In the shadow between a starter’s gig and a bench role, the front office of the Philadelphia Phillies will determine Darin Ruf’s 2014. Could he be part of a trade package to improve another deficiency?
This article represents the thinking of a baseball man in my opinion. Most fans do not consider the budget, prospects on the radar, the organization’s weaknesses, the track record, the competition and the other intangibles.
There will be a published storyline each week.
This review is an additional posting with new commentary: See Pitching Conundrum at the end.
When your main target is on your competition’s wish list, your approach is to cast a wider net.
A year ago the brain trust penciled in no one beyond the base paths to the outfield walls. Money was problematic, which meant the budget could not include Hunter Pence or Shane Victorino. However, Ruben Amaro Jr. acquired Ben Revere and Domonic Brown earned the left field job. Meanwhile, in the other corner Delmon Young opened the campaign there, and Ruf ended it.
Brown supplies power, a strong arm and an adequate glove, while Revere provides a .300 bat, speed and decent fielding.
After the final out in Atlanta, management realized their offense required a right fielder with pop and defense for 2014. To switch Brown and Ruf was the minimal fix, but Amaro decided instead to land a solid right-handed hitter for that position.
In the pursuit of Giancarlo Stanton, the general manager could have engineered a swap for an excellent substitute: Mark Trumbo or Yoenis Cespedes. Historically, the GM has a pattern of twin targets. He settled for Cliff Lee during the first push for Roy Halladay, bartered Lee that December simultaneously with the Halladay trade, and signed Jonathan Papelbon when Ryan Madson’s agent had other plans.
When there was no realistic deal for the three above outfielders, the head honcho turned elsewhere for his top priority.
The initial response to Marlon Byrd’s return was a combination of surprise, disappointment and questions. He does, however, solve two problems and present a hinted answer for another. Many feel his acquisition will not totally boost the offense, his age will work against him, and last season was a fluke.
$189 Million Maximum Before the Luxury Tax Ceiling:
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Dollars and Sense:
Having the financial resources is half the battle, and finding the talent is the second ingredient.
Ryan Lawrence of Philly.com opined that Jayson Werth’s former position became an issue when he left, and the writer basically covered the spot’s recent history and options. For this coming summer, however, the circumstances have improved. Ergo, while each alternative to Ruf had drawbacks of one kind or another, the market had some decent players.
According to a self calculation from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the red pinstripes have $26.43 million before exceeding the competitive-balance threshold. The AAV (average annual value) is the computed amount for the $189 million ceiling.
The Talent Lottery:
Will the free agent produce up to expectations and be healthy is the agonizing question for the front offices of many franchises.
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Last offseason Amaro looked over the list of unsigned candidates and saw Torii Hunter, Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick and BJ Upton. Hunter was an aging veteran and Ross did not want to man right field. In the end, the Braves outbid themselves for Upton’s services, while Ludwick finally made his first appearance on August 12.
From this free-agent crop, the elder statesman is Carlos Beltran. The switch hitter is clutch even in the postseason; however, his defense has deteriorated due to Father Time. With the DH, junior-circuit clubs will place a higher premium on his skills, and one will ink him. He’ll thrive in that league with stats like David Ortiz’s.
Beltran could command a three-year contract. Two tours with a vesting option for an additional 162 would have been the Phils’ top length. He would have fit excellently between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and feasted on southpaws who are there to neutralize the left-heavy lineup.
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Preferences for Hire:
The higher-ups prefer 20-something stars, and at least a two-season agreement possibly warranting more campaigns.
The head honcho carefully inspected Nelson Cruz, Michael Morse and Cory Hart. Coming off two bad knees, Hart may not even be able to patrol the outfield in ’14. Morse, on the other hand, is a below average left fielder, and switching Brown’s corner was not management’s first choice. Lastly, Cruz was the oldest and most attractive of the three despite his PED suspension and defensive shortcomings.
Hart’s numerical performance in 2012 was the road map for a new right fielder. Amaro, however, could not count on unproven solid health or a 162-game absence. In other words, Hart was only a fallback plan at most.
After two injury-marred summers, Morse did not enhance his value with his 2013 statistics. That stated, he had three successful years for the Nationals but struggled against unfamiliar AL pitchers. If the red pinstripes did not acquire a two-way player, Morse figured to be an acceptable backup strategy.
For the Phillies’ brain trust, Cruz’s 50-contest inaction wasn’t a stumbling block because last November they had interest in Melky Cabrera. But Cruz at $15 million per tour was not the answer, and the outfielder was initially seeking five seasons guaranteed.
If it wasn’t obvious before, you now know why Amaro was pursuing Stanton with bold abandon.
Marlon Byrd’s Stats:
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For the new right fielder, 2012 was a lost 162, which started the previous winter. According to Byrd, he suffered a recurrence of a private condition unrelated to baseball that had required surgery several years prior. For it he took tamoxifen resulting in his positive test and his suspension on June 25. Additionally, he lost his swing, and the Cubs traded him to the Red Sox on April 21.
Byrd brings more than a first glance might indicate. For example, if you look at the careers of Del Unser and Bill Robinson, you see late bloomers who finally figured things out.
Other than Stanton and Cespedes, the other candidates had defensive shortcomings. Trumbo, Beltran, Cruz and Morse would not be improvements, and Hart’s knees are questionable.
Returning to his original team gives Byrd something to prove. He arrived between Jimmy Rollins and Utley in 2002.
Eliminating ’12 due to health and other issues, his numbers for three campaigns offer a more reasonable 2014 expectation. Last summer, he hit seven long balls at hurler-friendly Citi Field (29.2 percent) during his playing time there of 38.3 percent. That stated, the Bank is more conducive to the home run.
Baring an unexpected acquisition, the regular lineup is set with Byrd, Revere, Brown and Ruiz, while the red pinstripes will ink a setup man around mid-December.
After securing the services of Byrd and Ruiz, the head honcho’s attention turns to the rotation and the relief corps. The free-agent market has bolstering solutions for the pen, but it may require a trade for a starter. There are many relievers who are available for reasonable years and dollars. On the other hand, finding a five-slot arm is challenging.
The only desirable hurlers are more expensive and not fits for the bottom of the rotation: Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo and Ubaldo Jimenez. But by landing a starter other than these three, the Phils won’t have to rely on Jonathan Pettibone; however, a rejuvenated Doc would create a numbers problem.
To acquire another pitcher for the final spot, the GM may consummate a swap involving a third baseman or a left fielder. Brown could fetch that hurler with Ruf taking over the left-field position. Cody Asche is another movable piece with Maikel Franco near the pipeline’s end because Freddy Galvis could function as a stopgap for three months. Meanwhile, the league continues adjusting to Pettibone, which is reminiscent of JA Happ and Vance Worley.
Amaro doesn’t want to give up on Halladay, but he doesn’t want a gaping hole after Kyle Kendrick either.
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