Your 2012 Trade Deadline Reality Check for a 2011 “Guaranteed” World Series Participant—Part II

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In this vein, I discussed the Red Sox yesterday. As a postscript, they shouldn’t let a series win in Yankee Stadium delude them into thinking they should do something drastic to salvage a doomed season. It would only make things worse going forward.

Today it’s the other 2011 “guaranteed” World Series participant on the docket and they’re having a far worse season than the Red Sox. I’m talking about the Philadelphia Phillies.

In 2011, the Phillies had put together an “unstoppable” starting rotation and, unlike the Red Sox, they fulfilled their part in the bargain by winning 102 regular season games before getting bounced in the first round by the Cardinals.

Currently 45-57, an unfathomable 16 ½ games behind the Nationals in the NL East and 9 games back in the Wild Card race, they can forget this season. There’s not going to be a 50-10 run to 95 wins this year. With most GMs, I’d say they understand that and will act accordingly, but Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has been haphazard in his decisions. To his credit, he learned from his mistakes and rectified them such as when he traded Cliff Lee away and accepted that he’d left his club woefully short on pitching and traded for Roy Oswalt at the next trading deadline; then he turned around and re-signed Lee.

I doubt there’ll be a blockbuster addition of a bat to gloss over a team that’s 12 games under .500 and reeling after experiencing what the Mets have experienced for years in their house of horrors known as Turner Field in a 3 game sweep at the hands of the Braves. The Braves looked like they took glee in kicking the Phillies after the Phillies (in a retrospectively regrettable decision) ably assisted the Cardinals by playing all out in the last three games of the 2011 season and completed the Braves’ collapse from a post-season berth they should’ve clinched in mid-September.

The Phillies are done for 2012, but that doesn’t mean they can’t prepare for 2013 with much the same core cast. They don’t have much choice with some players. Jimmy Rollins has two guaranteed years left on his contract and is a shadow of his former MVP self. There’s talk of dealing Hunter Pence to free up money, but all that would do is create another hole they’ll have to fill—it’s not going to happen. Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton will be traded. Ty Wigginton and Juan Pierre are probably going as well. Placido Polanco would’ve gone too if he hadn’t been placed on the disabled list with a sore back. If he’s able to play, he’ll get through waivers in August and be traded.

Truth be told, they’re not going to get much for any of the above players. The Phillies will get some volume for their dilapidated minor league system and save a few bucks to bolster the veterans they’re going to have for the foreseeable future. This team in 2013, 2014 and 2015 hinges on the players in their early-to-late 30s, Roy Halladay, Lee, Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and the other star-level players signed long-term Jonathan Papelbon and the newly signed Cole Hamels.

With Hamels, the Phillies were faced with signing him or signing someone else’s free agent and given his post-season accomplishments and that he’s able to handle the tough town of Philadelphia, keeping Hamels made sense, even for $144 million. There’s not going to be a rebuild in Philadelphia. It’s this crew or bust and they do have the foundation for a rebound in 2013.

There was a stupid concept of them trying to trade Papelbon. It’s ridiculous.

Other speculation has centered around Lee. They’re not trading Lee now and if they even consider it after the season, they’re in essentially the same spot as they were with Hamels in a different way. Any trade would have to bring back a Major League ready player whether it’s a centerfielder and/or a young pitcher who’s going to give them the 200 innings they’ll be surrendering with Lee. They’d also be hamstrung in where they could trade Lee due to the $87.5 million remaining on his deal after this season and his limited no-trade clause. Are they moving forward with a top 3 rotation of Halladay, Hamels and Vance Worley in 2013? For a team whose window is rapidly closing? I highly doubt it. If Lee is put on the block, it would be a year from now and only if 2013 is a repeat of 2012.

