Report: Phillies Close to Acquiring Michael Young

UPDATE: It’s official. Texas Rangers writer T.R. Sullivan reports  that a Michael Young trade to Philadelphia is getting closer to becoming a reality.

Michael Young’s time with the Rangers appears to be over. Industry sources are indicating that the trade could go down today with Young accepting a move to the Phillies.

Young was one of baseball’s least valuable players in 2012 and is 36 years old. Nevertheless…

Young has been debating whether or not to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Phillies, weighing — as Jon Heyman put it — professional vs. personal, as his family lives in Texas. Should the trade go through, the Phillies would push Kevin Frandsen back to the bench, giving the veteran the lion’s share of the playing time at third base.

Despite the awful 2012, Young entered the season having posted at least two Wins Above Replacement in six of his previous seven seasons, so there is the hope that last year was simply a fluke. However, there isn’t much historical precedent for older players rebounding after an awful season. Additionally, Young hasn’t played regularly at third base since 2010, accruing 40 games at the hot corner in 2011 and 25 in 2012, spending most of his time at first base and DH. When he was at third base, he was — well, less than impressive defensively. The video below was posted by commenter EricL, calling Young’s defense “Wiggintonesque”, referring to the second at-bat featured in the clip.

There were very few options available for the Phillies to address their third base situation, however, so Young was their top target in a weak market. Along with the recently-acquired Ben Revere, the Phillies will have surprisingly made two trades this off-season and zero free agent signings to date. With the Rangers expected to take on at least half of Young’s remaining $16 million salary, the Phillies still have the financial flexibility to make one or two big free agent signings. The Phillies have been looking at corner outfielders and starting pitchers since acquiring Revere on Thursday.

Phillies Acquire CF Ben Revere from Twins

Todd Zolecki reports:

Multiple sources confirmed to this morning the Phillies have acquired outfielder Ben Revere in a trade with the Minnesota Twins. It is unclear who the Phillies have sent to the Twins as part of the trade, but the Twins have been looking for pitching.

Jim Salisbury reports Vance Worley and Trevor May are going to Minnesota.

Revere, 25 years old in May, has a career .287 wOBA in 1,064 trips to the plate, but he is more valuable than he appears at first glance. He becomes eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2013 season, which means he will be cheap and under team control through 2017. You’re looking at the Phillies’ center fielder of the future, barring any future transactions. Additionally, he plays excellent defense and runs the bases very well (74 steals in 93 attempts, 80%). The hope is that Revere’s offense improves with time, and there will be plenty of that.

Many were hoping for the Phillies to get Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton, but trading for Revere was sensible by comparison. Rather than committing millions of dollars to players in their 30’s, the Phillies got a cost-controlled outfielder that represents very little in the way of risk with plenty of upside.

That being said, the Phillies did pay a price. They sold low on Worley, who is coming off of a bad season besmirched by an elbow injury. The right-hander was solid for the Phillies in 2011, posting a 3.01 ERA. Overall, in 277.2 innings, he has a 3.92 SIERA, which speaks of a reliable arm to have in the middle of a rotation.

May was, even to the seconds leading up to the trade, considered a top prospect in the Phillies’ system. Some of that speaks to the dearth of talent in the system, but May still showed flashes of a Major League-quality arm. The Phillies sold low on him as well after a disappointing 2012 in which he posted a 4.87 ERA with Double-A Reading. His strikeout rate declined precipitously and he still had not shown marked improvement in his control. Eric Longenhagen wrote a report on May back in October, concluding:

May’s ceiling is mostly the same (folks, I saw 96mph, a plus curve and a plus change at various times this year. A mid-rotation starter is in there somewhere and it’s still his ceiling) but the chances he gets there are now minute.

The trade will likely be framed, by fans and analysts, in the terms “won” and “lost”, but it’s not quite as simple as that. If this is what it took, at a time when center field options were quickly being taken off the board, to get Revere, then the Phillies did well to get a player who will not hamstring them financially while providing plenty in the way of talent and upside. Additionally, by not spending lots of money on a free agent center fielder, the Phillies have the freedom to go after free agents at other positions, such as Nick Swisher for right field.

Sending Worley away means that the Phillies, at the outset, will go into 2013 with a starting rotation that includes the usual Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay, but also Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd as well. That back-end of the rotation could spell trouble going forward, so it will be interesting to see if the Phillies go after free agent starter. The list of remaining free agent starters is small and mostly uninspiring, but does have names such as Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, and Kyle Lohse. An unheralded, relatively cheap player to think about is Carlos Villanueva as well.

When the Phillies are done making moves, it will be interesting to compare what they’ve done to what they could have done. For example, are they better with a rotation that includes Worley and an outfield with an expensive free agent than they are now with Revere and perhaps a new starting pitcher? The difference is smaller than one would expect, and it’s why this trade should be, at least for now, applauded.

Looks Like We Picked the Wrong Week to Quit Sniffing Choo

Ruben Amaro Jr. may have nurtured a bit of a reputation for offseason ostentatiousness, but there didn’t seem to be much room for it entering this offseason. The Phillies’ needs were obvious enough: outfielders, likely two, one of which a centerfielder, and a serviceable third base solution. The market at both positions was similarly straightfoward, with a few headliners like Hamilton, Bourn, B.J. Upton, and Angel Pagan available at centerfield, Nick Swisher, Melky Cabrera, and some lesser names in the corners, and some decidedly slim pickings at third base. Circumstances seemed primed for an offseason that would grow more predictable as a few big pieces found their new homes.

So it’s been interesting to watch many of the obvious free agent targets come off the board as the Winter Meetings in Nashville have progressed. The Phillies not only non-tendered Nate Schierholtz (a puzzling choice considering his usefulness and probable low arbitration figure), but have been rather quiet as quality outfielders for hire have signed elsewhere. This doesn’t exactly comport with Amaro’s typical offseason; one could well have expected him to acquire a certain target early, and offer whatever deal was necessary to secure it before the market had a chance to take shape. Instead, in the past week, the Phillies have collected plenty of interesting data about how that market is behaving. It ranges from some seemingly reasonable deals, such as Angel Pagan’s 4 year, $40 million contract with San Francisco, to the expensive and risky (but probably acceptable) 5 years, $75 million that B.J. Upton earned from the Braves, to the outright inexplicable: 3 years, $39 million for Shane Victorino from the Boston Red Sox. It’s clear the the Phillies have stayed on the safe end of some dangerous potential bidding wars.

