The buy/sell quandary

At present, the Phillies are in a quandary. It seems no one hasn’t mentioned the aging core, so I’ll give that little time. Here are the options the Phillies have:

1. Buy
The Phillies have the option to buy — perhaps someone for the bullpen — in an attempt to make one last push with this core. At present, this would seem to be the worst, and least likely, strategy. In the past, buying big names hasn’t worked out so well in the long-term, and the club has not benefited by going to the World Series from such a deal since 2009. Of course, that was a fantastic deal in picking up Lee, but that sort of move has not been the norm, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the market with that kind of potential to make a comparable impact.

Waiting until waivers may be one of the best ways to improve by “buying” in a sense, without having to give up young talent. As it stands, I am far from suggesting that the team would be better off mortgaging the future for an unlikely World Series run this year (a current projection from coolstandings.com gives the Phillies a 7.4 percent chance of making the playoffs). Waiting to buy until waivers, whether or not the club decides to sell, would not be a terrible thing.

2. Sell
The club could sell some of the older players — those on the trading block — and get back some younger talent for the future. Obviously, this route means the club doesn’t believe they have a shot at the playoffs this year. This won’t happen right away, but it could happen if the team loses this series to the White Sox.

I would like to argue, however, that if the Phillies were to sell and get back some of the right pieces, it could keep the team on even keel for this year, but put them in a better position for years to come. There are two ways to go about this — implode or retool.

3. Hold firm as long as possible
Hold firm, and determine just before the trade deadline. This may be the likeliest, because the team is unlikely to hold pat. They’ll likely refer to option 1 or 2 right before the deadline, depending on the situation at that time. Ruben Amaro, Jr. has showed he likes to make moves; the Phillies are likely to end up on one side of the table or the other. If they can avoid reckless decisions, it will have been at least a somewhat successful month.

This decision is more difficult to make this year, as the club has the perception it can compete. The Phillies are 7.5 games back and under .500, but still in a better position than this time last year.

This could be a bumpy ride. Hold onto your seats.

Mid-season thoughts, pt. 2: Trade targets

There are a number of things to note about the Phillies as they currently stand.
It is unlikely they will make enough noise to make a serious run, but they’ve done crazy things before.

Here the focus is on different elements of individual players, in no particular order.
This post addresses Phillies who are at least somewhat trade targets – Utley, Ruiz, Papelbon, Lee, and Michael Young.
See part 1 for notes on seven players who are less likely targets or not at all on the trading block.

1. Chase Utley: self-determined trade target

Right now, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he will stay or go. Because of what Chase Utley brings to the clubhouse, the Phillies may need to get more in a package to be willing to part with him. And ultimately if Chase wants to stay, Chase will stay. He has partial no-trade protection and can veto trades to 22 teams. If the Phillies fall apart, though, he could be headed out. This one is tough to call, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Utley stay a Phillie.

2. Carlos Ruiz: what can you get for a veteran catcher?

Carlos Ruiz has seen limited action this year because of the 25-game suspension and injury, but he could still be a trade target. It’s an interesting situation in a contract year. Ruiz entered the day .276 in 33 games, up 9 points after a few hits in yesterday’s game.

Teams looking for a veteran presence behind the plate may be calling, and if they have a good offer, it may be better to trade Ruiz, who is 34 — most catchers tend to fall off production-wise in the mid-thirties. Last year’s great success may also be in the back of the minds of those looking to acquire him, and the Phillies should capitalize on that.

3. Jonathan Papelbon: keep a closer or deal for the future?

Jonathan Papelbon is another player at the center of trade rumors. Papelbon’s fiery play is a plus, but his outspokenness may be unsettling, particularly in the Phillies’ clubhouse. He’s willing to say things that are needed, but he’s not particularly tactful, and it rubs plenty of people the wrong way. These things don’t go into my analysis of whether or not he should be traded, but they seem to merit mentioning.

Despite four blown saves, Papelbon is having a fairly good year. He’s getting guys out in the ninth inning, and that’s about all you can ask a closer to do. However, are the Phillies in any position to contend this year and next? As the trade deadline approaches, the team needs to answer that question. If the answer is “no,” they need to listen to offers. Yes, Papelbon’s contract runs through 2015, but hanging onto a great closer does a team little good if they’re not getting into many save situations.

4. Cliff Lee: keep him

Not everyone agrees with this analysis. A number have mentioned the injuries Roy Halladay has sustained over the last two years in arguing we should trade Cliff Lee. I’m not buying it.

