Ranking What’s Left of the Free Agent Outfielders

This handy-dandy free agent tracker from MLB Trade Rumors shows us who’s left among free agent outfielders. GM Ruben Amaro is reportedly still searching for a veteran outfielder to add to the mix, though the hunt has certainly died down in recent days. Currently, the left-handed Domonic Brown and Laynce Nix, and right-handed John Mayberry and Darin Ruf are slated to man the corners in some kind of platoon or double-platoon.

Using the FA tracker, I’ve divvied up those remaining into a few groups: “Could be worthwhile”, “Not Like They Have Any Other Options”, and “Dear God, Why?”.

Could Be Worthwhile

Scott Hairston

  • 2012 Salary: $1.1 million (one year)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .368 / .317
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .353 / .306

The biggest benefit Hairston would provide, besides mashing lefties, would come in pushing Darin Ruf back to Triple-A for a full season. While many fans are anxious to see Ruf prove himself at the Major League level, particularly after 37 impressive plate appearances in September last season, Ruf would benefit from his first taste of Triple-A with very little pressure. Furthermore, the Major League club wouldn’t be punished if it turns out Ruf isn’t able to handle big league pitching as well as advertised.

Hairston is below-average defensively, but is nevertheless much better than Ruf, who only started playing left field last season. The old, slow Phillies won’t have much in the way of speed outside of Jimmy Rollins and Ben Revere, but Hairston can add somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 stolen bases depending on his performance and playing time.

With Hairston looking for a similar salary as he received in 2012, somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-2 million, he would be a safe bet for the Phillies, currently with a $152 million payroll.

Ryan Sweeney

  • 2012 Salary: $1.75 million (one year)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .160 / .310
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .266 / .330

Sweeney’s production against left-handed pitching is abysmal, so he would have to be part of a platoon, which would necessitate pushing Laynce Nix back into a bench role. Nix, with a career .235/.317 L/R wOBA split, could likely do what Sweeney would do, and the Phillies are already committed to him anyway. Sweeney’s skills, relative to Nix, include better contact (career 15 percent strikeout rate) and better on-base skills (career .338 on-base percentage).

Not Like They Have Any Other Options

Austin Kearns

  • 2012 Salary: $600,000 (one year)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .277 / .428
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .341 / .337

Kearns’ days as a regular outfielder are behind him. The 32-year-old hasn’t logged more than 175 plate appearances in a season since 2010. In limited playing time with the Marlins last year, though, he was average with the bat (.331 wOBA) despite a drastic platoon split (he hasn’t shown one over his career). When he’s right, he has excellent plate discipline (career 11 percent walk rate) and on-base skills (career .351 OBP).

Signing Kearns to be part of a platoon isn’t the greatest way to use him, but given how cheap he will be and the assets he would bring, the Phillies could do a lot worse. Bringing Kearns on board as a bench bat would be superb, though.

Delmon Young

  • 2012 Salary: $6.75 million (one year)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .357 / .282
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .352 / .309

Young has had some bad off-the-field incidents, but if the Phillies aren’t concerned about that, Young could provide some value as the right-handed side of a corner outfield platoon. Since he started playing regularly in 2007, Young has never been worth more than 1.7 WAR and has three times posted negative WAR, according to FanGraphs. Baseball Reference WAR echoes this. His defense is awful and he doesn’t draw walks, but he can definitely hit lefties. If his price tag drops significantly from his nearly $7 million salary from last season, he might be worth it, but the Phillies’ best best is to stay away.

Ryan Raburn

  • 2012 Salary: $2.1 million (last year of two-year extension)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .215 / .217
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .345 / .306

Aside from playing in the outfield corners, Raburn has played some second base as well, so he could be used as an occasional substitute for Chase Utley when the Phillies want to give him a day off. As his career numbers show, he hits lefties well, so an infield that includes Raburn at second, Michael Young at first, and Freddy Galvis at third would be formidable against left-handed starters. Raburn’s career .174 isolated power is among the highest of the remaining free agent outfielders.

However, Raburn had an abysmal 2012 and turns 32 in April. His numbers have been in a steady three-year decline, from a .382 wOBA in 2009 to .356, .316, and .216. Raburn wouldn’t contribute anything else aside from power and hitting lefties as he doesn’t run the bases well and isn’t much on defense.

