The Reality of Legacies and Latter Round MLB Draft Picks

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As nice and uplifting a story as the Diamondbacks drafting of paralyzed former Arizona State player Cory Hahn in the 34th round of the MLB draft is, it also provides insight as to how little teams think of the draft’s latter rounds and the likelihood of finding useful on-field talent that can make it to the big leagues.

In another pick that got significant attention, the Yankees drafted Andy Pettitte’s son Josh in the 37th round out of high school. Because Pettitte’s son has committed to Baylor University, Josh Pettitte is not expected to sign with the Yankees. That’s probably a relief for them because a 37th round draft pick is not expected to be anything more than organizational filler. If Josh Pettitte was considered an actual prospect, he would’ve been taken by a team other than the Yankees well before the 37th round, commitment to Baylor or not. When the Yankees selected Paul O’Neill’s nephew Michael in the third round, they did so not as a legacy or a favor to the O’Neill family but because he can actually play. The Mets made a similar selection with Lee Mazzilli’s son L.J. in the fourth round. These are players who would have been selected by another club at around the same spot had the Yankees and Mets not made the selections. There’s no doubt that the legacy was a tiny factor in picking the players, but not to the degree that the Yankees selecting Pettitte and this is the difference between players selected in the first 10-15 rounds—for any reason—and those picked after.

For every late-round draft pick who makes it to the majors, there are thousands of others who don’t get past the low minors. Players who are drafted past the tenth round are not expected to make it. Once in a long while you’ll have the occasional freak occurrence like Albert Pujols (13th round), James Shields (16th round), Domonic Brown (drafted as a pitcher in the 20th round), Mark Buehrle (38th round), and Mike Piazza (62nd round as a favor to Tom Lasorda). By and large, the players who make it to the majors are those who are picked in the first 20 rounds with the numbers decreasing significantly as the rounds pass. Players taken in the first few rounds will receive repeated opportunities not just because of latent talent, but because of the money teams invest in them. That’s become even more pronounced with the slotted bonuses and limited amount of money teams are allowed to spend in the draft. They don’t want to toss money away on a player even if, after three or four years, he shows he’s not what they thought he was. In some cases, these players make it to the big leagues so teams can say, “Look he made it to the majors at least,” as if that’s some form of justification for an overall miss on a high draft pick.

Indicative of how little teams think of the latter rounds were the decisions to make these selections of players like Hahn and Pettitte. They create a story for a brief time but devolve into the realm of the forgotten because they weren’t meant to be remembered in the first place.

Should teams spend more time and money on the draft past the initial stages? Are there enough talented draft-eligible players to make it worth their while? It depends. Some clubs don’t want to spend the money and resources it will take to mine through the amateurs for 50 rounds to find perhaps five players that have a chance to contribute. Others, like the Cardinals, have made it a regular occurrence to draft players on the third and fourth days of the draft such as Matt Carpenter, Trevor Rosenthal, Allen Craig, Luke Gregerson, and Jaime Garcia. The Cardinals and then-scouting director Jeff Luhnow have been credited with the Cardinals’ fertile farm system, but perhaps the truth is more of a matter of the conscious decision not to waste late-round picks on legacies and heartwarming stories, instead choosing to draft players who they think might be able to help them at some point.

The Yankees and their apologists can point to the inexplicable luck the team had in 1990 with Pettitte the father (22nd round) and Jorge Posada (24th round drafted as an infielder) as reason to think Josh Pettitte has a chance, but that’s wishful thinking. They got lucky in 1990 just as the Cardinals got lucky with Pujols and the Devil Rays got lucky with Shields. On the same token, teams have repeatedly failed with top-tier picks for one reason or another be it injuries, miscalculation, off-field problems or bottom line bad luck. If the Yankees were going to draft a player in the 37th round who had a miniscule chance of becoming useful to them or the Diamondbacks were going to do the same thing in the 34th round, then why not draft the players they did and accrue some publicity? Overall, there’s no difference because a paralyzed player like Hahn only has a slightly less chance of making it than someone else who was drafted in the 34th round, so the Diamondbacks did something nice and it won’t harm their draft because on the field, it won’t make much difference either way.