Superficially, the Phillies staying mum during the Winter Meetings would make for a boring start to the offseason. But in fact, as the obvious free agent options have dwindled, the December and January landscape has only grown more fascinating. The likelihood that at least one trade will be needed to satisfy the team’s needs has risen substantially, and that broadens the field of possible solutions. Early in the week, the notion that Curtis Granderson could be dealt for the right price emerged from multiple sources. Granderson, who is owed $15 million via an escalated club option next season, hit .232/.319/.492 for the Yankees last season, and is a capable defender in center. The Yankees, while trying to lower their payroll to a level that will be more advantageous under the new CBA, are still, as ever, trying to compete in 2013, so Granderson’s value to them next season is just as high as it would be for the Phillies; this makes it difficult to craft a deal that would be acceptable to them, especially as they’ve watched free agent targets like Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez go elsewhere. Brett Gardner taking the reins in center is not out of the question, but Nick Swisher is unlikely to return, and so their outfield possibilities are bleaker still without Granderson.

There is another, more intriguing possibility. Open as the AL Central perenially seems to be, it’s difficult to imagine the Cleveland Indians putting together a credible bid for it in 2013. Predictably, Jon Heyman reported on Wednesday that outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is “very available,” with the Indians seeking “long-term assets.” Choo turned 30 in July, and since 2008 has hit .291/.384/.471 for the Indians, the only blemish an injury-hampered 2011. In that same time period, he ranks 8th among 144 qualified MLB outfielders in wRC+, in the same neighborhood as Josh Hamilton, Andrew McCutchen, and Carlos Beltran, and 3rd in on-base percentage, behind only Manny Ramirez and Matt Holliday. The latter is thanks in part to an 11.4% walk rate, compared to the 2008-2012 ML average of 8.7%. More walks and on-base ability would be welcome additions to the Phillie lineup, which finished 14th in the NL in BB% and 10th in the NL in OBP in 2012. Choo also projects to be relatively inexpensive. Entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, Matt Swartz pegs Choo’s case at $7.9 million.

Is it a pipe dream? Possibly. It’s more likely than it was a week ago, when there was no chatter about Choo at all, but there have been no rumors forthcoming thus far that indicate the Phillies are in the mix. Add to that Buster Olney’s source that asserts the price for Choo is “high.” This is, of course, more rhetoric than reference point; who really knows what “high” is in the court of Chris Antonetti and Mark Shapiro. But, as with any potential trade this offseason, the Phillies find themselves low on ammunition. The good news is that, considering the state of the organization, there are few pieces the Phillies could send away that would constitute a significant blow to the farm system. The bad news is that it will be difficult to seriously impress the Indians with the likes of Trevor May and Vance Worley, the two assets that the Phillies are rumored to be bringing to the table this week. Worley is at a low point in perceived value, struggling with injuries last season, and it may be difficult to convince anyone that his true talent level is closer to his 2011 season. Trevor May would constitute a “long term asset” that the Indians seek, but he failed to progress in 2012, and has struggled to establish a repertoire of secondary pitches that could feasibly keep him in a starting rotation.

That’s not to say the Phillies don’t have more attractive assets, like Tommy Joseph and perhaps Jesse Biddle, but they’re not likely to want to part with either, considering that the sheen has seemingly worn off of Sebastian Valle, and the dearth of high-profile arms on the farm. It bears wondering whether, when Jim Salisbury reported on the Phillies’ enthusiasm for Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, and Adam Morgan, he was able to do so with a straight face. So perhaps acquiring Choo is a distant wish for the Phillies, but considering how well he suits their needs, it is more than worth pursuing. Rather than pay free agent dollars for Nick Swisher, Choo would allow the Phillies to stomach a larger contract for one of the remaining free agent centerfielders, instead of settling for the Coors-fueled Dexter Fowler or pining after the not-actually-available-at-all Peter Bourjos. And as a benefit of waiting out the market, the Phillies may find that prices for the likes of Hamilton or Bourn will sink to a more palatable range, or that previously unconsidered trade possibilities will present themselves. Creativity and patience may trump the war chest this offseason.

Indulging: Cliff Lee For Justin Upton?

It was something a lot of us could sense, but not necessarily put our fingers on. The Phillies had been very quiet this offseason, linked in name to some outfield options only to see them be inked by other clubs. Then, just before 5 p.m. eastern Wednesday, Pedro Gomez unleashed this:

Now isn’t THAT something?

Now, Gomez is not typically known for his baseball news-breaking and the report was, as expected, shot down not long after by other reporters and (rather vehemently) by Amaro himself. So, knowing that this deal is nowhere near imminent and perhaps nothing more than a breath beyond “rumor,” let’s press on and ponder the hypothetical.

Removing personal attachments and viewing these players simply as baseball assets, the fit would seem to make sense for both sides. In Justin Upton, the Diamondbacks would be parting with a homegrown, cornerstone player who turned 25 in August, a right fielder that the Phillies had hoped Domonic Brown would one day be. In Cliff Lee, the Phillies would be parting with a 34-year-old ace who has posted excellent numbers each of the last five years, a formidable counterpart to Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and, potentially, Trevor Bauer.

Each part of the deal carries risks complementary to their rewards. Could the Phillies deal from a supposed position of strength, with Roy Halladay’s health in question and immediate “prospect” replacements far from sure things? Could Arizona assume most of the difference between Lee’s and Upton’s salaries and expect him to keep pitching at a high level into and through his mid-30s?

Both Lee and Upton are signed through 2015.

Lee Upton
2013 $25M $9.75M
2014 $25M $14.25M
2015 $25M $14.5M

Lee also has a 2016 club option for $27.5M and a $12.5M buyout. Upton has no such provision.

The salary difference is striking, and would almost certainly have to be addressed in some capacity. But, assuming the entirety – or even the vast majority – of the difference is not accounted for, this could free the Phillies up to use the newly freed money to address another pressing need in CF or 3B. Or, to a lesser extent, a depth starter.

The Phillies’s new top of the lineup could look something like this:

SS Jimmy Rollins
RF Justin Upton
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
C Carlos Ruiz

With other positions remaining to be addressed. The rotation, then, would be left as:

Cole Hamels
Roy Halladay
Vance Worley
Kyle Kendrick
Tyler Cloyd

It’s significantly worse without Lee. Yet the lineup has a great shot at being significantly better, with a payroll ultimately lower than it was before (prior to finishing moves). Is it worth it? The rumor may be dead for now, but it’s still one worth keeping an eye on.

