The Farewell Voyage?

If there was one thing I was concerned about entering this offseason, it was the possibility that the Phillies would fail to lock up Cole Hamels to a multi-year extension.

As you all know and are probably tired of hearing by now, the 2012 season will be Cole’s last under team control in his current contract situation. His three-year, $20.5M extension ended at the conclusion of last season, and ’12 will be his final year of arbitration eligibility. The logical comparison often bandied about is Jered Weaver‘s five-year, &85M extension, signed this past August. The numbers bear out a close comparison. Hamels is almost 15 months younger, but both pitchers have about six years of Major League service, separated by 0.08 in ERA, 114 strikeouts, 16 walks and 29.2 innings. Despite concerns – Weaver with his cross-body delivery and Hamels with Minor League arm trouble – both have been durable, starting 30-plus games each of their past four seasons.

Only one is signed past the 2012 season, though, and it ain’t the one pitching for the Phillies this season. And that is quickly becoming a problem.

CSN’s Jim Salisbury recently posted a piece which details the club’s focus in signing Hamels to a one-year contract. That it’s even come to that is damning. I’ve held to the belief for a couple years running now that, if Hamels is allowed to play the 2012 season as a walk year, he will indeed walk right out of Philly to a new home at season’s end.

Consider Cole’s possible competition on the free agent market next winter. Obviously, things could change depending on how players perform, injuries and other miscellany throughout 2012, but at this moment, this is the 2013 free agent market. Matt Cain will command money. Zack Greinke should also probably expect to receive a healthy contract, but not on the same level. The next tier includes guys like James Shields and Ervin Santana, both of whom have reasonably affordable options (or, in Shields’s case, may be traded for and extended by their new team). They would be a half step below Hamels to begin with, but if they don’t reach the market, that’s more power yet to Cole.

The point is, Hamels and Cain are the heads of the class. There’s little potential of a Ryan Madson-type positional market flooding preventing Cole from cashing in. And guess who’s lurking? The Yankees, for one, who have an obvious need and plenty of dinero. The Red Sox had some rotation issues, too. And that’s not to mention any number of teams that wouldn’t love to add an ace before he turns 30.

It’s all gut feeling at this point. What I may be feeling, you may be sensing the opposite. And sure, a decent one-year deal could keep Hamels placated and away from running the gauntlet of an arbitration hearing. But he doesn’t own this city any type of loyalty or discount, especially to a fan base which, on a maddeningly large scale, wanted him run out of town after an unlucky 2009 and a front office that seems to think Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon are worth major bucks, but not him. This is the game you play and the risk you take.

Hamels is entitled to every penny the market will bear, and he will get it, especially if he stays healthy and posts another non-2009. Call it fatalist or pessimist, but don’t forget to call it realist. The Phillies are big boys and can spend with the big dogs, but with more than $100M already committed to just six players in 2013, adding Hamels at potentially $17M-plus – a higher AAV than Weaver – will make the luxury tax loom even larger than it already does.

It’s an unnecessarily complex situation, given the Howard and Papelbon deals, but it’s complex nonetheless. Call it a kneejerk reaction, but as of this second, I don’t like the way this is shaping up one bit. Not one bit at all.

Video: Q&A with Lee, Howard, Ibanez, Lidge

Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Brad Lidge took some questions from fans at a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce event.

The 2011 On Deck with the Phillies Reception, a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce event sponsored by KPMG and co-sponsored by Pennoni, allowed Chamber Members and Phillies fans to participate in an informal Q & A session with Phillies stars Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Brad Lidge.

Hilarious moment at around the 2:40 mark.

Philadelphia Phillies 2011 Season Preview: Blogger Roundtable

At long last, the regular season is here. To me, the time between Game 6 of the NLCS and today felt like 17 years — it was excruciatingly long and boring. I thought this day would never come! Hopefully, you are as excited for the start of the 2011 season as I am.

Early in March, I recruited some of my favorite Phillies bloggers to preview the upcoming season as best as they could. Last year’s blogger roundtable was well-received; this year, I aimed to include fewer bloggers to remove the clutter while keeping the same high level of analysis. Below, you can see the participants along with where you can read their work and find them on Twitter.

Name Writing Twitter
Eric Seidman FanGraphsBrotherly Glove @EricSeidman
Corey Seidman Phillies NationBrotherly Glove @CoreySeidman
Matt Swartz Baseball Prospectus @Matt_Swa
Michelle O’Malley NBCChicks Dig the Long Ball @M_OMalley
Michael Baumann Phillies Nation @AtomicRuckus
Paul Boye Phillies Nation @Phrontiersman
Ryan Sommers Chasing Utley @Phylan

1. Given the news about Chase Utley’s tendinitis, what do you think are realistic expectations from the second baseman in 2011?

E. Seidman: As pessimistic as this sounds, fans should expect absolutely nothing from Utley this season, and should treat anything he provides as a bonus. Nobody is 100 percent certain about the diagnosis of his injury, let alone the proper course of treatment, and even if he resorts to surgery there is no guarantee of a complete recovery. I would estimate that he will be back in action sometime around August, but that it will be the Zombie Utley we saw at times last year… you know, the Utley that hits .270/.335/.450. That slash line would still represent an upgrade over Castillo/Barfield/Valdez, which is pretty sad. The most realistic scenario is that Utley plays about 65 games this year and posts a slash line similar to the estimation above. If he can do that, I’ll be thrilled, though I am preparing myself for the worst: that he won’t play at all.