Bobby Abreu

  • 2012 Salary: $9 million (Angels picked up 2012 option)
  • 2012 wOBA vs. LH/RH: .312 / .309
  • Career wOBA vs. LH/RH: .335 / .385

This would never happen, but it’s fun to think about anyway. Abreu turns 39 in March and is no longer even a double-digit home run threat, but showed even last year that he still has a great eye at the plate. His 14.4 percent walk rate was right under his 14.7 percent career average and he finished with a .350 OBP. In the last five years (post-Barry Bonds era), only nine other players have finished a season with a .350 or better OBP in at least 250 PA at age 38 or older:

Player OBP PA Year Age Tm
Jim Thome .412 340 2010 39 MIN
Manny Ramirez .409 320 2010 38 TOT
Chipper Jones .381 381 2010 38 ATL
Chipper Jones .377 448 2012 40 ATL
Gary Sheffield .372 312 2009 40 NYM
Jim Thome .366 434 2009 38 TOT
Derek Jeter .362 740 2012 38 NYY
Jim Thome .361 324 2011 40 TOT
Melvin Mora .358 354 2010 38 COL
Craig Counsell .357 459 2009 38 MIL
Jorge Posada .357 451 2010 38 NYY
Ken Griffey .353 575 2008 38 TOT
Bobby Abreu .350 257 2012 38 TOT
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 1/5/2013.

The most surprising thing about Abreu is that, in those five years, he hasn’t missed any significant time due to injuries. In fact, according to Baseball Prospectus, Abreu hasn’t gone on the disabled list since 1997. In all likelihood, Abreu could probably pass muster as an every day player for the Phillies, but his defense is just so bad that he would cancel out any good that he would bring with his bat, which makes him an excellent fit as a bench player similar to Austin Kearns.

Dear God, Why?

Rick Ankiel – Hire him to entertain fans with throws from the outfield before games.

Jeff Baker – Human ellipsis (…)

Michael Bourn – $$$$$$$

Johnny Damon – He’s done. The 39-year-old posted a .271 wOBA last season.

Mark DeRosa – Since 2010: .220 AVG / .309 OBP / .269 SLG. Turns 38 next month.

Ben Francisco – Insanity is…

Kosuke Fukudome – His last name is now more valuable than his on-field production.

Don Kelly – Career .280 wOBA.

Darnell McDonald – The 34-year-old barely crossed the Mendoza line and had a sub-.300 OBP last season.

Scott Podsednik – He’ll be 37 in March and only hits singles.

Juan Rivera – Somehow, the Dodgers agreed to pay him $4 million last season. The 34-year-old rewarded them with a .287 wOBA and -0.8 WAR.

Domonic Brown: Turning Lemons into Lemonade

If the Phillies had plans to open the 2013 season with a formidable outfield, those dreams have quickly vanished. As Nick Swisher went off the board just before Christmas, signing a four-year, $56 million deal, so too did the final option for a full-time corner outfielder for the Phillies. Among those remaining are Michael Bourn (whose price is prohibitive), Matt Diaz, Scott Hairston, Ryan Sweeney, and bigot Delmon Young — players best fit in a platoon.

There has been speculation that the Phillies will use four outfielders in the two corners, utilizing John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Domonic Brown, and Darin Ruf depending on the match-ups. While a platoon involving Nix and Mayberry makes sense, a platoon involving Brown does not.

A team utilizes a platoon when players at a particular position complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance, a Mayberry/Nix platoon works because Mayberry hits LHP well and RHP worse (.371/.301 wOBA), while Nix hits RHP passably well and LHP significantly worse (.317/.235 wOBA). When he was healthy and playing every day, Brown showed an ability to hit left-handed pitching nearly as well as he hit right-handed pitching:

Impressively, the left-handed power hitter has hit left-handed pitching at a .282 clip in his career; his ability to hit southpaws will only accelerate his learning curve in the majors.

The above quote from Bill Root on Sports Illustrated’s website was posted on July 13, 2010. A few weeks later, Matt Gelb noted how well Brown was hitting lefties with Triple-A Lehigh Valley:

Huppert declined to share his opinion on whether he believes Brown is ready for the big leagues, but he was certainly impressed by the rightfielder’s ability to hang in for a two-run triple against sidewinding lefthander R.J. Swindle in the bottom of the eighth inning.

