Monday, December 18, 2006

Lots of Random News

Over a week without a post…it’s kind of a disgrace, I know. However, in my defense, I’ve been a bit preoccupied with other things…most notably obsessing over the inevitable giveaway of my favorite Philly sports athlete, Allen Iverson. Losing my favorite Sixer and favorite Phillie all in the same year is a bit much to take, so cut me a little slack here (other less fun reasons for the lack of Phillies coverage revolve around the standard end of semester catch-up period and final exams...but that was a far less fun answer). Enough about that though, let’s check in and see what we’ve missed with regards to the pro sports franchise closest to a title in Philly.

So what have we missed? Honestly, not all that much. The Bobby Livingston era was short lived, Cole Hamels continues to say and do the right things (remember when his maturity, or lack thereof, was a major question mark?), and Dayton Moore, the guy I wanted to see get a chance to run things with the Phils, continues to make baffling decision after baffling decision.

The Bill James interview in the Sunday Inquirer was definitely a quality read. Praise for Pat Burrell and Jimmy Rollins is always welcomed, I loved the analysis on the myth of protection, and the comments about the ballpark were interesting as well. It wasn't a topic that James touched on per se, but I have to admit that I've come around to the idea that Charlie Manuel is the right manager for this club heading into 2007. His weaknesses are very clear (in-game strategy, bullpen usage), but his strengths are a bit harder to discern - he gets big points in my book for his ability, I assume real but perhaps imagined, to maintain a positive atmosphere around his club (and let's be honest, that can't be easy to do in Philly). I think Manuel deserves a ton of credit for the development of the many young players that have prospered with the Phillies in recent years - most notably reigning MVP Ryan Howard. Manuel knows hitting and the Phillies consistently roll out quality hitters...there may be something to that. There is still much work to be done from an empirical research standpoint on the effect managers have over the course of the season, but my natural inclination is to believe that managers are statistically insignificant for the most part (maybe the top 5/bottom 5 have a meaningful impact, but I'd guess that the middle 20 are all very closely bunched).

EDIT: No sooner did I post this did I venture over to The Good Phight where dajafi had just posted a much better, more in-depth look into Charlie Manuel's strengths and weaknesses as a manager. As soon often the case, one of the writers at The Good Phight has managed to express what I was thinking much more eloquently than I ever could have. Go check it out, it's worth your time.

Two positives posts (here and here) from Baseball Prospectus have been written about the Phillies acquisition of Freddy Garcia. I still hate giving up on Gio Gonzalez so soon (if the Phillies really preferred his inclusion in the deal rather than give up Aaron Rowand as rumored, then I'm even more upset), but the return was enough that I can now say I'm officially on board with the move. As far as Gonzalez goes, Baseball America just mentioned he would have ranked second on the Phillies prospect list (same place I had him on mine, for the record) and offered up a brief scouting report to boot.

In more prospect news, both Baseball Prospectus and John Sickels have rolled out their lists of top Phillies prospects over the past few days. I have a ton more to say about these lists, but I'll actually save that for a separate post...and this won't be one of the many instances of me saying I'll mention something later and then forgetting all about it. I'm a prospects junkie, so I love talking about young guys any chance I get...expect more shortly on the topic.

The Tigers just signed Jeremy Bonderman, a guy who won't be a free agent until after 2008, to a whopping extension. The Phillies have a young righthanded starter by the name of Brett Myers who won't hit free agency until after the '08 season...if you are running the Phillies, do you consider making Myers a similar offer to lock him up through the 2010 season?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Belated Phillies Rule 5 Update

So the Winter Meetings are over and we've all had a couple of days to digest everything that has happened since the beginning of the week. Hidden under the hype created by the big Freddy Garcia deal was the not quite as important, but still relevant news that the Phillies adding three players at the annual Rule 5 draft. Much as been about Pat Gillick's reputation as a talent evaluator (and rightly so) and the impact of his skills in this aspect of his job come into play every year when it is time to pluck relatively unknown minor leaguers off of the rosters of your competition in the Rule 5 draft. Gillick's track record of success (Kelly Gruber, Manny Lee, and most famously, George Bell) is reason enough to be optimistic in feeling that at least one of the three names called by the Phillies last week at the Rule 5 will contribute, in some way or another, to the Philadelphia Phillies success in 2007...and hopefully beyond.

