How I would fix the Phillies if I were GM

July 3rd, 2014 by Kyle Lutz | Filed under Baseball, General, Phillies.

philliesgm

As the losing commences, let the fire sale begin.

The Phillies are in a logjam this season, to say the least. They own baseball’s third-highest payroll at $180 million, behind the Dodgers’ $235 million and the Yankees’ $203, and yet they’re on pace at the halfway mark for just 72 victories. The only reason they were even close to being a contender in the NL East in June was due to the pitiful nature of the division this year. Prior to sweeping Philadelphia in a four-game series from June 27th-29th, division-leading Atlanta had a win-loss record of only 40-38. Now Atlanta’s pulled away from the last-place Phillies, who are 38-51 and 11 games back of first-place Atlanta (49-40). The Phillies have now lost nine out of their last 11 games, dating back to June 27th.

Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has run the team down the sewage pipe. Pat Gillick constructed a championship-caliber team a half-decade ago as Amaro’s predecessor, and yet Gillick’s successor — who took over for him in 2009 — tore the team’s inner talent apart. Amaro did this by keeping around over the hill players, players past their peak/prime, overpaying for talent, and much more; mainly the first part. Amaro’s line of thinking= I’ll keep around the lovable, talented five-years ago type of players, even if they’re 30+ and/or with serious physical ailments.

E.g. Ryan Howard, first off, by paying him $125 million over five years. Howard in his prime perhaps was worth that amount of cash, but not when he was on the downside of his career and over 30-years old, at 32, to boot. Yes, you can make the point that, for the most part, it all evens out, as Howard was only making $355k in ’06 when he hit 58 home runs and won league MVP, but he’s way overpaid now. Since that MVP season, Howard’s broken (later broken again by multiple players) the single-season record for strikeouts too at 199 in 2007.

In his career, per 162 games, he’s averaged 193 strikeouts. He’s also averaged 42 home runs and 131 RBIs/year as well. But regardless of Howard’s past accomplishments, facts are facts. The Phillies’ management, in order to have a lower payroll and acquire free-agency talent, should have taken advantage of Howard; sports are a business, for both sides.

Look at the A’s. They, almost every year, compete and yet are near the bottom of the list in payroll. Billy Beane, Oakland’s GM, is to praise for that. Amaro needs to use similar tactics, but I have a feeling he never will at this point. On top of Howard, other guys are either overpaid and/or should be gone as well due to age factors. Here’s what I’d do to (try to) fix the Phillies’ atrocious, over the hill roster; if I were GM.

Trades

-Ryan HowardChase Utley, prospect Roman Quinn, and cash to Kansas City for SP Yordano Ventura and a future draft pick(s)

(Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Virtually no team in baseball I bet would eat up a significant portion of Howard’s overpaid contract (see above), so in order to let him loose, we’d have to eat up a good portion of what’s left in his contract. But it needs to happen, and quickly. And as much as I, and every other Phillies’ fan, love Chase, he and his failing knees and old age need to go. These two guys would be the perfect designed hitters given their age and health.

Kansas City this year is finally competing for once, at 41-39; just a game and a half back of Seattle (43-38) for the second wild-card spot in the AL and four and a half behind Detroit for the division lead. In the big leagues, Kansas City ranks dead last this year in home runs with 47, so they would instantly be acquiring players that could split time with Billy Butler at DH and provide much-needed support offensively. And one guy in Howard who would give them lots of pop as well. The chances of the two Phillies staying healthy would increase dramatically if they played in the American League too, and Kansas City — you could argue — could make the playoffs with the extra push.

On the flip side, 23 year old starting pitcher Yordano Ventura is only in his second season in the big leagues. He was a September call up for KC last fall. Ventura was never drafted, but instead signed with the Royals in 2008 as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic. This season, he’s 5-7 with a respectable 3.26 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 88.1 innings pitched. Don’t let Ventura’s win-loss record this year fool you; he’s a great, young pitcher with lots of upside and little run support this year. The Royals have averaged just 3.5 runs/Ventura start.

And Ventura’s game is still developing, which is a good and bad thing all at once. Good because he’ll be very good in the long term, and bad because — as he’s developing — he’s bound to make mistakes, as he has been. In 2014, he has a 4.09 ERA in starts following a loss, and he’s averaging just 5.9 innings pitched/start. Ventura’s also been a little wild this year as well, with six wild pitches; ranking him sixth in the league in that category.

