Hamels Kicks Off Farewell Tour with $15 Million Contract

The Phillies have signed LHP Cole Hamels to a one-year, $15 million deal, avoiding a final year of arbitration with one of their aces. In the short term, this is fine. Hamels was among the best pitchers in baseball last year, and $15 million is more or less in line with what he was going to make in arbitration, and at any rate, makes him something of a minor bargain.

This news, however, does warrant jumping off a cliff, because indications look good that one of two things will happen to Hamels: 1) He’ll re-sign with the Phillies next year for one of the richest contracts ever given to a pitcher or 2) He’ll sign with the Yankees for one of the richest contracts ever given to a pitcher. What appears almost impossible now is that he’ll sign for something along the lines of the 5 years and $85 million the Angels gave Jered Weaver last summer, or the 5 years and $77.5 million they gave C.J. Wilson last month.

In the winter of 2008, Sabathia was entering his age-28 season, a left-hander who had posted a career 120 ERA+ over 1,659 1/3 innings. Up to that point, he’d posted a K/BB ratio of 2.66 and accumulated 33 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference. Hamels, in the winter of 2012, will be entering in age-29 season, and if he slides back to his career averages, he’ll have posted a 128 ERA+ and a 3.74 K/BB ratio over a little less than 1,400 innings, good for about 27 WAR in half a season less than Sabathia. When Weaver signed with the Angels in August, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, among others, suggested that Weaver’s deal would make a good starting point for a Hamels extension. Now, after a breakout season, and with another year’s worth of uncertainty resolved, Hamels could easily make half again what Weaver made in overall value. With another season like 2011, when he posted a WHIP under 1 and struck out more than four times as many batters as he walked, Hamels will raise his price to the point where Weaver’s contract will look like Evan Longoria‘s. Even in a strong pitching market, bidding could start at Cliff Lee‘s 6-year, $147.5 million deal and end up looking like Sabathia’s 7-year, $161 million contract from the 2008/09 offseason, adjusted for inflation.

Of course, there’s nothing to be done about this now–the time to act was after 2009, when Hamels’ public perception was at an all-time low, but his peripheral stats remained unchanged, or after 2010, when Hamels was once again the front-line starter who was voted MVP of the World Series at age 24, but before he turned into the kind of molten lava-flinging cartoon superhero he was in 2011.

Locking up top homegrown talent long-term has become almost a reflex action for Major League Baseball’s smarter franchises. The Rays signed Longoria in 2008 to a contract that allows them to pay, on average, less than $4 million per year for one of the game’s best two-way players until the end of the 2016 season. James Shields will cost the Rays an absolute maximum of $44 million between 2008 and 2014, and this offseason, they signed rookie starter Matt Moore to a 5-year, $14 million contract that could run to eight years for $40 million.

The key to those contracts is signing players with great potential early. The longer a team waits to sign a player, the more certainty exists over his value. So a team like the Rays can approach Longoria or Moore before either has established himself as a quality major league player and offer to lock them up to a long-term extension with multiple team options. If Longoria had flamed out, he’d have cost the Rays less than 3/4 of what Ryan Howard will make this year, but instead, the Rays have locked up a perennial all-star third baseman for roughly the same annual salary as Kyle Kendrick. Likewise, Moore, who has thrown only 9 1/3 regular season innings in the majors, is projected to become one of the top left-handed pitchers in the game, comparable to Hamels, David Price, and their like. If he blows out his arm in April and never pitches again, the Rays have lost less than what Cole Hamels will make this year. If he fulfills his potential, they’ve picked up a bargain–an ace lefty for about a fourth, give or take, of his market value.

The Rays, as you know, are characterized by their extreme relative poverty, so their reliance on signing players long-term and early is extreme. The Phillies can afford to be more conservative, but they’ve overshot the mark with Hamels. The advantage to signing young homegrown players long-term is that they can be had for less than what the free market would dictate, and for a term that would end before the decline phase woes that make teams gunshy about thirtysomething free agents like Jayson Werth and Albert Pujols. This is what the Phillies did with Chase Utley before the 2007 season, and what the Cardinals did with Pujols when they extended him in 2004. Those were instances of teams locking up players after they’d become franchise players, but before they demanded to be paid as such.

