Breaking: Hunter Pence Traded to Giants

Around the same time that the Phils were unloading their centerfielder, they were also shopping both corner outfielders, as well.  It looks like the one they settled on moving was rightfielder, Hunter Pence.  Pence was traded to the Giants for a box of balls disguised as journeyman OF Nate Schierholtz, AA C Tommy Joseph, and HiA RHP Seth Rosin

As you can tell, while I liked and understood the Victorino deal, this one stinks of a team giving away an asset for salary relief.  And, I have always said that the minute they do that is the minute we are allowed to complain about the contracts they have handed out.

It’s not like Pence was expiring (like Victorino or Pierre – who’s still on the team).  And, it’s not like they are using this to replenish their farm system (as they tried – and failed – with the Cliff Lee to Seattle deal).  This one stinks of a salary dump.  And, I understand that they don’t want to be over the luxury tax, but they have plenty of other bodies to move (Pierre, Joe Blanton, even Ty Wigginton).  So, they could have avoided it this year.  And, I understand that Pence will make $14-15 million next year, but don’t you think you could get a better deal in the offseason when EVERY team is in the market for a solid outfielder?  This makes no sense, on the surface.  Schierholtz is a fill in.  Rosin is a 23-year old mediocre A-ball pitcher, who is a longshot to even make the bigs.  So, essentially, they moved Pence for Joseph, who isn’t a bad prospect (drafted for his bat, but has become a really, really good defensive) but doesn’t seem like a difference-maker and probably isn’t anywhere near worth a player the caliber of Hunter Pence.

I don’t get this one…

Breaking: Victorino Traded to the Dodgers

The Phillies have completed a trade with the Dodgers that send Shane Victorino to LA for a ML reliever, Josh Lindblom, and a AA reliever, Ethan Martin.

My initial reaction is that I really like the return here because Victorino was not coming back next year, so to get any value is a plus.  Lindblom has struggled a bit (particularly with the long ball), but he’s a strikeout guy with good stuff that could be a really solid 8th-inning guy.  And, the best part is that he’s a bonafide ML reliever, he’s cheap, and he’s under team control for the next FIVE years.  That’s just what the doctor ordered.

The other guy, Martin, was the Dodgers 1st-round pick in 2008, so he’s got talent.  He has struggled finding the strike zone, at times, in the minors, though.  If he can figure that out, he could be another solid arm under cheap team-control for a while.  As much as I hate to see anyone from the 2008 Phils go, this deal makes a ton of sense.

I’m going to take a little time to gather my thoughts before eulogizing the “Flyin’ Hawaiian…”  For now, it’s back to monitoring what the Giants are giving up for Hunter Pence – the next chip to fall.

To Sell or Not to Sell…

Well, this question just won’t stop coming up, so I guess it’s about time we address it here.  Instead of answering the general question of “should they sell?” let’s actually look at the individual pieces in question and judge their value based on the Phillies situation.  I am strongly of the opinion that no one should ever be “untouchable” because there is a price for anyone, regardless of the situation in which the team finds itself.  That being said, I don’t think the Phillies should be waving any white flags quite yet.  This team is finally whole and can be as good as any team in baseball when going right, so, despite the immense hole they have dug for themselves, it’s NOT OVER.  But, again, everyone has a price and that price has a lot to do with context and circumstance.  So, I will set a price that I would need to see in return for each piece.

Cole Hamels
The biggest question on the table obviously surrounded the ace left-hander who was born and bred as a ballplayer in red pinstripes.  Ace starting pitchers are so incredibly hard to come by that I hope Phillies fans (and management) aren’t spoiled into delusion by the “three aces” they currently have.  Starting pitching wins in baseball and when you get an ace (even if you have two others), you HOLD ON TO HIM.  Period.  And, that’s exactly what the Phillies did this morning, signing Cole to a 6-year, $144-million contract.  I may give a more thorough thought process on this deal in the coming days, but, for now, let’s just say that, while exorbitantly expensive, keeping a certifiable ACE (who probably hasn’t even reached his peak yet) on your staff for 6 more years is priceless.

Cliff Lee
The Hamels signing now begs the question:  “What do they do now?”  They have somewhere in the vicinity of $95 million tied up in FOUR players (Hamels, Lee, Roy Halladay, and Ryan Howard) for the 2013 season.  Many people have theorized that Cliff Lee might be moveable to make room for Hamels.  As for my opinion – see above on how I feel about ace pitchers.  That being said, everyone has a price, and if the Rangers are willing to part with Jurickson Profar and/or Mike Olt, then I’d certainly listen.  If it were me, I think I’d make the deal for Profar essentially straight-up, but I might need an additional piece with Olt.  If they are willing to give them both in just about any deal, then, well, back up the truck because they might be the best SS/3B combination in the league in 3-4 years.