O’Malley: Chase Utley is walking a thin line right now. Either he gets knee surgery now (and I am not at all qualified to say whether he should or not) and has a chance at coming back later in the season and for the playoffs, or he waits until he feels good enough to play, and takes a chance on either getting hurt (and needing surgery) or finishing out the year (and probably getting surgery in the offseason). Realistically I think we see a lot of Luis Castillo/Wilson Valdez/Placido Polanco/whoever the Phillies are most comfortable with at second from day to day, and very, very little Chase Utley in 2011.

Sommers: You wouldn’t know it from how it was covered, but Utley managed to battle through slumps and a power-sapping thumb injury last year to put up another great season. It wasn’t his usual caliber, but  a 130 wRC+ from a second baseman, especially one with defense as good as Utley’s, is something that all 30 teams in the league would take. That, taken together with his .288 BABIP (when Beyond the Boxscore had his xBABIP pegged at .302), was enough assuage any worries I might have had for his 2011.

(Click to enlarge.)

This obviously changed with the press conference about his patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia. The fact that team officials have been so typically tight-lipped about it has left fans and press with only whatever wild speculation they care to engage in, and there’s been no shortage of that. It has also made any kind of projection for Utley’s 2011 impossible. The fact that they’ve not opted for surgery doesn’t really tell us much, since it’s not indicated for his condition most of the time. It’s clear the team is pursuing every last rehab protocol they can come up with, which is encouraging. Since we’re all effectively guessing, I’ll take an optimistic tack and predict a mid-July return for Utley. Since he didn’t seem to have any trouble taking batting practice with the condition, one could hope it won’t cause long term offensive depletion, even if it does hamper his defensive range. So I’ll extend my optimism to his batting line, and guess .280/.385/.485 upon his return. He’ll be worth perhaps 2.5 to 3 wins for the Phils in 2011, in the absolute best case scenario.

2. What does Jimmy Rollins’ future look like? Is he wearing a Phillies uniform after 2011?

Baumann: I’m actually bullish on Rollins this season. He was a 2.3-win player in 2010, while missing about 40 percent of the worst season of his life. Rollins, who turned 32 this offseason, will still be an elite defender and percentage basestealer for years to come. Let’s assume he stays healthy and his BABIP (.251 in 2009 and .246 in 2010) returns to somewhere in the neighborhood of his career average of .290—there’s a lot to be excited about. Rollins, like Ryan Howard, had a different approach to hitting last year, but it actually paid off for J-Roll: a career high in walk rate, a career low in strikeout rate, and for the first time in his career, Rollins walked more than he struck out. The result: an almost-identical wOBA from 2009-10, despite a 49-point drop in SLG. If he keeps his walks up and his strikeouts down, and stays in the lineup, Rollins could return not to the level of his flukish 2007 MVP campaign, but to the 4-5 WAR player he’s been for the rest of his career.

Now, will he be a Phillie after 2011? It depends on how much he costs, and who else wants him. Certainly, the Phillies could allocate some of the $23 million they won’t be paying Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge in 2012 to a Rollins deal, but as age advances, the wisdom of an extension could be debated. Gun to my head, I’d say yes, but I don’t know what the cost or eventual wisdom of such a deal would be.

Boye: The future of Jimmy Rollins probably looks something not unlike Omar Vizquel’s. Vizquel, a good defender even into his early forties, was able to still be useful despite his diminishing bat. It’s becoming more difficult to justify his presence as anything more than a bench player these days given that his ability to play the field at all has faded, but he’s still provided plenty of value in his time. Rollins could follow the same path – through their respective age 31 seasons, their offensive numbers do bear some similarity – assuming he stays healthy. Figuring Rollins to stick around as long as Vizquel is a bit of a stretch, but every team can find use for excellent SS defense, which I expect Rollins to maintain for a few more years.

As for being in Philly beyond this season, yes, I believe he’ll be here.

Swartz: There are only a handful of shortstops capable of playing at the level that Rollins does, and there is a big difference between how those shortstops play and how the rest of shortstops play. Most teams that have competitive teams in large markets have one of those shortstops right now. What team values Rollins more than the Phillies do? They’ll squeeze each other for a while and make threats, but I’d bet they’ll get it done at the price it takes to outbid the Giants or whoever else is involved.

3. How comfortable are you with a starting outfield of Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Ben Francisco?

C. Seidman: Right now, not very. If Ben Francisco and his beautiful connected swing can take that next step most believe he is capable of, “not very” turns to “comfortable.” Victorino has said several times this offseason that he has re-committed himself to getting on base and increasing his weak OBP. Ibanez should put together a similar line to 2011. Francisco is the key; in a perfect world, he slides in to the number five hole and stays there.

Baumann: Not at all, and not for the reasons you might think. I’m actually not too worried about them offensively, particularly in terms of replacing Jayson Werth. Ideally, the Phillies would have platooned at both corner outfield positions—Francisco and Ibanez in left, and Brown and a cheap free agent outfielder who hits lefties well, Marcus Thames, for instance.

But since that’s not in the cards, and because Francisco and Ibanez are both average hitters with pretty big platoon splits, Ibanez could hit in the middle of the order against righties and Francisco could hide, and the reverse against lefties. It’s not ideal, but it’s perfectly satisfactory.

