I have a knack for dispensing advice that people don’t take. I got in a cab on Saturday and insisted that the cab driver take Ogden to Washington Avenue to avoid traffic near the United Center, but even though I voiced the desired (and most logical) route, before I knew it we were immobile on Madison Avenue. I fumed for 15 minutes as the meter accumulated dollar after unnecessary dollar while we were sitting still.
Part of the fun of writing about baseball is applying statistics and logic to the sport. Some argue that sabermetricians don’t get their eyes off of their calculators long enough to watch the game, but some of us, myself included, approach the game more like Sudoku, recognizing there are a finite number of answers for any given space/problem. I am a perpetual seeker of market inefficiencies and I dispense advice accordingly, but no matter how logical the arguments I’ve made have been, teams have a habit of doing the exact opposite of what I’ve suggested they do this offseason. You want concrete examples? I’ll expose some of the ways organizations and I have disagreed this winter. Keep in mind my logic is sound, but the clubs seemed not to agree:
I wrote a three-part series for Purple Row, the Rockies site here at SB Nation, and took an extensive look at park effects at Coors Field and recommended that the Rockies stockpile left-handed pitchers because they flourish in the park. Within a week, they added pitchers Joe Gardner, Alex White, and Alex Gillingham to their roster—all right-handed.
I encouraged the White Sox to keep Kevin Youkilis because even though he has declined he still would provide value to their weak offense. The White Sox declined Youkilis’ option in favor of a Brent Morel-Jeff Keppinger platoon, and he’s now with the Yankees.
Here on the Good Phight, in an article published on November 26th entitled "A Mightier ‘Pen: How the Phillies Should Approach Building Their Bullpen in 2013 (And Beyond)," I praised the Phillies’ 2012 bullpen and with good reason: It was their best season, as measured by Fair Run Average, since 1971. They didn’t need the arsenal of expensive veterans they had in 2008, having gotten lucky with the right combination of young and capable relievers. The whole bullpen last season cost the Phillies less than $17 million dollars. I cheered them for their restraint in letting the kiddos earn their keep, with just one pricey closer to finish the games.
Even though the Phillies didn’t construct their bullpen that way on purpose -- they did it because of budget constraints -- I was even happy to give Ruben Amaro Jr. heaps of undue credit for his accidental forward thinking, his embracing the fact that bullpen arms are unpredictable and inconsistent and that inexpensive, young, relievers are the absolute smartest way to manage a bullpen.
And then he signed Mike Adams. Another day, another roster jinx by Cee Angi. For some, the Mike Adams move was predictable. In fact, Peter Lyons from this site predicted it in the comments section of my late-November article. Lyons wrote, "Great Post. As much as I agree with Cee’s conclusions/suggestions, I’ve got this feeling that Amaro is going to run out and sign Mike Adams or something." Good work on the accurate prediction, Peter. I now assume you are Amaro and there’s no convincing me otherwise.
Don’t misunderstand: the Adams signing isn’t the worst the Phillies have ever made, not by a long shot; he’s no Adam Eaton. Rather, he’s a veteran reliever who will bolster the bullpen babies. Adams is one of the most "proven" non-closer relievers in the majors. His 2009 through 2011 seasons with the Padres and Rangers were stellar, and even though he showed some decline in 2012 with a 3.27 ERA and declining strikeout-per-nine rate after undergoing surgery to remove a rib -- perhaps also a symptom of spending a full season in a difficult ballpark in the DH league -- it’s likely he’ll remain a capable setup man. Even with a two-year, $12 million deal, he isn’t that expensive in the grand scheme of things. Nevertheless, I think the Phillies have made a moderately-sized mistake.
The Phillies already have $146 million in Opening Day payroll for 2013, so $6 million is a relatively insignificant addition, but the Phillies are now paying $19 million to two pitchers to man the eighth and ninth innings, more than they pay any individual position player not named Ryan Howard. The Phillies are hardly broke, but it’s clear they’ve put the team on a fixed income. Given a limited pool of money, that $6 million might be better invested in other resources, especially third base and the outfield.
Of course, the Phillies added Michael Young and Ben Revere, so they’ve done something, but really these are stopgap, bargain-basement acquisitions that, while upgrades on the alternatives, aren’t big enough additions to propel the offense above league average. The Phillies have been linked to a number of free agents this offseason, but they haven’t pulled the trigger on any deals. It’s not that spending that $6 million on Adams left them lame and broke, but it’s clearly had a braking effect on spending in other areas.
Imagine that you’re a little younger than you are now and still living at home. Your mother gives you a grocery list: milk, toothpaste, bread, cereal, eggs. She’s just too busy to go herself. The Young and the Restless is on and she’s got bridge club, but she trusts you to run this simple errand. Knowing the cost of groceries, she gives you $20 bucks before sending you on your way. Your parents have a lot of money, but $20 bucks is all you need to buy the basics, and so that’s all you get.
Now you’re at the store clutching a piece of paper from mom’s favorite notepad (the one with kittens on the corner of the page playing with a ball of yarn), and you’re walking up and down the aisles reading the list: Milk, toothpaste, eggs … and then you get distracted: There’s a neon sign over the butcher’s counter and a sale on steaks. You love steak. Even though you know you’ve got a porterhouse and a dozen strip steaks from a cow that you have raised yourself in the freezer, you grab a filet mignon. Even with that plethora of meat options at home, you’re fixated.
Armed with red-meat splendor, you’re thrilled! But then you realize you’ve already spent $9 and still have to purchase the rest of your list. You can call your mom and ask for more money, but she’s definitely not going to be happy because your parents have splurged on some expensive items in the past few years and fiscal responsibility is important. You’d chip in the extra money yourself, but you’re broke -- that's why you’re living at home.
So, you make compromises. Instead of buying the Sensodyne your mother’s teeth require, you grab a tube of something called Smile-Brite, the cheapest thing on the shelf. You know your dad loves a loaf of hearty rye bread to make sandwiches (he calls them man-wiches!), but you buy some Wonder Bread for 69 cents. After all, it’s bread, isn’t it?
That’s the crux of the Phillies problem -- they are operating this offseason with a limited budget -- not because they don’t have money, but because they are choosing to show restraint – yet, instead of focusing on ways to improve an offense that has real issues, they’ve settled for marginal and generic improvements in favor of Mike ‘Filet Mignon’ Adams, when their bullpen had already proved itself capable last season. It’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s superfluous.
At the end of the day, only Amaro and the brass know how much money they sent with him to the store, and only they know if it’s reasonable to spend more, but it seems obvious that the team needed more offensive upgrades than just generic Smile-Brite players to stay competitive in the NL East next season.
But then again, what do I know?