“He doesn’t give in at the plate,” Huppert said.

Brown is hitting .318 against lefthanded pitching.

There is a difference between Major League-quality left-handed pitching and Minor League-quality left-handed pitching, though. In his brief Major League career, Brown has posted a .260 wOBA against LHP and .321 against RHP. That gap has prompted Brown’s suggested use as a platoon player.

With 492 career trips to the plate, Brown has faced right-handers in 383 of them (78 percent); lefties in only 109. 109 plate appearances isn’t nearly enough for us to ascertain a player’s true talent. The standard deviation for his RHP performance is 24 points of wOBA, meaning that we are 95 percent confident his true RHP talent is between .273 and .369. The standard deviation for his LHP performance is 42 points of wOBA, so his 95 percent confidence interval is .176-.344.

Saying that Brown’s true talent against southpaws is .176-.344 is just about worthless, which should tell you that 109 PA is also just about worthless. When you have such scant information, you want to regress towards the league average. Last season, the average non-pitcher posted a .320 wOBA with a standard deviation of .001.

In this post at Athletics Nation back in 2008, Sal Baxamusa illustrated the best estimate of Travis Buck‘s true OBP skill based on the amount of plate appearances in which you observe a .377 OBP.

Notice how much further from the league average (.330) the estimate gets as your sample size increases.

Because we have hardly any information to use, we heavily regress Brown to the league average. As a result, our best estimate of his true LHP skill is a .320 wOBA, virtually identical to his performance against right-handed pitching. We either need to accept this or get some more data before making any conclusions.

Additionally, platooning the 25-year-old would simply further stunt his development. Brown has been in the Majors since 2010, but has accumulated only 492 PA in total, an average of 164 per season. The timeline:

  • 2010 (70 PA): Brown was promoted to the Majors on July 28. He started 13 of 35 games in which he appeared, but 9 of those 13 starts came in his first 11 games. He was a bench bat by mid-August. He suffered from a strained quadriceps in September, forcing him to miss 15 games.
  • 2011 (210 PA): Brown was hit on the hand by a pitch, fracturing his hamate bone. He had surgery to fix it, then was sent to Triple-A. Keith Law estimates that it takes 12-18 months for a player to regain power after such an injury, effectively a timetable of May-October 2012. The Phillies recalled Brown at the end of May and he played regularly through the end of July, when they senthim back to Lehigh Valley. Brown was brought back up in mid-September only to pinch-run and pinch-hit once before the season ended.
  • 2012 (212 PA): Injuries continue to sabotage Brown, as he suffered from a left hamstring injury in May and inflammation in his right knee in June. Matt Gelb noted, “[the injury] comes at an inopportune time for Brown, who was finally finding his stroke at triple-A Lehigh Valley while playing regularly. Brown was hitting .300 in 11 June games with three home runs and a .939 OPS.” Once healed, the Phillies recalled him at the end of July, giving him regular playing time for the final two months.

Brown has never had more than two months of uninterrupted regular playing time at the Major League level. Platooning him in 2013, at age 25 in his fourth season, would only further impede his growth as a player. Brown either is or isn’t going to be a good enough player to be a part of the Phillies’ plans; they are never going to learn this by using him as a part-time player.

If the Phillies don’t intend to give Brown 600 PA this season, they should trade him. As Brown becomes increasingly older and more expensive, both the Phillies and their potential suitors will have little need for a player who hasn’t played a full year at the Major League level. Put another way, when it comes to Brown, the Phillies need to [crap] or get off the pot.

Phillies Should Pair John Lannan with Freddy Galvis

I was thinking out loud on Twitter yesterday and said this:

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/280052217833213952

In my post yesterday about the Phillies’ recent free agent signings, I mentioned Lannan’s high ground ball rate and the propensity for those ground balls to be hit to the pull side. Since 2009, John Lannan has induced 1,005 grounders. 528 of them (52.5%) have been hit to the pull side, 160 to the opposite field (16%), and the rest to the center of the diamond (317, 31.5%). As a result, I concluded that the left side of the Phillies’ infield — Jimmy Rollins and Michael Young — are crucial to Lannan’s success in the #5 spot for the Phillies.

