Don’t Expect a Phillies Selloff

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Because they fall into the category of early-season disappointment, there’s already speculation as to a Phillies selloff at mid-season if they continue to play like a team that can finish with, at best, a .500 record. History has proven, however, that under GM Ruben Amaro Jr. any move that is made will be either to double-down and go for it in spite of widespread negativity and perception that they’re “done,” or he’ll make trades of players who aren’t keys to the team and those who won’t be part of the long-term future.

For all the criticism Amaro has received for mortgaging the future by gutting a fertile farm system for veterans, overpaying on contract extensions for players already on his roster, and essentially ignoring the draft, he had a different idea when he took over as GM after the 2008 season. What he wanted to do was maintain some semblance of a solid core of young players. This was the intention of trading away Cliff Lee for prospects as he was entering his free agent year and trading other prospects to acquire Roy Halladay who was willing to sign a long-term contract just to get out of Toronto and join a contender.

Amaro was savaged—by me included—for that decision and did a total about-face at mid-season 2010 first by trying to get Lee back from the plummeting Mariners, then filling the hole in the rotation that his plan created by acquiring Roy Oswalt. The Phillies had been rumored to be listening to offers for Jayson Werth at that point, were barely over .500 and fading. They got hot, won the NL East, advanced to the NLCS before losing to the eventual World Series champion Giants.

By then, there wasn’t a pretense of building for the present and the future. It was all-in for the now as evidenced by the advancing age of their roster and the subsequent acquisitions of Lee (as a free agent), Hunter Pence, and Jonathan Papelbon. Farm director Chuck LaMar resigned in a public dustup with Amaro because of the rapidly deteriorating farm system and lack of money available to repair it.

But what Amaro was doing was similar to what Theo Epstein wanted to do sans the ridiculous appellations of “genius” after the Red Sox 2004 World Series win. The expectations from the fans and media, as well as ownership demands, sabotaged what Epstein wanted to do and the Red Sox degenerated into a battle of one-upmanship with the Yankees as to who could spend the most money on the biggest free agents. It resulted in a dysfunctional group of mercenaries and organizational collapse culminating with the 69-93 showing in 2012 with rampant inter-organizational contretemps and hatred combined with a self-protective blame game from everyone involved.

The Phillies haven’t fallen to those depths yet. But with an aging and declining roster and few prospects on the way up, it will happen eventually.

The question is, what do they do about it?

The simple answer is: nothing.

Could the Phillies clean out the house at mid-season and save money for an on-the-fly rebuild by signing free agents and trading for players that other teams can no longer afford? Yes. Will they do that? Probably not.

When clubs are trading players in salary dumps, the get-back is usually not all that impressive. Many will point to the Red Sox salary dump of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers for a package of prospects including two who are impressive—Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa—but the key point being missed is that Gonzalez is still a star-level, MVP-caliber talent whom the Red Sox had surrendered three top prospects to acquire just a year-and-a-half earlier. Were they supposed to give him away just to get out from under the contract? And were the Dodgers just doing the Red Sox a favor along the lines of the nouveau riche just buying things they recognized?

The Dodgers also claimed Lee when the Phillies placed him on waivers last year. If there was an intention on the part of Amaro to extricate himself from Lee’s contract, he could’ve just handed him to the Dodgers and moved on. He didn’t do that and won’t do it this year with Lee unless he’s getting something back. If a team is accepting the $62.5 million Lee is guaranteed through 2015, they’re not surrendering a top-tier prospect for a soon-to-be 35-year-old with that much cash coming to him. Nor will they get significant packages of younsters for Halladay or Rollins. They might get something decent for Chase Utley, but it won’t be a franchise remaking deal that will be pointed to in 2017 as the building block for the next Phillies run.

There are other concerns in play here. It’s a ridiculous premise to believe that the GM has the final say in all personnel moves. Evidence of Amaro answering to his bosses was clear in the negotiations to retain Ryan Madson as the team’s closer after the 2011 season when the strongly cited rumors were that the Phillies had made a $44 million offer to Madson that the player and his agent Scott Boras accepted. Then when Amaro went to get approval from CEO David Montgomery, a hold was put on the agreement and a few days later, Papelbon was signed. In retrospect, with Madson not having thrown a Major League pitch for the two organizations he’s signed with since, Amaro and the Phillies were lucky it fell apart, regardless of who pulled the first thread as the catalyst of the fabric disintegrating.