Each time Lee has been traded, he hasn’t brought back anything like what he’s worth. What evidence is there that this time will be any different? Besides, Lee is a southpaw ace. Lefties last longer, especially when they’re as good as he is. Lee relies not so much on his power as his command, which is impeccable. It may be wishful thinking, but if his command continues to be as good as it is, he could last another 8 years. Jamie Moyer did it, and he wasn’t as dominant a pitcher when he was 34. Lee has half the number of innings pitched compared to Moyer’s tally over 27 years; if he stays healthy and adapts properly, he can keep pitching.

5. Michael Young: getting a return

Michael Young is signed through this year. His defense is less than stellar, though his average is pretty good — he was leading the team in average for a while at the beginning of the year. Keep in mind that Young was essentially meant to be a one-year replacement. Younger players can fill the gap adequately — Galvis, Hernandez, or someone else — with the added benefit of seeing how one of the prospects does at third full-time.

An AL team might be able to use Young, and if it becomes clear the Phillies aren’t going anywhere this year, they need to unload him for the best deal they can get. The Yankees certainly fit that bill, and are rumored to be interested. He is the most likely man to be moved.

Mid-season thoughts, pt. 1: The future

There are a number of things to note about the Phillies as they currently stand.
It is unlikely they will make enough noise to make a serious run, though they’ve done crazy things before.

Here the focus is on different elements of individual players, in no particular order.
This post addresses seven Phillies who are less likely trade targets or not at all on the block – Revere, Brown, Howard, Delmon Young, Rollins, Hamels, and Kendrick.
See part 2 for notes on five players potentially on the trading block.

1. Ben Revere: his future

Ben Revere has quietly taken over the team lead in average. I noticed that yesterday afternoon right after he hit a 2-run triple with two outs. From Todd Zolecki:

While his slugging percentage is still slightly lower than last year, that isn’t necessarily as bad as some make it out to be (alright, his line was .295/.331/.342 at the day’s start — his average is .300 after 3 hits tonight).

What kind of hitter is everyone hoping Revere will become? A leadoff hitter. As long as he improves his OBP and gets timely hits like today’s triple, I’ll likely consider his slugging percentage more or less in passing.

Not only that, but he seems to be tracking the ball better in the field. That’s reassuring for the Phillies, who traded for Revere hoping he would be the center-fielder of the future.

2. Domonic Brown: a breakout year

Finally Domonic Brown has been given the chance to shine. After a monster May (I wrote about it here), Brown has cooled off just a bit. Brown has continued to contribute, however. With the home run and triple yesterday, his line improved slightly to .281/.326/.560.

Brown will participate in his first of hopefully many All-Star Games with the Phillies. If the Phillies think he will continue to produce at a high level, it may behoove them to start working on a deal now, because they don’t exactly have a great track record with his agent, Scott Boras.

3. Ryan Howard: the “Big Piece” in pieces

If the Phillies had any chance of trading Ryan Howard, it was likely contingent on his success during these next few weeks. Now that he’s on the DL again (for 6-8 weeks with a meniscus tear), it’s even more unlikely anyone is willing to deal for him. He’s become injury-prone and is not the hitter he once was. Count on that contract staying on the books.

4. Delmon Young: more or less meeting expectations

His fielding is still not great, but an interesting tidbit – his range factor (thanks, Baseball-Reference) is just about as good as it’s ever been for an extended period, at 2.15. Again, not great, but at least the Phillies are seeing a moderately better fielding Delmon Young than they could be.

Fielding aside, he’s starting to hit. Young entered today’s game .274/.325/.435, which is significantly improved from the kinds of numbers he was putting up earlier in the year. With those things in mind, an AL team with a need at DH could call. No teams currently come to mind, and teammate Michael Young would seem to fit that bill better (see part 2), but injuries happen.

Here are some thoughts I had when the Phillies signed Young. I noted others’ Hunter Pence comparisons, which aren’t actually very far off at this point in the season. Young has a slightly higher average, higher OBP, and moderately lower slugging percentage. Pence has more HR and RBI (and indeed RBI is an important stat) and has a better range factor and fielding percentage, but has fewer assists.

In fact, since they’re now playing the same position, it’s probably more of a fair comparison this year than it was in 2012. Pence is still more of a clutch hitter, but the comparison is not as flawed as previously thought. Keep in mind that Pence is making $13.8 million this year. Young’s total when the Phillies signed him, assuming he reached the built-in incentives, was $3.5 million.

5. Jimmy Rollins: power shortage

Jimmy Rollins has regressed in power; there’s not really a way around that. He’s still a great defensive shortstop, though, which has always been one of his strengths. Unfortunately, however, his baserunning has also fallen off. With only 9 stolen bases (including tonight’s game) and 6 times being caught stealing, Rollins has dropped off a long way, as he had 30 stolen bases last year.

