The 40-Man Roster Crunch: Finding Room

Welcome to 40-Man Roster Crunch week here at Crashburn Alley. Over the next few days, I’m going to distract from the fact that nothing is going on with the Phillies as the World Series continues by focusing on the impending struggle to keep all of the team’s best prospects ahead of the Rule 5 draft. For those two don’t know, the Rule 5 Draft occurs every December on the final day of the Winter Meetings. That day, every Minor League player not currently on a team’s 40-Man roster is available to be claimed by another team, providing a couple conditions are met.

Generally speaking, to be eligible for this draft, a player drafted out of high school or signed as an international free agent must have spent five seasons in the Minor Leagues. If drafted out of college, the player must only have spent four seasons in the Minors. There some edge cases (if a player’s original contract is voided, for instance, they are often immediately eligible), but generally, if those conditions are met, a new team can acquire the player for $50,000. The catch is, they must then not only spend the entire next season on the acquiring team’s 40-man roster, but also the active roster. That is often prohibitive. There are some loopholes, as suspended or injured players are not returned, but generally, that’s the idea.

The Phillies have a notable number of players who are not only Rule 5 eligible this season, but are also worthy of protecting from the draft. It’s not the worst problem to have. This series is split into four parts, including one examining prospects who are locks to be added to the roster, another for prospects who are likely to be added to the roster, and a final one for those who have the potential to be lost in the Rule 5 draft. Today, we’ll begin by clearing the table, and examining the Phillies’ current 40-man roster. Doing this will hopefully give an idea of how many spots are actually available for Phillies’ Minor League prospects. This series begins with the basic assumption that the Phillies aren’t interested in selecting a player themselves in the Rule 5 draft, but were an available prospect from another team more valuable than the current player in the 40th roster spot, that might effect their decision. I don’t think that’ll happen though.

Already Gone

We can begin by acknowledging the six players already removed from the Phillies’ 40-man roster. Last week, it was announced that Emmanuel Burriss, Jimmy Paredes, Patrick Schuster, Frank Herrmann, Dalier Hinojosa, and Colton Murray were the first wave of outrights for the Phillies this offseason. None of those moves are very shocking, but I would say that Hinojosa and Murray, relievers who hit 95-96, are the most likely of the bunch to spend significant time on the Phillies in 2017, as bullpen depth. While this move subtracts six players from the end of season 40-Man roster, there are three players (Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Matt Harrison) on the sixty-day disabled list who will need to be given roster spots in the offseason.

Roster spots filled: 37

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Crashburn Roundtable: Former Phillies in the Playoffs

With the focus of the baseball world placed firmly on the playoffs, Philadelphia has been able to latch onto one story line this October – the large number of former Phillies on other teams’ playoff rosters. While Los Angeles features the most, with Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Joe Blanton on hand, former Phillies are also represented on the Rangers, Blue Jays, Indians, and Nationals. Here today to answer a few questions about these players are Crashburn Alley staff writers Michael Schickling, Timothy Guenther, Dave Tomar, and Ben Harris.

Jayson Werth (101 wRC+, 1.0 fWAR) and Chase Utley (97 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR) faced off in the NLDS as members of the Nationals and Dodgers, respectively. They also both enter the 2017 season as 38 year old veterans with injuries in their past. Disregarding contract status, who will be the more valuable player in 2017?

Michael Schickling: At this point in their careers, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth are no longer the All-Star caliber players they once were in their Phillies days, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been productive late into their thirties. As it stands they both project as close-to-league-average hitters with extreme injury risks. However, because “whichever one of them doesn’t get hurt” isn’t an option here, I’m going to say Chase Utley. He provides a similar offensive profile to Werth but also provides some defensive value, whereas Jayson Werth’s glove has eroded so much that he’s essentially a DH shuffling around the outfield.

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Arizona Fall League Begins With Seven Phillies Prospects

While the closest thing to Phillies news at the Major League level is the preponderance of 2008 heroes on other teams in the playoffs, there is some news going on at the Minor League level. In Scottsdale, Arizona, seven Phillies prospects joined prospects from the 29 other teams in the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday.

On the Scottsdale Scorpions, the Phillies players join those from the Angels, Mets, Yankees, and Giants. None of Philadelphia’s highest ranked prospects are here (although Scott Kingery is probably near the team’s top 10), but it is an important opportunity for these interesting players to develop and potentially demonstrate enough progress to earn a 40-man roster spot. Below is a quick guide to the seven players representing the Phillies.

