below.

Could John Doyle–the guy on guitar–do more there? Sure. But, he didn’t have to, so he didn’t.

Matt Klentak’s offseason has been impressive because he has resisted the temptation to try to do too much. As Ben alluded to, he could have been more aggressive in free agency, or gotten in on one of the big trades this offseason by selling off some of the team’s notable prospect depth. He could have made the team a playoff contender in 2017, but he didn’t. Instead, he kept together a core that could develop into a perennial contender and filled in around the edges only where additions wouldn’t have any major playing time and developmental implications.

There’s nothing flashy about the Phillies offseason, but, with few possible exceptions, flash would only have been detrimental to the larger project of their rebuild. So, for a grade, I guess A-.

Michael Schickling: This Phillies offseason, while somewhat uneventful, checked off many of the boxes that a rebuilding team’s offseason should. Extend your productive young building block on the cheap. The Phils inked Odubel Herrera to an extension. Acquire some veterans on short term deals with a chance to reap benefits come the trade deadline. Enter Howie Kendrick, Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek, and Michael Saunders. Bring back productive veterans with positive clubhouse influence. Welcome back, Jeremy Hellickson and Andres Blanco. Avoid committing serious money to players who don’t fit your timetable and/or block top prospects. No Yoenis Cepedeses or Dexter Fowlers here.

The only concern I really have about this offseason is the focus on the outfield. Yes, as Ben Harris showed, our corner outfielders were among the worst in baseball last season, but I still believe there’s reason for optimism among the group. Just two seasons ago, Aaron Altherr burst onto the scene, producing 1.8 fWAR in just 161 PAs. The Phillies also have Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, and Tyler Goedell, who need to play so we can see if they can be pieces on the next good Phillies team. That’s not a concern just yet, as injuries and adept managing by Pete Mackanin may negate the issue, but I’m not very optimistic that the young guys will have a chance to play through their struggles.

Grade: B-

Timothy Guenther: The front office deserves a solid B for the offseason. They made all the correct moves, kept flexibility in the roster for the promotion of prospects, and ultimately put together a better on-field product for 2017. Nothing they did was brilliant enough to warrant the elusive “A”, but making the simple and correct moves every year will go a long way towards sustained success.

What, if anything, would you have done differently this offseason? 

Dembowitz: Good lord, have you seen how much money the team has to spend right now? To save you a click, it’s more than pretty much any team in the league. I have a weakness for big signings, whether it’s the Terrell Owens/Jevon Kearse kind of splash, or stupidly wanting Josh Hamilton or B.J. Upton. Thankfully I’m not the general manager. But I did want the team to go after Jose Bautista. I’m not convinced of his downfall. I would have been fine giving him a truckload of money and having a terrifying bat in the middle of the order. If it means certain young players lose a bit of playing time, I’m not losing much sleep over it. Besides, that’s a moot point since the signing of Saunders — an injury-prone platoon player who’s got as much chance of logging 500+ PAs as I do — means there’s a lot less time on the field for Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, et al. So I would have really liked a Big Scary Monster signing like Bautista. Though Kendrick and Saunders will help, I do think having a guy like Bautista would have relieved some of the pressure that Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco undoubtedly feel going into the new season. I also wonder how much an aggressive offer for Chicago’s Jose Quintana would have watered down the Phillies farm system.

Harris: As I said above, there aren’t too many things I’d change about this offseason. I covered Joaquin Benoit in our Who Are You series and was genuinely surprised about the company he holds among relievers the last seven years. He was very quietly a great get for the bullpen, as was Neshek to a lesser extent.The front office plugged the biggest holes and weaknesses in the roster efficiently. Corner outfielders were signed, a bullpen was bolstered, and a rotation added a Jekyll and Hyde starter to eat innings. Best case, he’s gone by the deadline and worst case he’s providing some buffer time for Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin and Alec Asher in the minors that you would be hard pressed to prove they don’t need.

Chesterton: My only concern with the offseason is that they’ve backed themselves into a mid-season corner. With Buchholz and Hellickson in the way of Eflin, Thompson, and potentially others and Saunders and Kendrick in the way of Williams, Quinn, and Cozens, it’s no secret that they’ll have to move most or all of those players by the end of July. If they can’t trade them, there’s no place for them in the organization post-deadline. Every team in the league knows that, so I’m not particularly confident the Phillies have the leverage to get much of anything for them. That’s not the worst possible situation a rebuilding team can face, especially on for whom money is of little object. Still, it’s not ideal and Klentak might have been better off doing even less.

