Winter Rumors, Hopes

Let’s throw some links around and see what the Phillies are up to in their quest to improve the team and defend their World Series championship in 2009.

Nick Cafardo:

[The Phillies] have made an offer to [Derek] Lowe, who would be their No. 2 starter behind Cole Hamels, bumping Brett Myers. If not Lowe, they’d go after another starter who can be a No. 2 or 3. They would need a bat to replace [Pat] Burrell, and they’ll consider [Raul] Ibanez or a return of [Bobby] Abreu. Re-signing Jamie Moyer will also be on the burner.

Lowe and his ground ball tendencies — second highest GB% in the Majors behind Brandon Webb — would fit in well at Citizens Bank Park, but he’s in his mid-30’s (35 to be exact). There’s a lot to like about Lowe, though, besides the ground balls: in four seasons with the Dodgers, he never put up an ERA higher than 3.88 and his FIP has never wildly deviated from his ERA. None of his peripherals strike you with the notion that Lowe has gotten by on any kind of luck, and his strikeout rates the last two seasons have been his highest since 2001. Additionally, Lowe put up a walk rate under two per nine innings, always a good sign. The difference between 2007 and ’08 for Lowe in terms of pitch selection is less reliance on his fastball (-6%) and change-up (-7%), and more reliance on his slider (+13%).

I’ve gone over the Burrell/Ibanez comparisons, but Abreu is another name who fits into the “solid hitter, but an awful defender” genus. Unless one can be had for a seven-figure salary, none of them are worth it.

MLB Trade Rumors:

According to Ken Rosenthal, free agent southpaw Randy Wolf is open to all teams.  He won’t limit himself to the West Coast.  Wolf first revealed this info on September 26th.  Rosenthal wonders if a return to the Phillies could be in order if they don’t re-sign Jamie Moyer.

As much as I like Randy Wolf as a person, I have to say that I’d pass on him if he was willing to come to Philly, even relatively cheaply. There’s been no real consistency with any of his peripherals. Even projecting Wolf as a league-average pitcher is being optimistic. J.A. Happ can do the same job for less money and without the injury concerns.

Jayson Stark

The Phillies’ difficulties in re-signing Jamie Moyer have reached the stage in which Moyer has re-enlisted his former agent, Jim Bronner, to begin calling other clubs to see how much interest they would have in the 46-year-old left-hander. Sources indicate that while there continues to be mutual interest in having Moyer remain a Phillie, the two sides continue to haggle, purely over dollars.

As I mentioned before, don’t expect the 2008 version of Jamie Moyer to ever show up again. He benefited from a perfect storm of occurrences, especially a way overachieving Phillies middle infield. He’s so reliant on having balls in play turned into outs because he does not strike out a lot of hitters (5.64 per nine innings last season). Both the Bill James and Marcels projections see Moyer putting up a 4.23 and 4.58 ERA, respectively. I’m even more pessimistic.

David Murphy:

Phillies baseball personnel have been asking pointed questions about Twins outfielder Delmon Young, the former overall No. 1 draft choice of Tampa Bay, sources told the Daily News. Young is probably best known for a 2006 incident when he was suspended 50 games in the minor leagues for throwing his bat at an umpire. (See the video of the incident below.)

He was traded to the Twins after the 2007 season. The Phils are believed to be looking for a replacement for Pat Burrell, who is not expected to re-sign.

You often see one or two teams capitalize on the negative perception of a player, whether due to his personality (Milton Bradley), off-the-field issues (Josh Hamilton), or other circumstances. The Phillies typically haven’t taken these kinds of risks, especially with the credence given to team chemistry vis a vis their success.

The Phillies should continue with their risk-aversion, as Young simply isn’t worth it. He was one of the few fielders worse than Pat Burrell last year — negative 25 to Pat’s negative 20, according to the Fielding Bible —  and hasn’t shown good plate discipline. And with more than 1,400 plate appearances in the Majors, he’s been hitting balls hard less and less — an LD% that goes from 26.2% (only 131 PA) to 21.1% to 17.1% from 2006-08.

Young might appear to be the next “you never should have doubted me” player, but he simply isn’t worth it on his defense alone. Then you add in his unproven offense capabilities and, yes, his personality problems — you should be more willing to share needles than to gamble with Delmon Young.

Lastly, hold on to your hats…

Ken Rosenthal:

Both the Cubs and World Series champion Phillies have entered the fray to land the Padres’ ace.


But the Phillies threw their name into the mix later Monday,‘s Ken Rosenthal reported. The Padres like some of the Phillies’ young minor-league pitchers, major-league sources told Rosenthal, but the talks are only in the preliminary stages.

Basically, if a deal can be made to acquire Jake Peavy, then that deal has to be made, even if it involves parting ways with Lou Marson.

