The Phillies are in an interesting spot heading into 2013, as there are legitimate holes to fill and a number of solid players they could pursue. The outfield has garnered plenty of attention, as the roster currently features five players either unproven, or who’ve proven that they are best utilized in a part-time role. Third base is a position of interest, with questionable internal options and an ugly free agent class. Bullpens are also always scrutinized and the Phils’ relief corps — which had the second worst eighth inning ERA in baseball last season — is no different
Ryan Madson would be a low-risk, high-reward signing. (PHOTO: NJ.com)
When discussing moves, however, it’s important to remember that everything is connected. Signing B.J. Upton means that another player is released, non-tendered or demoted. It would also mean that the team has less money to spend in other areas. A trade for Peter Bourjos might include one or two players currently on the major-league roster. Moves are often discussed in the abstract, without regard for the trickle-down effects on the rest of the roster.
It’s best to discuss an offseason plan holistically to ensure that all bases are covered, that funds aren’t over- or under-allocated to certain areas, and on a more basic level, to make sure that the roster doesn’t have more than 25 players.
To that end, Pat, Corey and I decided to put together our own offseason plans, playing Fantasy GM and building a 2013 roster based on our opinions on the specific needs of the team and which players are the best investments for those needs.
We tried to build our teams irrespective of current rumors or players to which the Phils have been connected (i.e. Josh Hamilton on Monday). The goal isn’t to predict what the Phillies will do, but rather to suggest what moves we would pursue if, to borrow a phrase from Amaro himself, we had our druthers.
Payroll was a major consideration. We were cognizant of the luxury tax calculable payroll, which is the average annual value of long-term contracts and not the specific salary for the 2013 season.
With the introductions and disclaimers out of the way, here is my offseason plan.
Bullpen: Sign Ryan Madson for 1 yr/$5 mil
I speculated earlier in the year that Madson could likely be had on a one-year, $2-$3 million contract. He injured his elbow, underwent reconstructive surgery, is set to return sometime towards the end of April or beginning of May 2013 and will probably have trouble finding a closing gig, regardless of his desires.
Elbow injuries are serious, especially for relievers, and while the success rate of the surgery is stellar, teams aren’t prone to doling out big bucks to a 50-60 IP pitcher who just missed the entire season. I’ve adjusted my estimate to $5 million, which is an average of what he’ll likely get offered in guaranteed money vs. the maximum amount he could get in a deal with a low base salary but plenty of incentives.
He’ll have to make a sacrifice in one area. He could get a closing gig if he signed for less money, or he could get his market value if he agreed to serve as a setup man. It’s unlikely that he’ll find a suitor willing to give him both, especially considering that it’s going to take some time for him to get back into game shape after missing so much action.
Madson needs to reestablish both health and production and the Phillies are the perfect team to give him that opportunity. In effect, both sides will use one another. The Phillies will stabilize a young bullpen by adding in an elite-when-healthy reliever for one year, while Madson gets to pitch in an environment comfortable to him in order to audition for his next job.
There was bad blood between Madson, agent Scott Boras and the Phillies after negotiations fell through last winter, but multiple baseball people have reported that the air has been cleared.
It’s not worth discussing Madson’s numbers because we don’t know how he’ll pitch upon returning to the mound. However, I’m not really interested in giving out multi-year deals to relievers, and he is the only elitish reliever on the market who has an incentive to sign a one-year contract. With Madson in the fold to set up for Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies could round out the 7-man bullpen with two lefties in Antonio Bastardo and Jeremy Horst, wild cards in Josh Lindblom and Phillippe Aumont, and one of Michael Schwimer, Michael Stutes, Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg.
Outfield: Trade for Peter Bourjos of the Angels
I discussed this idea last week, since Bourjos is somewhat blocked in Los Angeles, he combines several of the best attributes of the deep centerfield class, and he potentially represents a creative and long-term solution to a clear problem on the Phillies roster. The highlights of that post for the sake of expediency:
He is young, in his mid-20s, about to enter his prime
He isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet
2nd-best UZR at any position since 2010: +40 in CF despite playing 1,000+ fewer IP than others
His UZR/150 in CF since 2010 is +23.9. Ellsbury and Gomez are 2nd and 3rd, both under +14
When playing every day in 2011, he had a 113 wRC+ and hit .273/.327/.438
There is plenty of risk here, as Bourjos may very well be the 2010 and 2012 offensive version of himself, with his value solely derived from fielding and baserunning. However, his fielding is so overwhelmingly good that it makes up for a potentially subpar bat. Case in point, he tallied 2 WAR in sporadic playing time in both of those seasons. The Angels aren’t motivated to move him right now, and the Phillies shouldn’t destroy the farm to acquire him, but in a market flush with older and risky centerfielders, Bourjos is an intriguing possibility. I would rather work out a reasonable trade here than overpay Michael Bourn.