Schickling: For one, sign Joe Blanton. The Phillies have had exactly zero Joe Blanton’s on the roster since trading him during the 2012 season. In the Phillies last four Blanton-filled seasons, they made the playoffs all four times. In the five Blanton-less seasons since, they’ve been below .500. But actually, since moving to the pen two seasons ago, Blanton has produced a 150 ERA+ in 156 innings, amassing 2.0 fWAR. That’s a good reliever and he’s still (metaphorically speaking) homeless. If you’re reading this, Matt Klentak, BRING BACK JOE.

Another thing I would have done was chosen one of Kendrick or Saunders, not both. As I mentioned in the first question, I think these players exacerbate a logjam that was already evident before the offseason began. I understand the need for veteran presence, but these two players occupy extremely similar roles in the upcoming season.

The last thing I would have done, and as far as I know the Phillies may have done this, is invest in some virtual reality equipment for Cesar Hernandez to learn when to and when not to go for that extra base on the basepaths. This is 2017; I’m sure the technology exists.

Guenther: As it became apparent the White Sox were heading towards a fire sale, I thought the Phillies should have made a run at acquiring Adam Eaton. Regarding only his bat, he’s averaged a .362 OBP and 117 wRC+ over the last three years. That’s a top 30 offensive outfielder in the league. At age 28. Under contract for the next five years. Isn’t that the kind of performance and value we’re hoping the Phillies’ OF prospects someday provide? Count me among those that didn’t think the Nationals made a gross overpay in acquiring him.

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13 comments

  1. Mike Fassano

    February 13, 2017 08:25 PM

    Signing Saunders not only blocks Altherr, but also Quinn, Williams, Stassi, and Perkins. Any of those 5 would be a huge upgrade over Bourjos.

    • Chase

      February 14, 2017 02:23 AM

      The two outfield signings together didn’t make sense to me. I understand the team wants to get better, but we know they don’t want to get better through expensive free agent signings and long term deals. Why move upgrade the win column by 1, maybe 2 wins on the season and take PAs from anyone younger in the system?

      The “we can flip them for prospects in July” theory doesn’t hold true (see Hellickson, 2016), and as already mentioned there are a few OF in LV I would rather watch, even if their OPS is 150 points below Saunders’ or Kendrick’s.

      • Romus

        February 14, 2017 10:07 AM

        I believe that the Kendrick/Saunders acquisitions were to appease Mack and his desire to have veteran hitters in the middle surrounding Franco, Joseph and Herrera.
        Mack was after all the first to come out in October for the need for veteran hitters at those spots. GM has to listen to his manager….for this year.

      • Steve

        February 14, 2017 11:43 PM

        I agree with P. Mac, having Kendrick and Saunders in the lineup surrounding Hernandez, Herrera, Franco, and Joseph will help these guys develop at the plate.

        Neither are long term, or expensive signings. I have faith in the FO. If neither OF can be dealt, and the AAA guys are legitimately forcing their way into the MLB lineup, the veterans will be benched.

        There is no downside to having them on the roster. They will be there when we need them, but they are cheap enough to become expendible if the prospects develop according to plan. Kendrick and Saunders round out a really nice bench if Williams and Quinn are MLB ready come July.

  2. JustBob

    February 14, 2017 02:36 AM

    How is signing Benoit a great move given the other alternatives that were out there as well as trading for Kendrick and announcing he will be the everyday LF?

    As for Hellickson, the Phils only resigned him because he really surprised them by accepting the Qualifying Offer. Certain they thought he was going to sign elsewhere and accept get a compensation pick.

    • Ben Harris

      February 14, 2017 04:24 AM

      Benoit is a talent. Again, the goal here isn’t to suck roster spots in upcoming years by signing guys to multi-year deals. Who are the other alternatives you are speaking of?
      The big-name free agent relievers were all commanding multi-year deals worth significant cash, no sense in spending that money now when the first year or two of the contract would be a total waste. Similar, in my opinion, to why signing Bautista wouldn’t make sense, even if he produced. Best case, he hits well and we’re a borderline playoff team (which would be a small miracle in and of itself with just that upgrade) while spending money the team doesn’t need to spend.