The sexiest names (i.e. guys with the most upside/guys that I would have seen become Phillies) that were selected were C Jesus Flores (Nationals) and former number one overall pick OF Josh Hamilton (Cubs, traded to Reds), but neither player was available by the time the Phillies picked...a trade involving either player could have been worked out, but obviously the Phillies decided it was best to go in a different direction. Fair enough, especially considering the talented arms they added to the roster by the end of the day. So without further ado, let's meet the newest members of the Phillies baseball family - RHP Alfredo Simon, RHP Jim Ed Warden, and C Ryan Budde.

Simon is the most recognizable name of the bunch as he does not actually need an introduction to the Phillies family, but a reintroduction - he pitched for Clearwater as recently 2004, the same year he was dealt to San Francisco in the Felix Rodriguez trade. Simon was once a highly thought of prospect in the Phillies chain and it was disappointing to see him tacked on in the aforementioned deal with the Giants, but the Phillies were very smart to pick him back up the first chance they got. Mike Arbuckle's comments are very encouraging:

"[Simon] has a power arm," said Mike Arbuckle, the team's assistant general manager for scouting and player development. "His numbers aren't good, but he's been throwing real well in winter ball, up to 98 [mph]. He's one of those high-ceiling, high-risk guys that, based on our reports from winter ball, maybe is starting to put things together. We thought it was worth taking a look."

More good news comes courtesy of the Dallas Morning News:

Baltimore selected Simon, who recently had been recalled from his winter league job in the Dominican Republic in an attempt to keep buzz about him to a minimum. Baltimore took the hard-throwing 25-year-old and dealt him to Philadelphia, where former Rangers scout Charlie Kerfeld is an assistant to GM Pat Gillick.

Simon's drop in velocity this past year was a huge concern of the Giants and a big part of the reason they dropped him from their 40-man roster at the beginning of the offseason. Texas picked him up, sent him to winter ball, and watched his velocity take off. When he got recalled many were worried that he had hurt himself, but it was merely a ploy by the Rangers to hide their investment. I know I get unnecessarily excited for bottom of the barrel relief guys (see my love of Chris Booker last year if you don't believe me), but I really think the Phillies may have found a keeper in Simon. Good relief help is everywhere, it just takes time, effort, and the desire to go out and find it.

For better or worse, Jim Ed Warden has been called more of a "gimmicky" reliever than a pitcher likely to make a serious impact in the bigs. The beauty of relief pitching, though, is that these two things are not mutually exclusive - you can be "gimmicky" and still a success in the majors so long as some team out there is smart enough to give you a chance (check Chad Bradford's chapter in Moneyball for a far better description of this). Bradford has had a pretty damn good career flying under the radar all these years (career 132 ERA+ guys don't grow on trees), so it would be foolish to predict that kind of success for Warden...but you never know. For the relatively small price of $50,000, it sure doesn't hurt to take a guy to camp and see if you can catch lightning in a bottle. At the very least, Warden's funky delivery will give fans desperate for baseball action yet another reason to watch spring training games this year.

John Manuel at Baseball America had this to say about Warden:

Relievers Levale Speigner (low 90s fastball, hard curve) and Jim Ed Warden (lowered arm slot, heavy, low-90s sinker) both could stick, Speigner with the Nationals and Warden with the Phillies, if they are at their best next spring.

Arbuckle on Warden:

He's an interesting guy," Arbuckle said. "He's a different-look guy, a 6-foot-7 sidearmer. He's got a real good sink on his fastball, throws up to 93 [mph] from the side. He's worth taking a look at, because he is deceptive because of his size and arm slot."

Relief pitchers that can potentially induce ground ball outs with low-90s sinkers have a tendency of finding jobs in the majors...we'll see what happens with Warden this spring.

Fearless prediction: Either Alfredo Simon or Jim Ed Warden will make the Phillies out of spring training and pitch significant innings for the big club by mid-season 2007. If I had to bet, I'd say Simon makes the team and Warden is stashed at Ottawa after some kind of arrangement is worked out between the Phillies and Cleveland.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Trade

So I said I was stunned and not in a good way.