The Phillies have missed that opportunity with Hamels, and this $15 million deal is evidence of that. As Longoria, Shields, Moore, Utley, Weaver, and Pujols all showed is that young players are willing to sacrifice earning potential for financial security. As their quality becomes evident, their value goes up. Now, there Hamels has no uncertainty for the Phillies to buy out. He knows he’s a star, he knows he can make nine figures over six years if he wants to, and he has no incentive to take a discount for the Phillies to give him long-term security. If they’d tried to sign him a year or two ago–or even five months ago–he might have, and failing to pounce on that opportunity will likely cost the Phillies somewhere on the order of $40 to 60 million, if it doesn’t cost them Hamels himself.

So as far as the one-year arbitration buyout is concerned, that’s fine. Hamels is well worth front-line starter money, and he’s making a little bit less than that, so he represents, as I’ve said, a minor bargain. But when all is said and done, that this contract is only for one year and not for six could very well lead to Hamels playing out the best years of his career in pinstripes of a different color, and that could cause the Phillies’ run of dominance to unravel quite a bit more rapidly than it might have otherwise.

Ryan Madson Signs with Cincinnati

Per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Cincinnati Reds have signed former Phillie Ryan Madson to a one-year, $8.5 million deal. I’ve written a lot about this subject recently, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but suffice it to say that the Reds made out like bandits with this deal. The Phillies have massive amounts of egg on their face for signing Jonathan Papelbon so quickly, and Madson’s agent Scott Boras looks even worse. The good news is that the Phillies will get two draft picks as a result of offering Madson arbitration. Jim Callis with the specifics:

#Phillies get sandwich & 2nd-rder for Madson going to #Reds. As of now, those would be picks 38 & 72. #mlbdraft

Madson will spend one year in Cincinnati before jumping back into the free agent pool. He may have better luck when fewer relief options are on the market. For now, he’ll take $8.5 million, which is likely less than he would have been awarded in arbitration. The acquisitions of Madson and lefty Sean Marshall give the Reds a fearsome bullpen as they make a serious push to win the NL Central in 2012.

Relevant reading:

A Lesson in Playing the Market

The inimitable Colin Wyers of Baseball Prospectus summed up this off-season’s free agency in one sentence after news broke that the Boston Red Sox had acquired Andrew Bailey in a trade with the Oakland Athletics:

So the big losers this offseason are Madson and the Phillies, huh.

As you are no doubt aware, the Phillies acquired closer Jonathan Papelbon in November, agreeing to a four-year, $50 million contract with a fifth-year option. This was days after Madson and the Phillies reportedly agreed to a four-year, $44 million deal. For a still-unknown reason, the Madson deal fell through, allowing the Phillies to pursue Papelbon.

GM Ruben Amaro has always been aggressive in free agency, often to his own detriment. He attempted to act before the market settled when offering contracts to free agent Raul Ibanez (in December 2008) and soon-to-be free agent Ryan Howard (in April 2010). The Ibanez contract turned out to be a net loss and the Howard contract actually looks worse now than it did at the time of signing — as hard as that is to believe. Similarly, the Papelbon contract falls into that same group as it is by far the most expensive contract awarded to a reliever thus far. (The second-largest contract belongs to Heath Bell, who signed with the Miami Marlins on a three-year, $27 million deal.)

As it stands now, Madson figures to get significantly less than what was offered by the Phillies, both in terms of years and money. He and agent Scott Boras have to be feeling sour about sticking to their guns in search of a long-term contract like that of Papelbon. With the Red Sox having acquired Bailey, one of the few remaining suitors is off the board meaning that Madson’s leverage is significantly weakened, if not outright obsolete. Madson will likely have to settle for significantly less money and only two or three years — perhaps even less than what Bell got from the Marlins. This, despite the fact that he and Papelbon are comparable in many ways, including age (31) and defense-independent metrics.

When and if Madson signs, his contract will be completely dwarfed by that of Papelbon. It will be then that Amaro realizes his mistake in jumping the market yet again, and the Madson-Boras team will realize their mistake in being inflexible. The lesson, boys and girls, is patience. The losers of the off-season, as Wyers described them, respectively displayed a complete lack of patience, and entirely too much patience. The equilibrium is somewhere in between. Or just roll with a thrift store bullpen.

Phillies Bring Jimmy Rollins Back

Via Todd Zolecki, the Phillies and Jimmy Rollins have agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract with a vesting option for a fourth year.

He’s baaack!