As Grant Brisbee illustrated in a recent post at SB Nation, Young’s defense is not very good at third base. Here is one of the .gifs Brisbee used:

Meanwhile, this is something Freddy Galvis seemed to do routinely last season:

I’m not going to cite any defensive metrics because they’re not reliable in single-season samples (in Freddy’s case, a half-season sample). Galvis, brought up through the Minors as a shortstop, had no problem shifting over to second base. Thus, it is not crazy to think he could transition smoothly at third base as well. In fact, some of the early ideas surrounding the team’s options at the hot corner involved pairing Kevin Frandsen and Galvis rather than going after a player like Young or Kevin Youkilis.

Lannan averages 25 batters faced per start, and has a 12.1 percent strikeout rate and 9.6 percent walk rate (I included hit batters in this percentage), meaning that about 78 percent of batters Lannan has faced have put the ball in play. More than half of them — 53 percent — have hit ground balls. So, that is between 10 and 11 ground balls per game. As we learned above, slightly more than half of those grounders goes to the pull side. And, as pointed out in my post from yesterday, three out of every four batters Lannan faces is right-handed. So, we’re talking about  four or five ground balls per night to the left side, towards Young and Rollins.

The question becomes “is the downgrade in offense from Young to Galvis worth it for those five ground balls”? Young’s career average wOBA is .344 while Galvis posted a .267 mark in three months in 2012. In one game, the difference is about 0.3 runs:

The run value of a single relative to an out is about 0.8 runs. So, if Galvis made one play that Young wouldn’t have made in one out of every two starts, he would justify the maneuver. Of course, we are assuming that all of the ground balls become either outs or singles, which we know is not true. Unless the Phillies play Young consistently close to the line, some of them will become doubles, which have a run value of 1.1 relative to an out, justifying the move even more.

Such a tandem is not unprecedented, even for the Phillies. Back in 2007, the Phillies started the light-hitting, slick-fielding Abraham Nunez at third base 51 times. He started behind the left-handed, defense-reliant Jamie Moyer in 21 of his 33 starts, and an additional time in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies.

Phillies Sign Mike Adams, John Lannan

twitter.com/JSalisburyCSN/status/279974249941307393

twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/279977881650749440

twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/279978388117135360

twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/279948840151445504

Mike Adams is a 34-year-old reliever who spent the last five years with the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers as one of baseball’s best non-closers. Among the 64 relievers who have thrown at least 250 innings since 2008, Adams had the sixth-best difference between his strikeout and walk rates at 19.7 percent, trailing Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Betancourt, David Robertson, and Matt Thornton.

Adams finished the 2012 season with a 3.27 ERA, his worst since his rookie season with the Milwaukee Brewers. Between 2011-12, his strikeout rate plummeted by seven percent and his walk rate increased by 2.5 percent, while his fly ball rate dropped to a career-low 32 percent. After posting a 7.56 ERA in the month of September, Adams had surgery on his right shoulder as he suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, which is:

a condition where the rib bone pushes against a nerve and can cause numbness or pain in the arm or shoulder.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is the same injury St. Louis Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter suffered from for several years. He had surgery in mid-July, then returned just before the end of the season. The right-hander made three starts, striking out 12 and walking three in 17 innings. Carpenter made an additional three starts in the post-season, striking out nine and walking six in 13.2 innings. Carpenter’s fastball averaged 93 MPH in 2011, but dropped to 91 MPH in his few starts at the end of 2012. Similarly, Adams’ average fastball velocity was above 93 MPH in 2011, but dropped to 92 last season. His cut fastball declined in velocity as well.

Adams’ shoulder should be concerning, but he is expected to be ready on Opening Day. Unlike the Papelbon contract from last off-season — four years, $50 million — the guaranteed $12 million the Phillies will pay Adams over the next two years is relatively low-risk, since Adams can still be an above-average reliever in his age 34-35 seasons with lower velocity.

The John Lannan signing is interesting, to say the least. The lefty had a penchant for hitting Phillies with baseballs over his career, famously breaking Chase Utley‘s hand in 2007 and contributing to Ryan Howard‘s twisted ankle in 2010.

