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How much should the Phils care about ending with a bottom ten record?

Sep 26, 2013, 12:02 PM EDT

papelbon.jonathan

I was watching some of the Phils-Mets series ender last Sunday with some Met fan friends, rooting for the Phils to squeak one out and not have to suffer the indignity of a home sweep at the hand of their hated NL East rivals. To my mild surprise, though, some of the Met fans were rooting for the same outcome. When LaTroy Hawkins (seriously, Mets? LaTroy Hawkins??) closed the door on the Phils in the ninth, cementing the sweep, and knotting the two teams in the standings at 71-84, I’m not sure which of us was more disappointed.

The concept of rooting for losses, and the team tanking that occasionally accompanies it, is nothing new to the 21st century sports fan. Still, for the most part, it’s been a practice confined to sports like basketball and football, where drafting is a slightly more reliable process, and where one player can (in theory, anyway) turn around an entire franchise. In baseball, no one player matters that much, and you might have a #1 overall pick who never even plays a single game for your major league squad (like the Yankees’ Brien Taylor or the Padres’ Matt Bush), so the incentive of piling up losses to secure a higher pick isn’t nearly as high.

Since the new CBA, though, the rules with the MLB draft are a little different. You might have heard some whispering among writers and/or big fans of losing teams this year about the importance of finishing in the bottom ten of the league standings this year. The reason for this is that teams who finish in the bottom ten–and thus are awarded top ten picks in the upcoming draft–are then protected from losing their first-round picks as compensation for signing away big-name free agents in the off-season.

In years past, signing a Type A free agent–like, say, the Phils did in prying Jonathan Papelbon from the Red Sox in 2011-automatically resulted in the forfeiture of the team’s first-round pick, which the Phils then lost in the 2012 draft. (The Phils received a pick in return for the Angels signing away Ryan Madson, but it was lower, in the supplemental first round, due to Madson having a “Modified Type A” status.)

That still happens for teams who sign Type A free agents after finishing with one of the top 20 records in baseball, but now if you’re a bottom ten team, you get to hold on to your first-round pick after signing a Type A free agent (though FAs are no longer known by “type”s, and instead judged based on whether they have been tendered an offer of a salary commiserate with a top 125 player salary by their former team–confusing stuff for sure). Instead, the old team is now rewarded a supplemental round pick, while the new team is forced to forfeit their next available pick (either a second-rounder or a supplemental first-rounder if the Phils have one of heir own), which essentially just vanishes.

In plain language, this means that if the Phils finish with a bottom-ten record, then go out and sign a big-name free agent next year, they won’t lose their top-ten pick in the process. This isn’t as big a deal as it is in the NBA–especially since there’s no lottery in baseball, and thus no chance of the Phils somehow sneaking in with a top three pick–but it’s a pretty big deal, since the Phils have a relatively barren farm system at the moment, partly as a result of not having a pick in the top ten since 2001 (and no first-rounders at all three of the last five years).

So how close are the Phils at the moment to securing that kind of, um, security? Well, difficult as it was to watch, losing a combined six of their last seven to the Mets and Marlins certainly helped–thanks to the ‘Politans just taking an improbable two of three from the Reds, they’ve climbed above the Phils in the standings, leaving the Phils in a tie with the Blue Jays for the ninth-worst record in baseball. Here’s how the overall standings currently look, from the bottom up:

1. Houston Astros (51-108)
2. Miami Marlins (59-100)
3. Chicago White Sox (62-96)
4. Chicago Cubs (66-93)
(tie) Minnesota Twins (66-93)
6. Seattle Mariners (70-89)
7. Milwaukee Brewers (71-87)
8. Colorado Rockies (72-87)
9. Toronto Blue Jays (72-86)
(tie) Philadelphia Phillies (72-86)

11. San Francisco Giants (73-85)
(tie) New York Mets (73-85)
13. San Diego Padres (74-84)

As you can see, even with just four games left, the Phils are pretty far from secure in the standings from getting that bottom ten record. However, they do control their own destiny going into the start of tonight’s four-game series against the Braves in Atlanta, who might care a little about securing home field advantage in the playoffs (they’re currently one game back of the Cards for best overall in the NL, and two ahead of the West-best Dodgers), but generally won’t have a ton to play for, having long since clinched the East title. (They start David Hale tonight, who’s pitched a grand total of five innings in his major league career–though most Phils fans would probably still feel more comfortable with him than with our own starter, Tyler Cloyd.)

Of course, the question of how important it is to lock down a bottom-ten record in our last four games leans a great deal on what the team’s plans are for next year’s free agency. Ruben Amaro Jr. seems pretty unlikely to launch a full-scale rebuild in the off-season, but he’s been pretty restrained with his big-money purchasing in the meantime, and it’s unclear if that’ll change before 2014.