Where I’m going to miss Jayson Werth most is in the field. As a left fielder, Ibanez is not quite as bad as Pat Burrell, but he’s not that great. And despite the Gold Gloves, Victorino actually hasn’t been a great defensive player since moving from right field in 2008.

Sommers: Were we likely to get a full season from Chase Utley, I would be reasonably comfortable, but obviously that’s no longer the case. My ideal scenario, one which likely had no chance from the start, would have been an Ibanez/Francisco platoon in left, Victorino in center, and Domonic Brown the full time starter in right. Francisco posted a .384 wOBA against lefties last year, Ibanez .352 against right-handers, and their career numbers bear out similar talent levels. I’m a little sad that I won’t be able to see the possibilities of a strict platoon protocol for those two realized; it could have been tremendous.

Meanwhile, for all the talk of platooning Brown, curtailing the playing time of your mega-prospect is one of the better ways to make a bust out of him, and he’d never learn how to hit lefties if he were prevented from facing any. Of course, Dom went down with a hamate bone injury in spring training, and my optimal lineup dreams were dashed. You go to bat with the roster you have, not the one you want, and, that being said, the Phillies could do far worse. Francisco, Victorino, and Ibanez all fared well in wRC+ last year, all 7 to 11% above league average, despite  rather maddening offensive droughts from the latter two.

The real worry, I think, is just how defensively ugly this outfield will be. I don’t think I need to say much here about Raul Ibanez’s defense. Ben Francisco doesn’t have a very large sample from which we can evaluate quantitatively, but so far there is no indication that he’s a particularly good defender, and I think most eye tests would agree. Victorino, for all his gold gloves and popular perception, is just not a very good defender in center. He is a classic example of how speed in the field is squandered by poor tracking abilities. Add in the specter of Ross Gload seeing some playing time in the outfield, a possibility repeatedly raised by Charlie Manuel this spring, and you have a real circus in the Citizens Bank Park grass, and not the good kind.

While the Ibanez/Victorino/Francisco configuration could be well above average offensively, the amount of value that they’ll give back in the field is a serious concern. Over the last three years, the Phillies have gotten an average of 9.3 wins per year out of their starting outfielders (by bWAR). If this trio has to play a whole season (which hopefully will not be the case), expect that number to be closer to 7 for 2011.

4. Which of the Phillies’ four aces will have the worst season?

Swartz: The one with the highest BABIP? The difference between the pitchers in skill level is only about half a run or so, while the standard deviation in BABIP has a larger affect on ERA than that. The pitchers with the highest ERA won’t necessarily be the pitcher who pitched the worst at all. I guess I’d bet on Oswalt over Hamels.

O’Malley: Cliff Lee. I’m concerned with his delivery and that he’s putting too much pressure on his back. He spent some time on the bench last year because of some back issues and they’re only going to get worse as he gets older. It will be hard for Halladay to top the year he had last season, but he hasn’t given anyone anything to be concerned about this spring. Hamels is in his prime right now, and as long as he keeps his focus in the right place like he did last season he’s going to be virtually unstoppable as well. Oswalt on a bad day is still better than Kyle Kendrick on a great day. It’ll be a fairly evenly matched season between all five pitchers, I think, but if I had to pick one for the worst based on my gut feeling, it would be Cliff Lee.

Boye: Roy Oswalt seems the logical choice here. For years, he was considered one of the most underrated starters in the league, and his ’05-’07 seasons were really quite good. Now, though, as he approaches his mid-thirties, the effects of aging may start to become a real concern. Though his ERA with the Phillies (1.74) was wonderful, it seems that was more a product of a .221 BABIP and a by-far-career-high strand rate of 86 percent. This was alongside a drop in strikeout rate, and while it’s difficult to infer too much from 80 or so innings of work from a starter, it stands to reason that Oswalt has the most ground to lose on the likes of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

5. Are you worried about Roy Oswalt’s back problems?

Baumann: Not really. He’s been phenomenally durable over the course of his career, with at least 30 starts each season since 2003. Of course, as he gets later and later into his 30s, those little niggling injuries might start keeping him out of the lineup, a phenomenon we’re certainly seeing with Chase Utley right now. But I’ll pencil him in for 30-plus starts until he proves he can’t do that.

C. Seidman: Yes, but only because he seems to be. If you delve into his responses to questions, especially the one asked at that hokey 5-starter press conference from the beginning of Spring Training, you can see subtle apprehension from Oswalt. I could see him missing a handful of starts due to injury, and maybe one or two more when the Phillies have a comfortable September lead.

6. Is Joe Blanton still in Phillies pinstripes after July 31?

E. Seidman: Yup. Blanton isn’t going anywhere unless the Phillies are in absolutely dire need of someone to fill in at a specific position that isn’t already plagued with injuries. Otherwise, I see no need to move him, and I believe the Phillies are in agreement. For some reason, fans seem to think of Blanton as this expendable piece, when he would be the #3 starter on practically 2/3 of the teams in the sport. Not only is he not going anywhere, but he is going to have a very good season as well, which will even further the discussion that is one of the best all-around starting rotations in history.