Victor Arano – RHP

A 21-year old righty, Victor Arano was an interesting piece brought over from the Dodgers in the 2014 Roberto Hernandez trade. At the time of the deal, he was generally considered one of the top 20 prospects in Los Angeles’ farm system, and was noted for his advanced physical maturity for his age, advanced feel for pitching, low 90s fastball, and above-average slider. He spent 2015 in the high-A Clearwater rotation where his strikeout rate (and results) dropped precipitously. He was still only one of the youngest players in the league, but converted to relief in 2016 after a dominant Mexican Winter League stint in the bullpen.

He’s since been called one of the best relief prospects in the farm system. The only solid velocity reports I’ve found are spoken in this video from July, where his fastball sat 94 mph (hitting 97 mph), and his slider was in the low-mid 80s. Anecdotally, his command was also very strong in that appearance. This increase in velocity is backed up by his 23.8 percent K-BB rate in high-A and double-A this season. He’s still a year away from being Rule 5 eligible, so there’s no rush make a decision here (and likely no roster space anyway), but a continuation of his dominant season in the AFL could feasibly fast-track Arano to begin next season in Lehigh Valley. He could certainly pitch Major League innings in 2017.

Brandon Leibrandt – LHP
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Crashburn Roundtable: Free Agent Pitchers, Hellickson’s Injury, and the September Bullpen

In this week’s Crashburn Roundtable, we discuss veteran starting pitchers that are available on the free agent market, the implosion of the Phillies’ bullpen in September, and a minor injury to Jeremy Hellickson in his last start of the year. Contributing today are Crashburn Alley staff writers Timothy Guenther, Ben Harris, and Michael Schickling.

Recent rumors have stated that the Phillies will pursue a veteran starting pitcher in free agency this offseason – if not Jeremy Hellickson or Charlie Morton, who fits the bill in this light free agent class?

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The Season Is Over: Did The Phillies Make Any Progress?

The Phillies ended the 2016 season on a relative high note: a 5-2 victory over the Mets in a game that functioned as an emotional send-off to one of the team’s most iconic players. At the end of that game, the Phillies found themselves at 71-91, in fourth place in the NL East. Year-over-year, that’s a notable improvement from the team’s 63-99 record in 2015.

That knowledge invokes certain words. Progress. Building. Other terms typically heard following the de-facto motto of the city of Philadelphia. However, as I’ve expressed before on this website, standard win-loss record is a less than ideal method of measuring a team’s talent. Using a team’s Pythagorean record, a more accurate measure of a team’s total performance can be calculated using their runs scored versus runs allowed. By this method, the 2016 Phillies are a little worse off – instead coming in at 62-100. The team’s 2015 Pythagorean record? 62-100.
In a year that was supposed to be about the development of some young players at the Major League level, it is discouraging to see that they’ve basically managed the same ratio of runs scored and runs allowed. Certainly, there were some disappointments this season as well. Maikel Franco was inconsistent at the plate, and didn’t perform up to his 2015 season. Aaron Nola began the season looking like an All-Star, only to fall off in a really strange way and end the season early with an elbow injury. Aaron Altherr didn’t look good after his return from injury. The bullpen was there. You know, bad things happened.

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Crashburn Roundtable: Hernandez, Gomez, and Surprising Bats

It’s the second week of the rejuvenated Crashburn Roundtable feature, and today, we focus on the future of Phillies’ second baseman Cesar Hernandez, current (maybe former?) closer Jeanmar Gomez, and two young players who have been surprisingly productive offensive contributors in 2016. Included here are contributors Michael Schickling, Brad Engler, Dave Tomar, and Timothy Guenther.

Second base is seen as something of black hole on the Phillies, but advanced metrics actually like Cesar Hernandez. He’s performed at a league-average or better rate (per 600 PA) over the last two seasons as evaluated by each of the three major strains of WAR. How much faith should the team have in Hernandez moving forward?

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Remembering Jose Fernandez: Baseball’s Fountain of Youth

I rolled over Sunday morning to the gut-wrenching news. Like many, I’m sure, I thought it had to be a mistake. Jose Fernandez could not be dead. The news landed a swift body blow, lodging an ache deep in the recesses of my stomach. I flipped open my computer. Fernandez gazed back at me, his Baseball Reference page open and a Twitter search of his name sat on my screen from the previous night. From beneath his dark Marlins cap, a sly smile gazed back at me.