That said, if someone is willing to take on what he’s owed in 2014 as well as the vesting option and give up some good prospects, it’s not totally out of the question for Rollins to be traded. Rollins is the longest-tenured Phillie, but if someone unexpectedly puts together a good package, there may be reason to think twice about keeping him.

6. Cole Hamels: 2009 again?

Remember the last time Cole Hamels had a great year, followed by a not-so-great year? Okay, it’s not the best of comparisons; Hamels was still a great pitcher in ’09, but getting a lot of bad breaks. The bottom line, though, is that Hamels is better than he’s currently pitching, and that will return. Hopefully the team can provide him enough consistent run support to allow him the space to return to his former self. He’s in the first year of a huge deal, and he will get better again and play closer to the caliber the contract commands.

7. Kyle Kendrick: consistency for the middle of the rotation

Amidst all the woes the Phillies have seen this year, Kyle Kendrick has been fairly solid. With an ERA of 3.90 — on par with how he finished last year — and has had two complete games, including a shutout. He’s inducing plenty of groundouts and keeping his team in games. Kendrick has done what is asked and expected of him as a reliable mid-to-late rotation arm. Kendrick has given up a large number of runs a few times this year, but also has 7 quality starts. He isn’t striking out a lot of guys, but his walk total has gone down. If Kendrick can become more consistent, he will continue to be valuable to the club.

Brown’s Hot Stretch

Ten days ago, Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown entered game two of a series against the Nationals with a .256 average and 8 home runs, following a 2 for 3 night.

Not only has Brown hit 9 home runs since, with 2 multi-home run games, but he’s raised his average 35 points. He now leads his team in hits, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS, also leading the National League in home runs. His line:

17 HR, 42 RBI, .291/.329/.592/.921

One cause for concern is his walk total – he only has 11 walks on the season. In fact, Brown’s walk frequency has gone down during his hot stretch. In his NL player of the month May, he was not walked at all, though he hit 12 home runs. He became the first player in history to hit 9+ home runs in a month without being walked.

While a lack of walks may cause problems later, when a player is mashing baseballs like Brown is right now, it’s not a time to tell him to start taking pitches. Besides, he’s still young, and it’s something Steve Henderson will likely work on with him at some later date.

Some around the web have suggested that Brown is juicing. It’s ludicrous. Brown is 6’5″ and 200 lbs. For reference, I’m 6’3″ and about the same weight, and considered a bean pole. Care to enlighten me on how someone can be both using and a taller, skinnier guy than me?
Regardless, it’s sad that this comes up with everyone who starts hitting the long ball. It’s a reality of the modern game – such things will doubtless remain around the game as long as it is competitive. People look for a competitive edge, sometimes illegally. That’s reality.

But back to Brown. His hot streak has kept the Phillies afloat during a 5-5 stretch. Todd Zolecki points out:

While Brown is hitting .329 with six doubles, two triples, 15 home runs, 36 RBIs and a 1.053 OPS since April 23, he only truly has gotten everybody’s attention in the last 10 games. He is hitting .447 (17-for-38) with one double, one triple, nine home runs, 17 RBIs and a 1.712 OPS in that stretch.

Zolecki points out that lower attendance and the lateness of his power surge has kept him off the list of leaders for the All-Star vote. However, he could certainly make the team as a reserve. In fact, if he keeps up this streak, Brown could be offered a chance to participate in the Home Run Derby.

Brown had not received much consistent playing time in the majors until this year. The time he has spent in the bigs this year, in addition to a shorter (yet still vicious) swing that gets to the ball quicker, has paid off. With a plethora of injuries, illness, and under-performance, Brown’s success comes at a truly needed time for the Phillies.

Another Look at the Bullpen

With the first Spring Training game on Saturday, it’s time to take a serious look at the Phillies bullpen. 11 names are listed on the depth chart, and unless a non-roster invitee really impresses the club, six or seven men on this list will likely make up the Opening Day bullpen:

Keep in mind that this list does not include swing-man Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick is currently slotted as the #4 starter. While the odds are that he will stay there unless he struggles and someone else steps up in a big way (someone like Jonathan Pettibone), stranger things have happened. If John Lannan pitches well and the Phillies end up with an extra starter, Kendrick could be put back into the spot-starter/long relief spot where he was decently productive last year. Such a situation would potentially knock another one of the guys above down to the minors.

General Impressions

Obviously, if Papelbon and Adams are healthy, they’re in, as the 8th/9th inning guys. That leaves space for four or five other guys. Experience can play a big role in who gets the spots at the beginning of the year, but there are only a few relief pitchers in the system with much experience. That said, Bastardo and Durbin – the two others who have the most experience – will most likely make the team. If they do, the club has space for two or three other pitchers.