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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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Phillies 2013 Success Hinges on Halladay, Hamels and Lee

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Here are the facts about the 2013 Phillies:

  • They’re old
  • They’re expensive
  • Their window is closing
  • Their system is gutted of prospects
  • Their success is contingent on their top three starting pitchers

With all the ridicule raining down on Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. for his acquisitions of players who are frequent targets of attacks from the SABR-obsessed in Delmon Young and Michael Young (no relation that we know of), the reality of the situation dictates that the Phillies go all in with players who are the equivalent of duct tape.

It’s the epitome of arrogance to think that the Phillies aren’t aware of the limitations of both Youngs; that they don’t know Michael Young’s defense at third base is poor and, at age 36, he’s coming off the worst season of his career; that they aren’t cognizant of the baggage the Delmon Young carries on and off the field when they signed him for 1-year and $750,000. But what were they supposed to do?

They needed a third baseman and their options were Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis hasn’t distinguished himself on and off the field over the past several seasons and Michael Young was cheaper (the Rangers are paying $10 million of his $16 million salary for 2013).

They needed another outfielder and they were left with the dregs of the free agent market like the limited Scott Hairston, who’s not any better than what they’ve already got; signing Michael Bourn, giving up a draft pick, paying Scott Boras’s extortion-like fees, and having two speed outfielders with Bourn and Ben Revere; trading for Vernon Wells; or signing Delmon Young. Delmon Young hits home runs in the post-season and that’s where the Phillies are planning (praying) to be in October.

This isn’t about a narrative of the Phillies being clueless and signing/trading for bad or limited players. It’s about working with what they have. Amaro isn’t stupid and he tried the strategy of building for the now and building for the future in December of 2009 when he dealt Cliff Lee for prospects and replaced him with Roy Halladay for other prospects.

Amaro, savaged for that decision, reversed course at mid-season 2010 when he traded for Roy Oswalt and then did a total backflip when he re-signed Lee as a free agent. The team has completely neglected the draft for what appear to be financial reasons, leading to the high-profile and angry departure of former scouting director Chuck LaMar.

The decision was tacitly made in the summer of 2010 that the Phillies were going to try and win with the group they had for as long as they could and accept the likelihood of a long rebuilding process once the stars Halladay, Lee, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were past their sell-by date. The signings made this winter are not designed to be lauded or viewed as savvy. They’re patchwork in the hopes that they’ll get something useful from the Youngs; that Utley will come back healthy in his contract year; that Howard is better after a lost season due to his Achilles tendon woes.

As for the open secret that the Phillies no longer think much of Domonic Brown to the level that they’re unwilling to give him a fulltime job and are handing right field to Delmon Young, this too is tied in with the Phillies gutted farm system. Perhaps it was an overvaluation of the young players the Phillies had or it was a frailty in development, but none of the players they’ve traded in recent years to acquire veterans—Jonathan Singleton, Kyle Drabek, Travis d’Arnaud, Lou Marson, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco—have done anything in the big leagues yet. They wouldn’t have helped the Phillies of 2009-2012 much, if at all. Outsiders can look at Brown’s tools and his minor league numbers and wonder why the Phillies are so reluctant to give him a chance, but in his big league chances, he’s appeared limited and overmatched. There’s a similarity to Cameron Maybin in Brown that his assessments are off-the-charts until he’s actually with the team and they see him every day, then they realize that he’s plainly and simply not that good. The Phillies know him better than anyone and if they don’t think he can play every day, then perhaps he can’t play every day.

The 2012 Phillies finished at 81-81. Even with their offensive ineptitude for most of the season, with a healthy Halladay would they have been a .500 team or would they have been at around 90 wins and in contention for a Wild Card?

This is the last gasp for this group. Manager Charlie Manuel just turned 69 and is in the final year of his contract. Within the next three years, they’re going to be rebuilding with a new manager and young players. In the near term, it’s down to the big three pitchers.