O’Malley: I’m probably the biggest Joe Blanton fan there is, so it’s hard for me to say it, but no. I think if the Phillies find themselves between a rock and a hard place due to injuries, offensive troubles, whatever, they’ll shop Blanton at the trade deadline. I would hate – hate – to see him go, and I’ve been advocating for him as long as he’s been on staff, but I think the club is going to learn from their mistakes last year and pay more attention to their needs outside of starting pitching if necessary. They may need some bats, they may need some life in the bullpen. If they need anything at all, Blanton is probably the first to go in return.

Swartz: Yes. What are the odds that none of the four pitchers have an injury between now and then that gives the Phillies pause?  If they each had only a 16% chance of being injured, there would be a 50% chance that one of them one would be. I hope they are all healthy all year, but that’s not something to have faith in.

7. Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson can both become free agents after the season. Do you keep both, neither, or one of them? And if you keep one, which one and why?

Boye: Slam dunk: I keep Madson. He seems to have made the jump to “elite” reliever, and Brad Lidge’s 2012 option is for $12.5 million with a $1.5 million buyout. Paying that much for a relief pitcher is nuts, especially for one who is clearly no longer in his prime. Madson seems in line to make up to $7 million annually in his next deal, assuming he stays in a non-saving role this season, and that’s $5 million saved that can be put toward finding a new starting left fielder when Raul Ibanez also departs after this season. Madson is no slam dunk to be as good as he was in 2010 for years to come, but I sure like his odds better than Lidge, especially at a discount.

O’Malley: I would keep Madson. I’d love to keep Lidge as well, but being a nice guy only gets you so far if you have a different pitching arm related injury every few months. This does not mean I would keep Madson to be the closer, though, by any stretch of the imagination. Say what you will, but his opponents’ batting average is almost thirty points higher in the ninth inning than it is in the seventh and either, and his BABIP is almost forty points higher. He’s allowed more homeruns in the ninth in 90 games than he has in the eighth in 214 games. His ERA in save situations is 4.20, compared to his 2.57 ERA in non-save situations. Lidge may be Charlie Manuel’s closer, but the Phillies are going closer shopping this November. Or at least, they should be.

Sommers: I’m tempted to say keep Madson and let Lidge walk, but the most prudent answer may be to keep neither one. I feel like I’ve been watching a Ryan Madson “endless debate” video for the last two years, mostly on this very blog. As you’ve extensively covered, Madson’s “closing concerns” are just a mess of sensational reporting and cognitive biases. His fastball has averaged 95 miles per hour in 2009, and about 94 miles per hour in 2010, 10-12 miles per hour than a changeup that is widely regarded as one of the best in baseball. That changeup, by the way, had the second best whiff rate in baseball. He’s averaged 8.8 K/9 and 3.6 K/BB in the last 3 years, numbers that peaked in 2010 at 10.9 and 2.2 respectively. Since 2008, of Phillies pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched, only Hamels, Halladay, and Oswalt have gotten outs more efficiently than Madson — he has the fourth lowest opponent OBP of that set (.299).

He has the best stuff, he misses the most bats, and he keeps the most men off base of any Phillies reliever. He is without question the best reliever on the Phillies, and certainly one of the best in the league. All of this screams “highest leverage reliever.” With Manuel at the helm, the Phillies are bound to traditional bullpen roles, so that means closer. And yet the fans, media, and general manager seem content to ignore these facts in favor of a flawed, century-old statistic and some rather ridiculous observational anecdotes.

Lidge, for his part, made a nice recovery last year, posting a 137 ERA+ over 45.2 innings pitched, but he continued to struggle with walks, to the tune of a 4.7 BB/9. He benefited substantially from his .250 BABIP over that period, and, in any case, does not begin to stack up to Madson in stuff, health or overall value. The problem with Madson, of course, is that he is about to become more expensive, particularly if management gets wise and dubs him the closer. He is already making an average annual value of $4 million on his current contract, and is not going to re-up at that rate. With any significant number of saves under his belt in 2011, the market for him will be fierce, and could drive his price up to $7 or $8 million per year, which is more than Amaro may be willing to pay, and, frankly, a bit above the threshold of what I’d want my team to shell out for a reliever. With the payroll as high as it is, the Phillies could make better investments with that sort of money than a relief pitcher, as volatile as they can be (even ones as good as Madson). If you’re going to overpay for a reliever, Madson is certainly one to do it for, but I don’t think it would be the optimal move, as much as I want to see him remain a Phillie.

Seidman:

Prior to the news that Lidge would miss about half of the season, I said this:

It’s easy to gravitate towards the Keep-Madson-and-cut-Lidge camp, but this isn’t as cut and dried. The issue is if Madson insists on being a closer. If that’s the case, then you buy out Lidge’s option after the year, and make sure that Madson signs an extension during the season. If Madson is okay with being the setup man, what I’d like to see is Lidge’s option be bought out, but for the team to negotiate his return at a lesser price. At $12.5 million, Lidge isn’t very valuable. But if he agrees to a massive pay cut and is willing to sign a 2-yr, $6 million deal? I think I’d go for that. But again, if Madson “demands” to close, the decision is much more straightforward, as he is younger and the far superior pitcher.

With the news that Lidge will miss half of the season, my answer can be reduced to simply: sign Madson, part ways with Lidge unless he’s willing to accept some deal with a very low base that oozes incentives.

