A combination sigh of relief and sigh of angst swept through the Delaware Valley yesterday when the Los Angeles Angels swept in out of nowhere and signed Josh Hamilton to a five year, $125 million deal. Many Phillies fans were expecting Ruben Amaro to swoop in on Hamilton, after trading Vance Worley, Trevor May, Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla for Ben Revere and Michael Young last couple of weeks. Well, that didn't happen, for better or for worse and now the Phillies find themselves in a curious predicament in regards to their options in the outfield.
There are basically three paths (or routes) that Ruben can take, and we're going to examine them.
ROUTE 1: FREE AGENCY
The simplest, quickest and most dangerous route to the ball. Think of that diving gapper between left and center with runners on second and third and two outs down one run in the bottom of the ninth. If you catch the ball, you save the game, if it drops and goes past you lose, and if you let it fall in front, you tie, and hope the throw gets the second runner.
There are three free agent options left that could bring some value to the table. Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Cody Ross. The biggest issue with all three of these guys is that Hamilton's signing with a surprise team likely gives them all more leverage than they had two days ago. Bourn is probably out, just based on the years he'll get and the fact that Revere makes him less desirable. So let's focus on Swisher and Ross.
Ross is the cheaper option here. Likely getting a three year deal around $8mm per. However, Ross is coming off of arguably his best season since 2008, putting up 2.4 fWAR in just 137 games, with a .267/.326/.471 triple slash. He hit 22 home runs, drove in 81 runs and put up a .204 ISO while providing positive UZR and UZR150 in the field. he also MASHED left handed pitching to the tune of a .285/.373/.636 line.with just 16BB to 25Ks in 150 ABs
Yes folks. Cody Ross had a 1.010 OPS against LHP. Sounds pretty tasty right?
Well, he also put up a .256/.308/.422 line in 2012 against RHP. with the 26BB to 104Ks. That line was done on a BABIP of .332.
Call me crazy but I don't really know if that's a great allocation of $8mm over three years for a glorified platoon bat, especially when you consider that the BULK of his AB's are gonna be against RHP.
Nick Swisher is probably a pretty good fit for this team. He's a high OBP guy who can hit it out of the park, and a switch hitter to boot. A three or four year deal would be palatable, but that's not going to happen. In fact, multiple
horses sources have reported that he's in no hurry to sign, preferring to wait out the market in the aftermath of the Hamilton deal. With the Rangers having lost out on Hamilton and Grienke and possibly Upton, and teams like Cleveland and Seattle in the mix, desperate for an impact player in a location less than desirable, the market for Swisher could balloon. Swisher could be the guy who benefits the most from Hamilton going to Los Angeles. He'll get a minimum five year deal at this point. If the Phillies passed on five year deals for Hamilton, and Upton, and a four year deal for Pagan, I'm not sure the logic works to go after Swisher for five years.
The last time the Phils signed a non homegrown position player to a deal longer than three years was in 2002 (David Bell got four and Jim Thome got seven) Going back to 1978, I found three other position players signed to deals longer than three years. Pete Rose, Greg Jefferies and Lance Parrish. Of those five players, NONE OF THEM PLAYED OUT THEIR CONTRACTS. All were traded or released. The point here is that free agent deals longer than three years rarely pan out. Combine the cost ($10-15mm per) and how that affects the rest of the holes to the pitching staff and consider that Swisher also will cost the 16th overall pick in the draft, a Swisher signing, to me at least, is less appealing than a trade involving a high level prospect... It's a pure panic/desperation play that pretty much goes against everything else RAJ has pulled off this off season by not going after Upton, Pagan, or Hamilton. To give that kind of money to Swisher now?
That's making a move just to make a move. Not saying it won't happen, but I'm not banking on it.
So let's look at the trade market.
ROUTE II: TRADE EM ALL!!
Another risky route, but probably less risky than the last, think a soaring line drive just over the wall, with the bases loaded, up by three runs in the 7th inning with one out. You have to time the jump just right, but if you do, you save the game with one dazzling play. If not, well, your down, but not necessarily out.
Barring some underpay of epic proportions, big names like Justin Upton and Giancarlo Stanton are just not in the cards folks. The prospects necessary to make a deal like that happen, even if it were possible, just aren't there. Other teams have deeper resources as well, even if Ruben gave away the whole farm, so you're left with second tier guys.