The ages and wear on the tires for Halladay and Lee are legitimate concerns for 2013 as is the shoulder issue that Hamels had last season, but regardless of how the offense performs, the Phillies season hinges on how those aces pitch. If they don’t pitch well, the team won’t win. If they do pitch well, the team will be good for three out of every five days with Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen.

The Youngs, Revere, Howard, Utley, Rollins—none of it matters if they hit at all. It’s the starting pitchers that will determine the Phillies’ fate. Everything else is just conversation.

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2012 Trade Deadline Analysis—Philadelphia Phillies

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The Phillies are kindasorta cleaning house.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is Omar Minaya with a championship ring, a better grasp of the English language and without the scouting skills and likability. It’s easy to say that because Amaro was the GM when the Phillies made 3 or their 5 straight playoff appearances that he’s the one responsible for putting the team together, but what deals did he make that were laudable? He spent money and took the veteran players—Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay—other teams were trying to unload while doling out ridiculous contracts on the likes of Ryan Howard. The people who built the Phillies during this run were Pat Gillick, Mike Arbuckle, Chuck LaMar and, while his name is reviled by Phillies’ fans, Ed Wade.

Now Amaro is starting a retool. It’s not a rebuild. He’s trying to change on the fly and that is very hard to do for the better GMs around baseball. Amaro is competent and willing to accept mistakes and adjust accordingly, but that’s doesn’t make him one of the “better” GMs around baseball.

They may not be done dealing because all of their stars are going to get through waivers in August because of their contracts.

OF Shane Victorino was traded to the Dodgers for RHP Ethan Martin and RHP Josh Lindblom. Victorino is a pending free agent and one would assume that he’s going to play leftfield for the Dodgers. Matt Kemp is the alpha-dog in LA and he’s not having his position usurped. Victorino steals bases, racks up the extra base hits and has pop. He’s also accustomed to pressure.

Martin was a 1st round pick (15th overall) of the Dodgers in 2008; he’s been a starter in the minors and has a very simple, gentle motion that bodes well for his durability. He can be wild, but doesn’t allow many homers.

Lindblom throws hard, but gives up a lot of home runs for a reliever, 9 in 47.2 innings this season. He’s effective against righties and lefties and can function as a set-up man for Jonathan Papelbon.

In the other big trade made by Amaro, he sent Pence to the Giants for OF Nate Schierholtz, RHP Seth Rosin and C Tommy Joseph.

Pence is going to get a massive raise in arbitration this winter and is a free agent after 2013. Since the Phillies 2012 season is shot and they’re going to try and contend in 2013, holding onto Pence made little sense (rhyme!!!) if they weren’t willing to sign him long-term and the return on this trade was more than what they’d get for him in the winter or at the 2013 deadline.

Schierholtz is a journeyman outfielder with occasional power. He’s good defensively and with the Phillies so short-handed, he’s going to get a chance to play semi-regularly. The Phillies have to see what they have in Domonic Brown for an extended period; he’s going to be 25 next month and has done everything he can possibly do at Triple A. Either he’s a 4-A player, won’t make it with the Phillies and needs a change of scenery, or will be an important part of the Phillies 2013 lineup. What use he is to the Phillies has to be determined once and for all.

Rosin is a big (6’5” 250) righty reliever in A ball; he racks up the strikeouts and has been closing. He reminds me of Brad Penny. Joseph is a 21-year-old catcher and former 2nd round draft pick in 2009; he has power and a strong caught stealing percentage behind the plate.

The Phillies took steps to rejuvenate a flagging farm system, but with the commitments they still have to veteran players Rollins, Howard, Chase Utley and Halladay, it’s not clear whether these minor league players they acquired are part of the Phillies’ future or will be auctioned for other veterans to replace the ones they just traded. With Amaro, either is possible.

The worst part of all this is that we’ll no longer see Pence’s acting turn looking like Corky from Life Goes On in pushing bread.

But, as they say, life goes on.

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Amaro Will Double Down

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In this MLBTradeRumors posting linking a Jim Salisbury piece on CSNPhilly.com, Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is quoted as implying that there’s a possibility that the Phillies could be sellers at the trading deadline rather than the big ticket buyers they’ve been over the past five years.

