It was late on a Monday evening in December. The cold could not put a damper on the beaming Christmas lights that shone through my living room window, but it certainly could distract me from an overflowing list of homework assignments, as could an exciting Monday Night Football game between the Texans and Ravens. There was one more week of school until winter break, but the thought of freedom couldn’t have seemed farther away.
The conclusion of the football game, as always, meant bedtime, whether the night’s homework was completed or not. My slow trudge up the stairs reflected the stress of that final week, and when it was completed, I reflexively turned on the radio and began my preparations for a good night’s sleep. I was about to turn it right back off when a breaking news sound alert was played on 97.5 The Fanatic. My finger hovered over the on/off switch, though I didn’t really expect the news to be anything important. A few moments later…
The Phillies had just signed Cliff Lee. I had to repeat it to myself once to let it sink in: the Phillies — not the Yankees — had just signed Cliff Lee. There was nobody to celebrate with in my sleeping household, but it hardly mattered. I, along with the rest of Philadelphia, was buzzing with excitement. There was still a long way to go until Opening Day, but after letting it sink in for a bit, there was no doubt in my mind: The Philadelphia Phillies were going to win the World Series. There was no two ways about it.
* * *
Two years later, the feeling surrounding this organization couldn’t be more different. What then seemed imminent never actually occurred, and the team heading into 2013 will be a shell of the 102-win squad of 2011. The man that became a Philadelphia sports hero by snubbing the navy blue pinstripes for the red ones has been the subject of serious trade rumors. The most complete roster in baseball is now one that is full of aging, overpriced former stars, and you’d have to search thoroughly to find an expert projecting the Phils any higher than 3rd place in the NL East.
That said, there’s nothing Ruben Amaro can do but go all in on the 2013 season, because he’s dug himself into a hole. The cornerstones of the franchise — Rollins, Utley, Howard, Halladay, etc. — aren’t getting any younger, yet they are all due big money for years to come. Furthermore, foolish trades at the deadline have left the farm system, aside from a certain 6’4” Germantown Friend School graduate, alarmingly thin.
So whether they like it or not, all the front office can do is focus on this season. Only the best organizations can sustain success over long periods of time without suffering subsequent setbacks and rebuilding years, and we have to admit that with Amaro at the helm, the Phillies are not such an organization. With the “win now” attitude in mind, here’s a look at the Phils’ exploits over the past few weeks and whether or not they can help bring playoff baseball back to Citizens Bank Park.
Out the Door: Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco, Ty Wiggington, Nate Schierholtz, Jose Contreras, Mike Fontenot.
Some decent players have left via free agency, but nobody really important. Pierre is the only one in this group that actually contributed significantly in a positive manner last year, and even so, he’s a 35-year-old outfielder who relies on speed, and his .307 batting average is likely not repeatable.
Polanco’s decline was rather steep, and Contreras’s was in part due to injury. Wiggington, Shierholtz, and Fontenot are replaceable role players.
Grade: N/A. No meaningful departures of note, and no meaningful or difficult decisions to be made on expiring contracts.
December 6th: Phils send SP Vance Worley and Minor League P Trevor May to Twins for CF Ben Revere.
Revere is hardly a household name; I’ll even admit that though I was familiar with the name, I was anything but familiar with the player. That’s not to say I don’t like the deal, though.
Many fans were in love with “The Vanimal”, some even saw a future ace at points early last season, but I was always skeptical. The comparisons to J.A. Happ are unfair, because Worley’s command and deceptive delivery are legitimate, but few pitchers can establish themselves at the front of a rotation with his arsenal. He’s far more likely to go the Kyle Kendrick route than anything else.
Only a year ago, May was rated by many as the Phillies’ top prospect, but struggled mightily in 2012 at Double-A Reading. His ERA was precariously close to 5.00, and based on the Phils’ willingness to part with him so quickly, there was clearly cause for concern. For all I know, he could easily develop into a solid Major League starter, but if his 2012 struggles weren’t an aberration, he could also very easily never even make it to the show.
Revere is, for lack of a better comparison, a 24-year-old Juan Pierre. He can run, hit for average, and cover a ton of ground in centerfield, but he can’t throw, can’t hit for power, and doesn’t draw walks. He’s one of the fastest players in baseball, and his defense will be both exciting and extremely valuable; don’t worry about the weak arm, because he’ll save many more runs than he’ll concede. I’m suspicious when it comes to his offense, though. His on-base percentage relative to his average is uninspiring, and he may not even be physically capable of hitting a ball out of a Major League ballpark. Sure he’ll offer a spark that Rollins doesn’t really offer anymore, but in the 2-hole, I’ve always preferred the professional hitter with average speed who can get on base and drive in runs over the weak left-handed hitter who can post a .290 average by slapping the ball in and through the infield and steal 40 bases.
Grade: B-. Strangely enough, this deal will ultimately depend on May. If he turns out to be something, the Phils might regret it. If he doesn’t, they are huge winners. There was a gaping hole in centerfield, and the free agent pool was rapidly diminishing, so Amaro had to act, and he didn’t give up all that much for a guy that could be roaming the outfield of Citzens’ Bank Park for the next 10 years.