The Latest on the Phillies’ Offseason

The Phillies were close to acquiring reliever Wilton Lopez from the Houston Astros last week, but it fell through. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury on the deal that never was:

Talks had progressed to the stage where Lopez traveled to Philadelphia for a physical exam on Wednesday. The deal fell apart some time after that. Phillies officials do not comment on trades until they are completed and this one was never completed.

Lopez had elbow problems at midseason in 2012. The Phillies have been very diligent in checking out a player’s health ever since they acquired pitcher Freddy Garcia from the Chicago White Sox in Dec. 2006.

You have to applaud the Phillies for doing their homework on Lopez. The right-hander would have been a great addition to the back of the bullpen, but it wouldn’t have mattered if his elbow portends to be a problem going forward.

Elsewhere, the San Francisco Giants and center fielder Angel Pagan agreed to a four-year, $40 million deal earlier today. Another CF drops off the market for the Phillies, who are looking at Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, and Shane Victorino from the free agent pool.

The Phillies are investigating trading with the Colorado Rockies for Dexter Fowler, however, reports Ken Rosenthal:

Fowler has some serious home/road splits. Last season, he posted a .422 wOBA at Coors Field, but just .319 away from home. Over his career, those marks are .384 and .312, respectively. I worry that Fowler’s splits are legitimate because Coors Field has a very spacious outfield. The following two charts show the location of Fowler’s hits both home and away. There is a noticeable difference. (click to enlarge)

Note the few hits in the gaps at home. Outfielders could be shifting further away from center field due to Coors Field’s spacious outfield. Additionally, there are more hits down the right field line, particularly of the extra base variety. In Colorado, it is 350 feet down the right field line compared to 330 at Citizens Bank Park, which makes legging out doubles and triples a lot easier.

The spread was actually more pronounced in 2011:

You can see the difference quite clearly by comparing his BABIP on fly balls at home and on the road as well:

FB BABIP Home Away
2009 .319 .313
2010 .234 .094
2011 .220 .140
2012 .264 .102

As Fowler typically hits around 60 fly balls in each split, the difference between the two amounts to nearly ten hits, or slightly less than ten percent of his typical season total.

The Rockies are searching for pitching help, so one would have to think a deal would include Vance Worley or Tyler Cloyd, a reliever, and perhaps a prospect as well.

At ESPN Sweet Spot, I outlined five things the Phillies should do to ensure a successful 2013. I mentioned preferring the now-taken Angel Pagan to Shane Victorino because the former Phillies center fielder has had drastic right-left splits lately:

With the options drying up though, there are no perfect candidates. With Michael Bourn, the Phillies will likely overpay in terms of guaranteed years, total salary, or both. With Josh Hamilton, the Phillies will be rolling the dice with not only the contract but with Hamilton’s production as well. Fowler and Victorino both have some questionable splits.

Jim Salisbury reported that the Phillies are interested in Texas Rangers jack-of-all-trades Michael Young. The 36-year-old is owed $16 million in the last year of his contract. He spent most of last season as a 1B/DH but did play third base regularly as recently as 2010. However, he has his own drastic platoon splits, posting an aggregate .369 wOBA against lefties since the start of 2010 compared to .317 against right-handers. The Phillies already have a right-handed bat in Kevin Frandsen, and Young is coming off of a season in which he was baseball’s second-least valuable player.

Player WAR/pos Year Age Tm
Jeff Francoeur -2.7 2012 28 KCR
Michael Young -2.4 2012 35 TEX
Greg Dobbs -2.1 2012 33 MIA
Joe Mather -2.0 2012 29 CHC
Ryan Raburn -2.0 2012 31 DET
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/3/2012.

There’s nothing wrong with checking in, though. The Phillies wouldn’t be doing their job if they were only focusing on the relative cream of the crop. That being said, Young would provide almost zero benefit to the Phillies.

B.J. Upton Signs With Braves

A major free agent domino has fallen, sportsfans, as former Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton has agreed to terms with the Native American Warriors of Atlanta on a five-year, $75.25 million contract, the richest free-agent deal in franchise history. Upton was my dream choice for the Phillies if they went the free agent route with a center fielder, and while the 28-year-old is hardly a bargain at $15 million a year, there’s great potential for him to be worth that and more.

Upton, as you all probably know now, has great speed and is a good defender, with power that comes and goes. He should easily be an offensive upgrade over Michael Bourn (who we can probably assume is on his way out now), while losing a little bit with the glove and one bases. But that’s only because Bourn is one of the best defenders and baserunners in the game. With Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons in the fold, Upton should continue to keep the Braves’ team defense on a “sick nasty” level. And given the way Braves fans treated Heyward, an extremely talented player who underachieved due to nothing more than injury, I’m sure that Upton’s reputation for not exhibiting Brett Lawrie-esque levels of insane, self-destructive on-field intensity and showy effort will go over EXTREMELY WELL in Atlanta.

But anyway, while Bourn to Upton is something of a lateral move for Atlanta, most interesting is its effect on the rest of the market. Not only are the Phillies in need of an upgrade over John Mayberry, but the Nationals acknowledge that while Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth are good athletes and very good defensive corner outfielders, neither is the long-term answer in center field.

Not that the market lacks for options. Angel Pagan is still out there as a free agent, as are younger players like Denard Span and Dexter Fowler (potentially) via trade, but then there’s this:

To which I say:

First of all, I don’t think I have to tell you why signing Hamilton is a bad idea, but in case you’ve been asleep, here’s a primer: he’s a very good player, but he’s going to earn a lot of money going forward, and his skills and physical history suggest that the sands of time will erode him in a particularly dramatic way. Phillies fans, of all people, should know better than to want Hamilton after watching Ryan Howard crumble like Lot’s wife escaping from Sodom and Gomorrah. But these are the same folks who lived through the Hunter Pence trade and still think it’s a good idea for the Phillies to mortgage Boardwalk and Park Place to trade for Chase Headley. Like the Lotus-eaters, we trundle through life just kind of sleepily ignorant of all the turmoil that surrounds us.

