Shane Victorino is a Dodger. Hunter Pence is a Giant. Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, Jimmy Rollins, Juan Pierre and Ty Wigginton are all still Phillies.
And Ruben Amaro will now sleep for 27 straight days.
Seriously, at one point on Tuesday afternoon Ruben was selling faster than a Meacum Auto Show auctioneer. Victorino went to L.A. in exchange for relief pitcher Josh Lindblom, minor league pitcher Ethan Martin and a player to be named later. No more than 20 minutes later, Pence was heading to San Francisco for catching prospect Tommy Joseph, outfielder Nate Schierholtz and pitcher Seth Rosin.
It was a dizzying time to be on Twitter. I’m surprised the internet didn’t break entirely. Luckily, Al Gore had his minions pushing all the right buttons today.
The return the Phils got for Victorino and Pence have been mixed. Most baseball people seem to think the Phils did well in getting the players they did, including ESPN’s Keith Law, who said this about the Dodgers prospects:
The return for the Phillies is surprisingly good, given his down year and impending free agency. Martin is an upside play, a 2008 first-round pick who has bounced back from two disappointing years when his command and velocity weren’t where they were expected to be. The right-hander is 93-97 again and flashes a plus curveball, which could be a very strong combo in a relief role; to start, he’ll need to improve his fringy changeup and throw a lot more strikes, although his 12 percent walk rate this year is actually the best of his career and the 23-year-old is striking out almost a man per inning at Double-A Chattanooga. He’s a good athlete who had some potential as a third baseman with power in high school. Lindblom has an above-average fastball but no out pitch; his best weapon is an 82-85 mph slider that isn’t really sharp enough to consistently get under hitters’ bats, and he should probably junk his slow curveball entirely. He could end up a capable middle reliever, but his value is primarily in his low cost.
-Keith Law, ESPN
And here are his thoughts for the San Francisco boys…
Joseph is an offensive catcher with arm strength whose receiving, although improved from his high school days, needs work and could lead to his moving off the position or ending up a backup. Joseph has above-average raw power right now with average bat speed but good rotation with his strong upper body; his plate discipline is adequate, and his performance this year partly reflects his youth relative to his competition. (He has a .705 OPS for Double-A Richmond and turned 21 a few weeks ago.) If his receiving continues to improve, he could end up a valuable everyday catcher because of his bat, but right now it’s probably worse than even money that he can do so.
Schierholtz is a platoon outfielder who’s capable in either corner and can hit right-handers well enough to be part of a solution with the proper platoon partner. Rosin is a big, right-handed strikethrower who has seen his velocity spike this summer after he returned to the rotation for high Class A San Jose. His fastball is bumping 95 mph, and he could end up a back-end starter if that holds. It’s a very good return for Pence, not close to what the Phillies gave up last summer, but excellent considering Pence’s potential cost next year.
-Keith Law, ESPN
So while the Phillies didn’t get a player like Mike Olt, Brandon Belt or Gary Brown, the return appears to be worthy of the trades made. Future columns will be dedicated to further break down these players. The topic of the moment, however, is what Tuesday’s developments say about the future of the franchise.
For me, Tuesday’s deadline deals say 7 things about the future of the Philadelphia Phillies.
1. Payroll Flexibility Has Become the Number One Priority:
This is no secret. Before the deadline on Tuesday, it was assumed the Phillies were a little bit over the luxury tax of $178 million. Shedding the salaries of Victorino and Pence have put the Phillies under the number, meaning that next year, when they almost certainly will have to go over the luxury tax threshold, the Phils won’t be hit with the 30% penalty. They’ll just get hit with a 17.5% levy for every dollar they are over the tax.
The fact the Phils were able to move Pence meant there was less a sense of urgency for Amaro to deal Cliff Lee this year. After the season, Amaro will probably try to see if there are any takers for Lee once again. It will give Amaro more than just a day or two to try and work out the myriad of issues involved with moving a player with a contract the size of Lee’s. And, who knows? Maybe Amaro will decide to keep Lee and head into 2013 with a hopefully healthy Roy Halladay, a refreshed Lee, and new gozillionaire Cole Hamels.
But the removal of Pence from the equation frees up $14-15 million for the Phils to fill some other holes on the roster. They can use that money for a new center fielder like Atlanta’s Michael Bourne, San Francisco’s Melky Cabrera or Tampa’s B.J. Upton. Or they can use that money to sign a couple stable bullpen arms. Or they can use that money to try and trade for a legitimate third baseman. Speaking of which…
2. There is Still No Plan for Third Base:
One of the drawbacks of failing to make a deal with the Rangers on Hamels or Lee, and Amaro’s inability to swing a deal for San Diego’s Chase Headley, is that there is still no plan whatsoever for third base next year. Maybe Kevin Frandsen goes absolutely crazy over the last two months of the season, or the Phils, heaven help us, decide to bring back Betty White… er… I mean Placido Polanco to play for another season. However, both of those options would be incredibly stupid and are unlikely to happen.
Amaro has to know that third base is an organizational black hole and that it is the most pressing need for this franchise. And really, there is only one realistic option for him, and that is to try and work out a deal for Headley in the offseason. The good news is that the Padres did not trade their hottest commodity, but Headley will not come cheap. Amaro is going to have to give up quite a bit to get him.
3. Amaro Wants to Change the Culture:
Victorino and Pence were two of the most maddening hitters in the lineup. Victorino’s plate discipline left a lot to be desired, and Pence’s was even worse. Before the season began, Amaro and Charlie Manuel stressed the importance of players taking better at bats, making pitchers work, and getting on base more. And now, with those two players gone, Amaro has a chance to re-stock his outfield with players more in that mold.