The Phillies, being risk-averse, typically haven’t made huge off-season trades (Brad Lidge, Billy Wagner, and Kevin Millwood being the biggest three I can recall) and realistically probably don’t have enough to outbid the Cubs. It’s nice to see that the Phillies have indicated interest in Peavy, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

My Newspaper Column on Donovan McNabb

From time to time when baseball isn’t entirely on my mind, I look at the NFL. I’m as surprised as you are. As such, I formulated opinions on the whole McNabb saga that seems to be coming to an end here in Philadelphia. The Delaware County Daily Times thought enough of my opinion to publish it in a newspaper, infecting the minds of thousands of readers.

Click the thumbnail below to see the actual article, or you can click here for the online version.

McNabb article

Phillies Don’t Offer Arb. to Burrell and Moyer

David Murphy/Paul Hagen:

National League sources confirmed to the Daily News that the midnight deadline to offer arbitration passed with the Phillies passing on all four of their players eligible for free agency: Moyer, leftfielder Pat Burrell and righthanders Tom Gordon and Rudy Seanez.

As expected, Gordon and Seanez didn’t get arbitration offers. Almost as if to maintain some sort of equilibrium, the non-offers to Burrell and Moyer are equally as unexpected. Most people will react as if GM Ruben Amaro is crazy, and he very well may be, but let me be the first to defend his decisions here.

Burrell made $14 million last season and already declined a two-year, $22 million offer (an avg. annual salary cut of $3 million) from the Phillies. In arbitration, he was likely to make slightly more than the $14 million he made in 2008.

Moyer made $3.5 million last season and $10.5 million over his two-year deal with the Phillies. Because of his uniqueness as a 46-year-old pitcher, it’s hard to put an estimate on what he’d have been awarded in arbitration, but I’d say around $8 million.

Both Burrell and Moyer are Type A free agents, which means that if the Phillies had offered one or both arbitration and either declined, they would have been given two draft picks as compensation. The risk is that a panel of arbitrators will decide how much of payroll is dedicated to one or two players if they accept, and the Phillies’ front office may think they can do better than Burrell and Moyer at their likely prices.

Amaro and Co. felt that Burrell wasn’t worth two draft picks or $15-17 million, and Moyer two picks and $6-10 million. He’s not wrong.

There is an abundance of good-hitting corner outfielders in the free agent market, and the Phillies have strongly pursued two: Raul Ibanez formerly of the Seattle Mariners, and Rocco Baldelli, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays. It makes sense to decline arbitration to Burrell if there’s been any indication of interest on either Ibanez or Baldelli’s part to accept a contract that is shorter in length and/or lower in salary.

Putting aside intangible arguments — Burrell is part of a winning clubhouse atmosphere, he enjoys playing in Philly and is used to the fans, etc. — for a moment, the only downsides to Ibanez over Burrell is that Ibanez would be another left-hander in a LH-heavy Phillies lineup, and he’ll be 37 in June. And the downside to Baldelli would be that he’d have to be part of a platoon considering his health condition.

Neither player has the on-base skills that Burrell has, particularly in drawing walks, and neither player has quite the power that Burrell has, either. Obviously, losing Burrell is a downgrade with either player offensively.

According to the Fielding Bible, Ibanez (-18) is about as poor a defender as Burrell (-20), and in the few defensive innings Baldelli has played in his career, he’s been about average as a CF according to RZR.

Putting it all together, how many wins is each player worth? Sky Kalkman puts both Burrell and Ibanez at just over two wins above replacement (WAR), and doesn’t have a listing for Baldelli. Considering that he’d be primarily facing left-handed pitchers (34.5% of the Phillies’ PA came against LHP)  if he joined the Phillies, he might be worth just over one WAR. Kalkman uses $4.84 million as the cost of one win from a replacement-level free agent, thus concluding that both Burrell and Ibanez are worth about $11 million per season. Again assuming, we might say that Baldelli would be worth $6-8 million.

What about Jamie Moyer? He was awesome last season and has been good for 190+ IP every season after 2000.

Don’t expect 2008 Moyer. His 3.71 ERA is much lower than his 4.32 FIP. That’s not surprising considering that the Phillies were the best defensive team in baseball (+74 according to John Dewan in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2009). Can we expect the Phillies to be that good defensively in 2009? Don’t count on it. Using statistics from Dewan in the Annual, look at how much of a jump in defensive production occurs between 2007 and ’08.

Area: 2007 | 2008

Middle Infield: +25 | +71

Corner Infield: -2 | +7

Outfield: -5 | -4

Total: +18 | +74

Obviously, the middle infield — Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins — jumps out at you. Utley was, by far, the best defensive second baseman in baseball (his +47 was well ahead of second-place Mark Ellis at +26). Rollins led all shortstops at +23, just ahead of Yunel Escobar at +21. This, of course, according to the Fielding Bible.