When Jose Reyes signed with the Florida Marlins and Rafael Furcal re-upped with the St. Louis Cardinals, there were few destinations left for Rollins, turning this into a waiting game for the Phillies. GM Ruben Amaro has often preempted the market to his own detriment (see: Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard), so he should be credited for being patient and recognizing the market.

The deal is about as team-friendly as realistically possible. Rollins was reportedly seeking a five-year deal with an average annual value greater than $11 million, so the Phillies were looking at committing upwards of $60 million potentially. To get him on a comparatively short deal at a reasonable price (both AAV and in total) is a huge coup for the Phillies. As a result, they will have slightly more wiggle room to fit under the luxury tax. Depending on how Amaro chooses to round out the roster and what the few arbitration-eligible players are paid, the Phillies may be able to make one more notable signing.

Getting Rollins back was so important for the Phillies. Without him, they were looking at a significant downgrade, be it via Freddy Galvis, Wilson Valdez, or a free agent like Ryan Theriot or Ronny Cedeno. Despite what many considered to be another season of decline last year, Rollins was worth 4 WAR according to FanGraphs. Missing out on Rollins and moving on to any other available option (replacement level) would have been a significant loss.

Reports of Rollins’ demise may have been greatly exaggerated. At the second-most important position on the field, Rollins posted an above-average wOBA (.329), walked as often as he struck out (58/59), stole 30 bases (at a 79 percent success rate), and continued to play solid defense. When he is on the field and stays there consistently, Rollins’ production is rivaled by few in the game.

Zolecki reports that Rollins’ fourth-year vesting option is easily-attainable, so the Phillies are realistically looking at $44 million over four years, which isn’t bad at all. Rollins simply has to post about 10 fWAR over the life of the contract, or 2.5 fWAR per season. Rollins will be 36 years old when he will next be available for free agency. It is still possible that he has one more payday ahead of him, but for now, the Rollins family, the Phillies organization, and the city of Philadelphia should be very happy that the face of the franchise will don red pinstripes for the foreseeable future.

Phillies Sign Dontrelle Willis

Per Jim Salisbury and Jerry Crasnick, the Phillies have signed left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis to a one year contract for “about $1 million and performance bonuses.”

After a few up and down seasons with the Marlins, Willis was traded to the Tigers as part of the Miguel Cabrera deal, and suffered a near complete collapse, stumbling around the Detroit and San Francisco minor league affiliates. Finally settling in with the Reds last season, Willis had another rough year, albeit one that may have looked worse than it really was. He brought his walk rate down to a somewhat acceptable 11.1%, and was able to induce groundballs at about a 55% clip, posting a SIERA of 4.29.

More importantly for the Phillies, who will have a newly-tendered Kyle Kendrick competing with Joe Blanton for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, Willis shows some indications of being an effective left-handed specialist. He has a 2.88 career xFIP versus left-handed hitters, and last year, in an admittedly small 60 hitter sample, struck them out at a 33.3% rate. The image below shows Willis’ pitch placement to left-handed hitting since 2009, and his groundball rate for the same scope. When Willis manages to stay away from the inside of the plate against lefties he keeps the ball on the ground successfully. Over the 191 plate appearances represented in this image, lefties managed just a .276 wOBA against Willis.

Of course, this is all predicated on Willis actually being used in this way. It’s tough to forget J.C. Romero, ostensibly the left-handed specialist, being brought to the mound to face 256 right-handed batters between 2008 and 2010, with results at once infuriating and comedic. Charlie Manuel’s bullpen management, insofar as any coherent strategy can be deciphered, appears to be a mix of innings-based decisions and traditional closer values, so if the D-train is left in for, say, an entire 6th or 7th inning, the likelihood that he’ll face right-handed hitting washes away any value he has to offer to the Phillies’ pen.

As it is, though, at around $1 million, Willis is a bargain flier for the Phillies, with the chance to effectively supplement a bullpen comprised of Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Contreras, and a group of young arms.

Phillies Trade Ben Francisco to Toronto

When one hears about the Phillies and Blue Jays making a trade, one can’t help but think of the Roy Halladay blockbuster, but the Phillies this time made a small, logical move. With a glut of outfielders on the roster, someone was eventually going to be squeezed out. After a disappointing 2011 season, that person was Ben Francisco. Per David Hale:

The Phillies 2012 bench continues to evolve, and Monday GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gave it yet another facelift, trading outfielder Ben Francisco to the Blue Jays for left-hander Frank Gailey.