Lannan isn’t particularly skilled when it comes to defense-independent criteria. Since the start of 2008, the lefty has a 3.7 percent difference between his strikeout and walk rates, the third-worst among the 113 starting pitchers with at least 500 innings. The only pitchers worse than Lannan are Aaron Cook (3.2%) and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona, 3.3%).

The lefty’s calling card is his ability to induce ground balls. Since 2008, he has induced grounders at a 53 percent clip, the tenth-highest among all starters. It is likely the reason why he has out-performed his ERA retrodictors (FIP, xFIP, SIERA) by more than a half-run over his career:

  • ERA: 4.01
  • FIP: 4.57
  • xFIP: 4.46
  • SIERA: 4.69

Because of his reliance on infield defense, he can have a great season like he did in 2011 (3.70 ERA) or he can have an abysmal season like he did in 2010 (4.65 ERA). The Phillies are weak at the infield corners with Michael Young and Ryan Howard and strong up the middle with Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. The following two hit charts show the location of Lannan’s ground balls that have gone for hits and those that have been converted into outs.

 

Although the one on the right looks like an amorphous blob, you can see that between the two, a majority of Lannan’s ground balls go to the right side. It makes sense because for every four batters Lannan has faced, three have been right-handed, and batters tend to pull ground balls. On grounders hit to the pull side, opposing batters have posted a .171 wOBA against Lannan since 2009. When they went to the opposite field, their wOBA was .200, and .210 up the middle. This means that the left side of Young and Rollins will be crucial for Lannan.

Due to his guaranteed salary, Lannan pushes Tyler Cloyd out of the rotation. The right-handed Cloyd was recently moved up a spot on the depth chart when the Phillies sent Vance Worley to the Minnesota Twins in the Ben Revere trade. Cloyd could still make the rotation if the Phillies feel that Kyle Kendrick is once again better used as a swing man between the rotation and bullpen, but given how well Kendrick pitched as a starter in 2012, that scenario isn’t likely.

Both of these signings have a very good chance of working out well for the Phillies, as the guaranteed money is relatively low and there is some upside. Adams and Lannan aren’t quite as sexy as Wilton Lopez and Edwin Jackson, but the Phillies are just about set when it comes to pitching. To complete the off-season, they now have to focus on acquiring a corner outfielder.  Nick Swisher is the one big bat the Phillies have been linked to recently, but he may command too many years and too much money, making it more likely that the Phillies end up with a lower-tier corner outfielder such as Cody Ross (ugh).

Let’s Get Excited

On Twitter this afternoon, loyal reader/follower Matt Jedruch (@MattJedruch) sent this to me:

twitter.com/mattjedruch/status/279320051016953857

I get the general impression that, with the disappointing 2012 season and the lack of a big free agent signing or trade, there isn’t that much enthusiasm going into 2013. The bulk of the roster is either aging and injury-prone or young and unproven. Perhaps the malaise of Philadelphia sports in general plays into that as well, since the Eagles and Sixers are depressing and the Flyers aren’t even playing.

I, however, can think of a few reasons to anticipate the return of Phillies pitchers and catchers in just a couple months.

5. Phillippe Aumont

Remember these?

 

A strong argument could be made that Aumont was the most exciting player to watch last season, though it was only for a brief period of time spanning 14.2 innings at the end of the season. He featured a mid-90’s fastball that creeped into the 97-98 MPH range at times, as well as a devastating slurve with about 15 MPH of velocity separation from his fastball. As he did in the Minors, Aumont struggled with control more than you’d like and it is expected to be an issue again in 2013, but the soon-to-be 24-year-old still has plenty of time to figure it out before the Phillies become reliant on his powerful arm.

4. Erik Kratz

A cynic might say that getting excited about a 32-year-old journeyman catcher and a career Minor Leaguer is depressing in and of itself, but Kratz is a great story. The inimitable Sam Miller captured it best at Baseball Prospectus back in September, pointing this out:

As you could imagine, there were plenty of frustrating seasons. Kratz told MiLB.com that he thought about retiring, and he worked construction jobs on the side to support his family. (He shot himself in the hand with a nailgun, but didn’t tell Toronto.) But perhaps the most frustrating year was 2004, which he spent most of on the disabled list—without, he says, an injury.

