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April 28, 2010

On the Beat

Wednesday Update

by John Perrotto

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Ruben Amaro Jr. has been a general manager for just two years but he has been around the major leagues his entire life as a batboy, player and front office executive. Thus, he understands how difficult his job can be.

However, Amaro also realizes he is in a unique situation with his hometown Phillies. Fans pour through the turnstiles at Citizens Bank Park to see a dynamic team that has won three straight National League East titles and back-to-back NL pennants. Phillies president David Montgomery plows the vast majority of profits back into the club.

Thus, despite the criticism he has taken from statistical analysts, Amaro can do things like sign first baseman Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125-million contract extension.

"We're in a very good situation right now," Amaro said. "Our fans keep coming out and giving us great support. In turn, it provides us with the resources to do the things we need to do to build a championship team. We're not in a situation where we can just spend without limits but, because of the fan support, we've been able to do the types of things we want to do such as signing our core players to long-term deals. Don't think that a day ever goes by that I'm not thankful for that."

However, the question among those fans and people around baseball is whether the Howard contract will enable the Phillies to continue to retain their top players. The Phillies have $55 million committed to just Howard, right-hander Roy Halladay and second baseman Chase Utley for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The Phillies also spent freely over the winter as they signed right-hander Joe Blanton, catcher Carlos Ruiz and center fielder Shane Victorino to multi-year contacts.

Right fielder Jayson Werth is eligible for free agency at the end of this season and shortstop Jimmy Rollins' contract expires after the 2011 season. Speculation already persists that Werth will be looking for a contract similar to the four-year, $66-million deal that left fielder Jason Bay signed with the Mets last winter.

It will be interesting to see if clubs will indeed view Werth through the same prism as Bay. Werth clearly outperformed Bay over the past two seasons, compiling 10.6 WARP3 to Bay's 8.0. While time will tell whether the Phillies will be able to keep Werth or Rollins, Amaro certainly sounds like a man willing to re-sign them.

"We tried to design the (Howard) contact in a way where our goal continues to be the same, to keep a championship-caliber club on the field year in and year out," Amaro said. "We feel with the way we structured the contract, it gives us the flexibility to do that, as far as Jayson, Jimmy and other guys who can become free agents in the not-so-distant future. Naturally we'd like to keep all these guys. We'll go by a case-by-case basis and hopefully we can keep this group together."

---

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was adamant throughout the offseason that he and general manager Ken Williams were building a team that would be faster and make things happen on the bases. However, the 2010 White Sox aren't quite those pennant-winning 1959 Go-Go Sox.

While the White Sox are tied for the AL lead in stolen bases with 22, they are still a power-laded outfit as they are second in the league in home runs with 26 behind only the Blue Jays (28). The White Sox used the longball to their advantage to sweep the Mariners last weekend as Andrew Jones and Alex Rios hit walk-offs and Paul Konerko added a game-winner in the eighth inning.

Guillen, though, insists that his team is more about speed than power and that it will be borne out over a 162-game season: "Homers are nice to have, but I'd like to have men on base. The way our offense is, we have to do the little things. We're going to be out of the pennant race quick (if we don't) do these things. We cannot wait and rely on home runs."

Konerko is leading the AL with eight home runs. However, he also agrees with Guillen that the White Sox will ultimately succeed only if they learn how to score runs in different manners, even though U.S. Cellular Field is a hitters' park.

"We have some guys who have hit homers in their careers," Konerko said. "And (U.S. Cellular), even when it's cold, if you hit it toward left or left-center, there aren't too many that get knocked down. But I still think, for this team, let's make sure we manufacture runs because that's how we'll sustain (winning) stretches."

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The Twins have admittedly been the anti-Moneyball team. They have become the model small-market franchise through scouting and player development rather than statistical analysis.

Yet someone with the Twins must have picked up on the idea that drawing walks is good. Suddenly, the Twins are the walking men as they led the AL with 103.

That puts the Twins on a pace for 834 bases on balls for the season. During Ron Gardenhire's eight seasons as manager, the Twins have never drawn more than the 585 walks they had last season. Gardenhire believes his team's improved plate discipline is the result of many of the Twins' hitters beginning to mature.

"We've always talked about how many at-bats you need to start kind of figuring things out," Gardenhire said. "We've got a bunch of guys getting there about the same time. They understand when a guy is getting you out (outside) of the strike zone, if you continue swinging he's going to continue to throw the ball out of the strike zone. I think we've seen a big difference this year where we quit swinging. If he's not in the strike zone, we're taking pitches and ultimately the results are their pitcher has 100 pitches in five innings and he's out of the ballgame."

Center fielder Denard Span has helped set the patient tone as the leadoff batter. His 15 walks are second on the Twins behind first baseman Justin Morneau's 20.

"If they throw it over the plate we're going to swing, but if not we're going to take pitches until we get what we want," Span said.

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings:

Shortstop Yunel Escobar's continued mental errors and refusal to take accountability for them is irking his teammates and manager Bobby Cox but the Braves aren't considering trading him yet … The Giants are considering calling up top prospect Buster Posey from Triple-A Fresno to bolster their offense at both catcher and first base … Marlins left fielder Chris Coghlan, last year's NL Rookie of the Year, is struggling so badly that he is on the verge of falling into a platoon with Brett Carroll … Rookie Rhyne Hughes is getting a shot at first base for the Orioles as Garrett Atkins is struggling and there  are also plenty of options at Triple-A Norfolk, including Michael Aubrey, Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder … Right-hander Kyle Kendrick is in danger of losing his rotation spot with the Phillies … Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles will continue to split time at catcher for the Astros until one snatches the starting job or Triple-A Round Rock's Jason Castro is deemed ready for a call-up.