Francisco was the “other guy” that went with Lee from the Cleveland Indians back in July 2009. In his two and a half years in Philadelphia, Francisco was a capable back-up outfielder, hitting slightly better than the league average (.332 wOBA) with passable defense and base running. Overall, FanGraphs values him at 1.2 WAR in his 594 plate appearances with the Phillies, which is between replacement level and average. Given that the Phillies paid him less than $2 million, Francisco certainly paid for himself.

Francisco is arbitration-eligible for the second year. After earning $1.175 million in 2011, he was due for a slight raise. As mentioned in this post on Kyle Kendrick, the Phillies are operating with very little wiggle room between where they are at in terms of their payroll and the $178 million luxury tax. With two big items left on the agenda (Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels), saving a million dollars here and there goes a long way.

The Phillies received Frank Gailey from Toronto in return for Francisco. Gailey is a local product, having attended Archbishop Carroll High School and West Chester University. Drafted in 2007, he compiled impressive strikeout and walk rates before earning a promotion to Double-A New Hampshire last year. With New Hampshire, Gailey struggled as his strikeout rate plummeted and his walk rate shot up. In 30 innings, his ERA sat at an Adam Eaton-esque 5.70. Perhaps a change of scenery can change his fortune.

Phillies Must Make Tough Choice Involving Kyle Kendrick

It is very fair to say that Kyle Kendrick‘s career as a Philadelphia Phillie has been a success. In 2007, he filled in admirably in a pinch, posting a 3.87 ERA in 121 innings, one big reason the Phillies ended their playoff drought that year. His sophomore campaign was forgettable, which led to his irrelevance in 2009. The following season, Kendrick spent the entire season in the Majors, benefiting from the injury to and eventual trade of J.A. Happ, as well as the downfall of Jamie Moyer. The results weren’t spectacular, but he finished somewhere between replacement level and average. And then last year, of course, he spent time between the rotation and the bullpen, finishing with a composite 3.22 ERA.

Wherever Kendrick was needed, whether it was in the rotation, in the bullpen, or back with Triple-A Lehigh Valley as rotation filler, he did what he was told, no questions asked. You will be hard-pressed to find a better team-first player in baseball than Kendrick. That’s why, when the Phillies paid him $2.45 million last year to avoid arbitration, no one batted an eye even though his overall performance and future projections may have created cause for concern.

However, as the Phillies move into 2012, GM Ruben Amaro will need to make some acrobatic financial maneuvers if he plans to bring back shortstop Jimmy Rollins and sign starter Cole Hamels to a much-anticipated contract extension. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Phillies are already on the books for $126 million to 14 players. Five players, including Hamels, Hunter Pence, and Kendrick, are eligible for arbitration. When you account for the remaining 11 spots, the Phillies are dangerously close to the $178 million luxury tax threshold. If the Phillies exceed the tax (which would be a first-time offense), they would be penalized 22.5 percent of the amount in excess. Second-time offenders pay a 30 percent tax. You can understand why Amaro — and many others — are mindful of the Phillies’ payroll.

MLB Trade Rumors projects Kendrick at $3.2 million if he were to go to arbitration — certainly a hefty sum for a player whose role on the team is murky at best. The Phillies’ rotation is, barring any unforeseen transactions, set with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hamels, Vance Worley, and Joe Blanton. The back of the bullpen is more or less complete as well, with Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, and Jose Contreras slated to handle the majority of high-leverage situations. That leaves Kendrick as a mop-up reliever and a back-up starter in the event of an injury.

Is that kind of security worth hamstringing the team’s ability to bring back Rollins and extend Hamels, or risking the luxury tax penalty? For a better pitcher, or at least one with a more important role, the answer could potentially be different than “no”, but such is not the case with Kendrick. He has been a great warrior for the Phillies over the last five years, but his price tag now outweighs what he would contribute to the team. Between 2007-11, among pitchers who accrued 575 or more innings with 75 percent of games started, Kendrick was one of 14 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio below 1.7. Only four of them posted an above-average ERA in that span of time.