Prior to the contract extension given to Cole Hamels, there was endless speculation that the staggering Phillies would trade him. Instead, they gave him what was, at the time, the richest contract ever given to a pitcher.

Apparently Amaro doesn’t read the rumors and do what they’re saying he’s about to do or supposed to do.

Another issue is the attendance factor. Amid all the talk that of the loyalty of Phillies’ fans and the daily sellouts during the club’s run of excellence, like most fanbases if the team isn’t contending and isn’t good, the fans aren’t going to go. This is part of the reason the Cubs have been so historically bad—there’s no motivation to consistently try and win because the fans show up either way. It would take annual contention over the long-term (a decade) and at least one World Series win for the Cubs to: A) lose the lovable loser mantle they so proudly wallow in; and B) accumulate the apathy that comes from fans being disgusted with losing when they expected to win to the point that they’ll find something to do other than going to the park.

That’s not so with the Phillies. If the fans see a team without Lee, without Jimmy Rollins, without Halladay, without Papelbon, without Utley, they’re not going to the park to see a backend starter packaged as a top prospect in Jonathan Pettibone, Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, and Hamels for a team that’s going to win 75 games and is rebuilding.

This is the team they’ve put together. Amaro accepted that when he tacitly acknowledged that it’s all but impossible to win and build simultaneously with the Oswalt acquisition and unsaid admission that he was wrong to trade Lee. He reacted accordingly and this is where they are. With the extra Wild Card, the parity in the National League, their pitching and impossibility of trading their veterans for the quality youth necessary to justify it, they’re not blowing it up now.

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Injury or Not, Madson Was a Good Risk For the Reds

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Ryan Madson‘s elbow injury and need for Tommy John surgery doesn’t make the Reds’ decision to sign him any worse or better than it was when they signed him in the first place. The only viable way to judge any signing in retrospect is if it made sense—financially and practically—at the time. By that metric, Madson’s 1-year, $8.5 million deal was a good one for the Reds. He happened to get hurt.

What this does though, is exemplify why those who were suggesting the Madson was “as good or better” than the new Phillies’ closer Jonathan Papelbon were making the common mistake of looking at statistics as the final arbiter rather than a piece of the puzzle in making a decision.

No one should give the Phillies’ baseball operations people credit for choosing Papelbon over Madson. Depending on whom you believe, there was either an offer on the table for Madson to stay with the Phillies for 4-years and $44 million that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. brought to CEO David Montgomery for his customary rubber stamp and the rubber stamp never came; or Amaro considered the deal before exploring his options and choosing Papelbon.

Based on Amaro’s past practice of doling out lucrative contracts for homegrown Phillies’ players, I believe the first scenario. And they got lucky.

Madson’s numbers, when examined in depth, are indeed comparable to Papelbon’s. But at the time, I said that Madson didn’t have enough experience closing nor did he show the same durability and cleanliness of motion that Papelbon has had; in addition to that, Papelbon has gotten the big outs in the post-season consistently. It wasn’t long ago when Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel didn’t give the closer’s job to Madson and even demoted him from the role because he didn’t think Madson could handle it mentally at the time. He did a good job as primary closer in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he’s the best possible option for the future. Giving Madson $44 million—with or without the injury—would’ve been a mistake; giving that money and more to the known quantity in Papelbon isn’t a mistake and that holds true if Papelbon gets hurt or struggles.

Players cannot and should not be assessed on statistics alone. Neither the Reds nor the Phillies did that. It just so happened that the Reds’ choice, predicated by who was in their price range, got hurt. The Phillies got Papelbon.

These things happen and there’s no one to blame or criticize.

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The Ryan Madson Free Agency Profile

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Name: Ryan Madson.

Position: Right handed relief pitcher.

Vital Statistics:

Age-31.

Height-6’6″

Weight-200.

Bats: Left.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 9th round of the 1998 MLB Draft.

Agent: Scott Boras.

Might he return to the Phillies? No.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; New York Mets; Florida Marlins; Cincinnati Reds; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives:

He has a good fastball and excellent changeup; Madson’s herky-jerky motion is all arms and legs and makes it difficult to pick the ball up out of his hand; he’s been mostly durable apart from some silly injuries from kicking things; he throws strikes and has experience in the post-season and with a difficult fanbase in a passionate sports town. Madson is good against both lefties and righties.