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

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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amazin_mess

John - NL East titles not Central.

Apr 28, 2010 05:32 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

I think the characterization of the Twins as "the model small-market franchise" is somewhat misleading. Yes, they're a smaller-market team than the New York or Chicago teams, the Red Sox, etc. However, the most recent statistics on Metropolitan Standard Areas (per Wikipedia) place Minneapolis-St. Paul as the 16th largest MSA in the country, ahead of St. Louis (my preferred candidate for "the model small-market franchise"), Denver (another reasonable candidate for the title), and a number of others -- including most of the ones that are struggling.

Your analysis of how they got where they are is reasonable enough, but I submit that another important thing was that with Pohlad finally out of the picture, they stopped ACTING like a small-market team and started to behave like the mid-size franchise they actually are. This is laudable enough, but it still doesn't necessarily mean that their lessons generalize to the real small-market teams like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, etc.

Apr 28, 2010 07:05 AM
rating: 6
 
Luke in MN

Bill, you're right about the Twins being mid-market rather than small-market now, but the reason for the switch in spending isn't the death of Pohlad; it's the new stadium. The Twins continue to spend nearly the same percentage of their revenue on player salary basically every year (about 52%), it's just they have lots of additional revenue now.

Also, not only do the Twins know that taking walks is good, they also understand that allowing walks is bad! They lead MLB in both stats, and have dominated the BB-allowed stat for years.

Apr 28, 2010 08:19 AM
rating: 1
 
BillJohnson

Thanks for the kind words, but they've always been mid-market. The Twin Cities didn't grow by half a million people just because the Twins started winning. What happened was that the team got better at extracting revenue from the people who were already there.

There is a persistent tendency to think that "high-revenue" is the same thing as "big-market," or the converse. It isn't. There's no intrinsic, unalterable reason why some of the struggling teams can't start making some of the smart business decisions that the Twins have been making recently and improve their revenue stream. In this regard John's assessment is quite accurate, but the reality still remains that the Twins do have a bigger population base to tap into with those shrewd decisions than they're often believed to have.

Apr 28, 2010 11:37 AM
rating: 1
 
thegeneral13

I think you have to factor in the prosperity of the MSA in addition to the population. This doesn't disprove your point at all as the Twin Cities are a wealthy area, but I thought I would mention it. FWIW, if you multiply MSA population by per capita income the Twin Cities rank 12th in the country. If you account for multiple teams in the top MSA's the Twins rank 17th in MLB by available market dollars. That's basically the definition of mid-market in a 30-team league.

To Luke's point, though, the payroll increase this year makes them a mid-market spender and is related to the stadium, which is one of the ways to extract more money from the population as you put it. It took them 10-15 years to get a new stadium built - who's fault was that? Some would say taxpayers, some would say Pohlad. Reasonable people would probably say both. But residents/taxpayers are influenced by politics, general interest in the sport (which is influenced by climate, culture, age, etc.) and other things that are not encapsulated in the population/per capita income figures for the MSA. The point is, I think the Twins are probably naturally a mid-market team but were forced to act like a small-market team for a while due to factors outside those mentioned in your comment. As such, I think it just is what it is - they are mid-market now and should be thought of as such, but you can't dismiss their past accomplishments on a limited budget by claiming they had the ability to spend more money if they wanted to.

Apr 28, 2010 15:36 PM
rating: 0
 
oskinner

It was their Metrodome lease that made them small-market, not the metro area....

Apr 28, 2010 20:44 PM
rating: 0
 
drmorris

"Buster Posey, 1B."

Leave it to the Giants to take one of the game's premier prospects at the rarest position of offensive contribution and instead make him...an average-ish first baseman.

Apr 28, 2010 10:58 AM
rating: 0
 
jrbdmb

Per JP, "both catcher and first base." And if Posey mashes at the MLB level, why not maximize his contribution by playing him at 1st occasionally?

Apr 28, 2010 11:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Kevin Wilson

Absolutely, I agree. I'm starting to wonder if a best case scenario for teams in the NL isn't to use 1B as a pseudo-DH spot to give their catchers/elderly a half-day off and use the savings to buy top notch talent in the thinner positions.

Apr 29, 2010 04:13 AM
rating: 0
 
jrichstar

John.....been waiting to point out how you think the Pirates have done versus the Nationals since the Morgan/Milledge trade? I recall you chiding and practically laughing at the Nationals after that all went down. And now, the topping on the cake is Capps versus Dotel. Nice non-tender, Buccos! Just want to make sure that some accountability is recognized in an industry in which what you say one day seems to get forgotten the next.

Apr 28, 2010 15:03 PM
rating: 0
 
Zach Nadel

What is written above could apply to San Diego, which is either the 8th or 9th largest metropolitan area. It seems that most franchises want to try to portray themselves as poor small town/market teams that should not be expected to spend signficantly on players. Of course, many of these teams have had years of attendance well north of 2 million, and are not lacking in $8 beers nor high priced tickets.

Apr 28, 2010 16:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Kevin Wilson

Kyle Kendrick never had a rotation spot with the Phillies. He was an injury replacement for Blanton. I suppose Nelson Figueroa is in danger of losing his rotation spot too then?

Apr 29, 2010 04:11 AM
rating: 0
 
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