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December 11, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Tuesday, December 11

by Daniel Rathman

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A busy weekend gave way to a lethargic Monday: Apart from the Twins reaching a two-year deal with Kevin Correia, the transactions wire was completely dormant. As we await more action, here’s a glance at two recent developments and a look back at the lead-up to the weekend’s most polarizing trade.

Phillies likely to land one of top three free-agent corner outfielders
Over the past seven days, the Phillies have acquired center fielder Ben Revere from Minnesota and third baseman Michael Young from Texas, in an effort to revamp their lineup, which lost Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino in midseason trades. But Revere and Young combined for just eight home runs in 2012, all of them hit by the former Ranger, and considering that manager Charlie Manuel’s power bats are riddled with question marks, the Phillies still need to add some thump.

Matt Gelb, who covers the team for The Philadelphia Inquirer, reported on Monday that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is cognizant of the problem and expects to address it in the coming weeks. With Carlos Ruiz (suspended for the first 25 games of the 2013 season), Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins returning, and Young now onboard, the infield is set; that means the pop will have to come from either left or right field, where the internal options are Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and Darin Ruf. Manuel told MLB.com beat writer Todd Zolecki that the quartet could be used to form a dual platoon flanking Revere, but that possibility seems remote, especially if—as Gelb calculated—Amaro has up to $20 million left to spend.

Gelb believes that one of Josh Hamilton, Cody Ross, or Nick Swisher will report to Clearwater, Fla. with the Phillies come spring training, though which of the three most appeals to Amaro is not yet clear. As Gelb previously reported from Nashville, Amaro hinted at his interest in Hamilton during the Winter Meetings, but he is wary of making another long-term commitment to a high-risk position player, with Howard signed through at least 2016. Hamilton is also a dicey fit for Manuel’s current lineup, because he—like Utley and Howard—bats left-handed, and has logged a relatively pedestrian .284 TAv against southpaws over the past several years, using the weighted-year system on his player card.

As the above plot from his hitter profile shows, the recipe for retiring Hamilton, at least for left-handed pitchers, isn’t much of a secret: Feed him a steady diet of breaking stuff down and away. That weakness existed in 2011 and in 2010, and Hamilton, who turns 31 in May, isn’t likely to solve it anytime soon. Amaro won’t pass up the opportunity to ink Hamilton on team-friendly terms, but if the bidding escalates beyond four years or $25 million per season, his warts may lead the GM to turn his attention to Ross or Swisher.

Ross, a right-handed hitter whose weighted-season platoon split against lefties is a robust .325, would slide much more smoothly into Manuel’s batting order, complementing Utley and Howard to form a balanced attack. The Phillies’ nemesis in the 2010 National League Championship Series, Ross turns 32 on Dec. 23, and works best on a roster with a left-handed partner to spell him versus northpaws who can exploit his Achilles’ heel: the same down-and-away sliders that plague Hamilton, only to the other side of the plate. Either Brown or Nix could serve in that role, assuming that Ross’ price tag is not prohibitive for a less-than-full-time player.

Gelb mentioned that Amaro has so far been reluctant to enter the Swisher derby, perhaps because of the switch-hitter’s demands, which ESPN’s Jim Bowden believes are in the neighborhood of $60 million over four years. Swisher, who logged 3.7 WARP in 2012 to Hamilton’s 3.9, could become more attractive if Hamilton and Ross sign elsewhere, or if he is willing to accept a shorter-term deal. At this point, though, the former Yankee shouldn’t count on a phone call from the Phillies.

Dodgers may be done adding, but they now hope to do some keeping
Speaking of not expecting phone calls, Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse probably shouldn't get their hopes up about a massive payday from the Dodgers. ESPN’s Buster Olney heard on Monday that general manager Ned Colletti is done adding to his eight-man-deep stockpile of starting pitchers, and though that conflicts with CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman’s report from two days ago, the existing logjam points the arrow in Olney’s favor.

That does not mean that Colletti is done handing out nine-figure contracts, though, because there may be one in the offing for Clayton Kershaw. Colletti told reporters, including LA Times beat writer Dylan Hernandez, at Monday’s press conference to announce the signing of Ryu Hyun-Jin that he will “explore” the possibility of locking up his most prized asset before the end of the winter. The 24-year-old Kershaw is set to earn $11 million in 2013, the second year of a two-year, $19 million extension that will bring him up to his last year of arbitration eligibility. Olney noted on Saturday that either Kershaw or Rays lefty David Price could become the first $200 million pitcher. In a loosely related story, Colletti apparently fell off the stage just minutes before mentioning the possibility of extension talks,

Kershaw, the senior circuit Cy Young Award winner in 2011 (6.2 WARP), wasn’t quite as dominant in 2012, but he still contributed 3.8 WARP to the Dodgers’ second-place campaign. He has now been worth at least 3.4 wins in each of his first four major-league seasons, and though the hip ailment that plagued him last summer is a minor concern, Kershaw has never experienced an arm-related injury. There isn’t much precedent for a long-term extension for a frontline pitcher approaching free agency and still on the right side of 25, but after weeks of speculation that Greinke might top CC Sabathia’s $161 million contract record, his new teammate is a strong bet to do it instead.

Six-player James Shields deal was not Royals’ first choice
More than a day after word of the trade between Kansas City and Tampa Bay broke, Twitter remains abuzz with varying opinions on the move. The vast majority of those chiming in believe that Royals general manager Dayton Moore coughed up too much talent for Shields and Wade Davis, but as R.J. Anderson wrote in this Transaction Analysis post, the key for Moore, who came into the offseason with a stated goal of revamping his rotation, is “instant gratification.” And, in Moore’s defense, this more-costly iteration of the trade was unfurled only after several other pursuits proved fruitless.

Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan tweeted about two other proposed swaps on Monday, in addition to the four-team blockbuster talks that hit a dead end at the Winter Meetings. Moore initially tried to complete a one-for-one barter of Shields for top prospect Wil Myers, before relenting on the inclusion of other minor leaguers, such as righty Jake Odorizzi and lefty Mike Montgomery, in exchange for Davis. He also floated the possibility of sending Myers to the A’s for Brett Anderson, but was apparently rebuffed by Billy Beane. With the coffers running thin and top free agents like Greinke and Sanchez well outside his budget, come Sunday, Moore had little choice but to meet Andrew Friedman’s demands if he was bent on acquiring a top-of-the-rotation arm. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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