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January 24, 2013

On the Beat

Phunky Strategy for Philly

by John Perrotto

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Anyone who knows anything about baseball axioms knows that pitching and defense go together. However, the Phillies appear to be trying to challenge that notion as they build their roster for the 2013.

Though their string of five consecutive National League East titles ended last season when they went 81-81, the Phillies are still built on pitching. They have the Big Three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation and lockdown closer Jonathan Papelbon at the back of the bullpen. While the Phillies’ pitching staff could be shaky beyond those four, the defense is even more questionable following general manager Ruben Amaro’s off-season moves.

The latest transaction came Tuesday when outfielder Delmon Young signed a one-year, $750,000 contract to be Philadelphia’s right fielder. The final out had barely been recorded in their World Series loss to the Giants when the Tigers said they had no intention of re-signing Young after he hit .267/.296/.411 with 18 home runs in 608 plate appearance. He was the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series.

What was the Tigers’ reasoning for parting ways with Young? They didn’t need a designated hitter anymore, with Victor Martinez expected to be ready by Opening Day after missing last season because of knee surgery. They didn’t feel Young was capable of playing in the outfield anymore, even though he is just 27. Fielding Runs Above Average backs up that line of thinking: Young’s defense sits at -41.7 for his seven-year career. Furthermore, Young underwent ankle surgery this offseason and his availability for the opener is in question. Major League Baseball also suspended Young for seven games early last season after he got into a scuffle with tourists outside the team’s New York hotel and shouted anti-Semitic remarks.

“I understand the Phillies don’t have much in their outfield,” said an American League front-office type. “That being said, I can’t believe any National League team would want Delmon Young. He’s a defensive liability. And playing the guy in right field? Seriously? What exacerbates the problem is that he is regressing as a hitter. He never had a lot of plate discipline, but now he’s not even a .300 OBP guy. It’s one thing to carry a guy for his bat, but his bat isn’t special. He’s an ordinary hitter for a corner outfielder, at best.”

The Phillies made a pair of trades in December that also don’t figure to shore up the defense. They acquired Ben Revere from the Twins to play center field in exchange for right-hander Vance Worley. Revere had 1.9 FRAA last season while playing left field. Michael Young came over from the Rangers for reliever Josh Lindblom and a minor-leaguer and will play third base. Like Delmon Young, Michael Young was primarily a DH last season, and his FRAA was -2.6 when he did pull backup duty on the infield. His career FRAA is -68.3 in 13 seasons, including a combined -34.0 over the last four years. He joins an infield in which first baseman Ryan Howard (-3.5) and shortstop Jimmy Rollins (-8.5) were also below-average fielders last season. Adding Revere and Young also leaves the AL FOT rather cold.

“I like Revere a little bit, and he does make that team more athletic,” the FOT said. “At the same time, I look him more as a complementary player. He’ll help you, but he’s not going to be the guy who puts you over the top. As far as Michael Young, he’s like Delmon Young to me. He’s not playable in the field anymore and his power is below average. I think he can still hit for a decent average, but he’s not going to give you the production you want from a third baseman.”

It certainly seems the Phillies haven’t done enough to bridge the 17-game gap in the NL East between them and the Nationals, who led the major leagues with 98 regular-season victories last season. In fact, one NL front-office type believes the time had already come for the Phillies at the end of last season.

 “They had a helluva run because five straight division titles is impressive,” the NL FOT said. “But they really need to take a step back and retrench. Ruben has always been good about making the big move, but there are no big moves he can make now. The farm system is depleted and he’s got an old team. The bill has come due for all the success they’ve had.”

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The Giants justly rewarded catcher Buster Posey, who was arbitration-eligible for the first time, for a fine 2012 season by raising his salary to $8 million for 2013. Posey made $615,000 last season when he won the NL Most Valuable Player award and played a key role in the Giants winning their second World Series in three years.

The Giants would like to sign Posey to a long-term contract that almost certainly would be worth at least $100 million. However, the red flag with Posey is that he suffered a severe leg injury in a home-plate collision in 2011 that limited him to just 45 games that season. However, the majority of FOTs and scouts believe Posey is worth the risk, even if he would be eventually forced out from behind the plate.

“He’s such a great athlete that he could play third base without any problems, and his bat is good enough to play at any position,” an NL scout said. “You have to remember that he was a shortstop at Florida State. He wasn’t the type of guy who wound up as a catcher because you had to hide him there.”

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Speaking of long-term deals, the Cardinals are trying to sign right-hander Adam Wainwright to an extension, as he is eligible for free agency at the end of the upcoming season. Like Posey, Wainwright comes with risk, as he missed the 2011 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Wainwright would also likely command a nine-figure contract, perhaps somewhere just below the six-year, $127.5 million deal right-hander Matt Cain got from the Giants last year.

Wainwright is 31 and his fastball was three mph slower last year than it was in 2010. However, he was able to pitch 199 innings, and a large majority of the FOTs and scouts polled think Wainwright would be worth a big contract.

“I wouldn’t be too concerned about the fastball drop because it was his first year back from Tommy John,” an NL FOT said. “His best pitch is still his curveball, and he had the touch and feel on that last season. I think the fastball will come back, so I’d be comfortable going long-term with him.”

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The Miami Herald reported that the Major League Baseball Players Association is keeping a close eye on the Marlins’ spending habits. Earlier this offseason, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria ordered that the roster be gutted when his team finished last in the NL East with a 69-93 record. The Marlins’ Opening Day payroll is expected to be $45 million, down from $107 million at the start of last season. Only the Astros figure to have a lower payroll come March 31, coming in at somewhere just under $30 million.

During the 2009-10 offseason, Commissioner Bud Selig and the MLBPA took the unprecedented step of ordering the Marlins to raise their payroll over each of the next three seasons in order to be in compliance with baseball’s revenue sharing rules. The Marlins claim they lost $40 million last season in their initial year in Marlins Ballpark. Many inside the game are hoping Selig and MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner come down on Loria again.

“Jeffrey Loria is a black eye on baseball,” said an NL FOT. “I don’t understand why Bud doesn’t put the pressure on him to sell like he did with Frank McCourt with the Dodgers. I understand the Dodgers and Marlins are two completely different franchises, but what’s going on in Miami has been a circus for so long. It’s just bad for the game.”

One humorous thing has emerged from the Marlins’ train wreck, though. Loria has forbid his stepson and club president David Samson from appearing on his own radio show for the remainder of the offseason.

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

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