Negatives:

That herky-jerky motion isn’t gentle on one’s body and is especially stressful on his arm; he’s been heavily used since 2004. Madson wants star closer money with a limited closer pedigree; he’s struggled at times and can be prone to allowing the long ball; his strikeout numbers are fewer than one-per-inning.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $44 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $34 million with a vesting option for a fourth year at $12 million.

Teams that might give it to him: Red Sox; Orioles; Royals; Twins; Rangers; Marlins; Reds; Dodgers.

The Red Sox are not going after Madson unless his market crashes and he’s willing to take 2-years with an option.

The Royals are on the list because there’s a chance they trade Joakim Soria and if that’s the case, they’ll need a closer.

Dan Duquette likes having a legitimate, proven reliever at the back of his bullpen; Buck Showalter has had both a foundling-type short reliever and has used multiple people in the role; he’s also had that “one guy” and Madson can get out hitters from both sides of the plate.

The Rangers will sign a closer and move Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation.

Jeffrey Loria is putting it out there that the Marlins are going to spend big with offers to Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols; they have to sign someone and with the questions surrounding Juan Oviedo/Leo Nunez, Madson fits.

Francisco Cordero might not return to the Reds as a free agent and Madson is about as good as he is.

The Dodgers somehow find money to spend despite their ownership mess; Javy Guerra did well as the Dodgers closer but Ned Colletti likes veterans and Madson is a veteran despite being relatively inexperienced in the job.

Would I sign Madson? The back-and-forth regarding Madson’s “agreement” with the Phillies and their denial that there ever was such an agreement is comical.

I detailed my suspicions when it happened, but here’s what I suspect, briefly: Madson and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro agreed to a contract; Amaro needed approval from team president David Montgomery; Montgomery wanted to know why the Phillies were paying so much for Madson when a bit more could get them Jonathan Papelbon; the deal was nixed; they went after Papelbon and got him.

Now Madson’s looking for work.

And the Phillies are better with Papelbon.

At a reasonable price I would sign Madson, but given that he’s represented by Boras and wanted 4-years and $44 million and that the Phillies preferred the more expensive Papelbon, I’d be extremely cautious before committing to Madson long-term. I don’t trust him and for that kind of money, a team needs to be sure they know what they’re getting.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If they guarantee $40 million, yes. If they get him for, say, 3-years at $27 million with incentives, no.

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The Phillies And Ryan Madson—Leaks And Lies And Baseball

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Much like the Keith Law-Michael Lewis dustup over Law’s negative review of Moneyball (which was somewhat embarrassing for both parties, but was absolutely and completely hysterical), someone in the Phillies-Ryan Madson contract negotiations and reporting is lying.

First, Jon Heyman and Jim Duquette said on Twitter that the Phillies and Ryan Madson had agreed to a 4-year, $44 million contract with a $13 million.

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports said the same thing.

Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com said the Madson camp told him there was no agreement yet and talks were ongoing.

It sounded done. And stupid.

But wait!! All contracts have to go to ownership for approval. But given the series of maniacally overpriced contracts that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has given to players like Ryan Howard along with spending big on Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and with Jimmy Rollins a free agent, team president David Montgomery didn’t sign off on what Amaro wanted to do.

Now the Madson agreement might be on the verge of collapse with Jonathan Papelbon a possibility for the Phillies.

If you believe the rumors (and I don’t) Madson could be a target for the Nationals, Rangers or Red Sox.

Madson’s been a closer for one year and that wasn’t even full-time; paying him on a level with a proven short reliever like Papelbon, Heath Bell or Francisco Rodriguez (remember him?) is idiotic.

Jayson Stark said on Twitter that Amaro called the rumors unequivocally false and that there was no agreement.

Lots of stories.

Is someone lying? Or is what most normal people would consider lying in real life—intellectually and otherwise— “just baseball” as Mike Marshall said in Ball Four?

The following is what I suspect based on my own analysis of baseball and human nature.

Ready?

