Hard Choices: Looking Ahead to 2007, pt. 1

Ryan Howard: keeper
(credit: Rube Waddell)

As I grow increasingly certain that the Phillies 2006 season will end on Sunday, October 1, I'm thinking about the possibility that this is the Phils' "2004 White Sox" year--the time for a talented but underperforming team to step back, figure out what its real needs are, and then gear up to kick some serious ass the following year. Sox GM Ken Williams made some hard choices--including several that, were I a fan of that team, would have had me climbing the walls. (I still can't really countenance trading Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik.)

Just as a winter of major player turnover rendered the 2005 White Sox dramatically different from their immediate predecessor, I think the 2007 Phils will shape up as very distinct from this year's model. The team hired Pat Gillick to replace Ed Wade in large part because Gillick's track record suggests he's not prone to the type of wishful thinking that has characterized the organization ever since Bill Giles' ownership group took over. Gillick presumably is taking a hard look at the team's personnel assets--its 40-man roster and top prospects outside of it--to decide who to keep, who to shop and who to just ditch. Over the next week or so, I'm going to attempt to do the same, breaking down the roster into sure keepers, sure goners, "moving parts" whom the Phils have under contract or will control in 2007, and free-agents-to-be whose contracts expire in 2006 but might be worth keeping around. All player links are to their baseball-reference.com pages; the main purpose of this is to note their best age-appropriate comparisons in figuring out their likely value going forward.

Today we'll start with the easy ones: the keepers and goners.  

The Keepers

At the risk of perpetuating a hoary baseball cliche, I should say at first that nobody is really ever "untouchable." If the Mets came calling to offer David Wright for any of my three Phillie "keepers," I'd hope Gillick would say "yes" before Minaya finished his sentence. (I'm not actually sure I wouldn't trade any two of the three for Wright, or for Miguel Cabrera.) But a good rule of thumb for these guys might be that the number of players in the game you'd trade any of them straight-up for, all factors (salary, age, position) considered, is very, very small. So, my keepers are:

1b Ryan Howard (Best comp: none/Travis Hafner)
2b Chase Utley (Best comp: Jeff Kent)
P Brett Myers (Best comp: Brad Radke)

Phans moan that both of the infielders were brought to the majors too late. They have a point, particularly in Utley's case--essentially, it was David Bell blocking him in 2003 and 2004--but the benefit is that the Phils will control both players through their likely primes. I believe Utley doesn't reach free agency until 2010, Howard a year later. Both have kept improving, neither shows any fear, and Utley seems like a good candidate to get a Jason Varitek "C" stitched to his uni at some point. While Howard evidentally doesn't have enough of a track record for Baseball Reference to make comparisons, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system sees him as most similar to Travis Hafner, with Mo Vaughn, Cecil Fielder, Willie Stargell and Carlos Delgado a bit further down. I'd take that for the next five years or so.

I'm not quite as sure about Myers, who's about to get really expensive and might have some injury risk. (Most of his top comparables according to BP got hurt.) Still, he's 25, is closing in on career win number 50, and shown dramatic improvement as a pro. I don't think Myers will ever be a true ace on the model of Pedro, Carpenter, Schilling, Halladay or Santana, but he's a good #2 now and could develop into a great one.

The Goners

P Rheal Cormier (Best comp: Dennis Cook)
P Ryan Franklin (Best comp: Elmer Dessens)
P Julio Santana (Best comp: Bill Trotter... I've never heard of him either)

Don't let Cormier's strong 2006-thus-far fool you. He's still what he is: a 39 year-old lefty who doesn't strike out many hitters. It's honestly baffling to me that Cormier, who pretty much defines Competent Journeyman Reliever, will have spent six years with the Phils. At what he'd cost for a seventh year, the team should pass, and it's probably too much of a risk to even offer arbitration in hopes of collecting draft picks. As for Franklin, my feelings on the homerriffic former steroid cheat are well-known. At the major-league minimum, he'd be a defensible choice as a long reliever; at eight times that, he hurts your team. Let him go soak up innings for the Royals. Santana, meanwhile, was a worthwhile gamble given his big fastball and relative 2005 success, but his age, injuries and obvious hittability preclude any real prospect of contributing to the next Phils champion. And that's what we're trying to get at, here.

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