Given Utley’s recent hip surgery, it’s reasonable to expect that Utley won’t be quite the defender he was in ’08.

The subtraction of Burrell (-20) might offset any regression to the mean by the rest of the gang, but not if he’s replaced by someone like Ibanez, who is nearly as poor a defender.

The point is that Moyer, whose batted balls were ground balls 44% of the time last season, benefited greatly from an overachieving middle infield that is bound to regress next season.

There’s also the fact that Moyer doesn’t have great numbers at Citizens Bank Park. In his career, he has a 4.60 ERA there.

The Phillies already have three of their rotation spots set with Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Joe Blanton. The other two can be filled internally with Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ, Adam Eaton (please don’t), Carlos Carrasco, etc. Or, now that the Phillies are not obligated to pay Burrell and Moyer about $25 million, they have the flexibility to go after a big name free agent starter like A.J. Burnett or Derek Lowe.

In the end, not offering arbitration to Burrell and Moyer is a good move, but only if Amaro has considerable fallback options so that the Phillies don’t start the season with both Kendrick and Eaton in the rotation and Geoff Jenkins as the everyday starter in left field.

What I’m Thankful For: Yankees Fans

With a hat tip to poster Squire at the Phillies forum Back She Goes, I direct you to a gem of a comment from Vito of New York City posted on an ESPN Chat with Jim Callis (press Ctrl + F and search for “Vito”):

Jim, I have come to the conclusion that cole hamels would look awesome in yankee pinstripes…do you think a deal involving ian kennedy and melky cabrera along with a lesser prospect like coke, would be enought to pry him away from philly?

The sentiment is so ignorant it’s not even deserving of an FJM-style bit-by-bit rebuke. It has to be a joke. No one with a room temperature IQ actually thinks like this, right?

According to this guy, this is what the Yankees’ Opening Day 2009 lineup will look like:

C – Joe Mauer
1B – Mark Teixeira
2B – Ian Kinsler
3B – Alex Rodriguez
SS – Derek Jeter
OF – Carlos Beltran
OF – Grady Sizemore
OF – Adam Dunn
DH – Manny Ramirez
SP – C.C. Sabathia

Speaking of giving thanks, David Cohen has a top-ten thanks list at The Good Phight. Because I know you were going to ask anyway, here are my top five after “Vito”:

  1. Chase Utley giving the FCC something to work on when he dropped an F-bomb on live television.
  2. Harry Kalas.
  3. Awesome blogs (see blogroll on the right-hand column).
  4. Cole Hamels putting the Phillies back on the map both on and off the field.
  5. Hilarious antics (from an observer’s perspective) following a World Series victory.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Update on Chase Utley’s Surgery

Per Scott Lauber:

Phillies second baseman Chase Utley had surgery on his right hip yesterday. The surgery was performed by Dr. Bryan Kelly at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Utley had an arthroscopic debridement of his labrum and a bony lesion that was present. Dr. Kelly reported the surgery went well and the findings yesterday were consistent with the diagnostic studies performed prior to surgery. It is anticipated that he will have a four- to six-month recovery period as previously described.

Just so you don’t have to grab that medical dictionary, here are the definitions of those those big words:

  • Debridement: the removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue to improve the healing potential of the remaining healthy tissue.
  • Bone lesion: abnormality of bone tissue.

Utley’s surgery went well and none of the procedures caused any setbacks. To quote Lauber again:

According to the good doctor, a debridement consists of little more than “trimming” the labrum, the best-case scenario for Utley. Based on the Phillies’ description of the procedure, and without knowing Utley’s speed of recovery (we’re guessing it’s pretty good), Kalman said it sounds “pretty reasonable” that Utley could be ready by Opening Day.

We hope Utley is ready by Opening Day, but even if he is, given the Phillies’ easy April schedule, letting him take it easy for another month (playing him lightly) would be an optimal strategy. In April, the Phils play just two teams (vs. Milwaukee and @ Florida) who had a winning record in 2008. They play the Braves, Rockies, and Padres three times and the Nationals six times. May opens with three at home against the Mets.

2009 Philadelphia Phillies Projections

Hop over to The Good Phight where MattS dishes out his projections for the current batch of Phillies in 2009. It’s one of the more thorough projection explanations out there.

Here’s a snippet of his explanation:

Rollins power went down this year, but he appeared to master the strike zone like never before, raising his BB% from 6.4% to 9.4% and his K% down from 11.9% to 9.9% since his MVP season.  His peripherals seem to strengthen this case—his Swing% went down from 42.9% to 39.7% while his Contact% when up from 86.9% to 90.8%.  However, this is mostly a higher (78.0%) contact rate on balls out of the strike zone, almost 10% more than the previous year, which was probably the cause of the .290 BABIP, lower than the previous years’ .303.  I expect a little bit of reversion on all counts: a .298 BABIP, an 8.4 UBB%, 11 K%.

