What Will It Take to Compete in 2014?

Will Chase be enough to drag this team to victory? - Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

And can they get there or are we all just wasting our time?

With the end of the regular season, it is time to start speculating on the formation of the 2014 version of the Philadelphia Phillies.  The question that has been vexing me about 2014 is whether it is actually possible, given the talent on the team, for the front office to make this team a contender even with the best of moves.  I am going to explore this question by using WAR as a metric for distilling players' past performances and profiles into usable single numbers.  These numbers will calculate a range of potential outcomes through expected wins.  For each player, we can define a range of performance outcomes based on past performance and profile (for example: a player whose profile fits that of a major league regular would be worth ~2 wins)

Looking at the state of the National League, with the Dodgers, Pirates, Reds, Cardinals, and Braves expected to be strong through 2013, along with some teams lurking on the fringes, it is going to take 90-92 wins to be in the range of a wildcard spot next year.  That is the magic number of expected wins that we are looking to get to in this exercise.  For reference, a team of replacement level players is worth about 45 wins, but put that away for later.

The Locks - Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, Jonathan Papelbon

Due to their contract, performance, or lack of replacement, these players are essentially guaranteed a spot on the 2014 roster.  The only player here with some debate is Asche, but for now, it is pretty safe to assume that the third base job will be held by an internal option in 2014.  The primary candidate for that internal option would be Asche. We are assuming as well with Ryan Howard that he will be healthy in 2014 and will receive enough platoon ABs to decrease his negative value.

Lower Likely Upper
First Base Ryan Howard -1 1.5 2
Second Base Chase Utley 3 4 5
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins 1 1.8 2.5
Third Base Cody Asche 0.5 1.8 3
Right Field Domonic Brown 2 3.5 5
SP 1 Lee 4.5 6.5 8.5
SP 2 Hamels 4.5 5 6.5
Closer Papelbon 1 1.5 2
WAR Total 15.5 25.6 34.5
Wins 60.5 70.6 79.5

Just looking at the likely column, we have obtained over half of the needed wins for 2014.  The unfortunate thing is that we have also accounted for 7 of the 13 major producers of wins on our team as well.  The problem facing the Phillies, if they plan on competing in 2014, is Howard, Jimmy, and 3B.  There is some room for improvement at all three positions, but probably not as much as one would like going forward.

Hitting:

The first place to start is catcher, where there are only 3 real options on the market Carlos Ruiz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Brian McCann.  Lets start with the numbers:

Lower Likely Upper
Carlos Ruiz 1.5 2 4
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 1 2 3
Brian McCann 1 2.5 4

The three catchers are remarkable close in projected value for 2014.  Ruiz has a ton of safety in his projections because of his defensive value over the other two.  The big difference between the three is that, in McCann, the Phillies would be buying a bat -- not to mention a bat that is 5 years younger than Ruiz.  If our study covered a couple of years into the future, Ruiz would fall quickly behind the other two candidates in value, but for 2014, Ruiz is the easy choice.  Still, despite the Phillies' eventual choice, the similar value of the three candidates means that plugging any of the names into our first list brings our simulation close to 73 wins.

Now, on to the outfield, where there are choices available, but where we find a more limited market after the Hunter Pence signing:

Lower Likely Upper
Nate McLouth -0.5 1 1.5
Curtis Granderson 2 3 5
Jacoby Ellsbury 1 5 8
Chris Young 0 1 5
Carlos Beltran 1 2.4 3.5
Ben Revere 1 1.5 3
Darin Ruf 0 0.5 1.5
Shin Soo Choo 1.5 4 6
Nelson Cruz 0.5 1.8 2.5
Corey Hart 0 2.5 4

Some names jump out immediately in Ellsbury and Choo, both of whom are likely to come with huge pricetags and who will likely both be tied to qualifying offers, so their cost would include the loss of a draft pick (albeit, a second round pick).  The risky upside plays are Granderson and Hart, though Granderson will likely tied to compensation as well.  Ben Revere and Darin Ruf obviously come for free, but they could be flipped for an asset if need be.

Pitching:

There were only two names under the original scenario in Lee and Hamels and three spots to fill.  Fortunately, the Phillies do have internal options to fill in some of these spots, which would cost them much less then some of the large names on the market.

Lower Likely Upper
Jonathan Pettibone 1 2 2.5
Matt Garza 1 2.5 3
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez 0 1.5 4
Roy Halladay -1 1.5 6
Masahiro Tanaka 2 3 6
Ubaldo Jimenez -0.5 2.5 5
Jason Hammel 0 2 4
Scott Kazmir -0.8 1.2 2
Josh Johnson -1.5 3 7
Ervin Santana -1 2.8 3
Kyle Kendrick 0.5 1.2 2

We can assume that at least one, if not both of Gonzalez and Pettibone will be in the rotation, and if they are not, then they will be producing value out of the bullpen.  When you compare Pettibone to the other names on the list, it becomes really hard to justify not having him in the rotation in 2014.  And considering the investment that the Phillies have made in Gonzalez, it is probably fair to assume he will be at least starting out in the rotation. That means that, in order to acquire the most value at the lowest cost, the Phillies will need to sign one of Tanaka, Jimenez, Johnson, or Santana.  Any of these signing would add safety and upside to the rotation.  Two things to consider: Santana, and possibly Jimenez, will come with draft pick compensation; and Tanaka has the most upside going forward.