There’s a possibility that all 30 major league teams will feel this way, realize that Hamilton can’t stay healthy, has terrible plate discipline and most likely will not be able to play center field much longer, and the market will evaporate, leaving him in much the same situation Edwin Jackson and Ryan Madson found themselves in last year. So if January rolls around and Hamilton can be had for, say, three years at $20-ish million per, then maybe we talk. But this:

That’s the kind of out-of-touch, glib disregard for financial prudence that one could only expect from someone who managed to get himself elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. An answer so cravenly, Harrison Bergeron-y populist that it makes clear, as if one wore a sign of neon lights on one’s head, and did a dance, smiling broadly and clicking your castanets, like some sort of sick, dystopian Carmen Miranda-in-Tron, that you pay only cursory attention to the state of the world as it is. A combination of ignorance and delusion that makes me wonder how in the hell this guy only lasted one term, because voters usually eat that kind of thing up.

Anyway, that’s the kind of contract that I’d like Josh Hamilton to get from another team.

As far as the impact of Upton’s signing on the rest of the market, I can’t say, because I don’t have any information. Which doesn’t stop some people from flinging around unsourced rumors like confetti. Because a scout and an agent think Hamilton ends up in Philly? Well, that and 17,000 credits will get you from Tatooine to Alderaan without any Imperial entanglements. Which, if I recall correctly, is the real trick, isn’t it?

A scout and an agent, presumably not Hamilton’s agent…so that’s two people who know a lot about baseball but have zero input in any process that would bring the Phillies and Hamilton together. That might as well be James Bond and the main character from To Kill a Mockingbird for all the good that does. If Bill and I say Josh Hamilton is going to Baltimore, or to Panera Bread for breakfast tomorrow, or to Mallorca for a nice offseason getaway with his wife, what then? We’re two guys who know a lot about baseball and have zero input in Hamilton’s professional future, would you believe us?

The point is not that what Crasnick said isn’t true, or that he’s even necessarily being irresponsible for reporting it. I’m just saying that it’s nothing more than what all of us are doing–speculating. So don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Greinke, Hamilton, Mental Health, Masculinity and Dignity

I know it’s been literally months since I’ve written anything even remotely serious here, but I just want to warn you up front that, unlike most of the stuff I write here, this isn’t going to be funny. Or perhaps this is a better way to put it: this isn’t going to attempt to be funny. I don’t want to presume to speak for Bill or the other guys with this post, but this needs to be said.

In a vacuum, the two best players on the free agent market right now are Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. Each has won a major award (Greinke the Cy Young in 2009 and Hamilton the MVP in 2010), and each has spent his free-agency years putting up remarkable stats, both traditional and advanced. Each should, most likely, receive a nine-figure contract to play baseball for the better part of the next decade, and good for both of them.

But this free agent class is interesting. Not only because, while it’s relatively deep, it lacks the top-end star power of recent years, but because its two crown jewels, Hamilton and Greinke, are known almost as much for their off-field difficulties as for their on-field prowess.

And about a month into the offseason, I have been truly shocked by how little we’ve heard about the former. It might be a function of my being very careful what bits of the public sports debate I expose myself to, but I’ve been incredibly pleased by how little we’ve heard about Greinke’s anxiety disorder and Hamilton’s battle with drugs and alcohol.

In case you’ve been on the moon since 2005 or so, here’s how the story goes. Josh Hamilton was drafted No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999 out of a North Carolina high school. He was viewed at the time as a franchise-defining prospect, possessed of obvious athleticism, a tremendous throwing arm and generational power. He was spoken of at the time in the same awed tones we currently use for guys like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and The Mighty Giancarlo Stanton. But his minor league career was derailed around the turn of the century by drug and alcohol abuse, forcing him to leave the game for three years to seek help. In 2007, the Cincinnati Reds, having acquired Hamilton through the Rule V draft, gave him 337 major-league plate appearances, and Hamilton made the most of them, posting a .292/.368/.554 slash line and netting them Edinson Volquez in a trade that offseason. Since then, Hamilton has made the All-Star team every year, and in 2010, at age 29, he led the American league in batting average and slugging percentage to win the MVP award.

Hamilton’s skills with the bat have been consistently coupled, in the public eye, with discussion about his addiction. Part of this is by Hamilton’s own choice, and considering what he overcame and what he’s accomplished since, he ought to be open about his faith and his recovery. He serves as a role model for those struggling with addiction, a symbol of hope for those who want to overcome it and seek help by going to alcohol and drug rehabs.

Greinke’s story is similar in some ways. Drafted No. 6 overall in 2002, the famed “Moneyball” draft, where he went ahead of Scott Kazmir, Jeff Francis, Cole Hamels and Matt Cain, Greinke was a prodigy, making 24 big-league starts in his age-20 season. But he imploded in 2005 and missed most of the 2006 season trying to manage social anxiety disorder and depression. By 2009, he was back, to the tune of, by Baseball Reference’s account, a 10.1-WAR season. Since then, he’s been one of the best pitchers in baseball.

So two happy endings, right? Most of you are intimately familiar with the details of these stories, but how we discuss mental illness in sports has a significant bearing on how we discuss it as a society. Don’t believe me? Our political media, for instance, borrows much from sports media, from a troubling strain of anti-intellectualism and innumeracy to the struggle to find meaning in minutiae. So how we talk about and think about Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton has an impact on how we think not only about other public figures, but more importantly, about each other.

I’ve been a strident opponent of the Phillies signing Josh Hamilton this offseason. His age, relative to the length of contract he’s likely to receive, scares me. As do his declining defensive utility in center field, his reliance on contact skills rather than plate discipline and his troubling injury history, which stands to get worse, not better, as his body ages. You know what doesn’t scare me? His history with drugs. Hamilton has made a lot of public noise about the great pains he’s taken to remain clean (with rumors of intermittent, though isolated, relapses) since his return to baseball. He’s struggling with a disease, one identified as such by the National Institutes of Health, and one which afflicts 23 million Americans. With proper caution and supervision, which Hamilton seems eager to take advantage of, he poses, in a vacuum, no more risk to a would-be employer than you or I.

The issue is whether he gets that caution, supervision and treatment. And to that I’ll say, the more we stigmatize addicts and alcoholics in our society, the less likely they are to get what they need to stay clean. Staying sober is a choice, but the way we treat addicts as a society speaks to the way we deal with societal inequalities of all kinds. There’s a common strain of thought in modern political culture, that there’s a 1-to-1 relationship between personal failings and moral weakness. And while the most intelligent and hardest-working often do rise to the top, success and virtue are not as well-linked as we’d like to think.

