Designating Vince Velasquez is not something to get worked up about. There are arguments that it is at least two years overdue, so the fact that it has happened now is not exactly strange, but it does raise an eyebrow:
What the heck did they ever see in him in the first place?
Why, just the other day, he struck out nine in a rehab start in Lehigh Valley, yet the team decided that it would be better to promote Adonis Medina and Cristopher Sanchez to the team rather and help provide bulk innings as they continue with the plan to use bullpen games every fifth game. They would rather use that route to win games in the middle of a pennant race rather than see Velasquez on the mound.
To anyone who has watched Velasquez take the mound over the years, it might seem like the move that is obvious. But we are taking more of a wide lens point of view, using it to see that not only is this the end of the tenure of one of the more frustrating players in the team’s recent history. It is also another notch against this front office that seems to lack an ability to find suitable pitching for the big league roster. It calls into question whether or not a Dave Dombrowski-Sam Fuld-Joe Girardi led team is the one that can bring the Phillies back to the playoffs.
When Matt Winkelman wrote the other day about the inability of the Phillies to properly utilize their 40-man roster to help the team win, it was this part that stuck out the most:
The continued theme of roster management and usage has been to be conservative. At no point have the Phillies truly given themselves the chance to catch lightning in a bottle. Their manager has stuck with his veterans, never giving their young players a chance to establish themselves. Their front office has hung on to players, refusing to try and making the fringe roster moves to find players that could help them. The Phillies are very clearly not a great team, but despite their very obvious blow ups they aren’t a terrible team. Going into the season they needed some breaks and some breakouts, and they didn’t give themselves a chance to get those.
Matt was pointing out that other teams have gone through the waiver wire as a way to try to find “diamonds in the rough”, the players that are available for a nominal fee that can be easily discarded if things don’t work out in a positive way. Allowing 2-3 spots at the bottom of the 40-man roster to be used to churn through the waiver wire fodder that is available for anyone to choose from seems to work for teams that have some idea of how to develop players at the big league level. I could put it one way, but Matt summed it up best:
Now those teams have unified and good player dev, two things that will not be said about the Phillies in the major leagues. That said, if you don’t even trust your player development staff to take a chance on fixing a player, then why do you have that player development staff?
In an article I wrote last month after the Dodgers series, I wrote about what has been separating the Dodgers and Phillies in terms of desire to improve the current roster:
The Dodgers (and to a lesser extent the Giants, whose general manager came from the Dodgers) have been willing to take chances on players that are available on the waiver wire, through trades, or in free agency in the hopes that whatever skill they have, that skill can contribute. If they cannot, they are discarded and another player is found, starting the cycle again. The Phillies have not felt as compelled to dabble in these places of freely available talent, preferring to stick with what they have in the organization and hoping that a breakthrough happens at the major league level.
It’s an easy to see issue that the team seems to want to ignore in favor of carrying players they are afraid of losing to another team themselves. Rather than simply getting rid of someone at the bottom of the 40-man and trying another one on for size, they are clinging to them for dear life, hoping that the Ramon Rossos and Enyel de Los Santoses of the world suddenly click into place. It’s an exceptionally poor way of running a team. What’s worse, as the team prepares for its own bullpenning future in September, they have acknowledged that other teams are better equipped to utilize the waiver wire to help their own team.
“Three of the best teams in baseball, they do it all the time,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “In fact, the Giants did it two days in a row versus the Dodgers. They won both games. So if you’re in a position where you think that gives you the best chance to win, then it seems to make sense. I’m sure there’s a better player here, a better player there, but our guys have the same abilities that their guys have. They claim a lot of guys off waivers and put them in there and use them and then, boom, send them back out. They do it and have a plan and have a thought process behind it.”
It’s beating a dead horse, yes, but it’s still so easy to come back to the point that this current front office isn’t showing they are capable of evaluating talent to help this team win.
This brings us back to Velasquez. In December, the team had to make a decision on whether or not they were going to bring him back to the team or non-tender him, shake hands and send him on his merry way. As we know, he was brought back, even as the team still was trying to claim they didn’t have much money thanks to the pandemic not allowing for the same revenue collection they had enjoyed in previous years. From a baseball standpoint, it made no sense. Plenty of other, more attractive options existed, possibly at a lesser price, yet they pulled the trigger on bringing back Velasquez anyway. He’d eventually get $4 million for the season. To add to their depth, the team also brought in Chase Anderson ($4 million) and Matt Moore ($3 million), thinking this would be a good way to log effective innings in 2021.
That’s $11 million for a grand total of -0.4 fWAR.
That, dear reader, is poor decision making, poor talent evaluation and poor planning.
Of course, with all of the issues that were going to be presented with trying to get innings from pitchers who severely lacked innings in 2020, it made sense to try and get as many pitchers as possible to cover those innings this year. That is not the issue. The issue is choosing those players, evaluating which ones could help the team and which ones could not. If they looked at that trio of pitchers and decided that they were the best options for that much money, it should put serious doubts in your mind that they can choose the right ones for 2022, possibly a more pivotal year in this team’s place among the league.
Dombrowski has shown in the past that he is willing to do whatever it takes to win. He will make trades, sign big free agents and offer extensions all in the name of winning. It helped that he had owners in Detroit and Boston that were willing to spend...
There it is.
What is the unspoken part about plucking players off of the waiver wire and going the cheap route with free agents to help cover depth rather than trying to get someone like Taijuan Walker, who has pitched well this year but did cost the Mets a two-year deal, is that they cost money. That money might mean going over the dreaded luxury tax and that has been forbidden by this ownership group. We can’t be sure if Dombrowski would be more willing to engage with an alternative way of roster building or free agent spending until we know if the owner will loosen the financial shackles he has put on the president of baseball operations. As long as that luxury tax is avoided, this team will not make it far.
Do they have the right front office to succeed? Based on the past and what Dombrowski has accomplished at previous stops, the answer is yes. He has won often in other places. So far, he is off to an underwhelming start in Philadelphia. It’s early, but with the primes of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto and Zack Wheeler only so long, time cannot be wasted. All ways of exploring roster improvement must be utilized.
Otherwise, what exactly are we doing here?