Didn’t the Phillies just get the best starting pitcher acquisition possible, Myers back to a SP? Isn’t that of more value than a Doug Glanville-type that can take a walk?
Here’s another way to get Brett Myers back to the starting rotation: move him back to the starting rotation. Nobody is holding a gun to the Phillies’ heads, telling them that Myers must be their closer. Generally speaking, there are two reasons why you might want to turn a good starter into a closer:
1. There is something unique about the pitcher — repertoire, mechanics, or something else — that gives him a larger comparative advantage in relief.
This is not the case for Brett Myers. A pitcher with an ERA in the high 3’s as a starter, as Myers had over 2005 and 2006, would generally be expected to have an ERA right around 3.00 as a closer. And that’s exactly how Myers did; he had a 2.87 ERA working out of the bullpen last year. He’s was good as a reliever … but he was good as a starter too; in this respect, Myers is no different from the 29 other #2 starters, who could probably be good closers if their managers deigned to make them so. Unless a pitcher has an especially large gap between his prospective performance as a starter and a reliever, (a.k.a., Jonathan Papelbon), he should in fact be more valuable to you in the rotation. The only other reason you’d want to make him a reliever is if…
2. You have more organizational strength in the rotation than the bullpen, and the market for bullpen talent is not liquid.
The Phillies need help in both their rotation and their bullpen, so I’m not really sure that the first clause in this sentence holds true. But it’s the second clause that’s the key to understanding this whole trade. Lidge is not the only option for the Phillies if they want to upgrade the front end of their bullpen. It’s early November — this is the one time throughout the baseball season in which the market for baseball talent is most liquid. Maybe that means paying something for Francisco Cordero or Mariano Rivera. Maybe it means getting your scouts looking at video of Kerry Wood and Eric Gagne, and seeing if they can’t be restored to closer-worthy status. But the point is, at best the Brad Lidge trade is premature. You can still make this trade in February — if you’ve swing and missed at the free agent alternatives. The Phillies should have been assuming that Myers would be moving back to the rotation no matter what — but this has nothing to do with Brad Lidge.
One other concept that I think is worth addressing. D.F. writes:
Since when is it the sole goal of a baseball team to wind up in the black on its conceptual value ledger? If a team like the Phillies is trying to push itself over the top, how can it be a bad trade to get Lidge for three players who are never going to be that good?
Again, the key issue is that there are a myriad of options on the table to the Phillies. I’m not arguing that the Phillies should go the cheap-o route, and be satisfied with a performance barely above .500. On the contrary, it was just last week that I argued that the Phillies need to upgrade their talent stock. But the point is that there are more efficient ways for them to do that. Here’s an obvious one: make Bourn your Opening Day center fielder. That saves you the $13 million/year or so that you might have to spend to re-sign a guy like Aaron Rowand. So take that discount and apply it to Alex Rodriguez. Now, instead of facing a net payroll increase of $30 million if you sign A-Rod, you’re instead looking at more like $17 million.
In fact, it seems to me that the reason that the Phillies made this trade is precisely because of their reluctance to spend. Lidge’s arbitration award should be relatively easy to stomach; he’s a way to upgrade the team without having to spend much money. But all the Phillies really are doing is to postpone this dilemma until future seasons. In 2009, maybe the Phillies will have to spent a lot of money on a free agent center fielder — because they don’t have Michael Bourn. In 2010, maybe they’ll have to spend a lot of money on a free agent third baseman — because they don’t have Michael Costanzo.
Look at the four teams that played in the League Championship Series last month. The common thread between them is that they understand the value of cost-controlled talent. In the case of the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Indians, the cost-controlled talent pretty well carried the load for itself. In the Red Sox, this talent was heavily supplemented by some ventures into the free agent market — a strategy which won them the World Series. But rarely do the Red Sox give away cost-controlled talent without getting something pretty darn good in the return. The Josh Beckett trade, for example — As much as the Red Sox would love to have Hanley Ramirez back, they were buying two cost-controlled years for a great player (Beckett) as opposed to one cost-controlled year for a good player (Lidge), and they got Mike Lowell, and they leveraged that deal further by getting Beckett to take some money off the table when he signed a contract extension last June. That’s where things reach the threshold where you can make an argument for trading in future assets for present-day ones.