Note that the Phillies would include Nate Schierholtz in the deal.
Infield: Sign Eric Chavez for 2 yrs, $6 million
Recapping another idea I fleshed out recently, Chavez is still a capable defensive third baseman who destroyed right-handed pitching this season. Righty-crushing members of platoons are much tougher to find than lefty-crushers, and Chavez ranked towards the top of the AL leaderboard in wOBA and wRC+ against righties. He stepped to the plate 312 times in 2012 and faced righties in 273 of them. He hit a robust .294/.366/.545, with a .387 wOBA and 144 wRC+ in those plate appearances.
The intent is to platoon Chavez with Kevin Frandsen and perhaps a dash of Freddy Galvis. Chavez should not face lefties at all, but righties account for approximately 70% of the pitches thrown in a season. His role is an important one, and his production against righties, combined with the managed playing of Frandsen and the expected defensive wizardry of Galvis, could give the Phillies 3.5-4 WAR at the position for around $5 million.
Chavez previously stated it was the Yankees or retirement, but it’s possible his stance has changed. I’m less interested in what players said six months ago or how they feel right now than I am in the best possible solutions to Phillies problems.
Regardless of feasibility, a three-man time share of Chavez, Frandsen and Galvez is a productive, cost-effective, stopgap platoon.
Outfield: Sign Nick Swisher for 4 yrs, $56 million
My lone big move of the offseason would bring the former Yankees rightfielder to the Phillies on an affordable deal. Yes, the Phillies would pay Swisher $14 million per season for his age 32-35 years, but there are very real reasons to suspect that his 3.5-4 WAR pace is sustainable over the next several seasons. His skill-set is one that ages well and there aren’t really any legitimate baseball reasons to avoid pursuing him.
I phrase it like that because I imagine there are some fans who have been rubbed the wrong way by their perception of his personality.
Swisher has tallied just under 12 WAR over the last three seasons and has steadily averaged 3.5-4 WAR over the last several years. Of the 93 qualified outfielders since 2010, his WAR mark ranks 16th, tied with Chris Young and Justin Upton. In fact, comparing Swisher and the better Upton over the last three years proves very interesting:
Swisher: .274/.366/.478, 129 wRC+, 12.1 BB/PA, 21.4 K/PA, .204 ISO, +11.2 Fld
Upton: .281/.361/.469, 120 wRC+, 9.9 BB/PA, 21.3 K/PA, .188 ISO, +11.1 UZR
These are very similar stat-lines that actually favor Swisher. Now, Upton is much younger and he may not have even reached his potential yet, whereas Swisher is a finished product at this point. However, if one accepts that Swisher’s skill-set ages well, and that his abilities are unlikely to deteriorate over the next few seasons, one could logically argue for his signing over Upton’s acquisition, considering the latter costs much more in the way of prospects.
Among those same 93 qualified outfielders since 2010, Swisher has the 7th-highest BB/PA, 10th-highest OBP and 13th-highest wOBA.
He also has one of the top fielding ratings of qualified rightfielders. Almost as importantly, he has produced these great numbers in a very consistent fashion. He is always healthy, averaging over 150 games over the last seven seasons. Since 2006, he has the following yearly WAR totals: 3.9, 3.9, 1.3, 3.2, 4.1, 3.8, 3.9.
The down year was with the White Sox. A .249 BABIP was the major culprit, and his walk rate and isolated power were all around his career averages and he rated positively in the field and on the bases.
Simply put, Swisher is one of the most consistently productive players in baseball, and a player I am very comfortable paying $56 million over four years. Whether he’ll accept that type of deal remains to be seen, especially since he entered the offseason looking for a Jayson Werth-like contract. If the Phillies can get him for $13-$15 million per year and can limit the deal to four guaranteed years, he’s worth it.
As a result of these moves, the Phillies luxury tax calculable payroll is $165.49 million, which gives them about $3 million of flexibility. Though the threshold is $178 million, 1/30th of player benefit costs are added to each team’s payroll, and that figure is generally around $10-11 million. Here is the roster after these moves are made:
SP: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Vance Worley
RP: Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson, Philippe Aumont, Josh Lindblom, Antonio Bastardo, Jeremy Horst, Michael Schwimer
C: Carlos Ruiz, Erik Kratz
IF: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Eric Chavez (vs. R), Kevin Frandsen (vs. L), Freddy Galvis
OF: Peter Bourjos, Nick Swisher, Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, Darin Ruf
Laynce Nix was cut because he was redundant.
Stay tuned for Pat’s and Corey’s offseason plans over the next couple of days.