Philly Media Overreaction to MVP Results…

…and my overreaction to their overreaction.

Overall, the BBWAA got things right with the awards, though after first place, it gets messy. For instance, Edinson Volquez, who had pitched 80 innings between 2005-07 and is clearly not a rookie, received three second-place votes for NL Rookie of the Year. Brandon Webb undeservedly received 73 total points in the NL Cy Young voting, behind winner Tim Lincecum’s 137. The most offensive result, though, was the 308 total points — including 37.5% of the first-place votes — given to Ryan Howard. Albert Pujols won, of course, but it should have been unanimous.

If you haven’t read Eric Seidman’s rant against the BBWAA, hop on over to FanGraphs.

I’m not going to spend too much time complaining about the BBWAA since it’s been done already. Instead, I’m going to complain about the Philly media’s overreaction to Howard’s “loss” to Pujols in the MVP voting. At the end of September, I concluded that Howard “ain’t even close” to being the NL MVP:

  • His overall .875 OPS (prior to tonight’s game) ranks 21st in the National League and tied for 5th among NL first basemen.
  • […] he ranks 11th among all MLB first basemen in VORP and 13th among all MLB first basemen in PMLVr.
  • […] you have Albert Pujols and his ridiculous 1.099 OPS and amazing defense as well as Lance Berkman’s 1.044 OPS and nearly as amazing defense. Howard isn’t exactly a Hoover with the glove[…]

Before I go on whining about the Philly media, I want to point out that there’s probably a reason why they write these columns. My “ain’t even close” article about Howard’s MVP candidacy would be about as popular in the Philly papers as a bad case of herpes. Regardless of how well I support my argument, or how well-written it is (neither of which actually are “well”), the simple fact that I’m arguing against a Philly player will make my popularity sink like the Dow Jones. So, it may be that Phil Sheridan and Sam Donnellon don’t actually believe what they’ve written since their job is to write for a Philly audience, and I can’t imagine that either of them wants to intentionally sag his coolness. Regardless, it’s in print, so it’s worthy of being criticized.

We’ll start with Phil Sheridan’s article, MVP voting is out of whack.

Pujols was not an embarrassing selection, not with his excellent numbers, but was still the wrong selection. And that should embarrass the association enough to do what it should have done long ago: get out of the business of voting on baseball’s postseason awards – as well as the Hall of Fame.

It’s odd that I agree with his conclusion — the BBWAA has no business voting on these awards — yet completely disagree with his reasoning.

If the MVP is the player with the best all-round statistical season, a computer could figure that out. And a computer might well have spit out Pujols’ name this season. He was terrific.

But Howard got hot in September, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 32 runs to carry the Phillies into the playoffs. That’s the very definition of valuable.


Pujols, September: .321 AVG/.427 OBP/.702 SLG

Howard, September: .352 AVG/.422 OBP/.852 SLG

That’s really splitting hairs, and there’s such a big difference in SLG because we’re only talking about around 100 plate appearances. What about the rest of the year?

Pujols, April-August: .364 AVG/.468 OBP/.643 SLG

Howard, April-August: .324 AVG/.324 OBP/.490 SLG

Games in April count the same as games in September. If you play .500 baseball from May-August, and win 0 of 28 games in April and 28 of 28 in September, you’re still a .500 team.

The group-think association argument for Pujols, if I’m smart enough to get it right

You’re not.

is that he single-handedly kept the Cardinals in the wild-card race.

No, the argument for Pujols is that he was far and away the most valuable player in the Majors. He put up a legendary 190 OPS+ but also played well above-average defense at first base.

That is brilliant, except it ignores the presence of Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus (so much for “single-handedly”)

Ryan Howard had Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Chase Utley hitting in front of him, and Pat Burrell (and Werth/Victorino at times) hitting behind him.

The Cards finished fourth in their division, 151/2 games behind the Cubs. Replace Pujols with an average NL first baseman and what happens? Do they drop all the way to fifth?

The Cardinals won 86 games. It’s very rare for a team to win 86 games and finish fourth. And the argument is a bit misleading — they were only a half-game behind Houston because they played 162 games and the Astros played 161.

Further, why should Pujols be punished because the Cubs were good?

Pujols had a 190 OPS+. The average NL 1B had a 105 OPS+. That’s, like, huge.

The association seamheads love to throw around stats – OPS, VORP, ASPCA – to make a case for Pujols.