Player SO/BB IP Age G GS ERA ERA+
Brad Penny 1.70 713.1 29-33 122 120 4.50 96
Trevor Cahill 1.64 583.0 21-23 96 96 3.91 107
Jon Garland 1.62 863.0 27-31 139 139 4.16 103
Kyle Kendrick 1.62 598.1 22-26 127 98 4.41 96
Mike Pelfrey 1.59 855.1 23-27 146 142 4.38 92
Livan Hernandez 1.58 955.0 32-36 157 157 4.87 87
Barry Zito 1.57 821.2 29-33 146 140 4.55 93
Doug Davis 1.53 626.0 31-35 110 110 4.59 99
Fausto Carmona 1.52 860.0 23-27 143 143 4.52 93
Kyle Davies 1.52 617.0 23-27 116 116 5.40 80
Aaron Cook 1.51 760.0 28-32 125 124 4.49 104
Jason Marquis 1.44 765.1 28-32 132 130 4.55 98
John Lannan 1.39 751.0 22-26 128 128 4.00 103
Jeff Suppan 1.36 647.1 32-35 125 110 4.95 85
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/11/2011.

Not a list of guys you’d feel confident handing the ball to every fifth day, let alone handing a chunk of money that could get in the way of attaining better, more important players. Kendrick doesn’t project to be any better going forward; much of his previous success can be attributed to general batted ball fortune and the Phillies’ great defense.

The non-tender deadline is at midnight. Kendrick could — and should — be one of several Phillies not tendered a contract. It is possible that the Phillies bring him back at a cheaper salary, or in a less-logical scenario, sign him to a multi-year contract that would supplant his arbitration-eligible years in 2013 and possibly ’14 as well. Anything would be better than paying a bit player upwards of $3 million with an already-clamped budget.

Phillies Sign Laynce Nix

Comcast SportsNet’s Jim Salisbury with the goods on Twitter:

Phillies have reached agreement with free agent Laynce Nix, sources tell CSNphilly.com. Deal is pending physical. [Link]

Nix deal w Phillies is for two years, sources say. [Link]

Bill:

As mentioned here, the Phillies were rummaging through the free agent market for a left-handed outfielder. Although there were quite a few on the market, GM Ruben Amaro likes to act swiftly rather than waiting for the market to settle.

Nix possesses decent power, especially when he is used off of the bench. In 2009 with the Cincinnati Reds, Nix posted a .236 isolated power over 337 plate appearances. Last year, his ISO was .201 in 351 PA. He is not one for plate discipline, with a career walk rate under six percent. Depending on how he is used — whether solely as a bench bat or as part of a platoon in left field — that may or may not become an issue. Nix hits right-handed pitching significantly better — his career .317 wOBA (including .334-.341 in the past three years) against them is 90 points higher than his career production against southpaws, so a platoon may be a possibility.

Defensively, Nix grades out well according to UZR and Total Zone, found on FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, respectively.  In 1371 innings in left field, Nix has a +5 UZR/150; +9 in center over 1771 innings. Per Total Zone, Nix saved 11 runs in 2009, 12 runs in 2010, and five runs last year.

As Salisbury reported, the deal is for two years, which is questionable even without knowing the specific dollar amount. Still, the deal is going to be small enough where its relative impact whether good or bad will be quite small. David DeJesus, a better player by all accounts, recently signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, so the Nix deal should come in under that. While I would have preferred Johnny Damon or Jason Kubel, they both may have been just a bit too expensive to fit in the Phillies’ budget under the $178 million luxury tax threshold. All in all, it’s hard to react to this signing with anything more than a shoulder shrug.

Ryan:

Raul Ibanez, 2009-2011: .264/.329/.469, 111 OPS+
Laynce Nix, 2009-2011: .254/.306/.461, 104 OPS+

At least Nix will be what Ibanez should have been in 2011: a backup. In addition, he can theoretically play center field with some competence, although probably not much better than John Mayberry, Jr. could. Giving marginal bench players two year deals is now an established Ruben Amaro tradition, so I won’t feign surprise at that. I’ll wait until there is some news of the salary amount before passing final judgment, but it seems like another unnecessary signing that won’t really affect the team’s financial flexibility but doesn’t bode well for future talent evaluation.

Phillies Deal for Ty Wigginton

While Philadelphians were getting ready to watch Sunday Night Football between the Eagles and Giants, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. continued to add to the 2012 roster by trading for utilityman Ty Wigginton from the Colorado Rockies. Wigginton is entering the second year of a two-year, $8 million deal signed prior to last season, providing a cheap plug at the various holes the Phillies still have, particularly at first base and left field, as well as their need for a capable back-up infielder.