In that time, the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. Amaro is in on anyone and everyone and is willing to gut the farm system to get them.

The 2012 Phillies are ravaged by injuries and playing terribly. Could Amaro really decide to make wholesale changes by dealing Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels?

Forget it.

If he did, he wouldn’t get a ton for either. In fact, somewhat surprisingly, he’d extract more for Victorino than he would for Hamels because Victorino would be an easier signing to keep. Hamels wants to get paid and an interested team would have to give up the prospects to make it worth the Phillies’ while, simultaneously aware of what it’s going to cost to sign Hamels as a free agent.

It’s far more likely that Amaro doubles down and tries to fix the club’s problems by trading for a bat and/or bullpen arm (Carlos Lee, Denard Span, Carlos Quentin if he ever plays, Brandon League); or signing someone (Oswalt) than for him to concede the season.

Amaro tried the “win now and build for the future” approach when he traded away Lee in the series of trades that brought Roy Halladay and several prospects back to the Phillies in December of 2009. It hasn’t worked out yet.

At mid-season 2010 with the club floundering at 48-46 and 7 games out of first place on July 21st, there was talk that pending free agent Jayson Werth would be traded with a deal sending him to the Rays supposedly in place.

Fate stepped in as Victorino got hurt and, with no other capable centerfielder on the roster, they had to keep Werth.

Under siege for having traded Lee, Amaro took the unusual step of essentially admitting his mistake and bolstered the starting rotation by trading for Oswalt.

From there, they went on a 49-19 tear to finish at 97-65 and win the NL East again. They lost in the NLCS to the Giants.

The Phillies are still selling out their games. With the extra Wild Card, their starting pitching and the eventual returns of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, Amaro won’t toss the season unless they’re 20 games under .500 as the trading deadline approaches.

That’s not going to happen.

There won’t be a sell-off. In fact, Amaro is probably willing to deal the Phillies’ remaining marketable prospects (Domonic Brown, Phillippe Aumont, Trevor May) to get help.

Considering the advanced age of their roster and the rapidly closing window to win with this current group, it makes no sense to build for the future. They’re heading for a long lull of rebuilding. There’s no reason to exacerbate it by giving up on 2012.

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You All Do Realize It’s Hunter Pence, Right?

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The packages I’m seeing bounced around as being offered for Hunter Pence are mind-boggling.

The Phillies are ready to give up two and maybe three prospects for him including Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton and/or Domonic Brown?

The Braves are supposedly in on Pence as well but aren’t going overboard with the prospects as the Phillies are.

As I’ve said repeatedly I don’t put much stock in rumors—they could be smokescreens or outright fabrications—but use your own mind. Check this link on MLBTradeRumors regarding Pence and what do you see? You see about 10 different versions of the same story all changed within a very short timeframe. I don’t blame MLBTradeRumors—they’re a clearinghouse for this stuff putting it all in one place; I blame the sources and purveyors of this nonsense, all of whom are in cahoots to scream “fire” in a crowded theater.

But one thing is being missed in all of this.

It’s Hunter Pence.

He’s a pretty good player. That’s it. He’s consistent in his power and overall game; he can run; he’s good defensively with deceptively strong and accurate arm considering the fact that he throws like there’s something wrong with him physically (he’s awkward) or mentally (his eyes are deer-in-the-headlights wide).

He doesn’t strike out an absurd amount and doesn’t walk. Pence is arbitration eligible after this year and a free agent after 2013. He’s a useful piece and a good guy.

He’s not worth the Phillies offer.

If the Phillies hold off until after the season, the packages that are being discussed could yield a superstar player who may be too costly for his current team or is disgruntled and wants out. Of course that type of player will be more financially expensive than Pence, who they’ll have under team control for the next 2 1/2 years, but it’s a lot to give up for a supporting player. That’s what Pence is.

If I were surrendering that package, I’d approach the Marlins about Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison or Mike Stanton before going after Pence; go to the Rays and ask about Evan Longoria—who knows what they’ll say? How about the Orioles and Nick Markakis? The Dodgers about Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp?