Writers poking fun at acronyms is about as played out as the airline peanuts joke that stand-up comedians use. It’s not original and it’s never funny. ASPCA? If you’re going to clutch on to lame jokes, at least pick a funny acronym like NAMBLA.

Yes, he struck out less and hit for a higher average.

And a higher OBP and a higher SLG and wasn’t a liability for half the season and played Gold Glove-caliber defense.

But Howard won actual baseball games in an honest-Abe pennant race.

Howard won them? You mean the Phillies won them?

The Wild Card race not an “honest-Abe” race? The Cardinals won their last six games and only finished four games behind the Wild Card-winning Milwaukee Brewers.

He had 11 more home runs than Pujols, scored five more runs than Pujols, and drove in 30 more runs than Pujols.

Ostensibly, it seems Sheridan is citing Howard’s home runs to claim that he’s a better power hitter. But slugging percentage will tell us that. Pujols: .653; Howard: .543. Oh.

A difference of five runs scored is meaningless, and the runs scored metric is not dependent on the player himself but on the teammates who bat behind him. Ditto RBI, but it’s dependent on the players who bat in front of the player in question.

Notice there are no decimal points involved there, only whole numbers that made a difference in real baseball games.

Since when does a decimal point denote that a statistic doesn’t “make a difference”? And what does that say about batting average? ERA? WHIP?

And since when do whole numbers “make a difference”? I feel like I’m back in my fifth grade math class.

Also, these rhetorical questions I’m asking will have to end soon.

That takes care of the logic.

Yes, in the sense that hanging up the “Mission Accomplished” banner ended the War in Iraq.

But the point is that the association’s voting is rife with personal agendas, flawed logic, favor trading, and plain old sloppiness.

Pot, meet kettle. You might notice that he’s black. Feel free to make him aware of this fact.

Now on to Donnellon’s article, Pujols is MVP but don’t discount Howard’s value.

To preface this, Donnellon does admit very early on that Pujols is the MVP — in fact, it’s in the title. So, he’ll get some points back at the end.

So how did Howard, with all those punchouts, with that below-average batting average and those late-inning struggles, knock in 30 more runs than Pujols this season?

RBI is an “incomplete” metric, as David Grabiner explains here.
How did he manage 48 home runs in a season that so often looked as if it would be his worst?

This is a bad question; it should be, “How many home runs would Howard have hit if he wasn’t terrible for half the season?”

Presence, that’s how. He looks massive up there, looks different than Pujols, more malicious. He swings different than Pujols, too. Whether he struck out, drilled a groundout to the leftside, or hit one of those towering home runs, Howard was, to opposing pitchers, a panic attack, each and every game.

Which is why Howard drew less than half the intentional walks that he drew last year.

Which is why in 2008, Pujols got intentionally walked 34 times to Howard’s 17.

Statistically all home runs count the same. Psychologically they do not. Whether you are in the stands, at a bar, sitting on your sofa, you felt that. And you felt the anxiety on the other side.

It’s one thing if you say, “I like Howard because his home runs make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” It’s another thing to say matter-of-factly that Howard is a legitimate MVP candidate because of those feelings.


If you want to say that Howard had a good season, overcame a lot of adversity, and helped the Phillies win the World Series, go right ahead. There is nothing factually incorrect with those statements. But to say he was as or more valuable than Pujols is to ignore that he was not even the most valuable player on the left side of the Phillies’ infield. And he can come up anywhere from fourth to sixth on the Phillies’ “most valuable” list depending on what metrics you use to make your judgment. When you expand the pool to the entire National League, Howard isn’t even top-ten material.

The real MVP of the Phillies is Chase Utley. Dave Cameron explains exactly why at FanGraphs.

Analyzing the Phillies’ Latest Trade Dream

Rumors have it that the Phillies are pursuing Colorado Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday with vigor. Per CNNSI:

Any teams interested in acquiring Holliday understand that they will be getting him for only one year. Several teams have shown interest, including the A’s, Mets and Rays, but so far it appears the Phillies may have the best chance among those teams.

Just think about the headlines should a trade be completed… “Phillies trade Adam Eaton to Rockies for Holliday” … “Phils Acquire Holliday, Send Geoff Jenkins Packing” … “Phillies’ bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer sent to Colorado for Holliday” …

Just kidding — that’d be awful. Billmeyer is awesome.

That’d be nice, though, wouldn’t it? Of course, the Rockies aren’t stupid and would get their money’s worth in trading one of the game’s best hitters. CNNSI suggests the Rockies would want Shane Victorino back along with some youngsters, namely Lou Marson, Jason Donald, or Carlos Carrasco.

Would the trade be worthwhile? Holliday would simply be a one-year rental unless new GM Ruben Amaro plans on locking him up long-term, but he has to deal with the ballooning salaries of a number of arbitration-eligible players including Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. In other words, Holliday would be a Phillie for one year and one year only.

