Deconstructing The Phillies: Corner Infield

October 25th, 2014 by Mike H. | Filed under Baseball, Phillies.

Next up in the series is the corner infield positions. What should the Phillies do at the hot corner? Can the Phillies do anything with Ryan Howard? There’s definitely depth at the major league level, but who is the right man for the job? I’m still playing GM and keeping a running tally of the moves and roster spots being taken both in my vision and my counterpart’s. If you’re even remotely intrigued and/or agree with my overhaul, click past the jump to see where I’m going this week.

A couple of years ago, everyone referred to “The Big Piece” as a hitter to be feared averaging 40+ home runs and 130+ runs batted in every season. Nowadays, “The Big Piece” is usually only the first part of his name and is almost always followed by a derogatory term for excrement. While he does show the ability to carry the team for short periods, his inability adjust to pitchers, the low-and-away pitch, or basically anything that isn’t a mistake pitch, has kept Ryan Howard from being “The Big Piece” we grew to love.

The Phillies’ current situation at first base reminds me a little bit of when Howard was coming up. The Phillies had a past-his-prime power hitter that seemed destined to be a designated hitter with a young player that could take over in an instant waiting in the wings. That was when Hall of Famer Pat Gillick took over and he turned Jim Thome into a package that was highlighted by Aaron Rowand and Gio Gonzalez. Since the end of the season, reports have been surfacing that people within the organization would like to make a similar move by sending Howard and a good portion, if not all, of Howard’s contract for something remotely useful.

So this excercise begins and ends in the American League, but what team(s) match up? I highly doubt the $60M owed to Howard will be an issue, because it seems as if the Phillies front office is prepared to pay off as much as possible. The Rays, Blue Jays, Mariners, and White Sox make the most sense to me as Howard is, as bad as he’s been, better than the current option at either first base or DH. The White Sox are pretty heavy on the right side of the plate. The Mariners are a very left-handed team, but their offensive numbers have been offensive. With the Blue Jays getting so many calls on the affordable Adam Lind, would Alex Anthopolous sell high on Lind, buy low on Howard, and stick him in an already offensive heavy lineup? Or could Ruben Amaro try to take advantage of the changing of the guard in Tampa Bay? Howard could compliment James Loney’s game as Loney is the exact opposite of Howard in that Loney doesn’t strike out a ton, gets on base at a decent click, hits for average, but doesn’t hit for power.

So the question then becomes, how much of Howard’s contract needs to be paid in order to get something of usefulness? Are the Phillies really going to need to pay $50M ($20M per season plus the $10M buyout on 2017) in order to get a quality return? If that’s the case, I’m going to want either something high upside that is somewhat close to the show or someone who that has reached his ceiling, but is ready. Personally, I’d rather try to get something that has a higher upside. Would the Rays be willing to part with Taylor Guerrieri, a former top prospect that is working his way back from Tommy John? How about Francellis Montas from the White Sox? Montas missed a good amount of time recovering from torn meniscus in both knees. He’s already armed with a plus fastball and his slider has really started to come around. Worst case scenario, when he’s ready, he becomes yet another fireballer out of the bullpen.

So if the White Sox would trade Montas for Howard and 83%  of his remaining contract, where does that put the Phillies? Obvious in-house options include Darin Ruf and Maikel Franco, both of which have been spending time at first base in the past season. Another option could be Chase Utley. He played first periodically in the past for a game here and there. While in most scenarios, you’d be looking to make up for the salary spent with production, but Howard’s production offensively and defensively have made him a replacement level player. Just about any player that would play first base going forward would be considered an upgrade.

Across the diamond, the Phillies have a legit controversy. Two players that have the ability to play one position at a high level. Cody Asche has always been a slow starter, but never seemed to get going last season. Franco had one of those seasons that puts him on everyone’s map in 2013, but the aggressive advancement to AAA Lehigh Valley caused him to change his approach at the plate trying to be the first player to ever hit 100+ home runs in any season, at any level. Once he stopped pressuring himself, the success came back. Between Asche, Franco, Ruf, and Utley, the Phillies have two left handers and two right handers to platoon in any game.

Speaking with TSP’s own Ryan Waterman, he believes that Howard is a must-go and that neither Franco nor Asche are ready for the majors. Ryan feels that the Phillies best option would be to go outside the organization to fill these needs. For first base, he feels that the Phillies should target one of Mike Morse, Corey Hart, or Adam LaRoche with LaRoche being his choice due to his familiarity with the division. At the hot corner, Ryan states that Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are pipe dreams and that Chase Headley or Aramis Ramirez may be good, buy low candidates.

While I agree that Asche and Franco may or may not ready to be full-time contributors to the Phillies going forward, I don’t think spending anymore money than you have to on this roster is the right way to go. For years it appeared the Phillies philosophy was to buy their way out of trouble, financially or with prospects. I think the best bet is to have an open competition during Spring Training that decides the starting third baseman.

So, to finish this portion, let’s sum up our roster moves, plus the team’s actual moves, to date:

Rotation:

  • Cliff Lee
  • A.J. Burnett
  • David Buchanan
  • Anthony Ranaudo/Allen Webster/Brandon Workman
  • Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez
  • Jerome Williams

Bullpen:

  • Ken Giles
  • Justin De Fratus
  • Jake Diekman
  • Antonio Bastardo
  • 2 of Mario Hollands, Cesar Jimenez, Luis Garcia, and Ethan Martin
  • Free Agent

Infield:

  • Cody Asche
  • Maikel Franco
  • Darin Ruf
  • Chase Utley

Subtractions:

  • Cole Hamels
  • Kyle Kendrick
  • Jonathan Papelbon (plus $8M or $15M*)
  • Ben Revere
  • Ryan Howard (plus $50M**)

Additions:

  • Henry Owens
  • Mookie Betts
  • Brock Holt
  • Bryce Brentz
  • Anthony Ranaudo/Allen Webster/Brandon Workman
  • Angel Nesbitt
  • Austin Kubitza
  • Francellis Montas

*$15M would include $8M for 2015 and $7M for 2016 if option vests. **$50M includes paying $20M per season and $10M buy out for 2017.

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