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At first glance the Phillies may not seem like a team with cause for concern in the minor leagues. After all, while they were fighting for the wild card over the last month of the season they often started a team where seven of the nine players were home grown talents and of those seven, only Mike Lieberthal was over 30. On top of that, farm system product Ryan Howard was named National League Rookie of the Year this week. However, the future is looking substantially bleaker for the Phillies’ system than the recent past has.

The upper levels of the minors are currently devoid of impact position players on the order of Howard or Chase Utley, with only few players likely to ever get a major league callup, let alone be a regular player. The pitching prospects are also pretty sparse. A year ago Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels were on the BP top 50 prospects list, but are now fodder for the argument that “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect.” Floyd had a horrendous year posting an ERA over 6 at Scranton and allowing over a run per inning in his limited time in the majors, while Hamels threw a total of 35 innings over 6 games all season long and did nothing to dispel concerns about his health. The team awarded the 2005 Paul Owens award for best pitcher in the minor league system to Robinson Tejeda, who spent a grand total of five weeks in the minors this year.

So how did a system which was relatively productive a few years back get as empty as it is now? There are several factors at work. The first concerns the changes in the Phillies’ free agent shopping habits. In the late 90s they weren’t big players on the market, instead being content to make moves like signing Mark Portugal, Mark Leiter, and Mark Parent, all inked in one memorable day that caused fans to wonder why the front office had developed a fetish for the name Mark. These players did not cost the team draft picks, instead allowing them to use the picks to draft players such as Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, and Utley, all of whom were major contributors this year. Recently, they have been much more active on the free agent market and the signings of Jim Thome, David Bell, and Jon Lieber have cost them three draft picks in the top two rounds over the past two years.

Additionally, the trading strategy of the team shifted once they started competing for playoff positions. In the late 90s they were actively looking to trade older players for younger, with the most spectacular example being the trade of Kevin Stocker for Bobby Abreu. However, over the past few years the focus has been to trade for veteran players with the intent of taking the last step to get into the playoffs. Since the start of 2002, in trades that have involved both major league players and minor league players, the players in the minors have almost exclusively been going away from the Phillies.

   Traded Away        Received
   Reggie Taylor      Josh Hancock
   Doug Nickle        Brad Correll
   Johnny Estrada
   Frank Brooks
   Eric Valent
   Ezequiel Astacio
   Taylor Bucholz
   Bobby Korecky
   Anderson Machado
   Alfredo Simon
   Javon Moran
   Joe Wilson
   Elizardo Ramirez
   Kelvin Pichardo

While most of the names on the list have not been overly successful at the major league level, or at least not yet, the imbalance in talent leaving the system as opposed to coming in indicates player development has been devalued. Even if the players traded away were not going to play for the major league team, they would at least be useful filler for the minor league teams. Instead, teams as far down as high A Clearwater have featured large numbers of minor league free agents, shifting the focus even further away from development.

This pattern does not look likely to change in the near future. While new Phillies general manager Pat Gillick originally made his name by developing the farm system of the Blue Jays, his more recent history tells a different story. With both the Orioles and the Mariners he took over a team that was on the verge of contention and made moves which were successful in the short term but left both teams with substantially weaker long term prospects. Unless this pattern changes, the Phillies have a very limited window of opportunity before facing some lean years ahead.

Jeff Hildebrand

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  • Creative Contracts 101: The Giants off-season began not with a bang, but with some option pickups. The story was widely covered in the press, but a couple of the reported contract values are a little screwy because of incentives and deferments that aren’t reported. Jason Schmidt‘s team option is for $10,500,000, not $10,000,000, as he hit 200 innings pitched twice between 2002 and 2005.

    Picking up the option was a no-brainer for GM Brian Sabean. Had the team not picked up the option their buyout obligation would have been $3,500,000, so the marginal cost to the team for another year of Schmidt was just $7,000,000. If the tall righty returns to his 2003-2004 dominance he’ll be easily worth the $10,500,000.

    Take a peep at how solid this deal has been for the Giants thus far according to Nate Silver’s Net Value contract evaluation technique:

    Jason Schmidt Value vs. Salary

    Year Marginal Salary* WARP Market Value Net Value
    2002 $4,415,000 4.4 $9,416,000 $5,001,000
    2003 $5,660,000 8.0 $17,120,000 $11,460,000
    2004 $7,738,000 7.8 $16,692,000 $8,954,000
    2005 $8,034,000 3.0 $6,420,000 -$1,614,000
    *Including award bonuses earned, the signing bonus, and rounded to the nearest thousand.

    If Schmidt really has lost his touch, he’ll be more like a three-win player than a eight-win one, but can the Giants do better for one year and $7,000,000? Not possible in this weak market.

    LaTroy Hawkins‘s player option isn’t $3,500,000, but is actually $3,500,000 plus any of the Games Finished (GF) bonuses he earned in the earlier years of the deal. To clarify, in each year of his deal Hawkins has GF and games played bonuses. He earns those bonuses at the end of the year based on his usage, but however much he earned in GF bonuses gets refolded into his future years’ base salaries.

    Original Contract Salary Figures
    2004: $2,000,000
    2005: $3,500,000
    2006: $3,500,000 (player option)
    Signing Bonus: $2,000,000

    Incentives Earned in 2004: $1,000,000 ($850,000 from GF incentives)

    Adjusted 2005 Base Salary Based on 2004 Incentives
    2005: $4,350,000

    Incentives Earned in 2005: $100,000 ($50,000 from GF incentives)

    Adjusted 2006 Base Salary Based on 2004-2005 Incentives
    2006: $4,400,000

    And that’s not including the $735,000 the Giants still owe on his signing bonus, or the incentives he could earn all over again for games played and games finished. If he plays a full season he could easily get $100,000-$150,000 in games played incentives. If he somehow gets handed the closer’s role early in the year he could net an easy $650,000.

  • Gold Rush: The Giants did very well in the 2005 NL Gold Glove Awards, with both catcher Mike Matheny and shortstop Omar Vizquel taking home some hardware. Neither was rated as the best at their position according to Clay Davenport’s defensive metrics but it helped that both of them have won a bunch of these things before.

    Even with two plus defenders in Matheny and Vizquel it would be easy to assume that the Giants defense was below average when you consider Ray Durham‘s balky legs, Edgardo Alfonzo‘s sore back, Pedro Feliz‘s mis-positioning, and Moises Alou‘s tin-man impression in the OF. According to Defensive Efficiency the team ranks seventh in the 16 team NL, but after James Click adjusted for park difficulty the Giants are actually the third best defensive squad in the league.

    How is it possible that this team is that nifty with the leather? Well, superior defensive efforts from Vizquel, Matheny, Jason Ellison, J.T. Snow and Lance Niekro certainly helped, but it seems that the difference maker is Click’s defensive adjustment. Due to its small foul areas, expansive outfield, strange outfield walls, and swirling wind patterns, the Giants’ home park is the third most difficult to defend in all of baseball (following Coors Field and the Rogers Centre).

    You’d be well-advised to read Click’s series on Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Park Effects: they’re not just for homers anymore!

Tom Gorman