Phillies Linked With Yoenis Cespedes

If you were on the Internet yesterday, you probably heard about Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. The highly-touted outfielder has drawn the interest from at least one-third of the teams in Major League Baseball, including the Phillies, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. If you watch the YouTube video below, it’s hard not to get a little psyched about the guy’s potential. Even more so if you read Kevin Goldstein’s narration of the video at Baseball Prospectus.

If you’re wondering how international signings work, Dingers Blog posted a primer here. The last four paragraphs deal with Cubans. It’s not particularly complicated, but interesting nonetheless.

Bill’s Take: Given the holes on multiple fronts that the Phillies need to fill with a limited budget, I wouldn’t expect to see the Phillies in hot pursuit of Cespedes, but you never know. The Phillies don’t have any center fielders nearing a call-up and Shane Victorino becomes a free agent after the 2012 season, so Cespedes could cover the Phillies for the next five years or so. However, it is more likely that the Phillies will work out an extension with Victorino during the season or trade him by the July 31 deadline in order to fill that hole.

The Phillies are suspected to have between $30 and 40 million left to round out the roster. Furthermore, they have been more heavily linked with relievers Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon. Assuming that one of the two is signed for something near $10 million annually, the Phillies still have to sign Cole Hamels to an extension, find a shortstop, address left field and first base somewhat, and round out the bench and bullpen with $20-30 million. Given the widespread interest in Cespedes, I can’t see the Phillies competing in and winning a bidding war for his services unless Ruben Amaro plans to dumpster-dive to fill out the 2012 roster.

Paul’s Take: To be frank, I don’t know much. Like all of you, I had never even heard of this gentleman until about a week ago, when that hysterical promotional video made its way around the web.

Like Bill, though, I see financial constraints as a hindrance here. If this guy wants Aroldis Chapman money, I don’t know how that fits into the payroll with other needs more pressing. I can see how the allure of a player like Cespedes – a supposedly solid defensive center fielder with nice offensive upside – would draw big-time interest, but with so many teams supposedly interested at this point, it seems tough to put the Phils near the front of the pack.

Ryan’s Take: The Cuban free agents have a way of exploding onto the market with a comet’s tail of hype and folk legends for obvious reasons. Not only is there an added element of mystery about the player’s true ability, but I would bet there is also an intelligence cold war being waged between teams, just under the surface; none can be sure how much data any other has gathered on the player, which is important as the market for him takes shape. To those of us with only the video to go on, there are a few things that are obvious. For one, he has physical tools for days — he can jump very high, run very fast, and do a variety of squats and lifts with assorted giant weights, grand pianos, old-timey anvils, human beings, etc. attached (I’m even leaving out “explosive ability” and “core power” which, per the video, entail jumping up and down a lot of times consecutively, and thrusting your crotch into an unfortunate spotter’s face, respectively). For another, he appears to have a tremendous amount of power, and a swing that looks mechanically sound and conducive to sustaining that power. Of course, power is only useful if you can put the ball in play, and it remains to be seen how well he can do that against the caliber of pitching that exists in the MLB, replete with secondary pitches that are likely better than anything he’s seen in a league that Keith Law characterizes as “equivalent to low Class A or worse.” We’re also unable to make any inferences about his plate discipline, which itself involves a giant competitive leap for a Cuban player coming to the majors.

The Phillies aren’t known for making big IFA splashes, but, now that they’ve established a new spending power, it might be time to take full advantage of what that market has to offer. Last season’s Hunter Pence trade put the Phils’ system in an unfortunate state, and it would be nice, with the departure of Jon Singleton, to add a bat with Cespedes’ potential to it. But other big market teams are reportedly quite high on him, which will drive up his price. He’s also “26,” so he’s not really a “prospect” per se, and if it turns out that he’s major league ready in the near future, the Phillies don’t necessarily have a spot for him (granted, they could always keep Domonic Brown roasting in the organizational bronze bull for no reason at all). At the right cost, Cespedes is definitely a worthy pursuit, but the Phillies should invest generously in Cole Hamels and a starting shortstop first.

Phillies Bring Back Jim Thome

The Phillies, as seems to be a common theme these days, shocked the baseball world yesterday when they announced the signing of Jim Thome on a one-year, $1.25 million deal. Since he was traded from the Phillies after the 2005 season, Thome has spent most of his time in the American League as a designated hitter. In his very brief stint in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009, he served as a pinch-hitter.

The Thome signing is believed to be a response to Ryan Howard‘s injured Achilles. Thome, of course, hasn’t played in the field regularly since 2005, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented that the Phillies would ask him to make the switch — all Thome has to do is look across the diamond at Placido Polanco, who the Phillies acquired after the 2009 season. In his time since leaving the Phillies in 2005, Polanco hadn’t played a single inning at third base, but he moved to the hot corner anyway. Of course, Polanco played superb defense at second base and has since proven to be one of the best defensive third basemen as well. Moving from DH to first base is an entirely different animal and, at the age of 41, it is questionable if Thome can handle playing the field even on a platoon basis.