The Phillies had previously been linked with free agent Michael Cuddyer, formerly of the Minnesota Twins. Signs seem to indicate that Cuddyer is seeking a contract similar to the one the Phillies gave to Raul Ibanez prior to the 2009 season (three years, $31.5 million). By comparison, the Wigginton trade allows the Phillies to accomplish nearly as much while spending very little — various reports said the Phillies would be sending either a player to be named later or cash. Buster Olney reports that the Phillies are eating half of Wigginton’s remaining salary for the 2012 season. Wigginton also has an option for 2013 worth $4 million with a $500,000 buy-out. Essentially, the Phillies can get two years out of Wigginton if he produces, and if he doesn’t, they have a very cheap escape route.

On the surface, the Wigginton trade seems quite good, but there are a couple of red flags. The first is his defense. No matter what metrics you use, or even if you use your eyes only, there is just no way to speak highly of his defense. Versatile as he is, he does not play above-average defense at any position, infield or outfield. If you buy into UZR, he has been worth -77.3 defensive runs since 2002, or roughly -7.5 wins. His career WAR is 6.6. Essentially, if he had simply played average defense, he would be more than twice as valuable as he is currently. Even rWAR (Baseball Reference) speaks poorly of his glove work, putting him at four wins below replacement over the last three years, speaking solely about his defense.

Additionally, Wigginton’s offense has been nothing to write home about recently. Wigginton posted a .370 wOBA in 2008 with the Houston Astros which put him on the map. After signing with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent, his wOBA dropped to .311 in ’09 and .316 in ’10. Wigginton signed with the Colorado Rockies last year, but he didn’t fare any better, posting a .322 wOBA while playing half his games at Coors Field.

The general consensus seems to be that Wigginton will spend some of his playing time — as much as half or more — at first base. If that turns out to be the case, Wigginton will have to improve with the bat to justify his playing time. The average National League first baseman had a .350 wOBA last season. However, even if Wigginton posts a .320 wOBA in 250 PA at first base, he will only be a half-win worse than a league-average first baseman given the same amount of plate appearances. Meanwhile, in 2011 the average third baseman posted a paltry .314 wOBA and the average left fielder was at .332. Wigginton at his worst is about average between the two positions. Depending on where he spends the remainder of his time, he can give the Phillies exactly what they paid for. At the price of $2 million, he only has to produce about a half-win above a replacement-level player to justify his spot on the 25-man roster.

Obviously, versatility is the big draw. It was specifically what drew the Phillies to Cuddyer as well. The Phillies have two items on their itinerary: find a shortstop and figure out Cole Hamels‘ future. With limited payroll flexibility, the Phillies also had to address the less-pressing needs with the roster, but the Wigginton acquisition can kill many birds with one stone. Not only can he play first base, perhaps as part of a two- or three-headed monster, but he can spell Placido Polanco at third base and play in left field. Of course, a Plan B in the event of an injury is also nice to have, so Wigginton is not a bad back-up plan in the event things head south the way they have in each of the past two seasons.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of the trade is that it saves the Phillies from signing Cuddyer to a very ill-advised multi-year contract. As mentioned, the prevailing thought is that Cuddyer is seeking a contract similar to the one Ibanez got several years ago, which is too much money for an aging, one-dimensional (even if versatile) player. Wigginton is not as potent with the bat as Cuddyer, but the difference between being on the hook for $2 million for one year (potentially $6 million for two years) is a lot better than $30 million over three years.

Compared to other realistic options for the Phillies, the Wigginton acquisition looks good. He will not contend for the NL MVP award, but his cost relative to his production will be better than anything else the Phillies could have done. Chalk one up for Smuggy.

Phillies Sign Jonathan Papelbon

The story just hit its apex. Just days after a four-year, $44 million deal with Ryan Madson fell through, the Phillies signed free agent reliever Jonathan Papelbon, according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Salisbury reports that the contract is worth over $50 million.

Bill’s Take: Papelbon is a very good pitcher, arguably better than Madson in many ways. The former Red Sox closer finished the 2011 regular season with a 12.2 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9, setting a career-high with a strikeout-to-walk ratio approaching nine — that’s in Cliff Lee territory. He has been more or less dominant since becoming a fixture in the Boston bullpen in 2006. Still, Papelbon has not exceeded 70 innings in a season and the Phillies are paying, presumably, upwards of $12 million per season for one inning of dominance once every two or three nights on average.