Any of these players would be preferable to Pence and might be obtainable with the package of Singleton, Cosart and Brown.

Much like the decision Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. made in December of 2009 to trade Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay and “replenish” the Phillies system, it wasn’t well-thought-out, nor was it smart.

You’ll notice that none of the young players the Phillies got in that trade—Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez—are being discussed in these Pence scenarios.

The Phillies need to step back and think before pulling the trigger on a good bat when what they’re giving up could get them a great bat if they wait.

They’re making a mistake. Again.

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MLB Trade Deadline Stories 7.28.2011

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Update: Click here for a new posting with video and analysis of the young players traded to the Astros for Pence.

Are you buying this? I’m not buying this.

Some of these rumors are so ridiculous that they couldn’t possibly be true in any business enterprise other than baseball.

Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re not accurate.

According to MLBTradeRumors, the Phillies offered top prospects Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton and possibly even Domonic Brown to the Astros for Hunter Pence.

Pence is a good player, but he’s not worth two top prospects, let alone three. Ruben Amaro Jr. has done some stupid things in his time as GM, but he’d redeemed himself in my eyes with his fearless recognition and correcting of the mistake he made in trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay. If he sells the farm for Pence, it’s a stupid thing to do because that package could get essentially whatever the Phillies want now and definitely after the season—better players than Pence.

I’m not buying this story and if I’m the Phillies I steer totally clear of Ryan Ludwick as well. They really don’t need a bat to that desperate degree.

Speaking of Ryan Ludwick…

If I were the Braves, I’d forget Ryan Ludwick too. Josh Willingham, yes. Ryan Ludwick, no.

And speaking of Willingham…

I’m getting a “we don’t care anymore” vibe out of Oakland.

The team is atrocious and the lukewarm defenses of Billy Beane are becoming even more ludicrous. Please don’t think silly stories that are popping up of Beane “figuring it out” are anything more than those still invested in the validation of Moneyball.

Without that book and forthcoming movie (which has nothing to do with the text of the book—you’ll see), Beane might’ve been fired long ago. The team’s a disaster. Don’t tell me anything different and don’t remove blame from the man in charge—Billy Beane. He gets credit for the good, he gets blame for the bad. That’s the way it works in reality; not in Michael Lewis’s fantasy world.

On a related subject…

Can we bag the growing talk about the brilliance of Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos? It’s ballooning into the eventual designation of “genius”—something that is easy to anoint and nearly impossible to achieve, especially in baseball. It’s too fleeting; too dependent on perception and story-framing; too reliant on the last move that might or might not have worked.

He’s a good, gutsy GM whose team is hovering around .500 and probably has a bright future.

Let’s leave it there for now.

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Season’s Over…Noitsnot!!!

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The Cardinals are in first place in the NL Central.

This is after their season was declared “over” when they lost Adam Wainwright for the year at the start of spring training with Tommy John surgery.

Apparently the Cardinals’ season wasn’t over despite the doom, gloom and Jonny Gomes celebratory singing at the injury.

Taking advantage of above-and-beyond performances from Kyle Lohse, Kyle McClellan and Lance Berkman, they’ve also overcome a slow start from Albert Pujols and a bullpen in flux to stay competitive and more.

Who or what gets the credit?

Manager Tony La Russa?

Pitching coach Dave Duncan?

A parity-laden National League?

The aforementioned players?

All of the above?

It’s irrelevant really.

Berkman isn’t going to keep up the pace of hitting close to .400; Pujols will be in the MVP mix by the end of the season; they may need to find a starting pitcher somewhere.

None of that matters.

What matters is that the negativity and near panic that accompanied Wainwright’s injury news was more widespread amongst the fans and media than it was with the players and club management.

Yes, the Cardinals were shocked and concerned when Wainwright was lost; yes, it helped that he was injured before spring training started so it wasn’t as much of an elephant in the room; but once his absence was verified, it was accepted. Players, coaches, managers and executives don’t—if they’re any good anyway—think the same way as outsiders do.

They move on.