When he will be in the lineup, though, Thome will be a force. Despite his age, he posted a .362 wOBA during the 2011 regular season. Although that is his lowest mark of the past six years, it is well above the league average (between .310 and .315) and rare to find in a player of his age. His .362 wOBA would have been second-best on the Phillies among players with 300 or more plate appearances.  More impressively, Thome was one of only 17 Major Leaguers in history (min. 300 PA) age 40 or older to post an OPS 30 percent or higher compared to the league average. The list is littered with Hall of Famers:

 

Rk Player OPS+ PA Year Age Tm
1 Ted Williams 190 390 1960 41 BOS
2 Barry Bonds 169 477 2007 42 SFG
3 Willie Mays 158 537 1971 40 SFG
4 Barry Bonds 156 493 2006 41 SFG
5 Edgar Martinez 141 603 2003 40 SEA
6 Brian Downing 138 391 1992 41 TEX
7 Moises Alou 137 360 2007 40 NYM
8 Dave Winfield 137 670 1992 40 TOR
9 Stan Musial 137 505 1962 41 STL
10 Carlton Fisk 136 419 1989 41 CHW
11 Harold Baines 135 486 1999 40 TOT
12 Darrell Evans 135 609 1987 40 DET
13 Carlton Fisk 134 521 1990 42 CHW
14 Ty Cobb 134 574 1927 40 PHA
15 Brian Downing 132 476 1991 40 TEX
16 Jim Thome 131 324 2011 40 TOT
17 Willie Mays 131 309 1972 41 TOT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/5/2011.

Thome has traditionally been better against right-handed pitching compared to left-handers, but that wasn’t the case last year. It was the first time he posted a platoon split that favored southpaws. In terms of wOBA, he hit lefties at a .385 clip; right-handers only .353. If Thome is to fit into a platoon at first base or serve as a pinch-hitter, when he will be used almost exclusively against right-handers, he needs to be a lot better against them. Looking at the data, there wasn’t any large shift in performance although Thome’s isolated power vs. RHP was at a career-low, excluding his injury-plagued 2005.

Naturally, there are concerns about Thome’s defense. Thome hasn’t played regularly in the field since leaving the Phillies. While it’s hard to imagine he completely forgot how to play defense in the last six years, there are a lot of little things at first base that are mastered only through repetition (e.g. footwork). Thome will have ample time to get reacquainted with the position during the off-season and spring training, so we will simply have to wait to see how that part of the issue is addressed.

The other concern is that he is simply not physically able to play the position, in terms of stamina and range. If the Phillies happen to face ten right-handed starters in a row, as they did between May 5-15 during the 2011 regular season, can they count on Thome to be in the lineup every day without a significant decline in performance? Will the gradual wear-and-tear of first base — for example, holding a runner on first base and dashing back as the pitcher delivers — erode his durability as the season progresses? These are questions that, simply put, nobody knows the answers to and will not until the season is under way. Nevertheless, they are legitimate concerns, especially considering it is rather unprecedented that a 41-year-old DH six years running is asked to move back into a defensive position.

On the other hand, if Thome is instead asked to serve in more of a bench role, is he one of those players whose offensive contributions decline without regular at-bats? Some pinch-hitters complain of “getting cold” if they are not given the opportunity to take their hacks every so often. When Thome gets on base as a pinch-hitter late in the game, will the Phillies always lift him for a pinch-runner? This may necessitate carrying only an 11-man pitching staff. All of these concerns should have been addressed as the Phillies contemplated signing him.

On the surface, the Thome signing is very savvy. At the cost of just $1.25 million, Thome need only be a 0.3-WAR (FanGraphs) player, something he has been every year between 1994-2011 excluding 2005. With Thome now in the fold, it will be interesting to see how the Phillies round out the rest of the roster. MLB Trade Rumors reports that the Phillies are very interested in Michael Cuddyer, noting that he could play at both corners in the infield and outfield. A Thome/Cuddyer platoon at first base would undoubtedly be more offensively productive than Ryan Howard would have been.

Regardless of what happens, it will be great to see Thome back in Phillies red. His tenure in Philadelphia ended rather abruptly and, given his reputation as a person and a player as well as his relationship with Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia and Thome are a natural fit.

Ryan Madson’s Free Agency

Previous update (October 24, 2011):

  • The Nationals may be interested in signing Madson: source.

Paul’s Take: Hm. Where have we heard this one before? An impending Phillies free agent being lured to the nation’s capital on the promise of a career payday? Well, it seems Ryan Madson may be the next such Philly player, joining Jayson Werth, to consider fleeing south. Madson has emerged as one of baseball’s better relievers over the past few seasons – 204 strikeouts in 191 innings since the start of 2009, and an even 4:1 K:BB ratio – but the Phils may have used their Get Out of Jail Free card with Madson’s agent, Scott Boras, when they signed him to a three-year deal before that ’09 season. That deal bought out two free agent years, and Madson may be itching to see what he may have missed out on earlier.