Here we go:

Amaro and Boras had the parameters in place for a deal with the reported dollar figures; Boras leaked it to friendly reporters in an act of quid pro quo—they exchange information for mutual benefit; the reporters reported it and people believed it was true because it was true; all that remained was for Amaro to get approval from Montgomery—an approval that had been fait accompli in prior negotiations; but the public reaction to the contract for Madson was widespread and negative; Montgomery hesitated, understanding the ramifications of being the first team to sign a closer (who is only a semi-closer for part of a season) and spending that amount of money when the Phillies have upcoming layouts to Rollins, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Hunter Pence; he nixed the it and wondered whether that same money or slightly more could get a better and more proven reliever in Papelbon; this left Amaro in a bad position because if the deal was done and the club president turned it down, Amaro looks impotent and powerless in the organization and, worse, to his peers, media and public; and with the criticism levied as the details initially leaked, the Phillies are going to look even dumber if they still give it to him and he pitches poorly; in a face-saving maneuver, Amaro played semantics and told Stark that there was no deal—which is technically true because he needed Montgomery’s okay; and Montgomery didn’t okay it.

At this point, I highly doubt that Madson will receive that same $44 million from the Phillies and I’m sure that Boras is really, really angry.

I think Papelbon is going to wind up with the Phillies and they’ll be better because of it.

I’m not getting this from anywhere other than my own understanding of people and baseball.

You’re better off listening to me because there’s no agenda; nor is there a trade-off in play.

You know what you’re getting here, for better or worse.

Do you know with the “insiders”?

I think we both know the answer to that question.

If you’re smart, you do know what you’re getting from those with a vested interest in the proceedings and that you shouldn’t believe it because it may be twisted or false—presented as such for their own purposes.

And you’re their target.

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The Ryan Madson Wheel Spins

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This is why the owner/team president has to be involved and aware of all negotiations and offers that are being discussed.

After it was reported that the Phillies and Ryan Madson had agreed to a 4-year, $44 million contract with a $13 million option for a 5th year, suddenly the brakes screeched and, lo and behold, it wasn’t “official” or it wasn’t “done-done”; or team president David Montgomery hadn’t give his approval; or something.

Montgomery has given GM Ruben Amaro a remarkable amount of freedom to do what he wanted to do; to bolster the big league product by whatever means necessary (trading the entire farm system), and at whatever cost he recommended (the Ryan Howard $145 million catastrophe; bringing back Cliff Lee); now it appears as if Montgomery is closing the vault when a financial commitment makes no sense whatsoever.

Madson, after his first year as a semi-full time closer, was apparently offered a dollar amount that would potentially have lured the battle-tested and better Jonathan Papelbon to Philadelphia.

The Madson signing is on hold.

Murky details are provided in this Philadelphia Inquirer piece where Bob Brookover says that the Madson camp may have “misinterpreted” (whatever that means); and that “it could be argued that Madson is coming off a better 2011 (than Papelbon)” without bothering to make the argument.

The “argument” would be inconvenient to make because it doesn’t exist. Papelbon’s better. Papelbon was better. Papelbon will be better.

It’s a form of public castration of an executive to prevent an agreed-upon deal after the fact, after it’s been reported that it was done—and I do believe it was done—but Montgomery is right to say “wait a second” and reconsider the options of what can be purchased or maintained with that amount of cash.

Whether it was the public reaction; media and blogger ridicule; or basic common sense—it’s only relevant in the perception of Amaro. In trusting their baseball people, club bosses have signed off on contracts that they were uncomfortable with. Perhaps these circumstances were such that said owners/CEOs felt it was more important not to undermine the titular head of their baseball operations. But this Madson contract was and is ludicrous and now it’s going to be even more embarrassing to the Phillies if they still agree to those numbers after hesitating because Madson simply is not going to be worth that money.

This is why the head of the organization proper has to be cognizant of what’s being offered; the GM has to have a number in mind and run it by the people who sign the checks before presenting it. Scott Boras—Madson’s agent—can get any story he wants into the media at any time, true or not; once the details of the deal were out there, the magnitude of the investment became clearer…or maybe Montgomery didn’t even know about it, which is somewhat unfathomable, but possible. Teams will let such occurrences pass to protect the organization from the aura of ineptitude that happens everywhere, but is generally relegated to teams like the Mets, Orioles and Pirates because it’s convenient to frame those teams as not knowing what they’re doing. But there are no GMs with full autonomy to do whatever they want—it’s a myth—and the spinning from the club’s PR department won’t gloss over that reality.