Well after thinking about it for a little while, I feel a bit better...though I'm still not convinced this was the right deal to make. Freddy Garcia is all but guaranteed to throw 200+ innings of at worst league average ball - an especially valuable thing this day and age. Garcia is also a free agent after this season and will almost definitely be classified as a Type A player at season's end - even if he walks after '07 (which at this point would be best for all parties involved...but we have a year to go before really discussing this matter), the Phillies would receive draft pick compensation that should result in the addition of a prospect close to the quality of Gio Gonzalez. I like Gonzalez way more than most (he'd rank right up there with Carlos Carrasco as the top prospect in the organization...putting up the kind of numbers he did in AA at his age is something pretty special), but the Phillies have some degree of starting pitching depth in the minors where they could move a player of his quality. Gavin Floyd is, quite regrettably, a non-factor in this deal. Obviously the White Sox had interest in him, but he is not a player you can really afford to lose too much sleep over losing at this point - I was as big a Floyd fan as can be for a long while and I would have been ill to see him moved in a trade where the Phillies got nothing back in return...luckily, moving him for Garcia is an okay enough deal that I'm not ill to see him go. Forgive me from rambling somewhat incoherently from point to point, but it's late...that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it. The potential Myers-Hamels-Garcia-Eaton-Moyer rotation doesn't look so bad (though the Brett Myers trade talk has quietly begun...just a warning), so while the trade is not without major risk (mainly my fear that Gio becomes a star), it still improves the club greatly going into 2007.

It's nearly impossible to judge any kind of offseason transaction without considering the moves that will be made (or not made) because of it - the Garcia deal can not really be judged in a vacuum because it now changes the needs/wants of the Phillies going forward. It has been mentioned before that a deal with the White Sox for pitching would be the precursor to a Jon Lieber deal...if the Phillies can use their now expendable starter (Lieber) as the valuable trade chip that he has become (especially in this market) to acquire an impact bat for the outfield and/or an elite back of the bullpen arm, then things would begin to look up again. The Phillies also have the "problem" of having two big league quality center fielders - the thought of Shane Victorino and Aaron Rowand patrolling the outfield is too disheartening to entertain, so we'll assume the powers that be that run the Phils are smart enough to deal Rowand while the market for him exists. Rowand and Lieber both represent valuable trading chips...time for the Phillies to make their next big move.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Garcia In; Floyd, Gonzalez Out

I'm stunned.

And not in a good way.

Trade Winds

The latest:

Phillies deal OF Aaron Rowand and either RP Ryan Madson or SP Gavin Floyd to the White Sox for SP Freddy Garcia, SP Mark Buerhle, or SP Javy Vazquez...of those three, I think the most likely to be involved in a deal with the Phillies is Garcia by a long shot

This deal works in tandem with this happy little trade over here:

Phillies deal SP Jon Lieber to the Brewers for either OF Kevin Mench or OF Geoff Jenkins and either RP Jose Capellan or RP Derrick Turnbow

Potentially this would be the Input/Output (I used the most likely players involved for the sake of the example):

In - Garcia, Out - Lieber
In - Mench, Out - Rowand
In - Capellan, Out - Floyd

It is kind of a lateral move in some respects, but one that I think I would endorse. Now the question is simple - will it happen?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Winter Meetings

Day two of the Winter Meetings is almost in the books and so far there is not a whole lot to report on. Normally, I love reporting free agency rumors and coming up with all kinds of wild trade ideas during this time of year, but the relative inactivity around the league thus far gives the whole event a different feeling than in years past. When it is all talk and no action for this long into the offseason, it's only human nature to begin to tune out the talk until a big move actually goes down. It almost seems silly to obsess over every tiny bit of Phillies related news that some random newspaper on the other side of the country decides to report I've come to realize over time, I'm a silly guy who can't help but get wrapped up in the excitement of roster management - even when I try to stay away, there's something about baseball that pulls me back in, time after time. So with that said, let's get ourselves caught up on some of the latest Phillies related news:
No big changes here unless you missed the news of Scott Graham's firing from last month (Graham's departure has been more or less confirmed as a decision made by the Phillies and not Graham himself, by the way). Gary Matthews joins the gang as the newest color commentator, Chris Wheeler will reassert himself by doing more play-by-play than in years past, and Scott Franzke further establishes himself as Harry Kalas' heir apparent...though not for at least three more seasons per HK's latest contract extension. I know many fans dislike both Wheeler and Franzke (in the case of Wheels you can substitute "hate" for "dislike"), and many are worried that HK is slipping, but the Phils five man rotating booth is still one of the best in the game by default - take a listen to MLB.TV someday and you'll realize how bad the quality of announcing is these days. This isn't an excuse for subpar announcing, but it's important to remember that it's all relative.
Davis is a good idea in theory, but not a terribly important addition in practice (nothing personal, Kane). There is no better way to fill out the few remaining spots of your bullpen then by auditioning a bunch of live arms making the big league minimum in spring training, keeping the ones that impress the most, and then stashing the others in AAA in/when they are needed to help out the big club. There is no more unpredictable subset of baseball players than relief pitchers and, outside of the well established, well known elite class of relievers that you just know will have above average years, there really isn't all that much difference between a Kane Davis/Brian Sanches/Clay Condrey-type when compared to any of the relievers making big bucks this offseason (Joe Borowski, David Weathers, et al.) - the only major difference between the those two groups is one of opportunity...somebody once gave Borowski/Weathers a chance to perform, while Davis/Sanches/Condrey are still waiting.