The names that have been bandied about include (in no particular order) Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and Alfonso Soriano. You can probably add one of Peter Bourjos or Mark Trumbo to the list, and I'm sure the Angels would love to dump Vernon Wells on someone, after the Hamilton signing. I'm certainly missing some names, and there are probably unknown persons available as well. The Phillies still have a decent number of prospects to deal from, if they wanted, and would likely prefer to center a deal around one of their catchers, Sebastian Valle or Tommy Joseph. One of Domonic Brown (whose name was linked to the Cubs) or Darin Ruf likely becomes expendable in a trade as well. Of the names above, the team that jumps out here is Chicago, and Soriano.
Soriano is coming off a pretty good season, putting up 4.0 fWAR, off a .262/.322/.499 line with 32 HR and 108 RBIs. Soriano has always been a BABIP infused hitter. last year, he had a BABIP of .303. going back to 2002, he's put up a minimum of 3.0 fWAR in every season that his BABIP was above 295 with the exception of 2004, when he put up 2.1 fWAR in 145 games. There are only 2 other seasons 2009 (.279 BABIP 0.0 fWAR) and 2011 (.266 1.8 fWAR) where he put up less than 3.0 fWAR in that period.
If the reports are true that the Cubs are willing to eat $26mm of the $36mm left on his 2 year deal, for the right prospect, Soriano could end up being a huge bargain. The question becomes the prospect. Chicago fits the bill for the Catcher swap. But if that isn't enough, and you're talking about Dom Brown? No thanks. Giving up cost control of Brown for two years of Alfonso Soriano just doesn't sit well with me. So whats left?
ROUTE III: Stick to your guns.
The absolute safest play of them all. Its a lazy pop fly. All you gotta do is catch it, and hope that the guy you got out there puts his glove up and does his job.
How the hell long have we been waiting for Dom Brown? The Hamate is healed, and as Schmenkman pointed out in a comment in another thread, here's a list of comparables to Brown over his "bust period of the past two years"
Brett Wallace – 99 wRC+
Danny Espinosa – 99
Domonic Brown – 96
Cameron Maybin – 96
Pedro Alvarez – 95
Justin Smoak – 94
Mitch Moreland – 92
Dustin Ackley – 90
Mike Moustakas – 88
Delmon Young – 88
Colby Rasmus – 87
Seriously. That's who has performed roughly the same as Dom Brown. He absolutely deserves a chance this season.
So what about the other corner? Ruf? Nixberry? Well, kids, maybe its just time to find out if Darin Ruf is for real or some AAAA with a bunch of holes masquerading as the next Greg Luzinski. If you just stand the hell pat, you give yourself a few months to figure that out. . If it works, they'll look like geniuses, and have a plethora of available cash at the deadline and in the off season. If it doesn't work? They'll have the same damn chips in front of them at the deadline and probably more choices on the market. The only way it kills you, the only real risk, is if both Ruf and Brown flop, they both get hurt, or they both just suck. That's a risk worth taking in my book, when put into context with the options.
Take the money, put it into the rotation, and go with the youth movement. And from an asses in the seats perspective? From a cable deal perspective? Do you think the WIP crowd would rather see Nick Swisher, Cody Ross, Alfonso Soriano or Darin freakin' Ruf?
Exactly. And you know what? I think I'd rather see it too. You know what else I'd like to see? Underdogs. For the first time in years the Phillies won't be "The team to beat" in the National League preseason. Hell, they won't even be the team to beat in the division.
They'll be underdogs.
Which team would you rather see? The one coming off the 2011 season that broke down and crushed you because there were guaranteed givens and certainty about playoff berths, or THE TEAM with the fairly unproven outfield, that develops under your eyes into something special?
Look at that opening day roster from 2008 again.
Then dream a little.
I know my answer.
That teams big ticket acquisition that offseason if I recall was Pedro Feliz.
And the team that won the World Series last year?
Their big free agent acquisition was Ryan Theriot.
If you have to spend, Take the Swisher money, go out and get Mike Adams and a starting pitcher, and let the kids play!.
It's the safe route, its the unspectacular route, and it might just be the best route to the postseason for years to come.