Certainly Hamilton made bad choices, for which he has paid the price. But we’re better off if we help those who struggle with addiction or any kind of obstacle, particularly if they, like Hamilton was, are willing to accept that help and realize their full potential. And for that, in spite of how he got there in the first place, Hamilton deserves…well, maybe not any special respect or admiration, but at least the courtesy of being judged for what he is now, not as a punchline.

So if you’re going to talk about Josh Hamilton’s addiction as part of the calculus that determines his value as a ballplayer, I don’t have any problem with that. I’m probably more willing to give him  a pass than some people, and that’s fine. But don’t use it as a blanket condemnation–factor it in as part of an informed discussion about his overall value. Because while Josh Hamilton is not only a baseball player, neither is he only a recovering drug addict.


But I’ve buried the lede somewhat, because this is really about Zack Greinke. And even then, it’s not really about just him either. This is about Joey Votto as well. And Olympic sprinter Derrick Adkins. And Royce White.

A couple weeks ago, White, a rookie forward for the Houston Rockets, spoke out against the Rockets because he felt they weren’t adequately helping him deal with his anxiety disorder. White’s case has since turned into a messy battle of he-said-she-said, but the public discussion around the issue has remained the same–that White can somehow just get over his problem.

And that insinuation, in the moment, made my blood fucking boil. It’s been a while since I’ve been legitimately vision-closing-in, heart racing, blood-run-cold angry about a sports story, but this one did it. And it’s an outgrowth of the same kind of ill-informed, Eisenhower-era, rub-some-dirt-on-it nonsense that tells us that Greinke “can’t handle the pressure” or “wouldn’t do well in a place like New York or Boston or Philly.” The kind of nonsense that gets “head case” thrown around like it’s some kind of psychological term of art.

This is entirely speculation, but I can’t believe the current composition of coaches and analysts helps. Those ranks are filled largely not with professional administrators and experts, but professional athletes and people trained to get information from professional athletes. So when Royce White goes AWOL, or Zack Greinke goes on the 60-day DL to get therapy, we don’t hear from an M.D. who’s spent his adult life as a neurologist or a counselor. We hear from someone with a B.A. in journalism from Mizzou or Syracuse or Northwestern, or someone with 250 career home runs who looks good in pinstripes, either one of which has spent his adult life in a locker room, being washed over with a professional athletic culture that was had a barbaric conception of masculinity when it was created generations ago.

Considering the prevalence of depression and anxiety in American culture, it scares the shit out of me that we’re routinely entrusting the future of potentially vulnerable young people to men like Billy Gillispie, Jerry Kill and Mike Leach. Because at best, college and professional coaches are ill-qualified to help a young man deal with mental illness, but at worst, they are martinets and bullies with a set of expectations straight out of the Parris Island scenes in Full Metal Jacket. 

As tempting as it is to view athletes dispassionately as lines on a statistical or financial ledger, as we often do, sometimes they turn into what they are in real life: young men in their early-to-mid-20s who often have uncertain futures and have been trained from the cradle not to show any outward signs of weakness. And when that atmosphere contacts one of the 8-to-12 percent of Americans who will experience clinical depression at some point in their lives, or the 7-to-13 percent who will do the same with social anxiety disorder, the combination is toxic and dangerous.

I don’t consider Greinke’s struggles with mental illness as part of his baseball portfolio, because I’m not a psychiatrist, so I can’t speak intelligently on the subject. I can speak intelligently on that situation I described above: dealing with depression as a guy in his early 20s, uncertain future, lifelong discouragement from seeking help. It’s not fun. Even in relatively mild cases, it’s hard to sleep, hard to deal with panic attacks that come without a pattern or warning. It’s hard to wake up in the morning and get out of bed, and when you do, it’s hard to come up with a reason to deal with the source of your anxiety.

And being told that asking for help is a sign of mental weakness, or brands you as a head case, or a complainer, or somehow defective is hardly a compelling incentive to get the medication or therapy you need, or to at least know what’s wrong with you so that, through your own awareness you can overcome it on your own. It’s a shame, too, because for many people, the difference between being able to function and considering taking one’s own life is a prescription, or an hour a week with a shrink, or at the very least, the support of friends and family. Just as with addiction, the stigma against mental illness makes life immeasurably harder on those who could be treated and saved with relatively little effort.

The worst part is that people who spout the “well just get over it” or “head case” lunacy, or even in some cases, just joke about it, are negatively impacting the lives of those around them. Because I guarantee that you know someone for whom depression and/or anxiety is a major struggle. It’s that common, and the gulf between treated and not cannot be overstated.

That’s why I was so encouraged by the maturity of discourse around Greinke by the time he reached free agency. That’s why, for me, the best thing to happen in baseball this season wasn’t Mike Trout’s unbelievable season, or the Giants’ remarkable run to the playoffs, or the Phillies resigning Cole Hamels. It was that when Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff went on the disabled list with anxiety in April, the media reaction was one of overwhelming support.

That’s why this isn’t really about Zack Greinke or Royce White. I’m not worried about them so much. What I am worried about is this: there’s some college junior sitting in the dark somewhere who gets panic attacks or can’t be bothered to go to class, but is scared to death that people might think he’s crazy or weak if he sees a therapist. That’s what this is about, because we deal with mental illness in young men, as a society, with nothing short of criminal neglect. And the more athletes come forward and address this issue publicly, as something to be dealt with but not ashamed of, the more helpful we’ll be as a society. I am emboldened to write to you now because this summer, several writers I look up to talked openly about their struggles with anxiety and/or depression. And the more maturely we discuss Zack Greinke’s history, or Joey Votto’s, or Royce White, the more young men who struggle with mental illness can do the same.

Veterans Day

What would a Phillies off-season be if they weren’t constantly linked to old, expensive free agents? MLB Trade Rumors, citing ESPN’s Buster Olney, reports that the Phillies have expressed interest in outfielders Josh Hamilton and Cody Ross, two veteran outfielders each seeking a multi-year deal. A month ago, I examined the market for center fielders. On Hamilton, I wrote:

With Hamilton, the Phillies would likely need to commit at least five years and nine figures for a player that will be 32 years old in May and tends to miss time due to questionable health issues. […] In the past, Hamilton has also had issues with drugs, alcohol, and religion. Hamilton may lead all center fielders in wOBA since 2008 at .387, but he has plenty of other issues that should scream “somebody else’s problem” at the Phillies.