MLB.com ranked Ventura the 35th-highest prospect, prior to the 2014 season, in baseball. In 2013 with AA Northwest and AAA Omaha, he combined to go 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts/9 in 134.2 innings pitched.

-Cliff Lee and a fifth-round pick to the Blue Jays for prospect Aaron Sanchez and a eighth-round pick

(Kathy Kmonicek/AP Photo)

Lee’s name has been in the rumor mill for the past several weeks, especially more recently as the Phillies have fallen further and further out of contention in the East. Toronto’s surprisingly a contender this year at 45-39; good enough for first place within the AL East, a game ahead of second-place Baltimore. Lee’s been a hot commodity the past several years. We all know what he’s accomplished in his career to this point and what he’s capable of when healthy, so it’s to no surprise when it was reported by Jayson Stark, baseball sportswriter, last week that numerous teams are in on the Lee sweepstakes.

Lee’s slated to be back from the DL for an elbow strain by around the All-Star break, which is in less than two weeks. Despite the elbow injury and his age (he’ll be 36 by the end of August), Lee’s value is still tremendously high, for obvious reasons. Since 2008, he has: a 2.90 ERA, a Cy Young Award victory (2008), four All Star Game appearances, and an average of 243 innings pitched/34 starts a season. He’s a workhorse and an ace, and his skills haven’t diminished either with age. Acquiring a brilliant pitcher like Lee, plus a draft pick, could put Toronto in the driver’s seat towards winning the division this season; something they haven’t accomplished since beating the Phillies in the ’93 World Series.

On the flip side, the Phillies would be getting a great prospect in fellow pitcher Aaron Sanchez, who was ranked the 23rd-best prospect overall by MLB.com prior to this season. He was picked in the first round, 34th overall, in 2010 by Toronto out of high school (Barstow, CA). In five minor-league seasons to date, he’s gone just 18-21 with a 3.50 ERA. Sanchez just turned 22, so he’s still very young, yet still developing, which is a good and bad thing. The good things are: the fact that he hasn’t quite lived up yet to how high he was drafted is good because it’s leverage in trade discussions and he’s got a lot of upside, but the fact he hasn’t developed yet five-years into his minor-league career could be an indicator of things to come at the big-league level for him.

So far in 2014, between AA New Hampshire and AAA Buffalo, he’s gone 3-5 with a 3.96 ERA. His strikeouts/9 figure is down from previous years at 7.5 this year, even though he’s averaging an impressive 8.9 so far in his minor-league career. Toronto may want to exercise the win-now approach by trading a top prospect with a decent season for a proven, veteran ace.

Sanchez has a long, lean frame at 6’4, 190 pounds, with a repertoire as followed: a mid-’90s fastball, a 12-6 curveball, and a change-up.

-Jonathan Papelbon: 

Here are two of the moves, if the other one didn’t pan out, I’d make for Papelbon. Note: I’d trade him to Detroit first, then San Francisco, as a back-up option.

(AP Photo/ Chris Szagola)

-to Detroit for prospect Devon Travis and a fourth-round pick

Detroit has major closer/bullpen issues this year. They’re another potential landing spot for Papelbon, given the right deal. Veteran closer Joe Nathan’s struggling this season, to put it nicely, with a 6.37 ERA and five blown saves in 32 games. On top of that, he’s allowed 13 home runs in 29.2 innings pitched and more hits than innings pitched (34/29.2). Detroit’s in first place in the AL Central this season at 45-34; three and a half games ahead of second-place Kansas City. So they could desperately use another arm in the pen, to increase their lead.

As bad as their closing situation is this year, Detroit’s whole bullpen practically needs a makeover. They rank 29th in the league in bullpen ERA with 4.65; only Houston’s worst at 4.83. Former-Yankee Joba Chamberlain’s excelled in his set-up role, with 15 holds and a 2.94 ERA this year, but besides that, nobody’s really panned or stuck out in a good way in their pen this season.

As for the return piece, second-base prospect Devon Travis is currently 23-years old and playing in Erie; Detroit’s double-A affiliate. Travis hit .351 with two minor-league teams last year, and was ranked the 84th-best prospect in baseball prior to this season. He would be a good, young replacement for Utley (see above), with lots of growth. Although he doesn’t provide a whole lot of pop (he’s averaged just 18 home-runs/162 games in his minor-league career), he’s improved his game tremendously from a couple years ago, has a nice short swing, good speed, and a keen eye at the plate.

Travis was a 13th-round pick by the Tigers in 2012, and based on his surprising 2013 campaign, has improved his stock tremendously. Considering Papelbon’s a proven commodity, a huge upgrade for Detroit, and a player with a lot of experience, I’d require a draft pick to be packaged as well in return.