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The Heath Bell Free Agency Profile

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Name: Heath Bell.

Position: Right handed relief pitcher.

Vital Statistics:

Age-34.

Height-6’3″.

Listed weight-260.

Actual weight-probably closer to 275.

Bats: Right.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 69th round of the 1997 MLB Draft and did not sign; signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Mets in 1998; traded by the Mets to the Padres in November, 2006.

Agent: ACES Agency.

Might he return to the Padres? Bell’s said that he’ll accept arbitration if the Padres offer it, but given the money being tossed around (and possibly being removed from the table) for Ryan Madson, he might rethink that strategy.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Toronto Blue Jays; Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Philadelphia Phillies; New York Mets; Los Angeles Dodgers; San Diego Padres.

Positives:

Bell is gregarious and well-liked in his clubhouse; his fastball lost some velocity in 2011 and his strikeout numbers declined with it, but his hits/innings pitched ratios have been consistently good for his entire tenure in San Diego. He throws strikes and doesn’t allow many homers.

Negatives:

He has a big mouth and acts strangely and selfishly at times.

What was the purpose of his mid-season statement that he was going to accept arbitration from the Padres if it was offered? Was he trying to force their hands into either trading him or giving him a contract extension? Was it an innocent bit of honesty that wound up hindering both his situation and that of the Padres?

Why?

Either way, the Padres held onto Bell after entertaining trade offers and new GM Josh Byrnes has said he’s going to offer Bell arbitration.

Bell never got over the way the Mets—the team that signed him as an amateur free agent when no one else wanted him—continually sent him back and forth to Triple A. Bell has a vendetta against the Mets for not giving him a legitimate opportunity.

One problem: the Mets did give him a legitimate opportunity and he pitched poorly in both 2005 and 2006. Some will ramble endlessly about his strikeout-to-innings-pitched ratio. It’s not unimportant, but if you look at the results for Bell with the Mets, they weren’t good. The Mets made an atrocious trade in sending Bell to the Padres for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson, but the mistake they made wasn’t in trading Bell, but in what they got in return.

Bell also came sprinting in from the bullpen during the All Star game and slid into the infield grass, kicking up a divot and popping up as he was called on to pitch.

I have no idea why.

The declining strikeout numbers didn’t hinder his results, but he’s 34-years-old; his mechanics aren’t great; he’s overweight; and his velocity is diminished.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $45 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $31 million.

In case you missed it, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro had come to an agreement with Scott Boras, the agent for Ryan Madson, for Madson to stay with the Phillies for 4-years and $44 million with an option for a 5th year at $13 million; apparently, when Amaro sent the contract up to team president David Montgomery for approval, Montgomery—smartly—wanted to think about it.

I went on a tangent in my prior posting about how the Phillies were making a mistake and that they should try to get Jonathan Papelbon instead of spending so capriciously on a relatively neophyte closer in Madson.

Now there’s talk that the Nationals are possibly after Madson. What they would want with Madson is a great mystery since they have Tyler Clippard as the set-up man and Drew Storen as the closer—both are better than Madson.

Bell is three years older, but he too is better than Madson too and the hesitation on the part of the Phillies bosses will also place the entire closer market on hold until someone signs and sets the market.

The Madson-Phillies deal may be done by the time you’re reading this which would put my prior post back into play to an even greater degree because if the Phillies rethought the deal and still signed off on it, it’s even worse than it was originally.

Teams that might sign him: Red Sox; Blue Jays; White Sox; Twins; Rangers; Phillies; Mets; Dodgers; Padres.

If the Red Sox lose Papelbon, they’ll need a closer. The Blue Jays desperately need a reliable reliever. Neftali Feliz might become a starter for the Rangers—they were trying to get Bell in the summer and he’d be in their price range. The Mets regime is different from the one that Bell feels did him wrong.

Would I sign Bell? I would not touch Heath Bell.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If the deal is of the short-term, reasonably priced variety, I guess the signing club will be able to absorb it, but I’d steer clear of Bell. If it’s an amount of dollars close to the reputed Madson contract, it’s going to be a disaster.

Offering arbitration would give the Padres the draft pick if he leaves and other options. If he accepts, I’d trade Bell; the Padres should not sign him to a long-term deal. Luke Gregerson can close just as well, if not better.

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