It wouldn’t be worth it if the Phillies gave up one of their starting outfielders (Jayson Werth, Victorino) to acquire Holliday, an outfielder himself. It’s particularly useless in giving up Victorino because he plays the premium outfield position, has great speed, and above-average defense with a great throwing arm. Victorino was only slightly less valuable than Holliday in 2008, all things considered (not that we should expect Victorino to string together a bunch of ’08 seasons in a row). Additionally, the Flyin’ Hawaiian is going to be cheap at least for the next couple seasons as he enters arbitration: he made just under a half-mil in ’08; Holliday is due $13.5 million in ’09.

In terms of prospects, Jason Donald would be the easiest to relinquish since he’s roadblocked at shortstop by Jimmy Rollins, and probably wouldn’t translate well at another position, defensively speaking. The Phillies would have nowhere to play him anyway; the infield is set with Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Feliz/Dobbs/Bruntlett.

The Phillies’ Minor League system isn’t deep at the top (at the AAA and AA levels) and Carrasco is both the system’s best pitcher and the closest to being Major League-ready, unless you count J.A. Happ. If the Phillies go into ’09 with a rotation of Hamels-Myers-Blanton-Moyer-Happ (with Kyle Kendrick picking up mop-up duty in the bullpen, or working on his stuff in AAA), they have to hope that no one struggles or gets injured as there would be very little from which to choose from as a replacement — just Kendrick and Adam Eaton.

If you recall back to late-July, the Phillies were inquiring about several players including Holliday, but almost every team wanted catching prospect Lou Marson. Correctly, the Phillies declined every request for Marson. Let’s be honest: despite his amazing World Series performance, Carlos Ruiz should not be an everyday starting catcher, and Chris Coste isn’t much better and won’t be around forever. Good catchers are hard to come by, and the Phillies have a legitimately good catcher in Marson — Amaro should put a big, red “not for sale” sign on him.

Assuming a trade does get worked out — and this is why the off-season is awesome: very few of the trade rumors pan out — how much value would Holliday bring to the Phillies? Baseball Prospectus put him at 9.5 Wins Above Replacement Player last season. Their replacement level is very low, so he’s not actually worth 9.5 WARP in today’s game. Pat Burrell was worth 6 WARP. In-house replacements — some combination of Geoff Jenkins, Greg Golson, and Greg Dobbs — would likely significantly under-perform both totals.

Unlike Burrell, Holliday has some range in left field. Even playing in one of the most spacious outfields among all Major League ballparks, Holliday posted the third-best RZR among qualified LF in the Majors, behind only Carl Crawford and Fred Lewis; Burrell ranked dead last on that list.

Holliday’s most surprising statistics of 2008 weren’t his OPS and RZR; it was his stolen base total and success percentage: 28 and 93.3%, respectively. He’s a big guy — 6’4″, 235 according to his B-R page — so it’s impressive that he not only steals that many bases, but does so at such a high success rate (70-75% is considered to be around the break-even point where stealing bases becomes a worthwhile endeavor).

We haven’t even talked about the offense yet, and already I’m starting to salivate — are you? In his five seasons in the Majors, his OBP has increased every single season and his SLG did until last season, but it was still impressive.

Matt Holliday OBP and SLG, 2004-08

There is a concern: Holliday, over his career, has been much better at Coors Field — a very hitter-friendly ballpark — than on the road: a 1.068 OPS at home to .803 on the road. There is good news: Citizens Bank Park is also hitter-friendly, and less spacious, so the Phillies would essentially be getting the Matt Holliday we all know and love.

Food for thought: Holliday’s overall offensive numbers might be suppressed a bit since he plays in the most pitching-heavy division in baseball: the NL West, with such names as Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Derek Lowe, Tim Lincecum, and Matt Cain. He’d move to the NL East, where you really only have to worry about Johan Santana, who is left-handed (Holliday has an .892 OPS against lefties in his career). The only non-Phillie, non-Santana starting pitchers in the NL East to post an ERA under 4.00 in 2008 were Ricky Nolasco, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Pelfrey, and John Lannan.

A trade for Holliday makes sense if we assume that the Phillies’ starting rotation is fine, and it is as long as Moyer re-signs. The Phillies, otherwise, are one twisted ankle or index finger blister away from having to send Kendrick or Eaton to the bump — that alone should be enough to scare GM Amaro into pleading with Derek Lowe to come to Philadelphia. As I mentioned in this entry, the Phillies realistically will only have about $20 million with which to address the 25% of their roster that is still questionable.