-to San Francisco for 1B Brandon Belt and a second-round pick

Papelbon’s name has been thrown into the rumor mill virtually every day of the season thus far; or so it seems. If I’m trading Papelbon, I’m eating up a decent portion of his contract, or else most teams would consider it a no deal. Belt has some upside, but I’d need a pick to be thrown in by San Francisco in order to complete this deal. Belt’s stuck on the depth chart at first base behind Michael Morse and (first baseman/catcher) Buster Posey, and Papelbon could go to a contending team and help the Giants’ bullpen, who’s without a clear-cut closer.

Sergio Romo was outed as Giants’ closer after blowing three out of his last five saves. He has an ERA of just 5.17 this season, with 22 saves/27 opportunities. Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy made the decision, and the team will go with a closer by committee from here on out. Relievers Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt will most likely share the closing duties. As for Papelbon, he’ll only assist an already-good bullpen that ranks sixth among all teams in bullpen ERA (2.98), and provide experience as well. In comparison, the Phillies’ bullpen ERA this season is 61-points higher at 3.59, which ranks them 18th in the league.

Papelbon is 2-1 with a (very-impressive) 1.39 ERA this year, with 18 saves in 33 games. He’s 33 years old and now in his 10th year in the league, in the third year of a four-year contract signed with the Phillies back in 2012. Papelbon’s making $13 million this season, and is due to make the same amount next season; with a vesting option in 2016. The 2016 vesting option vests with 55 games finished in 2015 or 100 in 2014-15. If I were to successfully move Papelbon this season, I’d eat up — more or less — around half of what he’s set to make in the upcoming year(s). I think he’ll stay healthy and productive enough to earn that $13 million in 2016, thus I’d pay the Giants around $12-13 million for his services the next two years (2015-16). 

Baltimore’s shown serious interest repeatedly in Papelbon the past several months, but Zach Britton — their closer this year — has not only filled in nicely for his predecessor in Jim Johnson (who went to Oakland) but has been very impressive thus far. Britton this season has a 1.52 ERA, 3-1 record, 10 saves, and a WHIP of .944. He filled in for Johnson’s original replacement, Tommy Hunter, for good in middle of May when Hunter was struggling in the closer’s role (he has a 4.78 ERA and 11 saves this season). Baltimore’s 43-39 this season, only a game back of Toronto in the AL East and a game and a half of Seattle for the second AL wild-card spot.

-trade Carlos Ruiz to Seattle for a fourth-round pick

Even though he’s been placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list, I believe Ruiz will be back in game action fairly soon; before the July 31st trade deadline. Ruiz is 35 and not getting any younger. His body’s probably one of a 40 year old, considering the position he plays at. Thus, it would be ideal for him to finish his career as a DH/catcher in the AL, where he can take days off in the field but still be able to hit. Seattle’s contending this year at 45-38, leading the second wild-card spot’s race in the AL despite placing third in their division so far.

Catcher is a position of need for Seattle. They rank 25th in the league in team catcher’s OBP with .286 and 22nd among all team’s catchers in batting averages at .230. Starter Mike Zunino’s hitting just .225 this year in 67 games/236 at bats, with an OBP of just .282. Zunino’s in just his second year in the big leagues after being drafted third overall two years ago.

Yes, Seattle already has an old backup catcher in John Buck, who’ll be 34 in less than a week, but Ruiz’s superior to Buck both offensively and defensively; even though Ruiz tested positive a year and a half ago for PEDs. Ruiz is a career .273 hitter; Buck’s a career .234 hitter, in two more seasons (11 to 9) than Ruiz. Buck’s got more power, in averaging more home runs/162 games in his career, but doesn’t get on base as much as Chooch does (.301 career OBP to Ruiz’s .359). Ruiz has a slightly higher career fielding percentage (.995 to .992) and led all catchers in range factor/9 in 2012 with 9.76. Additionally, Ruiz has the experience in the postseason that Buck lacks in his career, as Ruiz has had 46 career postseason games to Buck’s lone one last fall with Pittsburgh.

Ruiz’s current disabled-list stint is due to being hit by a pitch in last Thursday’s 5-3 win over Miami. Trading Ruiz would rid the team of even more age on the field, as they rank tied for sixth oldest (with Minnesota) in the majors this season in average age at 29.4 years. Getting a draft pick in return would be fair, as it’s not a high one, but it also opens up the opportunity and chance for a good player to be drafted and developed by Philadelphia.