A Closer Look

Before simply laying out a prediction, one needs to consider many factors. Here are some notes on each of the men not making more than $2 million a year:

Antonio Bastardo

Bastardo’s 2011 season was fantastic, as he took over the 8th inning position and even closed out in 9 save situations (converting 8 of those opportunities). After seeing some major league action in 2009 and 2010, he had a 0.93 WHIP and sub-3.00 ERA in 2011 and was one of Philly’s most dependable arms. 2012 brought some regression, however. His ERA jumped by more than one and a half runs; his WHIP, nearly 30 points.

This year the Phillies will presumably not need to ask Bastardo to pitch the eighth inning incredibly often. Instead, the team may ask him to be a lefty specialist. His career splits against lefties are noticeably better, so it would make a lot of sense. After inking a $1.4 million contract, they certainly hope he can settle in and put up numbers closer to those of two years ago.

Chad Durbin

Durbin is following what was one of his best seasons. The 35-year old had an ERA a tad over 3 for the Braves – worse than only his 2008 season with the Phillies – and and 1.31 WHIP, matching his previous best. If Durbin can continue to pitch the way he did last year, he will be a gladly welcomed part of a three-man veteran presence in a bullpen with several young arms.

Jeremy Horst

It would definitely be nice for the Phillies to have more than one southpaw in the ‘pen. Horst pitched well in AAA last year, but pitched even better in the majors. He pitched 31.1 innings for the Phils in his second major league stint with a 1.15 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. If he has a decent spring, he will likely stay with the club to start the season.

Phillippe Aumont

Aumont, one of the pieces of the 2009 Cliff Lee deal, made his major league debut last year. He didn’t blow the opposition away, but he did hold his ground in limited action. Aumont picked up a couple saves near the end of the season. His command is the biggest concern, but he has the stuff to be effective. Whether or not he makes the team likely depends on what kind of a spring he has.

Justin De Fratus

De Fratus spent a lot of time on the DL last year with a strained right flexor pronator tendon (read “forearm strain”). In limited time in the bigs over the past two years, he pitched with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. It’s a small sample size, but those are the kinds of numbers teams love. If he’s healthy and looking strong, he could definitely make the club, but there are many moving pieces here.

Michael Stutes

Stutes also went on the DL last season, but had year-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in June after being sidelined in late April. The shoulder had been an issue in Spring Training, and it showed up again. Stutes could have some of the success he had in 2011 if he’s healthy. Stutes threw live batting practice on Tuesday, but that’s not enough to get a good idea of where he’s at. Obviously, with the number of possibilities the Phillies have, Stutes needs to have a good spring to crack the roster.

Jake Diekman

Diekman has some good stuff, and definitely has potential. The last time he had an ERA over 4 – at any level, including 32 games in the majors last year – was 2009, and that was 4.04. As a lefty, he’s definitely an asset. The one area of concern is his high WHIP. In the majors, one can only go so long without batters taking advantage of the men on base. In 27.1 innings, Diekman walked 20 and allowed 25 hits. He may need some fine-tuning in AAA, where he excelled last year. If he’s put in the work, though, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make the roster, though that may depend on how Horst does.

B.J. Rosenberg

Looking at Rosenberg’s numbers, it seems a classic case of the player in-between levels. Rosenberg blew away minor league batters, going 5-2 with a 1.89 ERA over 62 minor league innings, mostly with the AAA IronPigs. He started six games, but mostly pitched in a reliever role in the midst of a few call-ups. He had his moments, but struggled overall with the Phillies, posting a 6.12 ERA. His minor league numbers indicate he could have some success with the club, but it hasn’t shown yet. Rosenberg may need some time to retool in the minors, but he may get a shot again soon.

Raul Valdes

Valdes is another lefty, which makes four on this list – some teams would be envious to have as many southpaw possibilities. However, I haven’t been overly impressed with Valdes. He’s bounced around – the Phillies are the fifth MLB system he’s been through, and he spent some time in the independent leagues. Valdes seems like a backup plan in case other lefties Horst and Diekman don’t pan out. There may be a hidden gem here, but at 35 years old, he may have to be impressive to stick.

How It Looks

Here is one possible Opening Day bullpen:

Papelbon
Adams
Bastardo
Durbin
Horst
Aumont

It wouldn’t be surprising to see a full 7-man bullpen. In that case, this list is one spot short. If the team goes with a righty, it could be De Fratus or Stutes, depending on who returns stronger from injury. If he’s strong and the team wants another lefty, Diekman could take the last spot. If all those on the list make the club, the team would have a closer, a setup man, a long reliever, two lefties, and one situational righty. That list may call for another right-hander.

Too much pitching is a good problem to have; however, a lot of this talent is young pitching. This young pitching core certainly has potential, but potential only amounts to as much. With three available spots in the bullpen, the Phillies need some of their young pitchers to mature and take charge.