Cody Ross would come at a considerably cheaper price compared to Hamilton, but the Phillies would still need to commit a lot of money and years to a 32-year-old. MLBTR lists the asking price for Ross at three years, $25 million. Phillies fans already have incentive to dislike Ross, but he is a slightly above-average hitter with sub-par defense, spending a majority of the past two seasons in the outfield corners.

In honor of Veterans Day, let’s take a brief stroll back in time to examine how the Phillies have fared when signing free agent veterans to multi-year contracts. Note that re-signings (such as Jimmy Rollins and Jose Contreras) were excluded.

  • December 16, 2008: 37-year-old Raul Ibanez, OF (3 years, $31.5 million)

Ibanez had a white-hot first half of 2009, authoring a 1.027 OPS before suffering a groin injury on June 17 (shortly after his 37th birthday). He returned a month later on July 11, but wasn’t the same. From his return to the end of the season, his OPS was a meager .711. Regardless, he finished the season with an aggregate .378 wOBA, a career-high and the sixth consecutive time he’d posted a wOBA of .345 or better. It was downhill from there, as his wOBA declined to .343 in 2010 and .306 in 2011, the final year of his deal.

Factoring in his incredibly poor defense in left field, Baseball Reference had him barely breaking even in his three years with the Phillies, at 0.6 Wins Above Replacement. It wasn’t as if Ibanez’s failure was a shocker. Friend of the blog Eric Seidman (@EricSeidman) criticized the deal as soon as it happened, as did many others. Seidman called the contract “unequivocally poor.”

  • December 1, 2009: 33-year-old Brian Schneider, C (2 years, $2.75 million)

The Schneider signing was seemingly innocuous and he was productive in 147 PA as the back-up to Carlos Ruiz in 2010. However, things quickly soured in 2011 as he barely finished with an OPS above .500 while missing time in May and June due to a thigh injury. Despite the bad showing, the Phillies brought Schneider back on a one-year deal in 2012 with similar results. The 35-year-old catcher finished with a .637 OPS and missed a total of 65 games due to a right ankle sprain and that same thigh injury.

When Schneider went down, Erik Kratz came up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and did for the prorated Major League minimum salary what Schneider never did: hit. Although his production was certainly an outlier for a journeyman, another organizational staple such as Dane Sardinha could have done for a fraction of the cost. The Schneider signing didn’t hamstring the Phillies, but it was more or less unnecessary. Veteran back-up catchers are nearly as overrated as veteran middle relievers.

Although the end of this contract was brutal — Polanco missed 35 percent of his games in 2011-12 with an aggregate .657 OPS — Polanco paid for himself when he was on the field as one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. The other free agent options available to the Phillies at the time included Adrian Beltre (would’ve been nice) and Chone Figgins (phew!). Beltre was coming off of a poor season with the Seattle Mariners, so he ended up settling for a one-year, $10 million deal with the Boston Red Sox, then parlayed that into a five-year, $80 million deal with the Texas Rangers. At the time, however, Beltre was seeking a four-year deal, which was why the Phillies backed off.

Despite hitting poorly and missing a lot of time due to injuries, Polanco lived up to his relatively cheap deal. It is easy to play Monday morning quarterback and say the Phillies should have signed Beltre, but they failed for reasons other than their third baseman over the last three years.

  • December 31, 2009: 32-year-old Danys Baez, RP (2 years, $5.25 million)

The Baez signing is one of the most frustrating despite its relative cheapness. (When asking if I missed anyone for this list, Michael Baumann replied to me in an email, “I got to Danys Baez and almost threw my computer against the wall.” I’m guessing in the style of The Room.) He was awful over 47.2 innings in 2010, but the Phillies never sought to cut him or reduce his workload. He finished with a 5.48 ERA. Bound to him for another year, Baez returned in 2011 in even worse form. On July 16, Baez allowed four runs in one inning, bumping his ERA up to 6.25 and the Phillies finally cut him.

As a Phillie, Baez posted a 5.81 ERA in 83.2 innings. At -1.47, he had the fifth-worst WPA/LI (context-neutral wins) among all relievers in 2010-11, trailing only John Grabow, Chris Resop, Jeff Fulchino, and Chad Qualls. Baez is perhaps the best example of why one should never sign a veteran relief pitcher to a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract, especially if he isn’t going to be used in high-leverage situations.

  • December 14, 2010: 32-year-old Cliff Lee, SP (5 years, $120 million)

Lee broke the Phillies’ long-standing policy of refusing to commit more than three years to any pitcher. The year prior, the Phillies had inked fellow starter Roy Halladay to a three-year, $60 million deal. If any pitcher was to have the rules broken for him, one would have thought Halladay would be the benefactor, but the right-hander willingly left money on the proverbial table to stay in Philadelphia.

With Halladay’s blessing, the Phillies broke their own rules, giving Lee a massive contract, nearly equaling the extension given to first baseman Ryan Howard. In the two seasons since signing the deal, Lee has been quite good. He finished third in NL Cy Young balloting in 2011, posting a 2.40 ERA (a career-low) while posting career-highs in innings pitched and strikeouts. This past season, Lee endured some first-half struggles that earned him widespread criticism from Phillies fans, but he finished the season as a down-ballot Cy Young dark horse with a 3.16 ERA and a league-leading 7.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The Lee deal was certainly risky, but given his track record and the Phillies’ position after the 2010 season, it was not a bad decision by any means even though the contract ends after his age-36 season. Lee still has several good years left ahead of him at the very least if he can avoid the dreaded injury bug that has plagued the Phillies’ old roster in recent years.

Papelbon was very, very good for the Phillies in 2012 despite some memorable failures (Jordany Valdespin, anyone?). However, the four-year, $50 million deal was the richest ever for a reliever and it came on the heels of the end of the Brad Lidge era. After Lidge’s perfect season in 2008, the Phillies signed him to a three-year, $37.5 million deal, betting on more of the same in the future. In those three years, Lidge pitched a grand total of 123.2 innings with a 4.73 ERA, missing time at various points due to a knee, elbow, and shoulder injuries.

The Papelbon contract is incredibly risky because the Phillies ante so much for so little reward — Papelbon’s 70 innings pitched in 2012 represented less than five percent of the Phillies’ total innings pitched. By comparison, his $11 million salary put him in the same echelon as Jimmy Rollins, whose 699 PA represented more than 11 percent of the team’s total PA taken. Like Lidge, Papelbon has a clean bill of health through his age-31 season, but even that is no guarantee.

