Zion Lutheran Church in York, Pennsylvania, held its 6th annual Hot Stove baseball talk last night (January 28th). The guests were Dan Connolly, Mel Antonen, and Scott Proefrock. As I promised, I attended. Nothing earth-shattering was revealed by Proefrock about the Phillies, but it was a useful, free discussion about baseball, the Phillies, the Orioles (Proefrock spent time there prior to coming to Philadelphia in 2009), and baseball generally.
First of all, it is a long haul from Philadelphia to York, especially on a cold, crappy January night. There was a crowd of about 75-100 baseball fans, likely mostly Lutherans, and many of them mostly interested about the Orioles and the ridiculous Chris Davis contract. I want to give a big "thumbs up" to Proefrock for making the trek, and I personally thanked him after the event for coming out to the hinterlands.
Here are my notes from the event - these are not direct quotes, but my paraphrased notes, ok? I'll group some of these to impose some kind of structure on what was kind of a rambling, free-wheeling conversation, but for the most part, I'd rather let him speak for himself here. You folks can try to read tea leaves and figure out what this means the Phillies are up to in 2016 as opposed to what they were doing when Proefrock came to Philadelphia in 2009.
Almost the very first thing Proefrock mentioned was a comparison of MacPhail's work in the Erik Bedard trade the Orioles made when he was there to the Cole Hamels trade from this summer. Justin Klugh pointed this out in an article yesterday, and it is an obvious similarity. Clearly the name of the game was to ID assets with value and maximize the asset. Proefrock noted later on that it seemed like the Hamels trade talks went on forever, from last offseason through the actual deal with Texas.
He discussed the business end of the Hamels deal, where the Phillies agreed to take on Harrison in order to make it work better for the Rangers. Part of that discussion was touching on the point that trades today are part "baseball trades" and part "business deals" and lie on a spectrum in between, where this did not used to be the case so much. It sounds as though MacPhail is adjusting to that reality, but that it is maybe still hard for him to accept that this is baseball now. Later, during a discussion of "were the Phillies in on Jason Heyward?" Proefrock said that the Phillies would be "opportunistic" going forward.
The Harrison and the "opportunistic" points were made an hour apart, but the Harrison part of the deal for Hamels may reflect a way that the Phillies will consider making deals in order to maximize their financial leverage in the near future: take a bad contract from a team in exchange for a decent younger player. The Phillies are clearly working in a world of "surplus value" as Proefrock said that they figured they had years of control of Ken Giles at 1.5 - 2 WAR per year, and that factored into how they were approaching what they needed in return for him. He threw out $7 million as the WAR value last night as well.
It sounded from Proefrock as though Harrison is unlikely to pitch for the Phillies this year. He did not say this, but I surmise that could be changed to "ever". I'm not troubled by that, but it cements my perception that the Phillies are willing to be creative to make deals for talent and use their financial "big market" position even though it isn't the conventional means of bidding for free agents to get the talent.
Would I be surprised to see the Phillies actively seek dead money deals from teams in order to get prospects back since they have payroll to burn? Yes, but it would be a good idea to consider, and it is not a crazy leap for me to see them consider a way to do that. Maybe instead of *dumping* Ryan Howard, they look for other Ryan Howard deals out there (with maybe 2 - 3 years left) and take those players, trade some "meh" players back and get a couple of good prospects.
Ryan Howard: The Ryan Howard contract was snarked at a fair amount by everyone. Proefrock said the Achilles injury played a big role in that, and that Howard's knees are awful and that he has not really (since the injury) been able to use his legs effectively. He discussed (briefly) Charlie Manuel spending lots of time trying to work with Howard to get him to come up on the plate some to reach the outside pitches and to try to go the other way. Howard has always "worked his tail off." Still, in a comment that I thought was really interesting, he said "a player has to be willing to make adjustments." He also said that Howard's exit velocity is still excellent, but that the shift is just killing him. All true, all true. I could probably do a whole article on the "thoughts behind the contract extension" discussion, but that is in the rear view mirror now.
