As the chill autumn winds swirl around Philadelphia, the hot stove is in need of a few more pieces of seasoned wood to warm the hearts of Phillies fans throughout the region. However, the return of a player from the days of Veterans Stadium has left many feeling left out in the cold.
Many scratched their collective heads earlier this week when word broke that the Phillies had signed outfielder Marlon Byrd. For two years! For sixteen million dollars!! Guaranteed!!! That’s a guaranteed contract for a player who at 36, is coming off a career year one year after being pinched for a banned substance. He was playing for the Boston Red Sox in 2012 when they suddenly released him on June 12. Thirteen days later came the news that he was suspended 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance. One has to question whether the breakout offensive year was a byproduct of performance enhancers. Hmm, let’s think about that for a while.
One year ago, Byrd was playing baseball on all-dirt fields in Mexico. The New York Mets gave him a chance last spring. The Pittsburgh Pirates picked him up on the cheap for a playoffs-or-bust push. He made $700,000 last season. So, it only makes sense that it would be Ruben Amaro that would hand out $8 million for next season…and the next.
When a player coming off a career year in his mid-30′s is given a multi-year contract, two words come to the forefront – buyer beware. It rarely ends well. That being said, it’s quite the change from the superfluous signing of Delmon Young.
What the Phillies must avoid at all costs is falling into the small market mentality mode that permeated throughout the organization in the mid-to-late-90′s. The fan base has been spoiled by the spate of recent success. If the club decides to fill the showroom with Fords instead of Cadillacs, Joe Sixpack will spend his entertainment money elsewhere. Unless top brass wants 15,000-20,000 fans per night in the very near future, they must spend the money that it will take to retool the team. But, it must be spent wisely.
What this team is in desperate need of is a legitimate leadoff hitter. One that gets on base prodigiously and will score runs by the bushel. That player is Shin-Soo Choo. The 31-year old would be a perfect fit at the top of the order. Last season he had a .423 OBP, .885 OPS and scored 107 runs. He has a career .389 OBP, .854 OPS and 25.6 WAR. That is called a leadoff extraordinaire.
In an ideal world, Choo leads off and is followed by Chase Utley. Never mind that both bat left-handed. The Phillies would have two players at the top of the order getting on base at a .400 clip. Both would score around 100 runs. Both have a great sense of the strike zone. Both are able to hold their own against left-handed pitching.
Unfortunately, the contract just gift wrapped for Byrd drove up the price for not only Choo, but every other free agent on the market, who are now salivating as if somebody has just placed a porterhouse under their collective noses.
Item number two on the shopping list is a right-handed hitting slugger. A modern-day Greg Luzinski, if you will. The lumberjack who fits the bill does business approximately 3,000 miles to west in a place called Orange County: Mark Trumbo.
The hulking outfielder would be a perfect fit in the three spot, in front of, what everybody hopes will be a healthy Ryan Howard. With Howard on-deck, Trumbo should see plenty of fastballs to mash into the vicinity of Harry the K’s.
Trumbo is only 27 and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2017. He is a legitimate 30HR-100RBI power threat from the right side. Those players don’t grow on trees – or laboratories, like they used to. Assuming Howard is 100% healthy by Opening Day, the Phillies would have back-to-back 30HR-100RBI sluggers in the lineup – and with Choo and Utley on base, plenty of RBI opportunities.
Now comes the tricky part: How to procure Trumbo from the Angels? On the surface, one would think the Angels would want to get younger and cheaper in a hurry. The colossal contracts doled out to Josh Hamilton and especially Albert Pujols, make the contract given to Howard look like a Black Friday special. A package of Domonic Brown and Cody Asche should do the job. Maybe throw in a minor league pitching prospect as well – such as Adam Morgan.
Carlos Ruiz needs to be re-signed. Period. A quality Major League catcher is a luxury that many teams do not have. The Phillies had one, and need to reel him back.
Nobody knows the pitching staff like Ruiz. With a new pitching coach coming into the fold, Ruiz’s knowledge of the staff will prove to be highly valuable to the new coach. Ruiz has been a fan favorite for years, but has been under-appreciated as well. A look at some career numbers can shed some light: 17.8 WAR, .358 OBP, .770 OPS, .995 Fielding %. Unless we are discussing Yadier Molina, Ruiz needs to be brought back into the fold.
Ruiz would be followed by Jimmy Rollins in the lineup. Offensively, Rollins is a shell of his MVP days, but defensively, he is still as stellar as they come. This will most certainly be Rollins’ last year with the club.
The seventh hole could and should belong to super prospect Maikel Franco. The 21-year old had a spectacular campaign in the minors in 2013. Between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, he hit .320 with 31HR and 103RBI and had an OPS of .926. Extremely solid numbers considering he was the youngest player at each stop. Franco bats right-handed and would give the lineup even more balance.
Now we go back to poor Marlon Byrd. What to do with an $8 million a year player? You make him a jack-of-all trades, of course. Byrd can play all three outfield positions as well as first base. On days when Howard sits against a tough lefty, Trumbo plays first base and Byrd goes to left field. He can fill in for Choo in right as well as platoon with Ben Revere in center field. Ryne Sandberg would have options he didn’t have last year.
Is this fantasy? Perhaps. Would this lineup score more runs and be more potent than they have been the last two years? Most certainly.
With Charlie Manuel out of the picture, Amaro must realize that he would be next to depart if the fiascos of 2012 and 2013 are not reversed. His job and his legacy are on the line. Will he truly want to be remembered as the architect who thought that Delmon Young and Michael Martinez were pieces to a championship puzzle?
In 2009 Pat Gillick handed over the controls of a hulking battleship. By 2013 it had been reduced to a 12-foot fishing boat without a rudder – floating aimlessly into the Delaware Bay.