Shane Victorino
Victorino is a free agent at the end of this season and is looking for a decently-sized 5-year contract.  Even if the Phillies were not strapped with these massive contracts, I’m not sure Victorino will be anywhere near what he is going to demand on the open market.  Shane was a key piece to the ’08 title team and all 5 NL East championships in the past five years.  However, it is no secret how insanely frustrated he makes me, so I probably can’t talk about this objectively.  I’m not ready to give up on the season, and Victorino is – BY FAR – the best option the Phillies have in CF right now, so I would need something of legitimacy in return for him, but I wouldn’t mind shipping him out for a reliable middle reliever who is cheap and under control for a couple of years.  As for the finances, I find myself ill-equipped to comment on that, but, from what I understand, the penalties are rather severe for exceeding the luxury tax in back-to-back years.  They are on their way to doing it this year and, with the Hamels signing, it looks almost definitive that they will do it next year.  So, to avoid the penalty this year, they do have to move some salary.  If it happens to be Shane, then so be it – again, I’m in no position to condemn an ownership group setting limitshas been the most aggressively spending sports owners that this city has ever seen.

Joe Blanton
Heavy B is another World Series hero who will not be returning to the Phils after this year.  And, interestingly, while I think Blanton is as underrated in this city as Victorino is overrated, I kind of think that if you just need to shed salary to get under the luxury tax – this is probably your guy.  Plus, there is always a market for innings-eating starting pitchers, so you could probably get back something with, at least, a bit of value.  And, honestly, as much as I love the guy, this Phils season will probably not be lost because of 6-7 starts made by Kyle Kendrick instead of Joe Blanton.

Placido Polanco
Polanco has a mutual $1 mil buyout next year, which the Phillies will almost certainly exercise, so he is essentially another expiring contract.  I have no idea what the market would be for Polly, who looks kind of, well, done, but if there is any value out there, I wouldn’t mind getting some return for him.  I love Polanco, and he will always be one of my favorite Phillies, but Father Time is undefeated.

Juan Pierre
This answer is going to have more of an editorial comment attached than any analysis of Juan Pierre’s usefulness as a Phillies.  There is no doubt that he has far exceeded even the front office’s expectations this year.  But, I say if you can get anything for him, you do it.  And, the main reason I say this is because I would find it absolutely indefensible if Dominic Brown doesn’t get at least 100-150 PAs in the bigs this season.  I don’t care what his AAA numbers look like – get this guy to the big leagues and let him play – NOW.  If he’s as bad as everyone thinks he is, then we can move on without any danger of “what if,” but I have never seen a guy go from “the future” to “non-existent” so quickly in baseball.

Hunter Pence
This one is actually VERY intriguing.  And, not because I have soured on Pence (I actually was never that “sweet” on him to begin with), but because with another year of control, I think that Pence could actually bring back a rather decent return.  He’s due a pretty substantial raise next year (probably to about $14-15 million), and after next year, he will want a pretty hefty long-term deal.  I don’t see Pence signing a long-term extension here and his trade value will never be greater than it is right now.  Again, I’m still holding out hope that this team makes a run, and I do like what Pence provides, but let’s say you can get a good, young 3B or CF that can step right in for next year’s departed (with a low price tag), it actually might make a lot of sense.  But, the return has to be there – and it has to be someone with legitimate talent, years of control, and a small dollar figure.

Jimmy Rollins
I am not going to give the “general consensus” on this one because I have always seemed to value Rollins a whole lot more than the “general consensus.”  What if I told you that Jimmy Rollins was #3 on the ALL-TIME LIST of fielding percentage at shortstop?  And, he’s still got it.  So, all of you who are in love with Freddy Galvis‘s glove (and I am one of them), let’s go thinking that he’s an upgrade even just in the field.  And, we all saw the .254 OBP that Mr. Galvis posted as an every-day player this year.  Rollins is still one of the best offensive SS’s around, so I think he’s essentially irreplaceable.  That being said, we should talk about it because (a) everyone has a price and (b) he’s been rumored to be on the market.  Anything short of a sweetheart package that includes his replacement probably shouldn’t be considered – but that’s just me, and I love Jimmy.

Carlos Ruiz
-Cringe-  This should not – and will not – happen.  Chooch has a $5 million team option (which might take 8 seconds to exercise) for 2013 and then he’s a free agent.  And, with the season he is having and the position he plays, there is a chance that good ole Chooch wants to take a shot on the open market.  This is the only reason I would even entertain the thought of moving him.  But, honestly, it makes very little sense, because he’s one of those guys that is a lot more valuable to the Phillies than he might appear to other teams, so the return will not be anywhere near even being worthy of discussion.  But, I had to bring it up because if he wants the big bucks after 2013, he might be in another uniform, and it’s never too early to start planning for these things.  But, it would take a LOT more than anyone would be willing to give for a 33-year old catcher having a career year.

Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon
It’s not even worth looking up whether or not they have “no-trade” clauses in their contracts because they are not going anywhere because of (a) their value to the Phillies and (b) their contracts.

John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton, Mike Fontenot, etc…
Sure, though I think Mayberry’s value is probably at an all-time low right now, so maybe we should not exactly “sell low” there.  But, the others, sure…

OVERALL
I still believe that this team can make the playoffs.  And, to get to that one-game playoff and have a guy like Halladay (or Hamels or Lee) on the mound means that anything can happen.  They look like the team we thought they would be with Utley and Howard back.  I know it took two late comebacks to beat a bad Brewers team these last two nights, but wins are wins, no matter who it is.  Obviously, it’s a longshot, but I still believe that there is plenty of time for this team to get back in this thing.  The Cardinals were 10.5 games back of the wild card last year in the last week of August.  We are still in July and the Phils are sitting 9.5 back.  And, yes, they have a lot of teams that they would have to catch, but there are only two teams ahead of them that I think have even a chance to pull away – Atlanta and St. Louis.  Everyone else ahead of them is rather flawed…

The Ryan Howard Contract

One of our most dedicated “BSBelievers,” has been asking for quite some time now for a post about Mr. Howard, and more specifically, the big guy’s contract.  This post is probably going to make every elitist “Sabermaterician” stop reading this site completely, which will, in and of itself, make every minute I spend on it well worth it. 

(For the record – and this will be a full post one day – I have NO problem whatsoever with progressive, innovative, and creative statistical evaluation.  In fact, that is what I do for a living – though, unfortunately, not with baseball statistics.  What I do have a problem with is the condescending and utter dismissal of anything “traditional.”  Are RBIs “overrated” as a statistical measure by the general public?  Absolutely!  Are they a completely meaningless statistic that are only ackowledged by fans that are either (a) uneducated in the superior world of Sabermetrics or (b) simple fans incapable of comprehending more complicated statistics and just want to “watch the game?”  Absolutely not!  Okay, done with that rant…for now.)

So, back to Ryan Howard and his contract.  As an homage to Waters, the guy who spawned this column, I’ll use actual direct quotes from him as the leadins to the main points of this argument.

“If you ask me, he is worth every penny.  I’ll even be the first in line on Dollar Dog Night to buy 20 million hot dogs.”
One thing that I think all these critics of the big contracts completely miss is that there is a premium (and a significant one, at that) on the best.  Call it an “elite tax” or something like that.  But, the point is that there are all these people ripping contract signings like Howard, Papelbon, Cain, Tulowitzki, Cabrera, Mauer, etc., with the same, tired arguments.  They say things like “looking at their statistical worth, there is no way any of these guys can live up to those deals.”  And, then they go further – even at his best (2006), Ryan Howard only gave the Phillies FIVE wins more than a replacement player (WAR).  So, at $25 million, even the best Ryan Howard would cost the Phils $5 mil/win.”  And, then they go on to rattle all the “cost-effective” players that they could buy for $25 million, add up their WARs and say how ridiculous the contract is.  But, what they don’t realize is that even the most cost-conscious “good” teams are entirely populated with the Ben Zobrists of the world.  Even those Tampa Bay Rays have big-dollar guys like Evan Longoria and James Shields.  And, the only reason that their payroll isn’t $120 million is because all those young pitchers haven’t hit free agency yet.

In summary, it’s pretty simple.  To be an elite team, you need elite players – period.  And, to get elite players, you have to pay prices that may seem exorbitant (and stupid), when you try to compare them, empirically, to the rest of the field.  But, that is the “elite tax.”  Think about it – from an empirical standpoint, is a $2.5 million home really TEN TIMES BETTER than a $250,000 home?  Almost certainly not, but to get an “elite” home, you have to pay the “elite tax.”  The same goes for elite firstbasemen or closers or whatever…

“Chicks dig the long ball, and I dig Ryan Howard.”
So, if you go with me on that first point, the next obvious question is – well, is Ryan Howard “elite?”  And, honestly, that’s a pretty good question.  I hear the arguments against him being elite, and there are some cogent points to be made.  It is true that he has declined in just about every offensive category (except plate discipline) each year since his monster 58-HR season.  But, what I do find laughable is how people are, all of a sudden, talking about this guy like he’s somewhere in the “mediocre” range.  Are you kidding me?  He had 33 HRs and 30 Ds last year in a “down year.”  Say what you will about award voting, but the dude still finished TENTH in the NL MVP voting.  He was, pretty much without question, the best offensive player on a team that won 102 games – and, again, it was a down year for him.  So, to say that this guy isn’t The Best firstbaseman in the league is one thing, but to say that he’s not still an elite player – let’s take a cold look at the stats and not think about the nationally overexposed, ruthlessly overcriticized player.  Let’s stop and think for ourselves on this one, people, instead of lazily going with the prevailing, national opinion or on the SportsCenter highlights of all of his strikeouts.