Back to a review of the Giles trade: As I mentioned above, Proefrock discussed the 5/6 years of control of Giles and the WAR and the surplus value that gave the team. He said that the Moneyball world involves looking for the undervalued assets, and that today, prospects might be overvalued by teams, or at the least very highly valued. The Phillies viewed Giles as their last "asset" since a closer is a luxury for the Phillies now, and since "arm strength" is an "abundant commodity" in baseball right now. The best decision on Giles was to trade him. Basically, they wanted the starting pitching prospects rather than Giles.
In the context of "Giles was our last asset" comment, I took from that that the Phillies are unlikely to try to roll a player like Franco for more prospects. I did not get a chance to ask if the Phillies would consider doing a Jon Singleton type deal for players like Crawford or Franco. Maybe next time.
Roman Quinn: Proefrock said he only had 58 games at AA and that they want to see him stay healthy. He probably starts in AA but maybe goes to AAA. He was not good in winter ball. He talked about his time in Tampa and the regrets at moving players like Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford through the system too fast. He felt that Crawford has not ever tapped into the power they thought he could have because they had to make him more of a slap hitter to survive earlier in MLB. If Proefrock is thinking that, then I suspect that kind of approach is likely to govern the advancement of Quinn and other Philllies prospects.
Of note, Proefrock spoke without notes, and pulled the number of Roman Quinn "games played at AA" out of a hat, and it is correct. That was pretty amazing to me, even if Proefrock is getting asked that question a lot this winter.
Rhys Hoskins: He's got a chance. He's a long way away. Pop in the bat. Likely to start in Reading, which should help him. AA is a "big separator."
On the rebuild: Money is not lacking, and the TV deal ($2.5 billion was his number) is there. When the time is right, the team will dip in. If the market dropped on Heyward, the Phillies were interested in being "opportunistic." They are concerned about losing draft picks, even though the top pick is protected.
The farm system: per BP, they were in the bottom third and now they are in the top third. He cited the bad job of drafting and developing as being responsible for the Phillies' decline. He said that they had the worst or close to the worst amount of WAR in MLB from 2004-2014 from what they drafted and developed. He compared this to when he was with the Braves in the early 1990's, they had replacements coming up for players like Pendleton (Chipper Jones), Greg Olson (Javy Lopez), and that helped them to sustain success. He praised the Cardinals for having a good balance between buying players and drafting and developing them when asked to compare the 2011 Cardinals and Phillies. The teams were also on "different parts of the curve." Maybe the curves continue to diverge.
I asked what the Phillies are doing differently now to try to catch up to teams like the Cardinals. It sounds like the Phillies do not want to "copy" anyone but to learn from what other teams are doing, "do our own thing." They are gathering more data, formulating their own analytics approach, and they like their traditional scouts. He mentioned the Andy Galdi (do not google for "Andi Galdi" by the way) hire from Google as well as specifically mentioning that John Middleton and Andy MacPhail are both concerned about fixing the data side of things.
The Phillies want to "use all information available" when making decisions. The role of the front office and the general manager is to weigh the info that is available. That point suggests that the FO/GM role may be separated from the development of the analytics. Nobody is expecting Andy MacPhail to reinvent baseball statistics, but his role seems to be to evaluate them as part of decision-making processes.
Constructing a team: Do you want OBP or power? In response to this, Proefrock mentioned a discussion of this from a recent article written by Bill James on that point. Take from that what you will ("it depends"), but my takeaway is that the Phillies are clearly not dismissive of writing and developments in the field. This is so basic that it should go without saying, but I honestly do not think that was the case 10 years ago. Clearly, the message is "we get it -- this is not your grandfather's Phillies front office."
All in all, it was a great event, and there were lots of pieces of information to help confirm what we've been seeing for the last few of years - that the Phillies really do "get it" and are very serious about turning things around. The Galdi hire, in particular, has me pretty excited. We've discussed here for years what the Phillies should do to be a "SABR" team. We joked about the Super Computer and the Freedman hire being tokenism. It isn't. They get it.
I'm pretty excited, folks.