8. How do you feel about the rest of the Phillies’ bullpen going into 2011?

Baumann: I think it’ll be fine, but I also think they’re approaching it wrong. I think Lidge will ride the ragged edge, but ultimately be fine. I think Madson, even at age 30, continues to improve. Apart from those two, I would have liked to see the Phillies hand the keys to the kingdom over to the youngsters. Contreras and Romero are fine, and Baez won’t be around much longer, but they’re all average at best. I’d rather have my “average” come from unknown quantities like Justin De Fratus, Mike Stutes, Scott Mathieson, Vance Worley, and Antonio Bastardo. The Phillies have no shortage of potential middle relievers in the high minors, and with a good offense and great starting pitching ahead of them, and a good defensive team behind them, guys like that are going to succeed now, if ever.

C. Seidman: Comfortable. Many think it is a weakness, but I don’t. The starters will eat a ton of innings. Realistically, the bullpen may pitch 9 total innings each time through the rotation, with 6-7 of them being Contreras and Madson. The light workload will help. Danys Baez can only improve. I anticipate strong LOOGY numbers from Romero.

Boye: It’s fine. Losing Chad Durbin’s ability to go more than one inning effectively is something that might be missed if Kyle Kendrick is asked to do the same this season, but I have no grave concerns about anyone else. They have their flaws, sure, but assuming their workloads are, in fact, limited with the presence of this starting rotation, my worries are limited. Sure Contreras may be 57, Lidge’s velocity and command are whittling, Romero can’t stop walking people and Danys Baez exists, but something still tells me things could be a lot worse. That’s not to say I’ll be Mariano Rivera-like comfortable, but the pins and needles will be dull.

E. Seidman:

Sommers: It varies depending on who you ask, but the others will probably be Romero, Contreras, Bastardo, Kendrick, Herndon, and Baez. There were some rumblings today that Michael Stutes might be a dark horse in the mix, but considering that it would require some 40-man maneuvering, I’ll ignore that for now. While I would rather have seen Baez released and possibly launched into space in a sealed S.S. Botany Bay type of deal, I actually find this pen to be acceptable, if it were used optimally.

This means that Romero can’t face 74 right-handed batters again, as he did in 2010. In fact, it would be preferable if he didn’t face any at all, although I suppose a few over the course of the season would be inevitable. It means that Baez should be banished to mop-up duty only, and Kendrick restricted to righties (who’ve hit just .258/.303/.397 against him in his career) in low to medium leverage situations. It means Contreras should log a lot of innings if he stays healthy, and preferably most of the high leverage situations that aren’t pitched by Ryan Madson.

I don’t exactly mean to say that Manuel should stand around in the dugout with an iPad displaying leverage and run expectancy tables (although, now that I think about it . . .), but he has the opportunity, especially considering the starting rotation, to squeeze a lot of value out of a group that isn’t exactly awe-inspiring if he just breaks some tired traditions and optimizes their use. Unfortunately, it’s almost certain he will stick with traditional bullpen rules. Whether this will be the difference between a sub-par pen and an effective one remains to be seen, but I suspect that it might.

9. Do you think the Phillies did an adequate job with the bench, or do you think they could have done more?

Swartz: I would have liked a right-handed hitter who could hit the ball out of the park, but it’s tough to criticize putting all of their resources towards signing an ace below his market price.

E. Seidman: Schneider as a backup catcher is solid, and Gload is a great pinch-hitter. Wilson Valdez is perfectly fine as the jack-of-all-positions player. John Mayberry deserves a shot and can spell Victorino in center field at times. Those last two spots are iffy, but I’d rather the team take a flier on Josh Barfield than spend millions of dollars on formerly good players who won’t get more than 100 PA. Overall, the bench is fine. It’s not incredibly deep with talent, but it has players who do certain things very well. The bench is built to help a team with healthy starters, but not make up for lost production if those starters go down.

C. Seidman: They should have done more, and I suspect they will at some point before the deadline. That being said, I love the versatility that Delwyn Young brings and pray that he makes the team. I am still not sold whatsoever on John Mayberry. That is the spot that needs to be productive. If Mayberry makes the spot productive, I’d gladly eat crow.

. . .

Over/Unders

(Click to enlarge.)

In the comments below, feel free to leave your own replies to the questions, or comment on the answers left by the seven bloggers that participated in this roundtable. Thanks Eric, Corey, Matt, Michelle, Paul, Michael, and Ryan for participating! Please check out their blogs and follow them on Twitter, they’re a big reason why the Phillies fan community is so great. Speaking of which, check out this squaretable with some more pillars of the Phillies blogosphere.

Marlins 2011 Season Preview with Michael Jong

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those have been posted throughout the week.

Today, we will learn more about the Marlins from Michael Jong in our fourth and final installment in our look around the NL East.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Marlins?

The offseason was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Marlins made the right decision in trading Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves in lieu of extending him for five years. The team also went out and got Javier Vazquez on a deal that is likely below market, a high-risk / high-reward move that fits perfectly with the team’s outside chance of contention. At the same time, the Uggla trade return looked subjectively unappealing, even if it probably was objectively fine. Furthermore, the team filled the catcher position but did so by giving John Buck more money than they needed to; while he is likely to be worth his contract, the team simply did not need to pay him that much. The team radically redid its bullpen, but may have paid more to do so than was necessary as well. The changes may not leave them any better than they were last season.