Whether Adam Wainwright is pitching on Thursday wouldn’t affect Kyle Lohse if he’s pitching on Monday; it won’t enter the mind of Yadier Molina when he’s facing a Bronson Arroyo curveball.

Players move on.

In the 24-hour news cycle, there’s a tendency to evacuate before thinking about the true consequences of any bit of information. For the Cardinals to maintain competitiveness, they had to get improved performances from Jaime Garcia and Lohse; they had to get competence from whomever took the Wainwright spot in the rotation. They’ve gotten that and more.

There was no need to pack up the equipment and go home; no cause for celebration on the part of a journeyman player like Gomes for a Reds team that is coming off of their first playoff season since 1995.

Circumstances dictate how drastic a maneuver to make in response to an injury.

When Alex Rodriguez tore his hip labrum two years ago, there was a call for the Yankees to go get a third baseman.

A-Rod was due back in May/June. That Yankees lineup couldn’t survive a couple of months without A-Rod? They had to go get a star to replace a star? Why?

The answer is they didn’t.

A different situation is that of the Phillies. Looks of confusion surrounded GM Ruben Amaro‘s winter inquiry about Michael Young of the Rangers after Young formally requested a trade. No one understood what the Phillies were going to do with Young…until it was revealed that Chase Utley‘s knee problem was serious enough that it might cost him the entire 2011 season.

Salary aside, Young would be useful to the Phillies whether Utley is there or not. Third baseman Placido Polanco and shortstop Jimmy Rollins have both had injury problems; Domonic Brown is a rookie and Raul Ibanez is 39-years-old; Young could be a roving utility player and would probably wind up with 500 at bats without an everyday position.

It wouldn’t have been a desperation move on the part of the Phillies to get Young because they weren’t reacting to one lost player by doing something crazy to placate a skittish fan/media contingent.

Acquiring a player should rarely be about doing something for its own sake; it’s about doing something smart—or doing nothing and waiting—to see how the team responds.

The Cardinals are responding and they’re doing it without Wainwright.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

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Please purchase my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide. It’s still useful for your fantasy sports needs.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

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Marginalizing Transitions

Management, Players, Spring Training

Concerns about the Phillies age and offense are becoming more pronounced with the continued injury woes of Chase Utley. Utley’s knee tendinitis has not improved with rest and a cortisone shot; according to this ESPN story, surgery might be the next step.

After Jayson Werth‘s free agent departure and the failure to acquire a veteran replacement to play right field, Domonic Brown was going to get a long look as the regular right fielder; the combination of the club continually looking for short-term, veteran replacements made it appear that they weren’t prepared to go forward with Brown and no safety net; now Brown is out for 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand.

Losing Utley for a significant amount of time would be another detriment to the Phillies offense.

People are concerned; doomsayers are referencing the advanced age of the team’s core as a basis to call their expected dominance into question.

The mistake that’s being made is believing that the same offense that pounded pitchers into submission and won the World Series in 2008 and the NL pennant in 2009 would be necessary to win in 2011.

It’s not.

While those Phillies teams were built based on outscoring their opposition, the 2010-2011 versions were transitioning to reliance on superior starting pitching. The additions (all within the past 15 months) of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee have taken the focus off of how many runs the Phillies score and transformed into how few they’re going to allow.

If there were an injury to one of the top four starting pitchers, then there would be reason to worry; but as long as the pitchers are healthy, the Phillies aren’t going to need to score as many runs as they did in 2008-2009 when their starting rotation consisted of Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick.

Lee was acquired in 2009 and fronted the rotation, was traded and now returns as a free agent. With the above starting pitching—aside from Lee and Hamels—you’d better score a lot.

Now? Not so much.

Of course it’s nice to have the combination of a supercharged offense to go with a great starting rotation, but it’s not as if they’re going to come apart without the scoring machine running on all cylinders.

If Jimmy Rollins has a good comeback year and they get any offense at all from right field, they can withstand an Utley absence; not because they have a suitable replacement, but that their starting pitching is so dominant.