That there would be a thought of trading Lee as a “well, maybe we could…” tells me that Lee’s decision to re-sign with the Phillies after they’d unceremoniously dumped him following the 2009 season was a business decision on both ends and there wasn’t all that much “love” with the City of Brotherly Love for Lee and the Phillies. He didn’t want to pitch for the Yankees and the Phillies offered the most money and a venue that his wife preferred. I’m also getting the impression that Lee is a frontrunner. When the team was rolling to 100 wins and he was notching shutouts, all was wonderful; when he’s got a record of 1-6 as we enter August, he’s making faces at his outfielders’ misplays and putting forth the attitude of, “What do you want me to do? I pitched great, these guys can’t score or catch the ball.”

And that’s not good.

The Phillies need to accept reality and that reality says they’re not going anywhere in 2012 and their only hope against spiraling to a 100-loss disaster by 2015 is if their veterans find their games and are healthy and they’re able to clear enough money to import proven commodities to surround them.

This is the team they have and there’s not going to be a housecleaning. It’ll be more of a moderate refurbishing, nothing more.

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The Phillies Need Cole Hamels

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Ruben Amaro Jr. has no intention of giving up on this season or the next several seasons. He said as much—link. Privately he knows the situation is bleak for 2012, but given the age and guaranteed contracts on their roster, how can they conceivably let Cole Hamels leave as a free agent without a viable offer? It’s getting close to the point where the Phillies have to realize that this simply isn’t their year. They’re not there yet, but it’s a few weeks away—conveniently coinciding with the July 31st trading deadline.

After what happened with Cliff Lee having been traded away and then choosing to re-sign with the club a year later, it’s conceivable that the Phillies would check with Hamels to see if he’d be willing to be traded to a contender for the remainder of 2012 so they could re-stock the system and then go after him as a free agent.

Let’s look at the contracts, the guaranteed money owed for 2013 and beyond and the viability of re-signing Hamels.

Lee is owed $87.5 million through 2016.

Roy Halladay will be paid $20 million in 2013 and has a club option for $20 million at 2014.

Ryan Howard is signed for $95 through 2016.

Chase Utley is owed $15 million next season.

Jonathan Papelbon is owed $13 million annually through 2015 with a vesting option at $13 million for 2016.

Jimmy Rollins is guaranteed $22 million through 2014.

Hunter Pence is a free agent after 2013.

All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz has a ridiculously cheap $5 million option for 2013 that, barring catastrophe, will be exercised.

Kyle Kendrick is signed for $4 million next season, but they can find a taker for him.

Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and Placido Polanco are free agents after this season. Forget Blanton and Polanco coming back and it’s hard to see Victorino being re-signed either.

The Phillies’ current payroll is $172 million.

Lee’s getting a $3.5 million raise next year; Papelbon slightly less than $2 million. Pence will get a raise in arbitration of $4-5 million. They’re slashing between $28 and $36 million (give or take) after Victorino, Blanton, Polanco, Ty Wigginton, Jose Contreras and Kendrick are gone.

Their payroll is going down, so technically this talk that they can’t “possibly” keep Hamels is inaccurate. They can afford to keep Hamels.

The question is will they do it during the season? Will they trade him and hope to re-sign him? Will they trade him and just let him sign wherever? Or will they keep him and take their chances retaining him in free agency?

If what Amaro said is true in terms of keeping the team together until they disintegrate, the Phillies don’t have much of a choice: they have to have Hamels in a Phillies’ uniform.

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Creative Writing and Cole Hamels

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Is there a reason that Cole Hamels‘s pending free agency is constantly updated as if there’s something to discuss?

It’s more trolling and laziness when there’s nothing to write about, so a “story” is formulated regardless of reality.

Here’s my logical outsider’s perspective from both sides of the bargaining table.

For the Phillies.

Eventually there has to be financial sanity; a realization that this cycle is ending and they must shift focus on a future that’s approaching faster than anticipated. At some juncture, they’ll need to restrain spending on the big league product and rebuild the minor league system.

The Phillies have a lot of players making a lot of money and giving Hamels the contract he’s going to demand may not be the best possible maneuver for them.

Cliff Lee is guaranteed $87.5 million from 2013 through 2015.

Roy Halladay is guaranteed $20 million in 2013 with an option for another $20 million in 2014 with kickers based on innings pitched that, barring catastrophe, he’s going to achieve.