On the nightstand next to where my computer had been, one word stared back at me. Before falling asleep, I left a note on my nightstand. “FANTASY BEFORE 1:00,” a reminder to set my lineup for Sunday’s slate of games, the conclusion to 24 weeks of an unhealthy devotion to a Yahoo! Sports-facilitated quasi-reality.

FANTASY. This was anything but.

Last thing before I fell asleep late Saturday night, I learned that Marlins starter Adam Conley would bump Jose Fernandez from his turn in the rotation Sunday, the final day of my fantasy baseball championship. Jose Fernandez was my ace in the hole. I was deeply frustrated that Fernandez couldn’t help me beat my lifelong best friend in a fantasy championship (the pinnacle of bragging rights).

Baseball is an endlessly quantified game. Such a heavy focus on numbers distills the game and highlights statistics, drawing our attention to something we can see without actually seeing: an on-base percentage, a swinging strike rate, a run differential. You don’t need to see every at bat to appreciate a high batting average.

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The High Hill Left To Climb: When Will The Phillies Contend?

The 2016 season is wrapping up, and as I write now, the Phillies are 68-83, a 73-win pace. It’s been five full seasons since the last competitive Phillies team, and as the offseason begins, it’s fair to expect improvement of some form or another next season. However, what should expectations be? Should we expect the team use their financial muscle to immediately sign the few large agents this season? Trade the farm for a front-line ace? Stand pat?

Maybe the most effective way to begin answering questions about the future is to step back and take a look at where the team stands right now. Let’s say the Phillies do end up winning 73 games this season – that’s several games better than their preseason PECOTA projection (69 wins with the worst record in baseball). Personally, I’m not comfortable calling a team a contender until their projections make them likely to at least win a Wild Card spot (somewhere around 86-87 wins). At that point, there’s a relative comfort in having 50/50 odds at getting a full playoff series, and the team is one or two unforeseen breakouts away from winning the division. If the Phillies’ believe they can construct a series of moves to get themselves, a 73-win team, to about 86 wins, then it would behoove them to make those moves.

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Crashburn Roundtable: Hellickson, Herrera, and Expiring Contracts

Welcome to the first edition of the rebooted Crashburn Roundtable, where I ask the staff a few questions about current state of the Phillies, and get the group’s perspective on a variety of issues. This week, we actually have all six writers on board with responses, covering a potential Jeremy Hellickson qualifying offer, trade rumors surrounding Odubel Herrera, and the expiring contracts of four veteran role players.

The three major variations of Wins Above Replacement (rWAR, fWAR, and WARP) each rate Jeremy Hellickson as a slightly above-average pitcher in 2016. At the same time, qualifying offers are expected to rise to $16.7 million this offseason – would the Phillies be happy if he accepted the qualifying offer? If not, is that risk enough to make the entire gamble not worth it?

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Odubel Herrera Is Not Having A Bad Season

There’s been a modest amount of discussion late this season about the Phillies potentially trading young, All-Star center fielder Odubel Herrera. There are no real indications from the team itself that they look to trade him this offseason, but a perceived combination of a worse total performance (particularly in the second half), and concerns about attitude (largely the idea that he started to coast after making the All-Star team) have lead some local fans and pundits to want to cash out on the former Rule 5 pick.

I’m not in the clubhouse, so I can’t (and won’t) really speak to the latter concern. However, I can certainly comment about the former concern. The idea Odubel Herrera is having a worse season than in 2015 is really not based on much of substance. His 9.9 percent walk rate is almost double last season’s 5.2 percent rate, his strikeout rate is down by four percentage points, and his .134 ISO is moderately improved over last season’s .121 mark. He’s stolen 22 bases and hit 14 home runs, 6 more than each of his respective totals last season.

In fact, with one notable exception, he’s outperformed his ZIPS projections in every rate category (BB%, K%, ISO, AVG, OBP, SLG, wOBA, SB%), while proving himself to be very durable. He’s also swung and missed a little bit less often, and has improved his swing selection by a tiny bit.ZIPS projected moderate regression from his rookie year, but his performance in almost every one of those categories is also in line with or better than his 2015 season. Basically, in all respects other than BABIP, Odubel Herrera’s offensive season is remarkably the same as last year – if not slightly more refined.

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