What’s more, it’s a pretty weak crop of free agents hitting the market in the fall–the only real superstars up for grabs are Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and after that, it’s a bunch of 2nd and 3rd starters (Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco) and good-not-great position players (Shin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann, our old friend Hunter Pence).

It’s hard to see the Phils really breaking the bank for any of these guys–though a quality corner outfielder and a reliable third starter would certainly be a nice off-season get–so it’s possible this will be irrelevant anyway. Meanwhile, the team already has nearly $120 mil committed in salary for next year, and that’s before getting to all our arbitration-eligible players, whatever deal we might re-sign Carlos Ruiz to, and the money we already promised to Cuban signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. That’s already a lot of cash for a sub-.500 team, and without any huge fixes obviously available, the team might be wise to show a little more prudence with their additional off-season spending.

Still, it’s better to have the option than not, and with RAJ looking to bolster confidence in the team in advance of their big upcoming TV deal, he might be looking to add some more names to the roster–in which case, we’d certainly be much better off with a bottom ten record and a protected top-ten pick. It’s definitely not the standings race we hoped we’d be monitoring with the Phils down the season’s home stretch, but it’s still one worth keeping an eye on this weekend, if you can avoid the urge to chug a bottle of lithium in the process.

  1. GTown_Dave - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    Not at all, because Amaro & his team of idiots will inevitably get clever & draft some “toolsy”, “versatile” loser, thereby making us feel even worse about this raging crapfest of a team.

    Reply
  2. brnt7342 - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    Do whatever they can to screw over the Braves in any way possible is what I say.

    Reply
  3. Steve Bosell - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    You really can’t build a team through free agency anymore. It’s the least cost effective method of player procurement. It’s time for this organization to take a long hard look at it’s scouting and player development departments and make the necessary changes. They need to model themselves after the Cardinals and use free agency only to fill in an occasional hole.

    Reply
    • Jesse - Sep 26, 2013 at 1:53 PM

      I agree. You look at how the recent Phillies team came about (i.e., Utley, Rollins, Howard, Hamels) and it was homegrown talent that came up at the right time. You use free agency to fill a hole or two, not the entire outfield or a bullpen.

      As much as it pains to say it, Washington, Pittsburgh, Oakland… they’re all following this march. From years of awfulness, they’ve gone about and acquired those young studs and are now reaping the rewards. The trick is containing that level of competiveness and youth even as the years go by. The Phillies, the Yankees and the Red Sox (until this year) were all guilty of relying too heavy on aging players to play like they did in their mid-late 20s, and stop gap positions with even more veterans and journeymen.

      St. Louis has been the most consistent with youth, free agent veterans and knowing when to walk away from players even in their prime. There’s a model out there, and there’s no shame in copying what works.

      Reply
  4. Jason R. - Sep 26, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Padres fans are well aware/accustomed to this and they are PISSED right now. But, like you said, it’s not like there’s a great crop of free-agents-formerly-known-as-Type-A hanging around out there.

    Of the guys you mentioned, I wouldn’t mind seeing Nolasco and Choo in red pinstripes for the years to come.

    Reply
  5. BenE. - Sep 26, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    Anyone want Robin Cano at 10 years, $300 million?

    Reply
    • Jesse - Sep 26, 2013 at 4:50 PM

      No man (regardless of profession) is worth $300 million for 10 years of work.

      Reply
      • BenE. - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:22 PM

        Agreed. But holy overpayment. Does Cano really expect any team in any sports league in the world is going to give him that contract?

      • s0krat3s - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:19 PM

        If someone like Derek Jeter would have been paid that in the prime of his career he would have been worth every penny in merchandise and attendance draw alone. What he did on the field would only add to that.

  6. al - Sep 26, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    the Phillies track record on these matters under Amaro has been abysmal for the past three years – rather than stretching out Holiday, he should have been shut down – bad contracts continue and this underlying sense that somehow the Phillies fans would be disappointed if Rollins left bespeaks of managements lack of connection with where the fans are – I for one am tired of the Phillies signing on at big dollars(at times prematurely as with Howard) players whose record shows they are past their peak –

    the Cardinals are a stellar example of recognizing this and allowing players to leave at their peak (or close to it) and not bankrupting their teams potential with foolish contracts – year after year the Cardinals are at the top of the peak without spending $175million – the Phillies record this year is the worst in all of baseball if one considers an important statistic, namely payroll/wins, ie what did it cost the team in payroll for each win – interestingly I have never heard an analyst or for that matter general manager ever look at that number

    Reply
    • TheMarcoIslander - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:33 PM

      Halladay not Holiday. Agree Amaro is a slug that crawls around the sewers looking for the unemployed untalented and cheapest players he can find.