Ryan’s Take: I’m already wondering whether it is worth signing a reliever to Madson’s actual market value. If the Nationals are going to rerun the 2010 offseason and top that value by 30% or more, I’ll be bidding another bittersweet farewell. Madson, by all accounts, loves pitching in Philadelphia, but it sounds so far as if the offers he’ll be seeing this winter will be impossible to turn down. Amaro’s recent comments about looking outside the organization for a veteran reliever portend a serious overpay on the part of the Phillies. Bill was absolutely right when he wrote that the Phillies would do well to be thrifty in assembling the 2012 bullpen, given all we know about relievers and the market for them. Madson’s possible departure, while a definite loss, gives them an opportunity to re-allocate money to other areas of need, and presently, if you believe Amaro’s media face, the Phillies may squander that opportunity entirely.

Bill’s Take: Not much that I can add here. Regular readers of the blog know how much of a Madson fan I am, but I don’t want to keep him at a Boras price. Even if the Phillies raise payroll a bit, I think they would have  hard time adequately plugging every hole while committing, let’s say, $12 million for Madson starting next season. I also have no qualms about going into 2012 with Antonio Bastardo or Jose Contreras as the closer. The one downside I see to passing over Madson is that Amaro said he wants to get a veteran closer from outside the organization. When I hear that, I think of Heath Bell and cringe.

Placido Polanco and the Third Base Situation

Last updated: 10/13, 12:30 p.m.

  • Charlie Manuel ponders an upgrade at the hot corner: source.

Paul’s Take: Third base for the Phillies is something like the goaltender position for the Flyers. Back in the day, there was a stalwart at the position, but recent years have found little stability or above-average production. Placido Polanco, signed before the 2010 season, has been hurt and producing offense more typically found in middle infield positions. As Aaron Gleeman mentions over at Hardball Talk, Polanco’s .702 OPS is 20th among third basemen since the start of 2010. Polly is owed $6.25M in 2012, and he’ll almost assuredly remain the starter when healthy.
What might behoove Amaro would be a search for a quality backup. The Phils missed out on acquiring guys like Wilson Betemit who, while not a superstar, did provide the Tigers with 15 extra-base hits in 40 games after being acquired. Polanco had 19 extra-base hits all season.

Ryan’s Take: The Phillies have a lot on their shopping list right now, including some pieces that probably take a higher priority than a position where there is already an established starter. To his credit, Polanco provided excellent defense even while playing hurt in 2011. But, facing possible offensive regression by Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, and with Ryan Howard’s 2012 effectiveness in serious doubt, that might not be enough on it’s own. Normally I would accept him retaining the full-time job as a foregone conclusion, but to hear a manager as fiercely loyal as Charlie Manuel even mentioning an “upgrade” makes me wonder if falling short of the NLCS this season may have put him in a more pragmatic state of mind. Considering that Polanco posted a .364 wOBA last year against left-handed pitching, compared to just .281 against right-handers, might a platoon be in order?

The 2011-12 Compendium

This is the main page for the Compendium of the 2011-12 offseason. Bookmark this post for a collection of links to various posts on the different issues and storylines surrounding the Phils, plus the opinions and analysis of the Crashburn Alley staff. This post will be updated as the individual posts update. Bear with us in the early going; we’ll try to keep everything organized and filled with content, but the offseason is young.

A more detailed description of what the Compendium is after the jump:

Continue reading…

Jimmy Rollins’s Contract Status

Last updated: 10/24, 9:15 a.m.

  • Five years is probably too much for Phils, Scutaro an option?: source. – 10/24

Paul’s Take: Marco Scutaro would certainly be an offensive upgrade from the replacement suitors we know in Wilson Valdez and (gulp) Michael Martinez. Scutaro wasn’t necessarily a factor of Fenway Park, either, as his road OPS is comparable to his home split; it was even higher than his home OPS this year. Scutaro won’t fulfill the needs of people fixated on the decrease in age, but on a one-year deal, he would seem a suitable replacement. At this point, to me, he seems a more suitable replacement for 2012 than Freddy Galvis.

Paul’s Take: While I don’t think he’s going to get five years, I have little doubt that he means business and won’t hesitate to sign elsewhere if the price is right. Hey, this is his last big contract, after all. I don’t think it would be wise to give Jimmy – with a .316 OBP since ’09 – five years. Three makes more sense, given his defense should be worth it.
Some advanced metrics have Rollins showing signs of declining range, partially as a result of injuries and partially, perhaps, as a result of age. It’s difficult to discern between the two right now. Phillies fans are aware of Rollins’s stout defensive abilities, to be sure, but there doesn’t seem to be reason to think a healthy Rollins isn’t still a valuable commodity, even with a slowing bat.

Bill’s Take: I’m with Paul. I’m comfortable giving Rollins three years, even with an option for a fourth, but I get uncomfortable guaranteeing four or more years to a player of Rollins’ caliber. Don’t get me wrong, I find Rollins to be very valuable especially given his position, but he is no Troy Tulowitzki. I do, however, grimace at the thought of going year-to-year with one of the many crummy free agent shortstops around or, worse yet, relying on an unproven Freddy Galvis, who has just one potentially-fluky season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley under his belt. Rollins talked about five years, but that’s what he should do — it’s Negotiating 101. I have a hard time seeing him getting five guaranteed years, and for the Phillies’ sake, I hope I’m right about that.