Additionally, the amount of money being spent on a closer can potentially hamstring the Phillies’ ability to find an adequate shortstop and sign Cole Hamels to a contract extension. As has been said here many times recently, one does not need to allocate large sums of money in the bullpen in order to find success. Relievers — even those as consistently elite as Madson and Papelbon — are notoriously volatile on a year-to-year basis, so it makes more sense to shift your money to more reliable causes such as shortstop and the starting rotation.

It seems like there will be almost unanimous distaste for the Papelbon deal. The stat-heads will hate that a reliever got such a lucrative contract while traditionalists will dislike the guy’s personality. Let’s not forget, though, that he is a very good reliever — even if his genus is unpredictable — with the potential to be the frontman of a dominant bullpen.

Contract: no. Personality: no. Skills: yes.

Ryan’s takeJonathan Papelbon is an elite reliever, and has had sustained success in that role since 2006, sustaining a 200 ERA+ over six seasons. But this is just too much money and too many years for any reliever, save maybe Mariano Rivera. Relievers are a volatile breed by nature, and they pitch a vanishingly small portion of a team’s innings. Since 2006, Papelbon accounts for 4.6% of the Boston’s innings pitched. Most of his appearances involved high leverage innings, yes, but the point remains: free agent relievers, especially closers, are paid more than they’re really worth, and they’re not a safe enough bet to merit longer term contracts.

Take Brad Lidge, who received an extension from the Phillies following his excellent 2008 season. He was two years older than Paplebon is now, and had, in 461.2 innings as a full time reliever (Papelbon: 395.1), managed an excellent 144 ERA+ (Papelbon: 200). Pat Gillick gave Lidge more or less the same deal that Papelbon is now receiving, except a year shorter in base length (3 years, $37.5 million with a 2012 club option). I don’t have to tell you what an albatross that turned out to be. Granted, Lidge had serious injury concerns, and there is no reason to suspect Papelbon will crater in the same way, but the Phillies had a lesson on the danger of big money reliever deals that was impossible to miss, and appear to have missed it.

Had they taken it, and instead (as Bill has previously suggested) deployed their bevy of young arms as a cheap, internal solution, supplementing cheaply as necessary, this money could have been used to reap more value in areas of need. They would’ve kept their draft pick, and Ryan Madson would have walked, netting them more pick compensation to salve their depleted farm system (this benefit, of course, hinges on the outcome of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement). They did not take the lesson, though, and now Jonathan Papelbon is The Closer in Charlie Manuel’s bullpen. This means that the Phillies won’t even derive maximum value from their huge investment. Charlie Manuel has never leveraged his bullpen assets properly, and it’s a guarantee that Papelbon will see plenty of low leverage 9th innings, and sit on the bullpen bench while lesser pitchers labor through the most important plate appearances of the game because they don’t happen to come in a save situation. And what if Papelbon does run into problems? Remember this quote from 2009?

“Lidge is our closer,” Manuel said before the Phillies played the Washington Nationals. “You’ve definitely got to show confidence in him.”

The Phillies signed Lidge to a three-year extension midway through his stellar 2008 season.

“We signed him. He was perfect last year. Everybody knows about that,” Manuel said. “We signed him to a long-term deal as our closer. I’ve always looked at him as our closer.”

Remember how much it took to get Charlie Manuel to stop relying on that tired refrain?

Of course, we knew that the Phillies would not likely stay cheap and flexible with the bullpen. We knew that Ruben Amaro was intransigent in his desire to add a bonafide MLB “closer,” and that he could have picked worse options (Heath Bell, for one). And it is unlikely that this will impede the cash-flush Phillies from giving Cole Hamels a much-needed extension, and acquiring a starting shorstop. But for these things to bring us comfort, we have to first surrender ourselves to the spurious logic that constrained the Phillies to the best of some bad options. And when future misallocations of resources start to pile up and actually hurt the team’s financial flexibility, you’ll have to hope that the Amaro-induced Stockholm Syndrome is still strong enough. In 2015, when the Phillies are spending $36 million or more on a relief pitcher and an aging first baseman alone, I wager that “well it could have been worse!” won’t really be comforting.