  • December 9, 2011: 31-year-old Laynce Nix, OF (2 years, $2.5 million)

The Nix deal is relatively innocuous. At the time, I wrote, “it’s hard to react to this signing with anything more than a shoulder shrug.” Nix posted a .727 OPS in 127 PA, mostly filling in at first base for the injured Ryan Howard. Later in the season, he started some games in the outfield after Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence had been traded, but was not very productive. Nix will earn $1.35 million in the final year of his deal in 2013, which isn’t too bad as he provides the Phillies a left-handed power bat off the bench.

Overall, the Phillies broke even more or less, but the bulk of the success or failure still hinges on the remainder of Lee and Papelbon’s deals. The Phillies missed on most of the non-mammoth contracts aside from Polanco, and even some would argue to label the Polanco era a failure. It illustrates why hitching your wagon to an old player for more than one year isn’t always the best idea. Hopefully, the Phillies are more cautious in their endeavors and learn from their past mistakes.

The Pros and Cons of Kevin Youkilis‘s Jon Heyman thinks free agent third baseman Kevin Youkilis could be a fit for the Phillies:

As the saying goes, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Youkilis looks incredible with the beer goggles of the barren third base market, despite posting the worst offensive numbers of his career at the age of 33. Once a fixture of the successful Boston Red Sox teams of the mid- and late-aughts, Youkilis has been a shell of his former self, playing in 122 or fewer games in each of the last three seasons while in an offensive freefall, his weighted on-base average going from an elite .419 in 2010 to .366 and .328 in the last two seasons.

Even a .328 wOBA, though, is above the league average for third basemen and would represent a significant offensive upgrade over what the Phillies have had dating back to the Scott Rolen years.

2003 .279 .317
2004 .329 .333
2005 .285 .330
2006 .292 .347
2007 .303 .338
2008 .306 .338
2009 .302 .331
2010 .305 .323
2011 .283 .304
2012 .309 .327

However, Youkilis presents the same risk to the Phillies as Polanco did. Both players have played in exactly 344 games since 2010 and their injury histories, if printed out, could become the leading cause of deforestation. Since 2010, Youkilis has had issues with: his right knee, groin, lower back, right elbow, right ankle, right thumb, left ankle, left hip, left thumb, left foot, left thigh, abdomen, and his left forearm. Many of those were recurring issues as well. The veteran, who turns 34 in March, is the living, breathing, baseball version of Home Improvement’s Tim Taylor — at least as much as Polanco is.

When the Phillies consider bringing in Youkilis, they have to account for the very real possibility that he will miss 30 percent of the season or more as he has done in the last three seasons. Even if we are really optimistic and give Youkilis credit for still being an average player on an everyday basis, the Phillies would be forced to use a replacement-level player in his absence.

Youkilis earned $12 million and was set to earn $13 million in 2013 if the Chicago White Sox hadn’t bought out the remainder of his contract, while the Phillies declined Polanco’s $5.5 million option. If the Phillies were to sign Youkilis for at or around what Polanco was set to earn, they would be implicitly saying that Youkilis is a better bet to be an average-ish player and that his cratering in 2012 was more a fluke than anything else.

When he was on the field in 2012, Youkilis was a shadow of his former self. His walk rate plummeted to a career-low ten percent (which is still relatively good, however), his strikeout rate nearly tied a career high at just over 21 percent, and his .174 isolated power was his lowest since 2007. Throughout his career, Youkilis had been a BABIP-reliant player, posting an aggregate .336 mark between 2006-10, the 25th-highest among all qualified MLB hitters in that span of time. His BABIP dropped to .296 and .268 in the last two seasons, an indication that he is making worse contact with pitches.

In particular, his performance against fastballs has waned, especially on inside pitches. The following heat maps illustrate his transformation into a predator of the outer-third of the strike zone.

This is indicative of a player whose bat speed has hit the skids. You don’t have to think very hard to remember a player in the same shoes recently — Scott Rolen in Cincinnati. He finished 2010 with a .369 wOBA, but injuries and old age relegated him to a .294 wOBA in 269 plate appearances in 2011, and a .314 wOBA in 330 plate appearances in 2012. Specifically, Rolen’s performance against “hard” pitches went from .362 in 2010 to .291 in 2011 and .311 in 2012. This is the fate that awaits Youkilis.

If Youkilis can be had for a few millions of dollars on a one- or two-year deal, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but the bearded warrior is in the free agent market looking for what could be the last contract of his career. GM Ruben Amaro did give Raul Ibanez an ill-advised, three-year $31.5 million contract after the 2008 season, so there is precedent for this kind of overvaluation of free agent veterans. Realistically, the Phillies are as likely to get equivalent production out of a third base platoon involving Kevin Frandsen and, say, Eric Chavez, without tying themselves up to an unmovable contract.

There are plenty of sirens in the free agent sea, beckoning wayward GM’s with their songs of clubhouse presence and experience. Youkilis is one of them, along with Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn. A disciplined GM can guide his ship dutifully past the allure, avoiding the inevitable shipwreck that will define future seasons.

The Pros and Cons of B.J. Upton

By far the most frequent question I have been asked on the ol’ Interwebs lately pertains to free agent center fielder B.J. Upton. He has been linked prominently to the Phillies already this early in the off-season, and it makes sense. The Phillies need a center fielder, have some money to spend, and B.J. Upton is a center fielder who would like to receive money. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports shone some light on some of the recent hires the Phillies have made and their relationship to the potential signing of Upton:

Bart Braun, previously a special assignment scout with the Rays, joined the Phillies last month as a special assistant to general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Steve Henderson, the Rays’ hitting coach from 2006 to ’09, will fill the same role for the Phillies after spending the past three years with the club as a minor-league coordinator.

The moves did not go unnoticed by the Upton camp, and in the words of one player agent, “there are no coincidences in baseball.”

It just makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? It’s hard to ignore all of the signs, but in the end, it does come down to Upton’s expectations and the Phillies’ willingness to meet them. Would Upton forgo a fifth guaranteed year to come to Philadelphia and be around some familiar faces? Would the Phillies guarantee that fifth year and go up to around $80 million total to bring in a top-tier free agent? Obviously, we will find out as the off-season progresses as a lot will depend on which teams jump out first and which players budge from their expectations the most.

