Thoughts on Delmon Young

Amidst talks of the Phillies signing Scott Hairston or trading for Vernon Wells, they went out and made what could end up being a gem of a move.

Their one-year, $750K (with incentives for more) signing of Delmon Young is the definition of low-risk, high reward. If things don’t work out, they will not have spent a wad of money (Hairston is reportedly asking for 2 years, $8 million) or given up prospects.

I’ve seen comparisons of Young’s 2012 stats to those of former Phillie Hunter Pence.
While there are some reasons this is not a fair comparison (e.g. RBI, OBP, primary position), it’s an interesting argument.

Amazingly, Young had a better year in a few categories, but Pence will likely make far more than Young’s base $750K. With incentives, Young could get up to around $3.25 million, but one would rightly think his performance, if earning those incentives, will make it worth the extra cash.

Granted, Young was used heavily at DH last year, but if Young’s numbers can improve as he fights for the corner outfield spot, he will be well worth the contract.

If he improves in the right areas, he could also be good protection for Ryan Howard in the lineup, and a right-handed bat to split Chase Utley and Howard from whichever lefty bats in the 6 hole.

Three things Young will need to work at, whether or not he gets the starting job:

1. Plate Discipline
His career OBP is .317, and it was under .300 last year. He only walked 20 times in 151 games last year. He’ll need to learn when to take some pitches, especially if he is to be Howard’s protection.

2. Defense
Young is a slight defensive downgrade from Pence. His range factor and fielding percentage are slightly lower over his career, and he also didn’t play as much in the outfield last year.

3. Off-field Issues
I’ve listed this as “off-field issues,” but sometimes they show up on the field, too. Young would be best advised to keep a low profile and just work hard at the game. He’s made some mistakes, and he needs to keep his cool and not be a distraction in the clubhouse – or anywhere else.

It won’t be clear until the season starts to progress how good a move this is, but it’s the kind of minor move consistent with Ruben Amaro Jr.’s approach this offseason that has a chance to really improve the team.


Nationals: All In

The Washington Nationals are all in.

Today they agreed to sign Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal (three links).
What would make a team with a duo of competent closing options (Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard) acquire a closer who’s tied to draft pick compensation?

Well, if they’re looking for those last few pieces to make the World Series.

Earlier this offseason, the Nationals acquired Denard Span from the Twins, essentially giving them four start-able outfielders. There was speculation as to whether the Nationals would trade Mike Morse or move him to first if Adam LaRoche left.

When they resigned LaRoche, it put Morse in limbo; however, don’t be too surprised if they keep him.
Morse would be fantastic insurance for an injury to one of the outfielders (Jayson Werth has been injured a few times) or LaRoche. He could also play first when the Nats are facing a lefty.

For these reasons, the Nationals would be best advised to only trade Morse for the right deal. They need to be impressed by the offer before trading Morse. The 30-year old is only a year removed from 31 home runs, and is a right-handed power bat – a rare commodity in the current market.

Edit: The Nationals did end up trading Morse in a three-team deal for three prospects including A.J. Cole, whom they sent to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal last year.

Without Span or Soriano, the Nationals won the NL East – and 98 games in the regular season – in 2012. But almost any team that wins its division after years of underachievement is looking for more.

Though the team is short a dependable left-handed reliever, it has a solid rotation, eight seven proven position players, and now three pitchers capable of closing. This looks like a team trying to go somewhere now.

Having said all that, the 2013 Nationals remind me of a few recent teams that made postseason runs:

1. The 2003 Marlins

The Marlins went all in and won the World Series, similar to their 1997 team.
They relied a lot on homegrown talent, and after the victory, they couldn’t afford to hold onto their players. They went into all-sell mode to rebuild again.

This doesn’t seem a fair comparison because the Nationals’ success has been on the other side of rebuilding a new stadium (2008 opening). Additionally, the Nationals have more money to spend than the Marlins ever have.
Take the front end of the 2003 Marlins team – the talent coming together at the right time – and you’ve captured the main part of the similarities.

2. The 2007-2011 Phillies

Through the later part of the ‘aughts, the Phillies built their team around a core of players like Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. The team continued to get better overall and they built their talent up to a 102-win season in 2011. Ironically, though, they only managed to capture the trophy on the front end of this stretch in 2008, because they were the hottest team at the end of the year.

This is more of a fair comparison. The Nationals are accruing talent like these Phillies teams did, also accruing a larger fanbase and more revenue, also on the other side of a new stadium (Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004).

Depending on how some of the younger players develop, though, the Nationals could be a staying power for a number of years – unlike the Phillies, whose core were already in their prime. For just a few examples, Stephen Strasburg is 24 and Bryce Harper is only 20. If the Nats play it right and have some of these players during their prime years of production, they could be well worth their money.