Matt HollidayIf Moyer cheaply re-signs — something like $8 or 9 million for one season — with the Phillies, that would leave them with enough salary flexibility to afford Holliday, and the other pieces (5th OF, middle relief) are fixable with cheap players that will be laying around in February and March, or in the system. And the most realistic best-case scenario is that the Rockies take a deal like Happ-Carrasco-Golson, or — even better — they take on Geoff Jenkins as well to offset about $7 million in salary. Worst case scenario is Amaro sending Marson and Ryan Madson and/or Victorino to the airport, Colorado-bound.

It’s highly likely Matt Holliday won’t be wearing a Phillies uniform when spring training rolls around, but it’s fun to dream about. While we’re dreaming, can you imagine what the Phillies’ SB numbers would look like with Holliday?

No Need for Retroactive Ed Wade Praise

It wasn’t long ago when the phrase “Fire Ed Wade” was a regular part of the Philadelphia lexicon. In fact, a website under that exact title was created and laid out in great detail the extreme failure in his eight years as general manager of the Phillies. He was one of the most reviled people in Philadelphia for many reasons, but mostly for completely botching the trades of Curt Schilling (to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Omar Daal, Vicente Padilla, and Nelson Figueroa) and Scott Rolen (with Doug Nickle to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith).

On a semi-related note, I wonder if the 1998 Phillies featured the worst 6-4-3 combination in baseball history: Desi Relaford (65 OPS+), Mark Lewis (73 OPS+), and Rico Brogna (97 OPS+). 1999 was excruciatingly bad as well, featuring Alex Arias (93 OPS+), Marlon Anderson (61 OPS+) and Brogna (94 OPS+).

Given the Phillies’ recent success that involves a lot of players drafted under Ed Wade (did Wade analyze them himself, or was he just the guy who either gave a thumbs up or thumbs down?), and Pat Gillick’s classy move to give him credit, the hate has dissipated. That the Phillies just won a World Series doesn’t make Wade’s eight-year tenure any better. It may make you hate him less, but he was still that incompetent.

Wade’s biggest flaw was his inability to put together a decent bullpen. In only three out of his eight years did a Phillies reliever log 25 or more saves (Jose Mesa, 2001-02; Billy Wagner, 2005). Oftentimes, Wade opted for experience over tangible skill, which explains why pitchers like Tim Worrell, Roberto Hernandez, and Mike Williams found homes in the Phillies’ bullpen. But above all, Wade’s bullpens were just awful. And just think that in 2001-02 and 2004-05, Wade had a competent closer (Mesa and Wagner, respectively).

Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen ERA under Ed Wade, 1998-2005

It didn’t end there. He wasn’t just bad at making trades and putting together a bullpen, he was too happy to sign old, declining players to large contracts:

  • Mike Lieberthal: 3 years, $23.5 million (2003-05, ages 31-33)
  • David Bell: 4 years, $17 million (2003-06, ages 30-33)
  • Jim Thome: 6 years, $85 million (2003-08, ages 32-37; the Phillies paid the White Sox $22 million over the length of the remaining contract after trading him before the 2006 season)
  • Jon Lieber: 3 years, $21 million (2005-07, ages 35-37)

If it hadn’t been for the free-spending New York Yankees, the Phillies would have been saddled with another expensive contract of Wade’s: the five-year, $64 million contract given to Bobby Abreu in 2003 with a club option for 2008. But because of how expensive Abreu was, GM Pat Gillick couldn’t get much in return for Abreu and Cory Lidle, settling for Matt Smith, C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, and Carlos Monasterios. Only Smith has contributed at the Major League level.

Another aspect of Wade’s teams was the Mets-like ability to choke it all away in September (my inspiration for the name of this blog — the Phillies’ tended to crash and burn in September until recently):

  • 2001: Finished 86-76, 2nd in NL East, 2 GB Atlanta; 7 GB Wild Card-leading Houston; 15-13 in September and October
  • 2003: Finished 86-76, 3rd in NL East, 5 GB Wild Card-leading Florida; 26-29 in August and September including losing 7 of their last 8 games (three against Florida)
  • 2005: Finished 88-74, 2nd in NL East, 1 GB Wild Card-leading Houston (swept by Houston Sept. 5-7 including this soul-crushing loss)

If there’s one thing that those Phillies teams and the New York Mets of the past two years have in common (besides Billy Wagner), it’s an unreliable bullpen. In today’s state of baseball, nothing will help you choke away a division or Wild Card lead faster than a shoddy relief corps. And for the Phillies’ late-season choking, we can blame Ed Wade.

Yeah, it’s cool that Wade gave the thumbs-up on drafting Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson, etc. but when you consider everything he was responsible for, it’s hard to find anything for which to praise him. A World Series trophy earned three years after his firing doesn’t change that.