      • JustBob

        February 16, 2017 01:15 AM

        Romo was available as were Feliz, Casilla, and Holland on moderate 2 year deals. Even signing Wood on a 2-year deal as a swingman/LHP reliever would have been more useful. I understand not wanting to sign a closer to huge money on a long-term deal but signing one of the aforementioned to a 2nd year is really modest.

        It isn’t like this team has a ton of reliever depth either right now at Reading and above. If they did, you wouldn’t have seen the dumpster fire that this bullpen was the last 6 weeks of the season last year. Hell, Garcia and Morgan are still on the 40-man roster as the underwhelming J. Rodriguez.

        Maybe I ate crow and the Phils are able to duplicate what the Padres did with Rodney last year. My bet is that Benoit struggles with an ERA over 4 and that Romo/Casilla/Feliz/Holland all have better seasons.

      • Steve

        February 16, 2017 03:38 PM

        Benoit has only had one season with an ERA over 3 (3.68) since 2010. Why are you betting that his ERA will balloon up over 4?

    • JustBob

      February 17, 2017 01:26 AM

      A couple of reasons:

      – He has significantly outperformed his xFIP every single season the past few years
      – He derived almost all of his value for from fastball last season
      – His best offspeed pitch (slider) has lost 2-3 MPH and a bit of movement over the past 2 years
      – His changeup has also declined over the past 2 years
      – His K-BB has notably declined too and HR/9 has notably ticked up the last 2 years-

      Basically what you see is a reliever who was still very good in 2014 but who also pitched in the best pitcher’s park in MLB (San Diego). He moved to a hitter’s park last year (Toronto) which is HR-friendly and got lite up. Also had fastball command and control issues too in Toronto.

      When he got traded to Seattle, he was still giving up a fair amount of fly balls but Safeco is a lot more forgiving to fly balls pitchers especially if the Mariners have a half-decent defensive OF.

      The numbers show a veteran reliever who is clearly in a multi-year decline and probably has had to give up a moderate degree of fastball command and control to still maintain his same fastball velocity. Basically gives him little margin for error at this point though especially since his offspeed stuff has also been in decline.

      He still might be a decent reliever who can still it it up to 94-95 routinely and wrack up enough Ks to offset a BB/9 that will likely be in the 3.5-4 range. CBP is a HR-friendly park (still top 10 in MLB since it opened) though and not all that forgiving to fly ball pictures generally.

      He can put up an ERA under 4 this year but that depends on him still routinely throwing at 94-95 this year. maintaining a K/9 over 9 to help offset the elevated BB/9 rate, and some luck on flyballs that stay in the park at CBP instead of just over the LF fence.

      • JustBob

        February 17, 2017 01:35 AM

        There were 29 qualified relievers with a BB/9 of 4 or above last year including some really well-known names (Kimbrel, Rodney, Robertson) and a few ex-Phils including Bastardo & Diekman.

        To offset that high BB/9, these pitchers were primarily fastball pitchers who depending upon an elevated velocity & averaged 9.7 K/9. Also were a bit HR-prone too (0.89 HR/9)

        They did average an ERA under 4 (3.56) but had an xFIP well above it (4.18).

      • JustBob

        February 17, 2017 01:38 AM

        Nevermind about the HR/9. Average among all 135 qualifed MLB relievers last year was 0.94. Bogus point on my part.

      • JustBob

        February 17, 2017 01:40 AM

        Other averages were for all 135 qualified MLB relievers:

        9.0 K/9
        3.1 BB/9
        3.35 ERA
        3.79 xFIP

  3. Major Malfunction

    February 14, 2017 02:23 PM

    “Let’s ignore the faulty logic that led this fan to ask why a rebuilding team shouldn’t add three first basemen to a lineup that already needs to see what they have in their own current young first baseman.”

    Shit like this is the reason I can’t bring myself to listen to WIP or other sports talk shows. As soon as they go to the phone, it’s usually cringe worthy. It’s either some guy with a beer in his hand at 7am or some old school cigar chomping fellow who doesn’t know anything about WAR other than we should have won the one in Vietnam….which I will agree with.

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