Both Borowski and Weathers had good seasons last year and are good bets to have at least league average quality seasons in 2007; both players are nice relievers and I don't mean to take anything away from their accomplishments in the big leagues. It's just that it makes so much more sense to find the Borowski's and Weathers' of the world before they become the big-time free agent relievers - get them while they are youngish and competing with other AAA arms for a spot on the big team in spring. It can be done though finding quality bullpen help really is a crapshoot from year to year - near equal parts art, science, and luck.

Bringing in Kane Davis is a step in the right direction...even though Davis' minor league track record is extremely spotty. He does have the strength of a very, very good 62.2 innings pitched at AAA in 2005 going for him, so he is far from a lost cause. That said, take this signing for what it is: a low-cost, low-impact move that at worst provides depth for the pen in Ottawa and at best gives the Phillies a cheap extra bullpen option at some point in 2007.
A non-story masquerading as news...
Off the top of my head, I remember Dallas Green publicly calling out Scott Rolen (multiple times), Charlie Manuel, and Pat Burrell (if I missed someone recent, let me know). What exactly does he think he is accomplishing by this? Why does the Phillies organization condone this kind of behavior? Green's comments about Burrell were not all that offensive (especially compared to what he has said in the past), but they still served no practical purpose - why say anything at all? I know Dallas still has a fancy title within the organization and is still revered by some Phillies fans for his work with the '80 club, but I see no reason why he is still a paid employee of the Philadelphia Phillies.
  • Last, but not least: the BIG rumor(s)
This rumored deal will not go away, so we'll have at it - keep in mind there are a ton of permutations of this deal, so you may have read it differently at some point:

Phillies deal: SP Jon Lieber, SP Justin Germano, CF Aaron Rowand
Phillies receive: OF Kevin Mench, OF Geoff Jenkins, RP Derrick Turnbow/RP Jose Capellan

This deal would be contingent on the Phillies getting another starter to fill the void a Lieber trade would create. Dealing for one of the White Sox starters (namely Javy Vazquez or Freddy Garcia) makes the most logical sense, but any deal involving the Sox would almost certainly have to involve Rowand (and, according to most sources, another pitcher - perhaps either Ryan Madson, Gavin Floyd, or Germano). The other deal that could be a part of this crazy scenario could involve the long rumored Gavin Floyd-Rodrigo Lopez deal. So, in theory, the Phillies could realistically wind up with something like this:

GET: Lopez as the fourth starter, Mench/Jenkins platoon in right field, Turnbow/Capellan in the back of the bullpen
GIVE: Lieber, Germano, Rowand - three impressive trade chips (you could argue the Phillies could get more than they would in these proposed deals for such quality), but three guys that are either expendable at the moment or would be if these other deals were to happen.

I'd have to give it more thought, but there could be something worthwhile here.

Some versions of the deal with Milwaukee are a bit simpler: both the possibility of a Lieber for Mench and a reliever or Rowand for Mench and a reliever swap have been floated out there. Mench is not an everyday outfielder, but he could make a fine lefty hitting half of a platoon (969 OPS against lefties over the past 3 seasons). If the Phillies acquired Mench and Capellan for either Lieber or Rowand (ideally Rowand), I'd be happy...assuming the Phillies were smart enough to view Mench for what he is (a platoon guy) and not something crazy (a potential Pat Burrell replacement).

It's a wild time of year, no?