Four Months of Business for the Phillies

As content as everyone must feel seeing the 2008 World Series flag flapping in the wind at Citizens Bank Park, the focus is still directly ahead and no one is going to rest on his laurels. The Phillies have plenty of work to do if they want to continue to play at an elite level in 2009. Already, they’ve declined the options of Tom Gordon and So Taguchi.

The following players are arbitration-eligible (2008 salary in parentheses):

  • Joe Blanton ($3.7 million)
  • Eric Bruntlett ($0.6 million)
  • Clay Condrey ($0.42 million)
  • Greg Dobbs ($0.44 million)
  • Cole Hamels ($0.5 million)
  • Ryan Howard ($10 million)
  • Ryan Madson ($1.4 million)
  • Shane Victorino ($0.48 million)
  • Jayson Werth ($1.4 million)

That’s a total of about $19 million. Using JFLNYC’s payroll estimates for 2009, we could see that total jump up to about $33 million. Most notably, Howard is likely to jump up to $15 million and Hamels to $5 million.

On the books are:

  • Adam Eaton: $8.5 million
  • Pedro Feliz: $5 million
  • Geoff Jenkins: $6.75 million
  • Brad Lidge: $11.5 million
  • Brett Myers: $12 million
  • Jimmy Rollins: $7.5 million
  • J.C. Romero: $4 million
  • Matt Stairs: $1 million
  • Chase Utley: $11 million

That’s a total of over $67 million.

The Phillies also control Carlos Ruiz, Chris Coste, Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ and all of the other prospects you saw, mostly at the end of the season. Those four and the others are likely to make around a half-million each.

Add that all up and you come to about $90 million.

Phillies free agents include: Pat Burrell, Jamie Moyer, Scott Eyre, Tadahito Iguchi, Chad Durbin, and Rudy Seanez.

This leaves holes in left field, two starting rotation spots, a back-up infielding spot, and three bullpen slots including a LOOGY. In other words…

C: Carlos Ruiz
1B: Ryan Howard
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Pedro Feliz
SS: Jimmy Rollins
LF: ?
CF: Shane Victorino
RF: Jayson Werth

Bench: Eric Bruntlett, Chris Coste, Greg Dobbs, Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, ?, ? (if Amaro chooses to fill in the hole in LF by either just plugging in Dobbs and/or Jenkins, or to shift LF and RF around, there could be another need for a back-up outfielder, potentially Greg Golson)

Starting Pitching: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton, ?, ? (could be filled by one or two of Happ, Kendrick, and Eaton)

Relief Pitching: Condrey, Lidge, Madson, Romero, ?, ?, ? (could be filled by all or one or two of Happ, Kendrick, and Eaton)

The Phillies’ payroll was over $98 million on Opening Day 2008, but we can expect an increase, between $105 and $110 reasonably speaking. So, that gives the Phillies around $20 million with which to fill the hole in left field and the holes in the rotation and in the bullpen. Given the lack of salary room, we can cut out a few free agents, especially now that Pat Burrell declined the Phillies’ offer of two years and a total of $22 million (which, on average, would be a pay cut).

On the list of free agent outfielders whom the Phillies should have interest, we can cut out Adam Dunn, Raul Ibanez, and Manny Ramirez. Factoring in that the Phillies are looking for a solid right-handed bat to replace Burrell’s, that would naturally exclude all but Ramirez anyway.

Realistically speaking, if the Phillies don’t re-sign Burrell, they’re going to have to fill in the hole in left field either via trade or from within the organization (Jenkins, Dobbs, Golson).

As for starting pitching, there are some attractive options, such as C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe, Mike Mussina, Oliver Perez, Andy Pettitte, and Ben Sheets. Almost all of these pitchers are going to earn salaries in the double-digit millions. If the Phillies can’t re-sign Jamie Moyer, the Phillies should either take a big gulp and dump close to all of their available salary room on one of those starters (probably Derek Lowe, given his ground ball tendencies that would mesh well in a fly ball-friendly hitter’s ballpark), or accept a rotation that includes Kyle Kendrick and J.A. Happ (and sending Adam Eaton to the pacific ocean in a deep-sea diving bell).

As for the bullpen, the Phillies have all of their main pieces intact, so it’s just a matter of finding some cheap, quality arms if they can’t re-sign Chad Durbin or Scott Eyre. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs noted that Jeremy Affeldt would be a bargain, and he should definitely be on the Phillies’ radar. Other free agent relievers the Phillies should be interested in are: Joe Beimel, LaTroy Hawkins, Will Ohman, Darren Oliver, and Dave Weathers.

The Phillies have to focus on about 25% of their roster for 2009, and if they can do that adequately, they should have a great shot at defending their World Series championship. One thing’s for sure: we won’t be hearing the New York Mets or their fans saying anything at all about the Phillies, will we, Carlos Beltran?