November 19, 2010
GM for a Day
Being the general manager of the Phillies has been a good job to hold in recent years.
Pat Gillick led the Phillies to their first World Series championship in 28 years and just the second in their history in 2008, then retired. Assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was promoted to GM and the team won their second consecutive National League pennant in 2009 and their fourth straight NL East title this year.
Thus, stepping in as a one-day temp for Amaro doesn’t sound like a bad gig until you remember that there may be no tougher fans in America than those of Philadelphia teams. The Phillies haven't won a World Series in two years, and their faithful expect more as they help sell out Citizens Bank Park game after game. Thus, I can expect to be ripped on all-sports talker WIP before I even settle into my nice, comfortable GM for a Day chair.
And I'm going to give the fans more ammunition to tear me apart when I am forced to confront the biggest issue facing the Phillies: what to do with free-agent right fielder Jayson Werth.
In a vacuum, re-signing Werth is an easy decision. His .322 TAv and 53.2 VORP were team-leading figures last season and his WARP has gone up in each of his four seasons since joining the Phillies; he's jumped from 3.2 in 2007 to 7.0 in 2010. Werth is also one of the rare players who has been able to shake two undesirable labels—underachiever and injury-prone—to become a superstar.
However, his agent is Scott Boras. While I wouldn't be afraid to stare across at Boras on the other side of a bargaining table, I would be hesitant to sign Werth to a contract of five years or more, which is the kind of deal his side is believed to be seeking. The contract would likely be beneficial to the club in the first two or three years, but the 31-year-old Werth is almost certain to decline in the latter of stages of the deal and get paid a large sum or money for not a lot of production.
Therefore, I would make a short-term offer to Werth of three years and $51 million. If he takes it, I'd be ecstatic. If doesn't, I would move on knowing that I still had one of the best and deepest rosters in baseball.
Now, it's easy to say I should just have the Phillies' owners open up the checkbook since the franchise has become a cash cow in recent years. However, ownership has already been quite generous in putting a lot of the money it makes back into the team as evidenced by giving huge contracts to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, handing long-term contracts to Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, and giving the OK to trade for such quality starting pitchers as Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt in the last three years. Even a big-market club can only go to the financial well so often.
Assuming Werth turns down my offer for a longer and richer deal, it would be time to tap into another well that is close to running dry. The Phillies have used a large portion of its once-bountiful farm system in the trades for pitchers, but there is one prospect jewel remaining in outfielder Domonic Brown.
Brown dominated at Double-A and Triple-A last season before being called up to the major leagues and rotting on the bench as he was given only 70 plate appearances, compiling a .230 TAv. However, it is time to plug him into the lineup in right field, even though it makes the lineup lean even more to the left.
It is the perfect situation to allow a young hitter to develop as the lineup remains deep enough that Brown won't need to become an integral part. Finding a right-handed hitter who can spell Brown against tough left-handed pitchers while he adjusts to playing regularly in the major leagues would also aid in his development.
The guy I want to sign to platoon with Brown is Jeff Francoeur. Before you throw your slide rules at me (that's a joke, so please hold the angry comments and e-mails), allow me a paragraph to explain my thinking.
Francoeur has his faults, mainly swinging at everything and often missing. However, he has also consistently hit left-handers throughout his career with a .299/.343/.481 slash line in 982 plate appearances. Considering we are looking for Francoeur to mash lefties and not play regularly, he makes perfect sense.
Now that right field has been tackled, the only other real order of business is strengthening the bullpen beyond closer Brad Lidge and right-handed set-up men Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras. The starting rotation is fabulous, even with Kyle Kendrick as the fifth starter, so no work needs to be done in that department.
I would like to re-sign right-hander Chad Durbin to continue in his role as a middle man, but he is marketing himself as a potential starter in free agency. It is an understandable strategy since starters make more money than middle relievers. Thus, with Eddie Bonine already in tow after being signed as a free agent by Amaro last week and Danys Baez still on the roster, I'll reluctant say goodbye to Durbin since he wouldn't be able to crack the rotation.
The other free-agent reliever of note is left-hander is J.C. Romero, who is beginning to show signs of wear and tear as a 34-year-old who has pitched in 628 major-league games. That he had more walks than strikeouts last season is particularly alarming. Thus, it also time to bid adieu to Romero and look for a new lefty specialist.
Scott Downs is tempting, but I'd hate to give up my first-round draft pick to sign him as a Type-A free agent, especially with the farm system now lacking depth. Instead, I will go after Pedro Feliciano and sell him on the virtues of leaving the Mets for the best team in the NL East. Then banking that the 34-year-old can continue his career-long performance of holding left-handed hitters to a 580 OPS, I'll sign him to a two-year, $6 million contract.
The Phillies may indeed be Werth-less following my day as the GM, but they certainly are poised to win a fifth straight division title next year. That should be enough to get the vitriolic set at WIP to lay off me and return to scrutinizing Andy Reid's every move.