Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Phillies Offseason Outlook

Carlos Ruiz (2008).

Long List of Needs

Ruben Amaro Jr. and company have their work cut out for them as the free agent season starts to heat up in the MLB.  With the "Winter Meetings" underway in sunny Florida, the Phillies' front office is beginning to sculpt their plan for improvement.  Just a few years ago the club may have only needed to upgrade at one or two positions.  Now, heading into 2014, the team has a handful of positional and team needs, complicating how the front office plans to improve the team.  This list includes the following:

  • Outfield offensive production 
  • Improve outfield defense
  • Catcher (Free Agent, fan favorite Carlos Ruiz (Chooch) remains unsigned to this point)
  • A solid starting pitcher or two to sure up the rotation
  • Bullpen help, naturally!
  • Bench Depth 
  • Right handed bat
Last year's Phillies outfield was statistically atrocious, and there is no other way to put it.  Although, such a thing might be expected after trading away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence with no replacements ready to take the reigns following their departures.  Outfielders John Mayberry Jr., Ben Revere, Darin Ruf, Domonic Brown, and Cesar Hernandez are all locks or have a chance of making the team next year whether they deserve it or not.   The other thing they share in common unfortunately is that not one of them was able to produce a positive defensive WAR ( wins above replacement ) in the 2013 MLB season.  Thus the need for defensive improvement in the outfield. The offensive production out of the 2014 Phillie's outfield also needs to be much better.  Ben Revere doesn't provide any pop in the lineup, and if he fails to get on base his value is greatly diminished.  In 2013 we saw a medley of outfielders take the field, and aside form the previously mentioned and Darin Ruf's surprising power surge, the production from the outfield was one of the worst in the league.  Combining for a .259 batting average, 407 slugging %,  and an OPS to the tune of .720   the Phillies outfield fell short of being at the very least average.   Phillies center fielder's finished with the 6th worst OPS coming in at .663.

Catcher is also another need for the Phillies right now.  Long time fan favorite Carlos Ruiz is a free agent this year and is most definitely seeking the biggest pay day of his career before he wraps it up.  There are plenty of teams interested in Chooch such as the Colorado Rokcies, Toronto Blue Jays, the recently crowned Red Sox, and of course the Phillies. With Ruiz still on the market, catcher becomes a priority for the Phillies.   In need of right handed bats, the Phills would be wise to lock up their beloved catcher who presents one of the few right handed bats in the catching market this season. 

Upgrades also need to take place standing 60 feet away from whoever our catcher is come opening day.  This year's world series clearly exemplifies why pitching is so important.  Both the Cardinals and Red Sox were top six in team ERA.  With only Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee as surefire starters in 2014, the Phillies should look to acquire another starter or two in order to sure up their rotation.  They also need to make some minor moves to the bullpen.  Homegrown talents such as Jake Diekeman, BJ Rosenberg and Justin De Fratus started to show signs in the latter half of the 2013 season that they may be ready to take on productive full-time roles in the bullpen next year.  Bullpens are one of the trickiest things to put together in baseball though and the Phillies are not in a position to say they are comfortable with the current state of their pen. 

John Mayberry Jr.
Finally comes the Phillies' bench.  Over the last two years the bench has been a real weak spot for the team when comparing it to the regular contributions that the bench provided in 2008 in route to the team winning it all.  Depth is key in all sports; in order to create bench depth going forward the Phillies need to either buy it or trade for it.  They do not possess a farm system that yields multiple impact players through out the year like the Cardinals were able to do this year.  Improvements must be made, and with the team's core only getting older a productive bench is even more important.  As I view it, John Mayberry Jr. can be termed as the "indicator species" of the bench.  An indicator species is a species in an ecosystem, that if present, can help determine the health of the ecosystem.  In other words if JMBJ is the go to option off the Phillies bench in 2014 like he was in 2012 and 2013, then the bench's ecosystem is not healthy and the organization has not done enough in order to improve this deficiency.

Potential Solutions

Ruben Amaro Jr. and his colleagues could look to get creative this off season, by filling holes with multiple middle tier or cost effective free agents, staying away from big names such as Jacoby Ellsbury.  One "cost efficient" free agent that the Phillies tried last year was Delmon Young.  While costing less than a million dollars to employ, Young  did not produce enough to help the Phillies and ultimately found himself released and headed back to the team that drafted him, the Tampa Bay Rays.  Last year also featured a the Ben Revere trade in which starting pitcher Vance Worley and prospect pitcher Trevor May were sent to Minnesota in exchange for the speedy outfielder.  If the Phillies are to get creative this year and it be a success, they need every single mid level free agents they target and sign to produce near their career levels, and again look at the addition by subtraction method through trades.  This method is far riskier than signing top tier free agents, where it is far easier to predict the production you can look to receive.

Another option that presents itself is to BUY, BUY, BUY.  You may be thinking to yourself that even if we do pursue a player like Ellsbury we would be very close to the 189 million dollar luxury tax. Correct you would be, but the Phillies are in an interesting position financially.  With a new TV deal that could be roughly 6 times what they are currently making per year on their current deal (35 million).  If the deal were to be signed in the near future, which is expected, the club will have a huge influx of cash.  After two straight years of attendance ratings starting to slide at CBP the Phillies need to put a winning team on the field in hopes of bringing fans back in.  If that means blowing through the luxury tax in order to do so then so be it.  The Phillies are a big market team now whether the fans and front office like it or not.  Acting like a big market team might prove to be more beneficial for the Phillies in 2014 and their World Series hopes.

Failure to compete in 2014 could result in the blow-up that some fans have been calling for over the last year or so.  It could also spell trouble for Ruben Amaro Jr. who needs a strong offseason to bring enthusiasm back to the fan base, and hope that his work will yield a winner.  Anything less and his job could be on the line.  The pressure is on!  Feel free to comment on what you think the Phillies should look to do this winter. 

headshot.jpgCole Miller, from Haddonfield, NJ, is currently a sophomore Sport Management major at Drexel. Over the summer, Cole volunteered for the 43rd SABR convention, a large convention with many speakers and other events for baseball fans who enjoy the new age statistics being brought to baseball such as WAR ( wins above replacement ).   Cole is a huge fan of baseball, specifically the Phillies.

You can connect on Cole on LinkedIn here.

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