When Ruiz returns, he can save his knees and career by coming off the bench and/or playing some DH. I’d also eat up a significant chunk of Ruiz’s current contract as well, as he’s signed through 2016, and set to make a combined $17 million the next two years, with a team option in 2017. He’s making $8.5 million this season, so if I were to eat up — let’s say — around $10 million, it would make it a fair deal for Seattle’s sake. Ruiz, in addition to his offense and defense, could also mentor Zunino; taking the young prospect under his wing for future benefit.

And replacing Ruiz would be backups Wil Nieves (when he returns from his quad injury), Cameron Rupp, and veteran Koyie Hill.

-trade Jimmy Rollins and a third-round pick to Seattle for prospect Chris Taylor

This is assuming Rollins waives his no-trade clause. Rollins has a 2015 vesting option that vests at $11M with: 1) 600 plate appearances in 2014 or 2) 1,100 PAs in 2013-14 and Rollins is not on disabled list at end of 2014 season (or if he is on the DL, a mutually agreed upon doctor deems him available for 2015 Opening Day roster). Rollins has played in 78/82 games this year and is on pace for well over 600 PAs at 699, and meeting the terms of the 2015 option. 

Rollins is hitting just .249 this year, but, as we all know, he makes up for it with his excellent defense, experience, and speed/base-running ability. One of Seattle’s weak spots is at shortstop, where they rank dead last in the majors, among all team’s shortstops, in average at .208. Seattle’s a playoff-caliber team this year, with the addition of Robinson Cano this past off-season, thus I believe it would be a landing spot Rollins would approve of.

In return, prospect Chris Taylor, who’s a shortstop (as well as a second baseman) as well, was a fifth-round draft pick by Seattle two years ago out of the University of Virginia. He’s also similar in stature and weight to Rollins at 6’1, 190 pounds; Rollins is 5’8, 180 pounds. Taylor will turn 24 in little over a month from now and this year he’s in his third year in the minors. In 237 minor-league games thus far, Taylor’s batting an impressive .320 with a .409 OBP and 66 stolen bases. Averaging his total minor-league figures out to 162 games, he’s averaging 45 stolen bases, 202 hits, 126 runs, 40 doubles, and 12 triples per year.

Taylor’s a fast, young player with a great eye at the plate. If I were the Phillies, I’d not only try to successfully move Rollins — even if it means you have to eat up some of his payroll — but try to acquire Taylor as well, who’ll improve your infield. On top of that, he could replace the loss of Utley and Rollins, all while getting on base at the top of the order. Throwing in a draft pick, either second or third round most likely, would secure the deal, due to Rollins’ age and slumping numbers. Although Taylor’s proven himself so far at the minor-league level, he’s yet to do that (or anything, for that matter) at the major-league level, meaning you could try to pry him from Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik’s hands with a pick or two as well. Eating up a significant portion of J-Roll’s contract is key in moving him successfully as well, which I would be committed to doing.

-trade A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh for Ernesto Frieri and a fourth-round pick

Burnett’s been decent this year (5-7, 3.89 ERA; through July 1st) considering his age (37). Frieri, a relatively-unknown relief pitcher, has been atrocious this season; so this may seem, statistically, like a horrible pickup. But I’m convinced, considering his age (28) and prior success, that he could be a solid arm for the bullpen’s sake. Surprisingly, the bullpen has been one of the Phillies’ strengths on paper this season, but Frieri — if anything — could help mentor some of the young arms in the bullpen.

Frieri, Colombian-born, was never drafted, but instead was signed as an amateur free agent by the Padres in 2003. Six-years later, at 24, he made his major-league debut with the team in 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he averaged 54 innings pitched/year, with a solid ERA of 2.36. In 2012 with the Padres and Angels, he pitched in 67 games/66 innings and had an ERA of 2.32, with a 5-2 win-loss record to boot. Throughout his career, he hasn’t allowed a lot of hits or home runs/9, at 6.6 and 1.1, respectively. Since Burnett’s accomplished more statistically in his career and has been around longer, a low draft pick would have to be added to equalize the deal a bit more for Philadelphia.

Burnett’s very familiar with Pittsburgh, as he pitched there the last two years, going a combined 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA and a strikeouts/9 rate of 8.4. Burnett last year led the league in strikeouts/9 with 9.8 and ranked fifth in strikeouts (209), as well as ranking fifth in wins the year before (2012) with 16. This past off-season, Burnett signed a one-year, $16 million-dollar deal with Philadelphia; most likely based off his successful 2012-13 seasons, strikeout potential, and experience.