2. Do you agree with the Marlins’ plan to turn Chris Coghlan into a center fielder? Why or why not?

The short answer is a resounding “no.” Coghlan took time to transition himself to left field from the infield, and it showed both in the defensive metrics and in the eyes of the fans via the Fans Scouting Report. Now the fans think he is an average left fielder, but an average left fielder is undoubtedly not close to an average center fielder, and the decision looks worse when you consider the sizable distance a center fielder would have to cover in Sun Life Stadium compared to a left fielder. Add on the fact that Coghlan will be playing the outfield anchor alongside Logan Morrison, who just started playing left field professionally and is no Carl Crawford out there. Now throw in how Coghlan is coming off a torn meniscus that ended his 2010 season. The move has “disaster” written all over it.

3. What are your thoughts on the Marlins keeping Edwin Rodriguez? Would you have preferred they bring in somebody else?

There was always talk about Ozzie Guillen coming to town, since he got his start as a third base coach in Florida, but the last time the team had a strong personality at the helm, owner Jeffrey Loria came down to the clubhouse himself and got involved. In that light, Edwin Rodriguez and his soft-spoken nature may suit the team best. I generally have no preference towards any managers though, as long as they aren’t messing up pitchers’ arms or distracting the team.

4. Should we expect big things from Mike Stanton and Gaby Sanchez this year?

It’s scary that the projection systems all have Mike Stanton hitting 35-plus home runs this year, but it is totally believable given what he did last season. When you put together his monstrous Double-A year and his impressive rookie campaign, the guy hit over 40 home runs in just under 650 PA. And he’s 21 years old in 2011. I’m excited to see his power output again this season. Gaby Sanchez, on the other hand, appears to be a known commodity despite this being his second season. He basically hit his preseason projections last year and did exactly what everyone thought he would do. He is a strong bet to repeat his 2010 line, but with Morrison playing out of position but being important to the team’s future, Sanchez figures to be the odd man out at some point in the next year.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Matt Dominguez is a big name to watch, if only because he is coming in as the top option at third base despite not showing that he is ready to be a major leaguer and face big league pitching. Chris Coghlan‘s trial run in center field will start in the spring, and it would not surprise me if the Marlins ended it by spring’s end as well. Scott Cousins is the likely backup option for center field, but he’ll need to show he deserves a roster spot as a fourth outfielder before he gets the opportunity to be the starter.

6. If you had to guess on the Marlins’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

Without running the numbers, I would say the team is in line to win 83 games and place third in the division. This is has happened so often to the Marlins since 2003 that it has become almost an annual tradition. I eagerly await for them to tease me with a Wild Card run before falling completely flat in September.

BONUS: I can haz @LoMoMarlins?

. . .

We will have our Logan Morrison. Phillies fans always get what they want.

Thanks to Michael for stopping by to participate in this Q&A. Be sure to check out his blog Marlin Maniac for all your news and analysis during the 2011 season.

If you missed the previous three installments, here are links:

Nationals 2011 Season Preview with Harper Gordek

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we will learn more about the Nationals from Harper Gordek.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Nationals?

I’d rate it as fair to good. The problem is, when viewed from what it could have been it looks bad. The Nats got rebuffed by several free agents and were turned down in a deal for Zack Grienke. GM Mike Rizzo almost promised the acquisitiion of a #1/#2 type pitcher. Jayson Werth could have been had cheaper and/or on a shorter contract. In a different world the Nats are celebrating a fantastic offseason, and that makes this one seem poor in comparison. When you look at what they did get objectively however, you do see improvement. Letting Dunn walk was tough, but this is Rizzo’s new goal. He wants a defense first squad. Dunn doesn’t fit in. Jayson Werth will be at least as productive when it comes to offense and defense combined, and is the type of plate-appearance battler that they needed to replace the walk-master Dunn. (contract be dammed – it’s a bad deal but that doesn’t mean the Nats won’t get 3-5 good offensive seasons first. Worry about it becoming an albatross when it does – am I right Ryan Howard fans?) Adam LaRoche is a perfectly acceptable slightly above average placeholder first-baseman, who’s offense will replace the healthy 2/3rd of a season departed Josh Willingham was likely to put in. I would have rather had Derek Lee or Carlos Pena but objectively they aren’t really better. Laynce Nix and Rick Ankiel give the Nats 4 meh guys to run through in left field, but meh guys who are still capable of having that career year. Tom Gorzelanny gets one more chance at maybe being a solid starter. The bullpen is filled again with cheap talent. The Nats are almost certain to be a better team this year, not much better, certainly not .500 better even, but better.

2. What should we expect from Jordan Zimmermann this year? Despite some ugly results upon returning from injury last year, he actually pitched well. Is that indicative of what we should expect in the future?

You should see the best Jordan Zimmermann yet this season. What that means though is anyone’s guess. Like you note he could be due for a breakout season. He’s well underperformed compared to his xFIP (4.63 ERA to a 3.39 xFIP in ’09, 4.94 to 4.08 last year) and he’s the type of high K pitcher you love to have. The problem with Jordan is that he’s a flyball pitcher who gives up way too many long balls. That 22% HR/FB ratio from last year will surely drop, but his 12% in 2009 was also high, and it’s an issue that he had in the minors as well. Most likely he’ll significantly improve over the ERAs in his first two years by a combination of luck and experience but the homers will keep him from being a great pitcher. I look for an ERA of around 4.00.