Bench/Bullpen:

Most teams do not derive a ton of value from their bench, but due to the ever advancing age of the Phillies' regulars, having a solid bench in 2014 will be important.  For our scenario here, I am going to agree with a suggestion of Joecatz', wherin the bench is made up of Rupp, Galvis, Hernandez, Ruf, and McClouth.   This combination covers the required categories of an ideal bench, with defensive flexibility, power, speed, and contact all available.

As for the bullpen, their value does not show up as much in our WAR values, but some wins of value can be extracted over a long season from using solid relievers.  Given their end of season performance, it is not unlikely than an opening day bullpen might include (in addition to Papelbon) Ethan Martin, Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg, Justin De Fratus, Antonio Bastardo, and one of the Adams/Stutes/Aumont/Savery/Horst mix.  Overall, it is a bullpen that has some upside and quite a few hard throwers, who could be valuable if managed well.

So how might we compile the WAR of these two reserve units?  Combined, I would predict that, due to their volatility, a good bench and bullpen would net value something like this:

Lower Likely Upper
Bullpen 0 2 4
Bench 1 3 5

The Overall Team:

Lets plug in what we've covered thus far to see what we still need.

Lower Likely Upper
Catcher Carlos Ruiz 1.5 2.5 4
First Base Ryan Howard -1 1.5 2
Second Base Chase Utley 3 4 5
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins 1 1.8 2.5
Third Base Cody Asche 0.5 1.8 3
Right Field Domonic Brown 2 3.5 5
SP 1 Cliff Lee 4.5 6.5 8.5
SP 2 Cole Hamels 4.5 5 6.5
SP 3 Jonathan Pettibone 1 2 3
SP 4 Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez 0 1.5 3
Closer Jonathan Papelbon 1 1.5 2
Bullpen 0 2 4
Bench 1 3 5
WAR Total 19 36.6 53.5
Wins 64 81.6 98.5

We have three spots to fill on the roster and 8-10 wins to find if we want to be fully in contention.  Unfortunately for the 2014 Phillies, there is as much, if not more downside than upside to this team, so we'll want to find ways to bolster its performance.

When I started this piece, I was interested in seeing if there was a cheap way to solve this problem of the missing 8-10 wins, and the answer unfortunately is that there is not one simple and cheap solution.  If our solution aims to avoid surrendering a draft pick, then the Phillies shoul sign these three guys and pray for a miracle.

Lower Likely Upper
Corey Hart 0 2.5 4
Ben Revere 1 1.5 3
Josh Johnson -1.5 3 7

In the solution Joecatz suggested to me, which as always involves the ever unceasing goal of building a team, these are the guys the Phillies should add.

Lower Likely Upper
Jacoby Ellsbury 1 5 8
Ben Revere 1 1.5 3
Masahiro Tanaka 2 3 6

In Joecatz' solution, the 2014 Phillies get a likely WAR of 91.1, which would put them right in the thick of the Wild Card race, and provide some serious upside (along with, as with any team, some serious downside).

Conclusion:

Signing Carlos Ruiz is an absolutely must for the Phillies.  The marginal upgrade that McCann would provide is not worth the contract he will likely receive, and the Phillies actually take advantage of Ruiz's advanced age and offer him a shorter deal.  In the OF, Ben Revere may not be the sexiest name, but unless the Phillies are going to break the bank, his cost control justifies his place as a regular.  Additionally, if the team wants to compete in 2014, they're going to need to pay in the OF.  Unless you think Corey Hart has a huge bounce back year in him, if you're the Phillies, you need to sign Choo or Ellsbury.  Joecatz and I are in agreement on preferring Ellsbury as a target if the Phillies go this (pricy) route.  On the mound, it boils down to signing Tanaka or praying.  There is some upside out there on the market, but it is not going to come cheaply.  Josh Johnson may have the most upside of those available, but it is paired with tremendous downside.  And it might be best to beware of the flash of Jimenez, Santana, or Garza.

It is going to be a tough road for the Phillies to travel toward competition in 2014, but there is some hope, as long as the front office employs some smart decision making and does not fill out the team with players who will likely be overall negatives.

*Just a note: There were no prospects included in my projections because I do not believe that there are any prospects in the system that represent an upgrade in 2014 at any of the positions needing an upgrade.

A big thanks to Joecatz for walking through many of these scenarios via email to help flesh out the best response.

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