December 9th: Phils trade RP Josh Lindbolm and Minor League P Lisalverto Bonilla for INF Michael Young. (Texas will pay roughly $10-Million of Young’s $16-Million Salary)
Michael Young is 36 years old. He’s a poor defensive third baseman. His batting averaged dropped 61 points in 2012 from the previous year. He only hit 8 home runs, a career low, in a hitters’ park.
He’s also well worth the minimal risk.
Lindbolm is a decent 7th inning guy, and I have no clue who Lisalverto Bonilla is, but if I ever have a son, I might have to steal his first name (I’m only kidding, by the way). Anyway, all in all, the cost to acquire the 7-time All-Star from the Rangers wasn’t steep. Texas was willing to part ways with him to make room in their infield for a young prospect, and the Phils are the beneficiary.
A couple facts on Young: He’s a career .301 hitter, and over his 12 years in Texas, he routinely drove in 90+ runs and challenged for the league lead in doubles. He began his career as a second baseman, before moving to shortstop, and then eventually to third base (he’s also played first and DHed for the Rangers). He won the AL batting title in 2005, and is only one year removed from a .338 BA, a .380 OBP, and 106 RBI. And finally, a statistic courtesy of ESPN’s Jayson Stark: since Richie Ashburn left the club, a Phillies player has achieved a 200-hit season seven times — that’s only one more than Michael Young has had in his 12-year career.
Grade: A-. Talk about low-risk, high-reward. Don’t expect a return to his 2011 form, but I think a .290, 12, 90 season could be on the cards. Charlie Manuel might have to manage his playing time to avoid him wearing down or getting injured, and he certainly isn’t the long term solution at the hot corner, but like a said, there has to be a “win now” mentality, and this trade is a perfect example of that.
December 18th: Phils sign SP John Lannan to 1-year, $2.5 Million deal.
Phils fans might have a negative view of the 28-year-old lefty, not only because he beaned Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in back-to-back at bats in his MLB debut, but also because his career ERA against the Phils exceeds 5.00. However, interestingly enough, his ERA against the other 28 clubs (excluding his former Washington Nationals team) is sub-4.00.
Don’t read too much into those splits, but this is still an interesting signing. With Vance Worley gone, Lannan, along with Kyle Kendrick, is a clear favorite for one of the final two rotation spots. He’s spent his whole big league career in Washington, so we’ve seen a fair amount of him over the years, and I have to say that I always liked what he brought to the mound. Last year, Washington’s rotation was loaded, so Lannan found himself in the minors for much of the season, but he has had a fair amount of success over the years, and if he can get double-digit wins from the back end of the rotation, Charlie will be pleased.
Grade: B. Amaro said he was exploring low-risk/high-reward options to fill out the rotation, but this seems more like a low-risk/medium-reward. Lannan’s upside isn’t through the roof, but I think he will work out just fine. And if he doesn’t? Sounds crazy, but I think Amaro can deal with wasting $2.5 Million.
Not yet completed as of Wednesday morning, but agreed to and imminent: Phils sign RP Mike Adams to 2-year, $12-Million deal, with $6-Million vesting option for a 3rd year.
It was unbearable watching this team lose so many close games and blow so many leads in 2012. Part of that can be attributed to the big hitters coming up small in the clutch, but it was also due to the lack of consistency — correction, lack of anything even remotely resembling quality — in the bullpen in front of Jonathan Papelbon.
Michael Young will help with the first problem, and Adams will do wonders to deal with the second. He’s 34, had an off year in 2012 relative to past success, and will be coming off surgery, but he’s been one of the best right-handed relief pitchers in baseball over the past five years, with a 2.28 career ERA and 1.06 career WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched). Adams has led the league in holds over the past three seasons, and his signing will give the Phillies arguably the best late-game 1-2 punch in baseball.
Grade: A-. 6-Mil a year is good money for a reliever, especially one who’s getting up there in age, but hey, it’s not my money. Consistency in the pen is hard to find, and Adams offers exactly that.
Overall Grade (So Far): B+. I just wrote a lot of positive words about a GM that’s been harshly criticized by many, and about a team that is trending downwards, so let’s keep it in perspective. The Phillies are still the 3rd best team in the NL East, and still have a lot of holes to fill. Some of the holes can’t be filled, liked the one in Dom Brown’s bat, or the one in Chooch’s brain that caused him to get suspended for Adderall, but others can. It remains to be seen if Amaro will spend on a corner outfielder, or if he’ll settle for what he’s got, thereby preserving some financial wiggle-room under the luxury tax. But either way, I think the 2013 Phils are in a position to compete for the postseason once again. The future looks bleak compared to the present and the recent past, and we might have to wait a while for a team reminiscent of 2008-2011, but with the expanded playoffs, this teams got a good shot at finding their way in some of last season’s bad luck reverses itself, and after that, you never know what can happen in October.