“I was on the phantom DL every time,” [Kratz] said. “I [mostly] sat in extended [Spring Training]. Just because, the year before, I was up there in the top three or four on the team in almost every offensive category in short-season [ball]. It was a hard time.”

On May 22, the Phillies recalled Kratz from Triple-A. He pinch-hit in that night’s game against the Washington Nationals. In the eighth inning, he hit his first career Major League home run at the age of 31, a solo shot off of lefty Tom Gorzelanny. The Phillies sent him back to Triple-A two days later.

When Brian Schneider was placed on the disabled list at the end of June, the Phillies recalled Kratz to take his place. He played sparingly, but eventually assumed an everyday role when Carlos Ruiz suffered from plantar fasciitis in his foot. Between July 24 and September 5 in a span of 110 trips to the plate, Kratz hit 7 home runs and drove in 21 runs while posting a .296/.345/.592 triple-slash line. 15 of his 29 hits went for extra bases. Ruiz had been the linchpin to the Phillies’ offense all season long, but thanks to Kratz, they didn’t skip a beat when the Panamanian had to go on the disabled list.

Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the season due to a suspension for testing positive for amphetamines, meaning that Kratz is the heir apparent at the outset. Once on the fast track out of baseball entirely, Kratz may be the Opening Day catcher for one of the most successful teams in baseball in recent years. That’s pretty cool.

3. A Healthy Freddy Galvis

No, Galvis won’t be starting any games. He will likely serve as a late-game defensive substitute for third baseman Michael Young and/or as a pinch-runner, which is a good thing because he can’t hit. Galvis posted a .267 wOBA in 200 PA prior to a season-ending back fracture in June. Only 25 hitters took as many trips to the plate with less offensive success than Galvis. Where Galvis impressed last season, though, was on defense as it seemed like he made a spectacular play on a nightly basis.

Remember, Galvis was brought up as a shortstop with the intent to take over for Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies signed Rollins to a three-year contract extension though, while Chase Utley had to miss the first three months of the season, so Galvis moved a few feet to his left, making a seamless transition. Now, with a presumably healthy middle infield, Galvis fits in as a defensive replacement at yet another position late in games for the defensively-deficient Young, who makes plays like this:

2. Chase Utley

Remember the last time Utley was in the starting lineup on Opening Day? It was 2010 and the Phillies were just returning from a second consecutive World Series appearance. It feels like ages ago. If the baseball gods are kind enough, Utley may find himself back in the #3 spot when the Phillies open against the Braves in Atlanta. Phillies fans everywhere may then rejoice as the second baseman continues what may end up being a Hall of Fame career. With a career 53.3 rWAR and 53.8 fWAR, he could retire right now and there would still be an argument to enshrine him, but there’s no doubt the UCLA product still has plenty of baseball left in him.

No, Utley doesn’t have as much power as he once did, but he still compares favorably to other second basemen. His .173 isolated power last season ranked fourth among all second basemen with at least 350 PA, trailing only Robinson Cano, Aaron Hill, and Ben Zobrist. He was one of ten second basemen with double digits in homers and steals, and he did so in 200-300 fewer PA than players like Omar Infante and Dustin Ackley. Let’s not forget about Utley’s defense, which is still by all accounts above-average. Oh yeah, and his base running. Baseball’s all-time leader in stolen base success rate was 11-for-12 last year with a bad lower half. Hopefully an off-season of rest will put some pep back in his step.

1. The Lefties

It doesn’t get much better than Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. The Phillies lay claim to arguably two of the three best lefties in baseball, the other being Clayton Kershaw. Hamels continued to impress in 2012, finishing with a 3.05 ERA and the fourth-best difference between strikeout and walk rate (19%), behind Max Scherzer, teammate Lee, and NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. In late July, the Phillies ended months of anxiousness by signing Hamels to a six-year, $144 million contract extension, spanning his age 29-34 seasons. The lefty hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as he has compiled five consecutive seasons of at least 31 starts.

Lee has had a quality run as a Phillie, too, even though it has been split into two sections. In the last two years in red pinstripes, Lee has compiled an aggregate 2.76 ERA over 62 starts with the National League’s best difference between his strikeout and walk rates, at 21 percent. Lee, now 34 years old, looks as good as ever and will make another run at a second career Cy Young award, which would make him the sixth player to win the award in both leagues (also joining teammate Roy Halladay).

