As teams approach spring training and rosters still need to be filled, they start stocking their roster cupboards with minor league signings. It’s best way to get players in camp to help manage some innings while also promising them a fair shot at winning a major league spot, though internally done with a knowing wink and a nod. The Phillies are no strangers to this as it’s common practice do so.
The other day at MLB Trade Rumors, they crafted a post discussing which teams have had the most productive minor league signings so far this year. Since we were coming off a pandemic shortened season and owners were still clutching to their wallets in fear of people trying to pry some loose change from them, minor league signings were so popular they needed two posts to discuss - one for hitters and one for pitchers. That got me thinking about the Phillies and how they really haven’t succeeded in their minor league signings....ever.
Now, there needs to be a dose of reality here. Minor league signings are not expected to perform well and most times, they’re cut from the roster prior the end of spring training and we never hear from them again that season. Every now and then, we’ll see someone in the game start off really well and produce a lot of surplus value for their team, the kind of cheap production front offices dream of. Just now, Ian Kennedy counts as one of those surprises, posting a 1.86 ERA for the Texas Rangers with 11 saves and some sparkling peripherals, all while being signed this offseason to a minor league deal. Of course, his deal called for him to earn $2.15 million were he to make the club, so he wasn’t going to come cheaply, but that’s peanuts for some teams, money they’d gladly pay for that kind of production.
So why can’t the Phillies get that kind of production? Why are they not able to find those kinds of players?
I used MLBTR’s fantastic acquisition finder and looked at all minor league signings made by the team in the last five years to see what kind of production they’ve gotten, if any, from players signed to a minor league deal. Now, most of the players that had signed minor league deals never put on the red pinstripes, but the ones who did didn’t do a whole heck of a lot. Before you look at the chart, can you guess which player who signed a minor league deal with the Phillies put up the highest bWAR in a season for the team?
Go ahead, guess.
You got it? Ok. Here’s that list.
Phillies’ MiLB signings 2017-21
I have to say, given a list of names, I would probably have guessed that Rodriguez was the one with the most, but never in a million years would I have guessed that Nick Vincent would have tied him that season.
What does this list tell us? Nothing really. Minor league free agents are going to be expected to get a huge number of at bats, or throw a large share of the innings. Every now and then, maybe a starter will do a little more than what is expected, thereby giving him more opportunities to accumulate a big share of WAR. You might see a hitter go off for a few weeks early in the season, long enough that he might also stick around to give them team 1-1.5 WAR. But with the Phillies, what we can gather from this list is that the guys they are identifying aren’t working out. It’s really no harm, no foul since again, these kinds of players aren’t expected to do much. However, with the team not having good enough depth to withstand all of the injuries that are occurring this year, perhaps they should have done a better job trying to identify players who might have helped. A pandemic shortened season probably made that really difficult this offseason since there wasn’t a minor league season for some players to grab some at bats that would have helped.
Yet as we mentioned elsewhere, minor league deals are the ways to build that depth that is needed to withstand the scourge of the injury bug. Having competent minor league players would help the team be able to cycle through some guys to give 10-12 days worth of at bats where maybe they perform, maybe they don’t. They’re the types of dice rolls that teams need to take. It’s an area that the Phillies need to do better at.