Ryan Howard is guaranteed $105 million from 2013 through 2016.

Chase Utley is signed for 2013 at $15 million.

Jonathan Papelbon is guaranteed $13 million annually from 2013-2015 with a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished.

Jimmy Rollins is guaranteed $22 million for 2013-2014 with an $11 million option for 2014 based on plate appearances. If the Phillies aren’t as good as they’ve been in recent years, Rollins is not going to get enough at bats to activate the option.

Hunter Pence is arbitration eligible after this season and a free agent after 2013.

Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Joe Blanton are free agents after this season.

Hamels is making $15 million this season and they could backload his contract to account for the money coming off the books in the future, but then they’ll be paying $25-30 million annually for a pitcher at age 33-36 as they’re doing with Lee now. It’s easy to say they should let Victorino leave along with the likely departures of Blanton and Polanco, but the Phillies farm system is gutted and they’ll still have to replace their centerfielder, their third baseman and their fifth starter. With Halladay, Lee, Hamels and (if his elbow doesn’t blow out) Vance Worley, that’s a good 1-4 starting rotation. They could find someone to fill out the fifth slot and be okay pitching-wise with Papelbon as the closer. But their problem this season has been a lack of offense and they’re going to be replacing Victorino’s offense and defense with whom? And who’s going to play third?

The Phillies have shown little willingness to give their young players a chance to play in their new incarnation of a star-studded, big name-centric club and they don’t have any major prospects ready to fill those positions for 2013.

This is also assuming Utley comes back and is: A) able to play; and B) able to contribute 60-75% of what he was in his prime. With his recurring knee issues, that’s not a reasonable expectation.

I suppose they could swing a deal with the Red Sox to get Kevin Youkilis for 2013 while he’s signed and stick him at third, but he’s been injured and declining similarly to Utley.

B.J. Upton will be too expensive to sign as a replacement centerfielder and to keep Hamels and to find a third baseman who can hit. Torii Hunter could be a stopgap for a year or two in centerfield. Or they could keep Victorino.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Phillies pay up to keep Hamels. What they’ll be doing is mortgaging the future—when both Lee and Halladay will be gone—and rely on an aging Hamels to be their ace for a team that will be in the midst of a major rebuild. He’ll be untradeable, fading and expensive. If they keep him, it would be with an eye on chasing a title in 2013-2014 and not worrying about 2015 and beyond.

Is that worth 7-8 years at $160-180 million?

For Hamels.

There is no reason whatsoever for Hamels to agree to a down-the-line contract during the season and shun his first opportunity at free agency while he’s pitching brilliantly at age 28.

Hamels has thrown at least 180 innings from 2007-2011 and he’ll break that threshold again this season. He’s got the post-season bonafides including the NLCS and World Series MVPs in 2008. He can handle pressure and a tough home crowd.

Why shouldn’t he maximize his dollars by exploring free agency?

The Yankees are always looking for pitching and given the disasters of their attempts to develop their own, if the 2012 season doesn’t go according to their mandate of championship or bust, they might use their checkbook to fill their self-created holes as they did after 2008 when they signed CC Sabathia.

The Dodgers new ownership is aggressive, willing to spend and Hamels is from Southern California.

The Cubs have money; the Mets’ finances are getting in order; the Orioles are finally showing signs of legitimate improvement; the Rangers consider everything and willing to pay; the Blue Jays are about ready to go for a title; the Marlins could continue their spending spree.

Hamels likes Philadelphia and presumably would like to stay, but he’s not going to do the Phillies any favors when it comes down to dollars.

In short, there are landing spots for Hamels. Why would he sabotage himself by signing now?

The answer is he won’t.

The reality.

This talk of the Phillies and Hamels having “discussions” or “contact” or “preparing to engage” or whatever terminology is considered new is just that: talk.

Or nonsense.

There’s not going to be a deal during the season and if the Phillies want to keep Hamels, it’ll take a big check. It won’t be until after the season and both sides will examine their circumstances and move forward accordingly.

It could go either way. Don’t let “insiders” or websites tell you any different.

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