One more thing on this.  I heard so many people say, “Why did they extend Howard when they did when they could have just waited and seen what else was out there for that price?”  Again, a valid point, at the time, but now with the advantage of hindsight, let’s take a look.  The number one argument I heard for this (including from some of the baseball writers I respect the most) was “Why spend all this money on Ryan Howard, when you can probably get an emerging Joey Votto for half that?”  (At the time, Votto hadn’t really broken out yet…).  Well, by the time Votto was due to hit free agency, what happened?  Well, let’s just say that Joey Votto is now on the books for $25 million/year through…wait for it…2024!  Sorry, the Reds have a team option in 2024, so they may only have to pay him through 2023…6 years after Howard’s expires…at $25m/year.  So, how would the “wait for Votto’s free agency” plan have worked?  Okay, but Votto is probably the best player in the game right now.  That’s true, so then what about Prince Fielder?  He’s a “pudgy” firstbaseman who just signed a contract that pays his $24 million/year through 2020.  (Oh, and unlike Howard, Fielder is NOT slimming down and vastly improving his defense in his offseasons.)  Okay, but Fielder is only 28.  That’s true, but what about Albert Pujols?  Pujols, who is the same age as Howard (with a MUCH scarier injury history), is due to receive $30 million in 2021!

The point is that Ryan Howard is one of the game’s best power hitters.  And, elite power hitters are (a) very expensive and (b) absolutely essential – which is why even teams like the Reds and Tigers (not exactly historically big spenders) are willing to shell out mega-bucks for these guys.  So, to all those people who say that Howard is too big to last, I give you the much larger Fielder, who has 4 more years on his deal.  To those who say that Howard is too old to get that extension, I give you Pujols, who is the same age and has a contract of 4 additional years at a higher salary.  To the ultimately stubborn of you who say that the defensive value (or lack thereof) of first base isn’t worth these massive contracts, I give you Votto, who is due upwards of $25 million/year for the next 14 years!  Even I didn’t defend the deal, at the time, but with each 1B signing that has occurred since, the decision looks less and less rash and may even be bordering on “prudent,” though even I am not quite there yet.

“While I, personally, believe math is much more important than chemistry in education, as well as baseball, you can’t deny how much better this Phillies team is with Howard in the lineup.”
Another great point at which the Saber-elitists would scoff (if they were tormenting themselves by still reading this “traditional” and “simple” piece).  Baseball is a different sport than just about any other when it comes to dealing with “the moment.”  In most other sports, the more you “want to,” the better you will be.  If you are really fired up and impassioned in a football game, you probably boost your chances to go out there and rip someone’s head off.  Same for basketball.  But, in baseball, because of the patience and precision required (and the aggression that is NOT required) a lot of times, the more you “want to,” the harder the sport becomes.  Well, one of the biggest problems that appears to be haunting the 2012 Phillies offense is entwined in this phenomenon.  Without Utley and Howard in the lineup, everyone feels like they need to do more, and therefore, usually do less (Chooch is an obvious exception to this, but I think he is just really good at controlling this emotion).  Hunter Pence is the prime example.  He’s having a great year, by the numbers, but in run-scoring opportunities, he’s been awful.  Same might go for the uncharacteristically testy, Shane Victorino, and even the steady veterans like Polanco or Rollins.  The big guy has been in the middle of this lineup since he was brought up, and this team has done nothing but win since he was brought up.  He’s ready for the pressure.  He’s accustomed to being “the guy” and everyone else is more comfortable with him as “the guy,” as well.  This lineup just works with him in it.  Now, put a price on that…if you can.

In summary, I, for one, enjoy laughing at the laziness of the national media (and some local media) talking about how overpaid Ryan Howard is or how stupid the Phillies were for extending him.  The fact of the matter is that this team is INFINITELY better with The Big Piece in the middle of the lineup.  So, sit on the soapbox all you want and tell me that Ryan Howard’s $20 million dollars could be better spent on TWO Aubrey Huffs or THREE Adam Linds or THREE James Loneys.  I just want the guy back in that lineup.