The youth and talent of the 2013 Nationals plays very much into their favor. The race for the NL East will be a fight – a fight the Nationals look to be a part of for years to come.

2013 Phillies Outfield Projections

There are some major questions about the Phillies outfield for the 2013 season.
The team is searching for a corner outfielder, and while you never know what Ruben Amaro Jr.  may do, don’t count on it happening. The Phils have made relatively small moves so far this year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the personnel is the same as it is now come spring training.

Counting Ruf as an outfielder, there are 8 outfielders on the 40-man roster. Only 6 have a legitimate shot at outfield positions this year, but here are some projections for all 8 players:

Ben Revere – starting center fielder
There’s not really a question here. The Phillies traded a respectable amount of talent to acquire Revere, and he’ll have the starting job. Of all the outfielders on this list, he’s the most ready.
Expect good defense; he also could be competing for the leadoff spot.

Domonic Brown – starting right fielder
Sending Brown to AAA for yet another year may not be an option at this point. It’s time for Brown to prove he can produce in the bigs for a full year. The Phils owe him a legitimate shot at the starting position, and the signs point to him getting that spot. It’s finally time to see how the man who was untouchable in the Roy Halladay trade can adjust to the major league level.

John Mayberry (Jr.) – backup outfielder & first baseman
A big reason Mayberry is on the team is his versatility. The club is confident enough in his ability to play center field that Manuel can trot him out there for a game here and there. He also can play for Ryan Howard when a tough lefty is pitching or simply to give Howard a break. Mayberry should end up being a reserve again this year.

Laynce Nix – backup/platoon with Ruf
Laynce Nix is owed $1.35 million this year, which makes him the most expensive guy on this list. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Nix will make the roster. He’ll be at least a pinch hitter. If Ruf (see next) gets the left field job, Nix could be simply a backup. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a platoon in left field even though the Phillies haven’t done too much of that recently.

Darin Ruf (listed as an infielder) – left fielder/platoon with Nix/AAA
In a small sample of big league time last year, Ruf looked impressive. It may be time to see if he can produce anything close to what he did in AA last year. If the Phillies make no more moves and he has a decent spring playing left field, he has the starting role.

It will be interesting to see how he transitions to the outfield. If he has one particularly strong asset (like Pat Burrell‘s arm – both accurate and strong), it could make up for a deficiency elsewhere. At this point the club is probably looking for average defense from Ruf. Again, one option that’s been tossed around the web is a platoon. I’m not sure how likely it is, but it’s a possibility. Regardless, at 26 (Howard was a rookie at 25), it would be nice to see Ruf contributing consistently from left field.

Ender Inciarte – pinch runner & backup/back to Arizona
The casual fan may or may not know about Inciarte yet. The Phillies claimed him from Arizona in the Rule 5 draft the same day they traded for Ben Revere. Interestingly, his assets are similar to those of Revere.

Inciarte could make the team, especially if another player gets injured. He will really have to stand out, though, because the Phillies aren’t likely to carry 6 outfielders. To keep Inciarte for sure, the Phillies would have to keep him on the major league roster for the whole year. He’s not a power bat, so with the present situation there isn’t a whole lot of incentive to keep him. I don’t think he’ll make the team; instead, Philly will offer him back to Arizona (as part of the Rule 5 provisions). Whether or not the D-Backs reclaim him may depend on what he does in Spring Training.

There’s always a chance for another Shane Victorino scenario, but don’t count on it.  For those unfamiliar with this stipulation of the Rule 5 draft, when Victorino didn’t make the team, the Phillies offered him back to the Dodgers, who declined taking him back (which would be at $25K); then the Phillies kept him in their system. Of course, that’s the point. A team takes a risk by using a roster spot for the acquired player, which the Phillies may well not do. That being said, it’s a fair guess that Inciarte could be headed back to the Diamondbacks system in a few months.

Tyson Gillies – AA/AAA
This is an important year for Gillies. It’s time for him to prove that he can be healthy and produce, otherwise he may not make it to the bigs.

He’s had his struggles in the Phils’ minor league system, but this is the year he needs to stay healthy and produce. If he has a good spring and improves on his AA R-Phils success, it will be a huge boost to his major league prospects. Baseball has a way of forgiving many mistakes, if the player shapes up and produces. Look for him to start the year at AA Reading. If he puts up the numbers, the club could advance him to AAA.

Zach Collier – AA
Collier is 22. He’s been in the Phillies system for five years, but his age gives him some more time.
He lost a year in 2010 to hand and wrist injuries and was suspended for 50 games last year, but the Phillies still hope he can eventually be a part of the big league club.

There is definitely pressure for Collier to produce, but placing him on the 40-man roster was a vote of confidence from the organization that he is able to do so. He may start the year in AA. It’s up to him to start progressing into a player who can crack the 25-man roster in a year or two.