Phillies Looking for Rotation Depth

Via Matt Gelb:

So forget the Ryan Dempsters, Edwin Jacksons, and even Shaun Marcums on the market. They will sign for at least two – maybe three – years, given the demand. The Phillies are looking for a one-year deal having already invested $71.75 million in 2013 salary for their four starting pitchers.

No, there won’t be a fourth ace to bring back memories of 2010, but there are still some quality arms available that could be very helpful to the Phillies in 2013. Here’s a big ol’ table full of potential targets, showing data from 2010-12. I’ve taken the liberty of excluding some unlikely names, such as Aaron Cook, Brett Myers, and Roy Oswalt.

Name K% BB% K%-BB% BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Carlos Villanueva 21.3% 8.3% 13.0% .280 75.6% 4.20 4.30 4.08 3.76
Tim Stauffer 17.2% 7.1% 10.1% .278 77.5% 3.19 3.75 3.69 3.77
Francisco Liriano 23.0% 10.5% 12.5% .310 69.2% 4.59 3.73 3.77 3.80
Erik Bedard 22.1% 9.5% 12.6% .305 68.4% 4.31 3.85 3.80 3.86
Derek Lowe 14.3% 7.9% 6.4% .320 68.8% 4.68 3.95 3.87 3.94
Justin Germano 16.4% 6.5% 9.9% .302 64.8% 5.28 4.42 4.48 4.07
Jeff Karstens 15.0% 4.8% 10.2% .289 72.9% 4.02 4.23 4.05 4.15
Kyle Lohse 14.9% 5.6% 9.3% .286 70.2% 3.76 3.74 4.14 4.30
Dallas Braden 15.0% 5.6% 9.4% .274 71.8% 3.46 3.79 4.19 4.31
Freddy Garcia 15.6% 7.1% 8.5% .292 73.0% 4.42 4.51 4.30 4.39
Rich Harden 20.9% 11.7% 9.2% .293 74.3% 5.36 5.54 4.73 4.41
Jonathan Sanchez 22.2% 13.6% 8.6% .275 72.9% 4.31 4.55 4.51 4.43
Kevin Millwood 15.7% 7.4% 8.3% .308 69.8% 4.61 4.41 4.33 4.43
John Lannan 12.2% 8.7% 3.5% .306 71.6% 4.12 4.30 4.33 4.56
Carlos Zambrano 17.4% 11.1% 6.3% .294 71.7% 4.24 4.27 4.48 4.57
Daisuke Matsuzaka 19.1% 11.2% 7.9% .289 64.7% 5.48 4.56 4.79 4.58
Joe Saunders 13.4% 6.8% 6.6% .294 72.3% 4.07 4.50 4.38 4.58
Randy Wolf 15.0% 8.1% 6.9% .296 73.4% 4.39 4.63 4.58 4.60
Jair Jurrjens 14.4% 7.7% 6.7% .295 73.2% 4.18 4.31 4.47 4.60
Mike Pelfrey 12.7% 7.6% 5.1% .303 71.9% 4.10 4.05 4.38 4.61
Dustin Moseley 12.6% 8.1% 4.5% .269 70.3% 4.02 4.71 4.41 4.61
Chien-Ming Wang 9.5% 6.6% 2.9% .309 68.8% 4.94 5.00 4.60 4.63

I’ve mentioned Carlos Villanueva before, and he still looks pretty good compared to others in the same tier of pitching. He has under-performed his peripherals over his career due to a propensity to allow home runs. These heat maps shouldn’t be surprising:

Aside from that, Villanueva has great, underrated stuff. He leads the above free agent class in K%-BB% as well as SIERA. SIERA is very good at predicting future success for pitchers, so as long as Villanueva continues what he’s done recently, the results should catch up with the performance sooner rather than later.

Another interesting name on the list is Jeff Karstens. Having spent his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, his transformation into replacement-level dreck into average starter has gone mostly unnoticed. 2012 was his biggest stride forward as the right-hander boosted his strikeout rate to a career-high 18 percent and his walk rate down to a career-low four percent. In fact, his aggregate sub-five percent walk rate from 2010-12 is the lowest in the aforementioned table.

