Saturday, January 28, 2006

Finally


Some highlights from the Inquirer's wrap of the Jason Michaels/Arthur Rhodes trade:

Michaels had mixed emotions about the trade when reached by telephone in Florida last night. "I'm sad and I'm excited," he said. "I'm sad to be leaving the Phillies and my teammates. I have a lot of friends and memories in that organization. The players, the coaches, the fans - everyone was great to me. But I'm also excited about the possibility of getting some more playing time. I hear Cleveland is a great place, too."

...


Michaels was asked whether he believed that last summer's off-field incident played a role in the trade. "Not one bit," he said.

"Absolutely not," said Gillick, in response to a similar question. "We had some excess outfielders on our club and we felt this was a way to solidify our bullpen."

Good to see Michaels depart Philly in a classy manner. I wish him nothing but the best in Cleveland. Is anybody seriously buying Michaels and Gillick both saying that the whole cop punching incident had nothing to do with this trade? Anybody?

The Daily News today has much of the same - Gillick talking about his love for Rhodes, everybody wishing Michaels well, Mark Shapiro welcoming Michaels to Cleveland, etc. It also contains a little line about the Phils having a renewed interest in C Mike Piazza as a righthanded option off the bench. When a guy's name keeps popping up over and over again, there is normally something of substance there. I think the Piazza situation is something to keep a very close eye on in the coming days. I've just got a hunch something is brewing there that I can't quite put my finger on.

In case you haven't been paying attention (or can't read between the lines) thus far, the deal between Cleveland and Philadelphia involving Jason Michaels and Arthur Rhodes is complete. Jason Michaels is an Indian (1/128th Cherokee, if my sources are accurate - for the record, my sources include my own imagination) and Arthur Lee Rhodes is your newest Philadelphia Phillie. Rhodes is an interesting addition - he is neither as bad as some people will lead you believe nor as good as his recent numbers indicate. I tend to agree with the consensus on this trade - it was a bad one for the Phillies. You don't trade a useful part for any kind of non-elite reliever (this obviously makes up the vast majority of all bullpen arms). Michaels would have been a more valuable asset off the bench for the '06 Phillies than the whatever the difference will be between whatever Rhodes winds up doing and whatever the pitcher who is losing a spot to Rhodes in the bullpen (A. Lopez, C. Booker, J. Santana, T. Minix, R. Cameron, etc.) had the potential of doing. That is my gripe with the trade. It just wasn't equal value.

Now we can whine about this deal for the rest of the offseason (undeniable fun) or we can move on and access what the Phillies got in return. The biggest knock on Rhodes thus far has been that he isn't equal value for Michaels; now that he is officially on the team and Michaels is gone, it makes little sense to dwell on this. The two will be compared as the season goes along, but what is done is done. Rhodes may not be an equal return for Michaels, but he is here and he should be assessed on his own merits.

Two of the bigger knocks on Rhodes go hand in hand - 1) he is old 2) he is prone to injury. Hard to argue with either point. Rhodes is old - this is his Age-36 season. Rhodes has had his share of injuries over the past two seasons - this includes only 43.1 innings pitched last year. Having said all that, I must admit that neither point really bugs me. Sure, Rhodes is old - I get it. He is only a member of this team through the end of the season though - there is no long term commitment to the guy. I'd rather have a younger reliever who we know is going to be here a long time, but knowing that Rhodes is here for a one year shot and that is all is a little bit comforting. He comes in, does a good job, pitches some big middle relief in the World Series, collects his paycheck, and we all wish him well in '07. I may be trying to stretch a positive out of nowhere with this point, but I still believe the age factor is overrated in this trade. If Rhodes had 3 more years left on this deal, I'd be furious; by only taking one year of Rhodes on, it is at least theoretically possible that he performs better than either of the two younger relievers mentioned in the trade rumors with Cleveland (Rafael Betancourt and David Riske) in 2006.

The injuries don't particularly concern me either - if he goes down mid-season there should be plenty of decent candidates hanging around at AAA to pick up the slack (all of the aforementioned guys from a few paragraphs up). Injuries are a part of the game and they are an inherent risk when acquiring any pitcher. Rhodes may have more question marks than most - prior history and age are obvious warning sides for future injury - but he is by no means an important enough piece to the puzzle that an injury to him can not be overcome. Here's hoping he stays healthy and effective in '06.

Another common complaint when it comes to the addition of Rhodes - the man is vastly overpaid. This is due to the bloated contract Billy Beane gave to Rhodes in order to convince him to come to Oakland before the 2004 season and close out games for a contending team. I'm a huge Billy Beane guy, but this decision turned out to be a disaster - though admitting defeat and spinning Rhodes and Mark Redman for Jason Kendall was worth a shot. Anyway, the contract issue surrounding Rhodes is a complicated one. He earned $1.8 million in 2004, $3.7 million in 2005, and is owed $4.7 million in 2006. We know that Oakland is on the hook for $1.0 million of his salary in '06. It is also being reported that Pittsburgh (Rhodes was a Pirate for 2 weeks in the '04/'05 offseason) is also responsible for paying part of his salary. The amount is not yet known publicly however. Because the amount Pittsburgh must pay, it is difficult to judge whether this is a bad move from a salary standpoint. The money owed to Michaels ($1.5 million) is off the books as well - that should be considered when factoring in the cost of Rhodes. I suspect Pittsburgh isn't paying all that much of the contract, so Rhodes will still cost around $3 million this season. If that is the case, I am on board with those who say his contract is a problem in '06 - it just isn't money well spent (in case you are new, I'm not one for spending big bucks on middle relief). Until we know for sure what Rhodes is being paid by the Phils in 2006, we'll cut them some slack and wait to insult this aspect of the deal.