3. Is Drew Storen the Nationals’ closer, or is that role up for grabs during spring training?

It should be Storen’s job no matter what, but instead I think it’s merely his job to lose. If Storen looks a little shaky, I could see a Clippard or Burnett or Henry Rodriguez or even Todd Coffey taking that 9th inning role. I think Mike Rizzo is as interested as finding this year’s Matt Capps (who if you don’t remember he turned into Wilson Ramos) as he is trying to settle down the closer spot this season. I do think Storen will win and keep the job though.

4. The Nats have three capable catchers on their active roster: Wilson Ramos, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jesus Flores. How is the team going to handle that?

Rizzo is building a team defense first and Ramos is the better defender. Flores is likely to start the season “rehabbing” in AAA, while Ramos and Pudge split time behind the plate. Every at bat Pudge gets is a terrible, terrible mistake but the Nats want him around to tutor Ramos. If that means humoring him with a possibly futile chase for 3000 they’ll make fans suffer through it. Flores then becomes trade bait for the big deal Rizzo is dying to pull.

Flores can only get back to a starting spot if Ramos (and Pudge) are terrible at the plate and he forced the issue from AAA. This isn’t that far out a scenario. Ramos hasn’t shown any pop in the majors and doesn’t walk so he’s totally reliant on a high batting average. Flores on the other hand might have been putting together a break out offensive year before being injured. Still, if Ramos is merely passable, the Nats have another catcher they like, Derek Norris, in the pipeline and they can wait things out.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Not in any interesting “young guy could win a position” sort of way. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Wilson Ramos are set in their roles (and ST stats are pretty meaningless so if they struggle or prosper I wouldn’t read much into it) LF is still undecided so keep an ear out for what they are saying about Roger Bernadina, Mike Morse, Rick Ankiel, and Laynce Nix. I think they’d like Bernadina to win the role, and a Morse/Ankiel or Morse/Nix platoon makes the most sense, but don’t rule out a Nix or Ankiel winning the role outright – especially if Rizzo likes their defense.

Keep an eye on the starting pitching situation, the Nats have 6 main contenders for starting roles. It’s a mix of injury returns, guys with little experience, and 4.50 ERA guys. It could break any number of ways. Personally I think Lannan is the most interesting because he was pitching an entirely different and more effective way after returning from injury. If he keeps that up he could sneak up on the league. But again – I don’t like to think anything is proven in ST. I’d also check to see how Henry Rodriguez is doing – I think Rizzo would love to push him into as important a role as possible to up his (or Storen’s) trade value.

6. If you had to guess on the Nationals’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

Let’s say 74-88 and 4th place. Ahead of whichever of the Marlins or Mets self-destruct this season.

. . .

Thanks to Harper for taking the time to answer some questions about the Nationals. Be sure to check back with his Nationals Baseball blog throughout 2011 for more information about the Phillies’ division rival.

Mets 2011 Season Preview with Joe Janish

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we will learn more about the Mets from Joe Janish.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Mets?

D. The team did nothing but pick from the bottom of the junk pile all winter. It was a similar strategy to what Omar Minaya did in the past: sign players who once did something well, but are now undervalued due to recent injury and/or underperformance, and hope for the best. But instead of Minaya doing it, it was Sandy Alderson, so the PR angle is that it was a collection of “smart moves”. The major difference between this and other winters was that the Mets didn’t make at least one “big” signing to make the offseason appear successful … but with the news of the Madoff case, we now know why.

I realize that Alderson was working with a tight budget and had his hands tied by bad moves made by the previous administration. However, when I rate “the Mets”, I’m rating the entire organization, and that includes ownership — who is ultimately responsible for a team’s success or failure. That said, “the Mets” went backward, did not improve the club for 2011, and are relying on their annual strategy of “hopes and wishes”. I know that the stat-focused crowd is loving seeing the Alderson / DePodesta / Ricciardi regime in place and there are fans who are happy that it appears young players will get a chance to prove themselves, but, neither of these changes is likely to improve the big-league club in 2011. If I were grading Alderson, I’d say he did a good job considering the circumstances; but I’m grading the Mets.

2. The Mets acquired Chris Young and Chris Capuano, both with significant injury histories. Do you agree with taking a chance with them, or would you have preferred the Mets look elsewhere?

I really like the Capuano signing, because he never relied on velocity yet he now may have a little more than he’s had since his mid-twenties. Further, pitchers coming off TJ surgery tend to have a better chance of full recovery compared to other procedures, and Capuano has been through this once before. Assuming he is fully recovered and regains the command of his pitches he had in 2006, I think Capuano can be a pleasant surprise and give the Mets 200+ quality innings. Citi Field is the perfect place for him.
Speaking of, the main thing Young has going for him is a return to a pitcher’s park. I’m concerned about his health and his ability to pitch in more hitter-friendly stadiums such as Citizens Bank Park and Turner Field. But considering the price tag, the signing was a no-brainer and worth rolling the dice — certainly, a better gamble than the one the Mets made on Kelvim Escobar last winter.

Would I have preferred that Mets looked elsewhere? I guess, but where? The free-agent market was pretty limited, the best that was available wasn’t worth the dollar figures and the Mets couldn’t afford them anyway. Maybe the Mets could have explored the trade market further but they didn’t have many valuable, expendable chips to offer.