Oddly, over 26 percent of batted balls put in play against Karstens were line drives, a ridiculous rate. It was the second-highest total among pitchers with at least 90 innings pitched, behind Mike Fiers at 28 percent. Typically, Karstens has an even split of ground and fly balls — he is very Kyle Kendrick-esque in nature (Kendrick circa 2012, anyway).

Of course, the Phillies could always go with a #4-5 of Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd. Despite a 4.91 ERA, Cloyd pitched well in a small sample between the end of August and the end of the regular season, striking out 22 percent of the batters he faced while walking five percent. However, because nearly one in every two batted balls was put in the air, Cloyd allowed eight home runs in 33 innings.

Cloyd will not be able to rely on missing bats to succeed at the Major League level. This was former contributor Bradley Ankrom’s scouting report from back in August:

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Unless the Phillies reach for an over-the-hill veteran like Kevin Millwood, it won’t be hard for them to grab an arm that can put up an ERA in the 3.75-4.25 range and solidify the back end of the rotation on the cheap. Villanueva and Karstens, at this moment, seem to be the best bets, but the Phillies have shown already this off-season that they are willing to go beyond the obvious.

Phillies Rumored to be Shopping Dom Brown

twitter.com/JonHeymanCBS/status/278626981531242498

Can’t make that up. Domonic Brown was once the Phillies’ top prospect and one they safeguarded in deals for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt, but with some unfortunate injuries and a lack of organizational commitment to his playing time and development, his stock has fallen off of the veritable cliff. Alfonso Soriano bounced back from a rough 2011 season, posting a .350 wOBA with the Chicago Cubs last season.

Heyman indicates that the Cubs would pay for all but $10 million of Soriano’s $38 million remaining salary which takes him through 2014. It sounds nice — a player who is coming off of a .350 wOBA season for two years at $10 million — but Brown will have significantly more value to the Phillies in the future. Brown doesn’t become eligible for arbitration until after the 2014 season, which means that the Phillies will have him under control for slightly more than the Major League minimum for another two years. Then, after that, Brown’s salary will scale according to his production or he could agree to a multi-year extension. Kyle Kendrick, for example, earned $2.45 million 2011 in his first year of arbitration eligibility, then agreed to a two-year, $7.5 million extension with the Phillies prior to the start of last season.

Essentially, if Brown pans out to be the prospect everyone thought he would be, the Phillies will be happy to compensate him. If Brown is a dud, as others expect, then he won’t earn as much money. In giving up Brown for Soriano, the Phillies are forgoing the opportunity to reap what they’ve sown in Brown, who is still young (25) with plenty of potential, an asset that could prove to be quite valuable over the next five seasons. In return, they would be gambling on a 37-year-old corner outfielder for the next two seasons.

The Phillies put themselves in this position, though. There were several opportunities to give Brown regular and even semi-regular playing time over the years, but they left him in Triple-A when he had nothing else to gain, then he was injured. He suffered from a quad injury in 2010, then had his hamate bone broken in March 2011, which sapped him of his power for a while. All told, Brown has 492 plate appearances spread out over three seasons, an average of 164 per season. In that span of time, however, Brown has shown some good signs — he has had as much power as Carlos Ruiz (both have a .152 ISO since 2010) and the third-best walk rate behind the now-departed Jayson Werth and Chase Utley.

Brown has his flaws too: he strikes out too much (fourth-highest rate since 2010) and has not looked comfortable in either outfield corner defensively. But is Soriano really any better in that regard, and are the Phillies’ needs so immediate that they must salvage Brown now rather than continuing to let him grow? This recent bit of news, along with manager Charlie Manuel‘s recent comments about Brown…

You know something, for me to say — I think I’m sending a bad message if I say that I don’t want them [Brown and Darin Ruf]. […]

… as well as the entire history surrounding the Phillies’ handling of Brown over the years, it does seem like a divorce is inevitable. Brown very well may be better off in another organization, but he is still a great asset to the team at the moment nonetheless, and certainly worth more to the organization going forward than Alfonso Soriano.

Report: Phillies Close to Acquiring Michael Young

UPDATE: It’s official.

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MLB.com 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…

twitter.com/JeffPassan/status/277422718381592576

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 MLB.com 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.