So there are many flaws with Arthur Rhodes, Baseball Player - but what about Arthur Rhodes, 2006 Phillies Relief Pitcher. How will Arthur Rhodes perform on the mound? The career path taken by Rhodes has been an interesting one. He just misses being a player who has pitched only in what I like to think of as my personal baseball era - from 1993 (my first year following baseball and sports in general, lucky me) on. See, those are the kind of things I can say here since it's my site and all. Nobody cares about that, but me and since I'm in charge here, nobody can do anything about it. Anyway, Rhodes broke in as a starter with Baltimore in 1991. He wasn't moved to the bullpen on a full-time basis until 1996. Rhodes defines the idea of peak years - his Age 26, 27, and 28 seasons comprise some of the best pitching of his life. Extremely little known fact about Arthur Rhodes: he actually got enough votes (5) to finish 20th in the 1997 AL MVP vote. Randy Myers, Baltimore closer and teammate of Rhodes that season, finished 4th. Ken Griffey Jr. got all 28 first place votes and won in a landslide. That's why this site is so good - you learn something new everyday here.

Since relief pitching is so volatile (one of the reasons why you shouldn't invest big bucks in it), Rhodes was able to rediscover himself in Seattle in his early 30's. His Age 31 and 32 seasons were by far his two best (call it a mini late season peak) - in those 2 seasons, Rhodes went 18-4, threw 137.2 innings, and had a crazy 164 strikeouts with only 25 walks. His WHIP in 2001 was 0.853. In 2002, he somehow managed to lower it to 0.833. To frame those numbers with a little bit of context, I give you Billy Wagner, who we all know was dominant in 2005 with the Phils, and his '05 WHIP of 0.837. Rhodes has been Billy Wagner good at times in his career.

Rhodes in 2005 was a bit of a mixed bag. He was good...when healthy. His 43 strikeouts in 43.1 innings pitched is very impressive, but then again only throwing 43.1 innings isn't too encouraging. He is a lefty, but not a LOOGY (left-handed one out guy) - his numbers over the past three seasons are fairly similar, with maybe an edge to his righthanded batter splits. He has a tendency to give up more flyball outs than ground outs (in the past two seasons anyway), but his ratios over his career are volatile (it's a good day when I can use volatile twice in one post) and even out to around 1 for his career.

I still think Arthur Rhodes can pitch. Maybe that is from admiring his work over the years, some of the encouraging things I see in his numbers, or just plain blind optimism. I would have rather kept Jason Michaels than see Rhodes on the team, but that doesn't make Arthur any less capable of contributing now that he is here. The team is not any better for the long-term, but if the mentality is to win now (something that remains to be seen) then Phillies fans can take pride in knowing that the team truly believes they'll be a better team in '06 with Arthur Rhodes in the pen. There are far worse bullpen arms than Rhodes out there and the Phillies, if they are smart enough to avoid using him in any one role (whether it be permanent 8th inning guy or the batter or two lefty option), can get this most out of their new acquisition. When deployed strategically, Rhodes has proven to be useful. He isn't as young as he used to be (what a dumb saying), but there is still some gas left in the tank (how about a dumb cliche while we're at it).

4 Comments:

Anonymous Dick Richards said...

Nice analysis. Thanks.

I think Cholly has to be looking at his post-Michaels/Lofton line-up and saying to himself, "Who hits #2? Not Rowand--strikes out too much. But I got nobody else. I wish Pat would find a 3B to hit in the two hole. I wish I still had Placido."

2:16 PM  
Blogger XXX said...

The way the lineup will be constructed this season remains one my big concerns. Does anybody trust the manager to make any logical decisions when it comes to filling out a lineup card? Rowand hitting second would be a bad move in my opinion, but who else is capable of handling the role? If Bell keeps up his crazy lefty splits this season, I'd use him in the two hole against lefthanders - the problem there is that I think his overall splits won't nearly be as extreme this year (better against righties, worse against lefties, numbers leveling off in between). Utley may be an option but taking a run producer and sticking batting second may not be the wisest of ideas.

I think it will ultimately be Rowand in the 2 hole until he proves he is better served batting 6th or 7th in this lineup. Who will then bat second? I wish I knew.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Dick Richards said...

Right. Exactly right. LaRussa used Nunez in the two-hole once in a while. But he's no day-to-day answer. So I guess the question is whether Cholly and Milt can make a contact hitter out of Rowand. Or could Sandoval play third and hit #2. Kata? Is that why Gillick annointed Kata as the most likely "dark-horse" to make the opening day roster?

4:33 PM  
Blogger XXX said...

I think with the Michaels-Rhodes trade finally complete I want to do another look at the possible 25 man roster with an emphasis on who wins that last IF job (Perez, Kata, Sandoval) and who wins the 5th OF job. All should make for interesting spring training storylines.

8:57 PM  

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