3. Do you expect Carlos Beltran to be wearing a different uniform by August 1?

Yes — assuming he stays healthy. If the Mets can get him on the field 4-5 times a week, they can probably fetch something from an AL team looking for a DH. His salary could be tough to move without eating some of it, though — he’s owed $18.5M this year. My fear is they’ll get nothing of value in return because they’ll be desperate to rid themselves of the cash commitment.

4. Offensively, what are you expecting out of this team? They were 13th out of 16 NL teams, averaging 4.05 runs per game last year.

The offense could be better compared to last year, but that’s assuming a few things break right; for example, if Jason Bay comes back 100% from his concussion and hits somewhere close to what was expected when he signed that 4-year / $66M deal. He doesn’t need to be a superstar, but he has to be able to hit at least 20-25 HRs and provide an .850 OPS. The Paulino / Thole platoon behind the dish could be productive, and if one of the younger kids can displace Luis Castillo at 2B, the lineup will be deep if lacking in power.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

The second base situation is the main thing to watch. We’re hoping that Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, AAAA guy Justin Turner, or the positionless Daniel Murphy becomes Jeff Kent — and who knows, one of those guys might be able to do it. Career minor leaguer Dillon Gee makes up for his lack in talent with craftyness and a bulldog mentality; he could steal the #5 spot in the rotation. I really like the Mets’ other Rule 5 pick Pedro Beato, who has an outside shot at a bullpen role.

6. If you had to guess on the Mets’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

I’m hoping they can finish fourth, but the Nationals scare me a little with their maturing youth and suddenly deep pitching (compared to previous years). It’s not impossible for the Mets to finish as high as third, but that’s going to require a lot of “ifs” turning out the way we’d like.

. . .

Thanks to Joe for taking the time to share some insight on the Mets. Don’t forget to add Mets Today to your bookmarks to keep tabs on them during spring training and throughout the 2011 season.

Braves 2011 Season Preview with Peter Hjort

Baseball is officially under way as pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Every team goes into spring training with hope as well as some pertinent questions. To get a feel for what other teams are looking for, I caught up with three SweetSpot bloggers: Peter Hjort for the Atlanta Braves blog Capitol Avenue Club, Joe Janish for the New York Mets blog Mets Today, and Harper Gordek for the Washington Nationals blog Nationals Baseball. As we don’t have a Marlins blogger, I also spoke with Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac. Those will be posted throughout the week once a day.

Today, we’ll start with Peter Hjort and glean some knowledge about the Braves.

. . .

1. How would you rate the off-season for the Braves?

They did well. Frank Wren was able to upgrade the offense and balance the line-up by acquiring Dan Uggla and only had to part with a 25-year old potential set-up man and a 29-year old utility player to do it. They won’t have as strong of a bench or bullpen in 2011, but Braves fans have to like the team they’ll be going with next year as well as the fact that their farm system is still more or less completely intact.

2. Does Jason Heyward have a shot at winning the NL MVP award in 2011?

Sure, if he stays healthy. He was hitting like an MVP-candidate before he injured his thumb last year. If he can put that injury behind him and manage to play 140+ games at full strength, there’s no telling what Heyward will do. Heyward staying healthy for an entire professional season would be unprecedented, so we must temper our expectations in that regard, but, regarding ability, the hype is real.

3. The offense figures to be much improved with the addition of Dan Uggla, prospect Freddie Freeman, and a healthy Chipper Jones. Will they be among the NL’s best offenses?

Yes, I think so. They’ve got a good amount of power in the line-up and their first five or six hitters figure to all post on-base averages between .350 and .420. There are some question marks surrounding Alex Gonzalez and Nate McLouth, but even if they get very little from the pair they should be among the NL’s best offenses. If the aforementioned question marks fall on their faces, Atlanta has the flexibility to make an in-season acquisition.

4. Billy Wagner‘s retirement leaves a void in the 9th inning. Fredi Gonzalez hinted that he will platoon Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. Do you prefer the platoon, or would you rather Kimbrel have the role all to himself?

I don’t really care that much. Obviously you’d prefer to have them leveraged in situations that are most beneficial to the team (read: platoon), but I don’t think endorsing one strategy over the other is worth more than a quarter of a win a season or so. Of the two, I’d probably rather see Kimbrel close full-time because Jonny Venters‘ ground-ball tendencies and left-handedness give him more opportunities to be matched up favorably.

5. Are there any players we should be keeping an eye on during spring training?

Nate McLouth, for one. He’s the starting center fielder and nobody seems to know what he’s capable of–though I expect a better season than he managed in 2010. Jason Heyward‘s thumb is something to monitor, as well as Chipper’s ACL. Rookies Craig Kimbrel, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Freddie Freeman, and Stephen Marek all figure to have some type of impact on Atlanta’s 2011 season. Finally, all eyes will be on Julio Teheran–the organization’s top prospect–as he gets his first extended look in Spring Training.

6. If you had to guess on the Braves’ final record and place in the standings, where would you put them?

94-68, 2nd in the NL East, Wild Card winner.

. . .

Thanks to Peter for sharing his thoughts on the Braves. Keep up with the Braves during spring training and throughout the 2011 season — bookmark Capitol Avenue Club.