Should the Phillies snag Upton, they would be getting an enigma of a baseball player. He started his career on fire, posting a .384 on-base percentage and a .166 isolated power in 2007-08 combined. He cratered in 2009, and since then, he has been sub-par in the batting average and on-base departments. In 2012, his walk rate plummeted to a career-low seven percent, down from 11 percent in the previous two seasons. He became overly aggressive at the plate in attempt to hit for power, and it worked somewhat — he finished the year with a career-high 28 home runs and a .208 ISO, nearly a career-best. However, overall, it was the second-worst offensive season of his career going by weighted on-base average (wOBA).

David Golebiewski highlighted Upton’s struggles at Baseball Analytics in August:

His in-zone swing rate against soft pitches has declined to 61%. Upton’s chase rate, meanwhile, has climbed to 34%. With such poor pitch recognition, Upton’s slugging just .238 against soft stuff. Jordan Schafer, Michael Bourn, Jemile Weeks, Carlos Pena and Brandon Crawford are the only qualified batters to show less punch against breaking and off-speed offerings.

The good news is that Upton’s decision-making at the plate is a fixable problem. The Phillies brought in batting coach Steve Henderson from the Rays along with Wally Joyner and Ryne Sandberg, two guys who know a thing or two about a thing or two. The Phillies as an organization seem to have stressed good strike zone judgment as their 17.7 percent strikeout rate in 2012 was tied for the fourth-lowest in the Majors. They had the fifth-lowest rate in 2011 and the sixth-lowest rate in 2010 as well.

Upton, like shortstop Jimmy Rollins, has been chided for his perceived lack of hustle, earning scorn from manager Joe Maddon and third baseman Evan Longoria. The latter incident escalated into a heated dugout argument. While it’s obvious that the complaints about hustle have racist undertones, it is still something to consider. Would Upton have the ability to stay calm, cool, and collected when beat writers, radio loudmouths, and irate fans call for his head when he doesn’t run out a ground ball in a meaningless May game? Would Upton even want to come to a city that so vociferously reacts to anything but constant max effort?

The last negative thing to consider about an Upton signing would be the pick the Phillies surrender. The Rays, as expected, extended a $13.3 million qualifying offer to the center fielder, which means that the Phillies surrender their first round pick according to the new collective bargaining agreement. Giving up draft picks certainly hasn’t stopped the Phillies in the past, but with a mediocre Minor League system, they may become reticent to strip it any further, especially when similar, cheaper options that won’t force the Phillies to surrender a pick — such as Angel Pagan — will be available.

With the negatives out of the way, let’s look at the positives. Upton is 28 years old. That fact alone is huge. For obvious reasons, it is way less risky to sign a player in his late 20’s to a long-term contract. Consider the five-year deal the Phillies gave Ryan Howard. They agreed to the deal two years before he was eligible for free agency and the first year of the deal started in his age-32 season. A five-year deal between the Phillies and Upton would end in his age-32 season. I don’t need to tell you that the expected performances of age 28-32 players is significantly better than age 32-36 players, nor that the former set of players suffers debilitating injuries at a lower rate. Signing any player to a long-term deal is a gamble, but it is much less so for younger players.

On the field, Upton has all the tools to be a premier player. Below is a list of all of the players who hit at least 100 home runs and stole at least 200 bases dating back to 2007 (min. 3,000 plate appearances).

Rk Player HR SB PA From To Age
1 B.J. Upton 113 217 3697 2007 2012 22-27
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/5/2012.

Yup. That’s it. If we lower the stolen base threshold to 150, Rollins and Hanley Ramirez enter the picture. Players who can hit for power and run extremely well are few and far between, and Upton does both very, very well. According to Baseball Prospectus, the only players to have been more productive stealing bases in 2012 were Everth Cabrera, Mike Trout, Ben Revere, and Coco Crisp. Additionally, Upton’s .206 ISO last season was seventh-best among all MLB outfielders, just ahead of Bryce Harper.

Defensively, Upton can obviously cover some ground. Defensive metrics disagree on his value as Baseball Reference’s Total Zone grades him as a below-average defender in each of the last three seasons, while FanGraphs UZR grades him as an above-average defender in every season except 2007 and ’12. I caught up with ubiquitous writer and Rays fan Jason Collette (@JasonCollette), who has watched Upton up close and personal lo these many years. His scouting report on Upton’s defense:

[He is] much better going back on balls than he is coming up on them. Tends to play more of them on a bounce than he does to dive forward on them. Side to side, he’s above average. His biggest problem out there are his throws. His arm is not terribly accurate but he takes unrealistic chances at runners from time to time allowing the trail runner to advance an extra base. Off the top of my head, I want to say he did that at least 10 times this season. He’s better than “Gold Glove winner” Adam Jones in everything except playing balls in front of him.

R.J. Anderson (@r_j_anderson), a Rays fan and writer for Baseball Prospectus like Collette, passed along this blog post with a quote on a scout’s take on fielding range:

“I look at who has the best range in the game and I count down from there. BJ Upton has the best range in center in the majors. His reads are flawless, speed incredible. When I see a guy going after a ball, I say, ‘is he as good as BJ Upton?’ Nope. He ain’t an 80 then.”

Upton’s athleticism covers up for some of his decision-making shortcomings, but the gap between the two will have to close as Upton ages and his physical prowess wanes. If Upton doesn’t improve in that area, he would eventually have to move to a corner.

In the big picture, Upton represents an interesting issue to the Phillies. Where would he fit in the lineup? His low average and on-base percentage should preclude him from hitting higher in the batting order, but he hit in the upper-third of the Rays’ lineup in 119 of his 146 games in 2012. Hitting Upton lower in the order, particularly fourth to break up the left-handed Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, would cause the Phillies to lose the value of his speed. Hitting him lower than fifth would cause him to lose too many plate appearances — Phillies #6 hitters took 75 fewer trips to the plate than #1 hitters last season.

Unless the clamor for Upton quiets down significantly, Upton is expected to take home a hefty, lengthy contract that would pay him like an All-Star-caliber player. The Phillies would be hoping that the 28-year-old still has a ceiling to ascend to, rather than having already plateaued. Upton is enough of an enigma that he could realistically do either, and as a result, the Phillies would be taking a bigger leap of faith with him than they have with any of their previous free agent signings in recent times. But for a team that saw its five-year reign atop the NL East ended in 2012, it may be a necessity to exact revenge against the Washington Nationals, who will not enter the 2013 season any worse for the wear.