This morning, news broke of Carlos Ruiz’s new 3-year, $25.5 million deal with the Phillies (Also includes a $4.5 million, 4th year team option with a $500k buyout). Twitter, reasonably, freaked out (like it has with every rumor of this Phillies offseason; I’m at fault for this as well).
He’s a 34 year old backstop who missed almost half of the 2013 season and was only projected to receive a 2 year deal in the more moderate $17 million neighborhood. We all love Chooch, but c’mon! He’s guaranteed money until he’s 37, and given the recent signing of already 37-year old OF Marlon Byrd, the third oldest team in the Majors isn’t getting any younger. This organization is out of touch, has no plan for the future, and actively wants to run something we all love straight into the ground in their ignorance.
But I’m summarizing here.
And as much as I’ve been incredibly critical of GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and ownership in the past, these things simply aren’t true.
Before I really begin, I should state that I do not believe Ruben Amaro is an effective negotiator. This is his key flaw as a GM. He merely has the budget to hide it.
He may target the player he wants, but always offers aggressively to avoid the uncertainty of the negotiating process, as in “what happens if I don’t get the player and it takes too long and there’s no remaining suitable replacement.”
Hence, the first known quantities to come off of the board from their respective positions are Byrd and Ruiz, both to the Phillies. Amaro agreed to more than the projected contracts for either player, not in AAV but in years, just to add certainty to the 2014 roster.
Also, the idea that statistical analyst Scott Freedman is only hired on a part time basis, while most other teams have entire departments related to the area, IS highly embarrassing and out of date.
I was also part of the twitter crowd, being hyper-critical of the Byrd signing when it happened (although I’ve come around on that).
The idea, however, that simply because Chooch and Byrd are old players, that management must be ignoring advanced statistics is just wrong.
The additional idea that these signings of aging players shows that management has no plan for the future, is also false. In fact, (until tomorrow when they undoubtedly break my heart and eschew every principle I’m about to describe) this plan can be laid out in three simple steps:
- No trading prospects from an already thin farm system (unless receiving equal youth in return).
- No forfeiting draft picks for free agents.
- Acquire safe, consistent veterans to fill specific roles until the farm system develops prospects in those areas.
This isn’t something I’m spouting based on two signings in the past week – if you think about last year’s offseason, it fits. The only actual trading of prospects in the 2013 offseason was Vance Worley and Trevor May for Ben Revere – and given the production of all three last season, it’s safe to say that was a good trade on the part of the Phillies.
Michael Young was acquired for almost nothing to fill the temporary hole at 3rd, John Lannan was signed as a cheap 5th starter, etc. More importantly, the Phillies avoided the wide variety of high-priced busts (Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, etc.) they would have indulged in in previous years, and preserved their 16th overall pick, nabbing top 5 organizational prospect J.P. Crawford in the first round of the draft.
This year, the first two big signings of the offseason predict another conservative winter. The Phillies are a big market team, with the large amount of money tied up into attendance and TV ratings (relative to, say, the Astros), you can’t expect them to ever truly “fold” and rebuild for multiple years. Picture the Yankees doing that.
This is especially compounded with the upcoming new TV contract that still has yet to be finalized, despite reports from last month. It’s still playing a role, and as long as it doesn’t impact the future (AKA farm system), we’re going to have to live with the idea of signing veterans to fill holes that prospects aren’t yet ready to fill, in an attempt to be competitive.
In fact, I think if we look at the deals as they’ve been signed, we can see that thought process in mind.
Byrd has been guaranteed two years – who are the top organizational OF prospects? Aaron Altherr, and Kelly Dugan. Dugan spent half of last year in AA, but given his ungodly SO rate, I’m leaning towards him joining Altherr back there to begin 2014.
Assuming at least one of them progresses normally from that point, that would put their ETA at 2015 – two seasons away.
Given his lack of use as a September call-up in 2013, the Phillies seem to view Cameron Rupp as having a major league back-up ceiling (as most people believe).
Given the uncertainty of Tommy Joseph after his injury, that leaves the best real catching prospects being Andrew Knapp (who will miss part of 2014 after needing Tommy John surgery), Deivi Grullon (just finished his age 17 season in rookie ball), and Gabriel Lino (just finished the season in A ball).
Let’s say none of these guys is the answer, and a college catcher is drafted in 2014 (NOT to say that the team should draft “for need”; ALWAYS draft “best available”). The most likely scenario (or best case, for Knapp and Grullon), is an ETA of 2016.
That’s three seasons away. Get where I’m going with this?
Also, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Byrd and Ruiz are value-less placeholders who will be a drain on the lineup for the length of their contracts.
And again, I don’t think their age at their signing has any baring on the statistics used to evaluate and scout them (other than to be aware that some level of regression is probable).
While I doubt management really cares what WAR is, people like to throw around the idea that on the free agent market, 1 fWAR = ~$7 million/year. Most people in the online community can agree that WAR is (on some level) the poster child of sabermetrics.
Since 2007, Ruiz has been worth an average of 2.6 fWAR/season, and 3.7 fWAR/162 games. Byrd’s respective totals are 2.2, and 3.0.
Even if they only play partial seasons (~115 games) and regress due to age (you tell me what a realistic % decline is), they are still both at the least fair value for their average $8-8.5 million salaries.
Particularly in Byrd’s case, take a look at who he is replacing in terms of time in RF – that collective group isn’t even replacement level, and even if he only covers 65% of the time in that position, that’s a multi-WAR swing in terms of suck.
While these players may not be the sexiest choices, (and I’m betting they were chosen because of familiarity, consistency, and safety), they ARE relatively safe picks.
Only 1/12 of their combined seasons in the last six years (Byrd’s suspension-shortened 2012) was worth negative fWAR. They are quality placeholders, meant to moderately contribute while the farm system reboots.
However, given all that I’ve written here, I’m still allowing for management to be as dumb and thoughtless as many people think.
If the Phillies:
- Complete a massive farm system draining trade, for anyone short of two-time AL MVP Mike Trout
- Sign a free agent tied to a qualifying offer (forfeiting the 2nd round pick)
- Acquire a multi-year commitment to a veteran in an area of prospect depth (3B, LHP, SS)
THEN I’ll rejoin the rest of Phillies fans in panic-mode. Until that time though, relax. We WILL be even older for the next couple seasons, but you’re going to wake up one day and notice that we suddenly have a vibrant farm system.
The trick at that point is to avoid getting into the same spiral that got us into this mess (AKA Raul Ibanez *shakes fist in anger*, Jonathan Papelbon *head shakes in MORE anger*, and Hunter Pence *body convulses in supreme gesture of anger*).