As far as Utley goes, there’s been discussion as to whom would replace him at second base if he was out for a significant period. What I would do is think in a different manner. Instead of finding a second baseman, I’d shift Placido Polanco to second and see if the Royals were interested in trading former third baseman and now left fielder Alex Gordon; perhaps the Athletics would talk about Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Gordon wasn’t a terrible defensive third baseman and he needs to get out of Kansas City; Kouzmanoff doesn’t get on base, but has some pop and is a very good fielder.

It’s easier to find a third baseman than to find a second baseman and neither of those players are going to complain about being usurped once Utley returns; both are cheap and would function as a bench player once the regular lineup is back in place.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe and it should be available on Amazon and other fine retailers shortly.

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That Explains Michael Young

Free Agents, Media, Players, Spring Training

Explanations amid the bewilderment of why, why, why the Phillies were said to be kicking the tires of Michael Young a few weeks ago varied from overkill to my contention that GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. called the Rangers just to check-in on Young; see what it would take to get him; gauge how desperate the Rangers were to move him and if they’d provide any financial relief for Young’s remaining $48 million on his contract while simultaneously taking little in terms of talent back.

Now we know.

Chase Utley has a knee problem—patellar tendinitis—that has prevented him from playing in any spring training games so far and he received a cortisone shot yesterday. There’s no “cure” for tendinitis apart from rest and anti-inflammatory medicine to alleviate it or, as Utley just had, a shot to make it bearable so he can play.

The Young inquiry now has a basis in fact apart from wanting to get a highly expensive roving utility player. Considering the paucity of second basemen available, Young is a reasonable replacement for Utley; plus Young can play shortstop and third base (both Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco have had injury issues of their own in recent years).

Now it makes sense as to why (why, why) the Phillies were looking into Young.

This should probably present a lesson: there’s always a reason for teams to do what they do; despite my ravaging him for trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay so many moons ago, he had a reason for doing it; there’s always a reason.

Well, except for the Pirates.

But they don’t count.

In other Phillies news, Domonic Brown broke his hand swinging at a pitch in yesterday’s game against the Pirates—ESPN Story—setting off a firestorm of panic regarding the “injury-plagued” Phillies.

The purpose of this overreaction is beyond me.

Brown was surrounded by questions; the club has been looking into alternatives—Mike Morse recently and Jeff Francoeur in the winter—since Jayson Werth‘s departure, now they suddenly can’t live without him?

The Phillies will be fine for the time being with Ben Francisco and Ross Gload sharing right field until someone comes available at mid-season if Brown can’t handle the job.

Brown’s readiness for big league duty should be determined by his play; they should’ve shut their eyes and told Brown he was the right fielder and lived with him for the first couple of months of the season, sink or swim.

Then we get to the talk of the Phillies not being as offensively powerful as they’ve been in the past with age, injury concerns and the loss of Werth.

It’s shaky at best.

Let’s say hypothetically that their offense is compromised due to age and decline. So what? With that starting pitching, they’re not going to allow as many runs as they did in the past, therefore they won’t need to score as many.

All this talk about their bullpen being weak is nonsense. Both Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge are in their free agent years (Lidge has a $12.5 million option for 2012) and are looking to get paid; Jose Contreras was good last season; they don’t need to be the offensive juggernaut they were in prior years; and they’re still going to score plenty of runs.

Rollins’s fall from MVP in 2007 to what he is now has been steep and worrisome, but certain things tell me that Rollins is going to have a major comeback season.

He’s expressed a willingness to alter his approach from the arrogant and self-defeating “I’m gonna be J-Roll” silliness that’s been a byproduct of his loudmouthed, blustery personality; he’s a free agent at the end of the season and at age 32, wants to get that last big contract.

Naturally there’s a correlation between his sudden agreeable response to entreaties that he change his hitting strategy and him wanting to get paid; but considering Rollins’s massive ego, it cannot be dismissed that his faltering rep around baseball as a big-game threat also has something to do with this willingness to change.

The criticism and caution regarding the Phillies—their age, injuries and departures—exemplify grasping at straws hoping they won’t be as good as their talent indicates they will be.

And they’re wrong.

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