I would eat up, again, a big chunk of Burnett’s contract this year if he were traded. Burnett has a 2015 mutual option at $15 million as well that has a $1 million dollar buyout. If the mutual option’s declined by the Phillies, Burnett then has a $7.5 million dollar player’s option for 2015 that would increase to $8.5 million if he makes 24 starts in 2014, to $10 million with 27 starts, $11.75 million with 30 starts, and $12.75 million with 32 starts. That doesn’t include performance bonuses that he can make in addition to that. Burnett’s on pace this season for 34 starts.

Burnett’s a strong mentor in the clubhouse, a good strikeout pitcher, and a veteran, but the team needs to get younger at this point; not older. Adding a younger arm and a draft pick, and letting the young guys in the rotation take Burnett’s place, would be best at this point going forward. Plus, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a whole lot of great arms in their rotation this season. They only have one pitcher so far in their starting rotation that has an ERA below 4; their ace Charlie Morton. Pittsburgh’s in contention again this year and could definitely use Burnett’s arm and experience to their advantage.

-Roster/depth chart moves:

-Make Ken Giles the team’s closer

In Papelbon’s place (see above), the young, 100 mile per hour throwing Ken Giles can successfully take his place and should; in my opinion. Giles has a 1.29 ERA in seven games this season; his rookie year. He’s only allowed two hits, despite his control issues and three walks, in seven innings pitched so far, with 12 strikeouts in that span; a Ks/9 rate of 15.4. Giles reminds me a lot of former-Phillie Billy Wagner, who closed for the team from 2004-2005. Although Giles’ career to date is a very small sample size, he’s a 100-MPH reliever with a lot of strikeouts and walks.

Giles is only 23; Wagner was only a year older when he earned his first-career save in June of ’96 with Houston. Giles, in comparison to Papelbon, will earn a whole-lot less as well. Prior to joining the Phillies, in 24-combined games with AA Reading and AAA Lehigh,  Giles went 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 12 saves. I believe he’s finally ready to make the next step in his career; in this case, as the team’s closer.

-Demote Dom Brown to Lehigh Valley and promote Grady Sizemore

Neither hitter’s been hitting all that well this season, so it’s a “hey, why not, what the hell” kind of move; to see if something sticks once you throw it against the wall. Brown, after making his first All-Star team last season, is hitting just .221 (with just a .275 OBP to boot) this season in 80 games/280 at bats. What’s even worst perhaps is the fact that he only has five home runs so far this season and is averaging just 10 home runs/162 games, compared to hitting 27 bombs last year and averaging 31 home runs/162; a major difference. Sending him a message by demoting him to the IronPigs may not make him happy but it’ll surely do him some good nonetheless; as a wake-up call.

In his place, after signing him a week ago after Boston released him, the Phillies could promote veteran outfielder Grady Sizemore. Sizemore, since being signed by the Phillies and sent to AAA Lehigh Valley, has four hits in 13 at bats (.308 average). Sizemore has been a regular, everyday player the past decade, only spending games at the minor-league level prior to this year for rehab stints. 866 out of his 899 (96.3%) total career games in the field have been spent at center field, thus he’d need to make a transition to right field with Ben Revere manning center field. Sizemore’s an athletic outfielder with an excellent arm; he’s won two Gold Gloves (2007-2008) at center in his nine-year career.

Boston signed Sizemore to a one-year, $750k deal this past off-season to compete for the starting job at center field; one he didn’t thrive in, by any stretch.

Sizemore, who’ll turn 32 in a month from today, is a career .266 hitter with a  career .354 on base percentage and three All-Star appearances. In his career, per 162 games, he averages 24 home runs and stolen bases, 170 hits, 106 runs, and 39 doubles. He could be a huge asset in the outfield for the Phillies, and a huge improvement this season over Brown. Sizemore was originally drafted by the Expos in the third round of the 2000 MLB amateur draft.

And besides all of these moves, I’d work on tanking and doing research, to benefit and re-stock through the upcoming drafts in the years to come. Making the team a lot-less younger and shedding payroll is the key. It’s also the first step towards recovery, then it’s on to working on what guys we’ve got to begin with — mostly through the farm systems — and making adjustments. After that point does it become time to acquire free agents again, this time to support what we’ve got on paper, talent wise. Keeping young but talented guys like Hamels in the fold, despite his contract, is key and would be all apart of my plan going forward; my inner Sam Hinkie.

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