Phillies fans can only hope that is exactly what Amaro is planning on doing this off-season. Ruben has never stressed on-base percentage as much as some sabermatricians would like, but hopefully he’s seen what kind of offense a bunch of free swingers can give you.
4. Dom Brown Should Get Every Chance To Succeed Now:
While Brown hasn’t yet turned into the kind of player that everyone projected him to be, he’s still young and the talent is still there. Injuries, terrible defense, and a lack of power at the Major League level has led the Phils front office to jerk him around quite a bit, which killed his confidence and left him unsettled. Now, with two spots open in the outfield, Brown should get every opportunity to show that he’s a big league player. He has two months to prove that he can be counted on as a starter for the 2013 Phils.
Having a productive Dom Brown as an everyday player next year would make a world of difference for the Phils. It would be one less hole to fill in free agency or through a trade. If Brown can turn into the type of player that everyone thinks is in there somewhere, all of a sudden you’re looking at a cheap, young, productive position player for nothing. Brown’s development, or lack thereof, will be a HUGE key to the 2013 season. During these last two months, Brown should play every single day, whether it’s against righties or lefties. The Phillies need to see what he is capable of.
5. Carlos Ruiz Likely Has One Year Left:
With the acquisition of catching prospect Tommy Joseph from San Francisco, the Phillies have all but signaled that 2013 will be Carlos Ruiz’ last season with the Phillies. He’s having a career year this year and is clearly the best player on the team right now. But he will be a 35-year-old free agent catcher at the start of the 2014 season, and if the Phillies are truly on a mission to get younger and not spend big money on veterans in their mid-30s, then they absolutely cannot re-sign Chooch.
It would be brutally difficult to watch Ruiz walk away, especially if he has another year in ’13 like he had this year. Carlos is also one of the most beloved Phillies of this generation. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single person who watches the Phils with any consistency who can say a single bad thing about Carlos Ruiz. There’s not one living human I know who doesn’t like him. Getting rid of someone that beloved would not be a popular move, but it would be the correct baseball decision.
With the addition of Joseph (who will head to AA Reading), the Phils have decided the Ruiz era will end in 2014. What remains to be seen is what the Phillies do about Sebastian Valle, who has been called up to AAA LeHigh Valley. But that’s a decision for another day.
6. The Phillies Will Sign a Center Fielder This Winter:
Unless Dom Brown became a phenomenal center fielder during the few games he was able to play while down in AAA this year, the Phils are going to have to be in the free agent market for a center fielder this off-season. Michael Bourn is a free agent, but he’s entering his 30s, and the former Phils farmhand is represented by Scott Boras. If the Phils do decide to go after Bourn, it would mean demoting Jimmy Rollins from the leadoff spot (which would be a marvelous thing, Tuesday night’s inside-the-park home run notwithstanding), and giving another player in his 30s big, multi-year bucks.
Don’t get me wrong, signing Bourn would be fine with me, as long as the Phils didn’t go more than four years at around $42-44 million. My guess is the Nationals make him a five or six-year offer, especially considering how close Mike Rizzo is to Boras, and how desperate they are to have a star center fielder and lead-off hitter. Melky Cabrera can play center, but is mostly a left fielder, and there is concern that Melky’s two-year run has been a bit of a fluke. And there’s B.J. Upton, the young and supremely talented center fielder for the Rays who has been a disappointing player since his coming out party in the 2008 playoffs. He might be a change-of-scenery guy, though.
Either way, with Victorino now a Dodger, center field is a big hole that will need to be filled.
7. Ruben Amaro Isn’t Blind:
Finally, the most heartening thing is that we have the comfort of knowing that Amaro sees the same things we see. He’s heard Charlie Manuel complain about his clubhouse all year long, about how players were unfocused, undisciplined, and that they lacked heart (I’m paraphrasing here). This is not to say that Victorino and Pence were the main reasons for this. In fact, all accounts are that Victorino and Pence were awesome guys and great influences in the clubhouse.
But changes like this reverberate throughout the locker room. It proves to everyone that, if there is a buyer out there, ANYONE is moveable. There are no sacred cows on this team anymore. The past is the past. It’s time to think about the future.
Hopefully, Amaro has also seen the errors of his ways with some of his contracts. He’s seen that paying older players big money, and trading away top level talent for veteran players, is not always the best strategy.
Sometimes, it is. There is no hard and fast rule. There are times when you sacrifice your minor league talent in order to make your big league team better. That’s why the young talent is there. It is a commodity and should be treated as such.
But big deals for veteran players and trades for veterans at the expense of promising young players is like running up credit debt you can’t afford. Amaro is now seeing what happens when the bills come due. One of the reasons the Phillies were not able to receive top flight minor league talent in return for Pence or Lee is because Ruben’s main concern was payroll flexibility and not receiving the best talent. That’s why Joe Blanton is not an Oriole tonight. It’s a big reason why Cliff Lee is not a Ranger.
The next few months will be the toughest of Amaro’s career. And today was no picnic either. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to watch two really good players like Victorino and Pence leave the organization. Especially Victorino, because he was one of the core guys that led the Phils to their second ever World Series in 2008.
But it’s Ruben’s job to try and keep the championship window open for a few more years. The Phillies will likely go over the luxury tax next year in order to try and do that. And hopefully a new Comcast deal in the next few years means even more cash to spend on the roster.
The future isn’t as dim as some haters would have you believe. You just have to hope Amaro takes the lessons of the 2012 season and applies them to the future.