      Reply
  7. TheMarcoIslander - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:29 PM

    What does it matter? When was the last time the Phillies selected an All Star player recently?They have one of the weakest farm systems in the Majors. And those so called top prospects they have traded away have done nothing amazing for the teams that got them.

    Reply
    • lahoe819 - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:21 PM

      in a way isn’t that a point for RAJ? I mean the one name ive heard this season is cosart from houston who I think was acquired by them in the pence trade? I hated that trade from the beginning but i digress. all the other trades to get cliff lee and halladay and roy oswalt… what has become of the pieces we gave up? and yea it didnt pan out in terms of sustained success or even a single world series as we hoped but hell i enjoyed 2010 and that season long run almost as much as the 2008 post season. and i think some of the prolonged success is due to unavoidable injury. roy halladay is a HOFer great who was all star caliber to his mid 30s. he got injured and it sux. but at the same time justin verlander and the tigers just agreed to what like an 8 year $100 million something deal and he was AWFUL this season, fastball velocity is down, blah blah blah. and yet everyone in baseball would have locked him up given his last 4 seasons. its so random and its terrible, for your team and the sport, when a player like Halladay or Verlander or Griffey Jr. stats declining drastically and unexpectedly. kinda off topic, back to the moral of the story, i wouldve pulled the trigger on all the trades except pence that RAJ has and while the farm system is shit, it wouldve still been shit and we WOULDNT have had Halladay or cliff lee or Oswalt for 1.5 good seasons. Signing Pap and losing that pick that year wasnt a big deal cuz it was a high pick anyways (wasnt that the offseason after we had the best record in baseball?). I’m happy with the moves RAJ DIDN’T make last offseason. ppl were yelling for michael bourn (strike out machine that can steal) or bj upton (even worse strikeout machine that cant steal as much) or josh hamilton (strike out machine that can hit home runs). can we at least give him some credit for not investing any money is those succubus OFs? i think people are overly critical of RAJ sometimes. not saying hes the best in the majors by any standard. but hes not as bad as we make him out to be. i still woulda liked to see at least Pap go for something at the deadline. I may be slightly defending RAJ but i wouldnt mind seeing him go. might be time for a new direction for this ship. best move of the season was removing the interim tag from sandberg. although I wish CHOLLY coulda finished it out. You come back anytime man, I owe multiple drinks for 08. end rant, havent been on here in a while. bye.

      Reply
  8. Bryan G - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    l would take a top 10 draft pick over three losts any day of the week, or month, for that matter.. Are you serious ???…. 3 more wins accomplish nothing.. 3 more losts and we get a top 10 pick.. go figure.

    Reply
    • lahoe819 - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:22 PM

      losts? really. ugh cmon

      Reply
  9. s0krat3s - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    Interesting that the Phillies have no farm system. Except that they have someone in their farm system that can compete for a starting position at every position within the next 2-3 years. Very few teams can say that.

    Reply
  10. s0krat3s - Sep 26, 2013 at 8:24 PM

    How lovely to discover McCann is not a great player. I guess 7 all-star selections or 5 silver sluggers (in 8 full seasons) is just ordinary.

    The -only- reason he isn’t worth a large price tag to the Phillies is because he would be yet another left-handed hitter.

    But if they had a guy like McCann hitting 4th or 5th that lineup would be vastly improved.

    Reply
    • willh888 - Sep 26, 2013 at 9:31 PM

      McCann has a flaccid wiener as an arm. He hit .230 last year only to follow it up with .250 this year. Twenty homers a year is cool I guess.. but the Phils just don’t need a 30 year old like that

      Reply
    • lahoe819 - Sep 26, 2013 at 10:24 PM

      injured a lot lately and is old. past his prime. still productive but not a good piece for what this team should do. on a side note does anyone else hate when a sports analyst says “he’s getting older” as much as me? NO SH!T SHERLOCK he’s not Benjamin F***IN Button, they don’t get younger!!!!

      Reply
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  12. Jim - Sep 29, 2013 at 7:53 AM

    Three possible signings/trades this summer that could help club:

    1) Offer great package for Giancarlo Stanton – Dominic Brown, Maikel Franco, and a mid level good prospect. Stanton is a far better long term prospect than Brown and this would give us a right handed power bat for next 10 years and someone to bat cleanup between Utley and Howard for next few years.

    2) As a backup plan offer a much lesser package for Jose Bautista. He is 32 and coming off some injuries the last couple years but is a power hitting right hand bat that will help a lot for at least next couple years if we can’t get Marlins to bite on number 1.

    3) Sign Ervin Santana as a free agent – Would be a solid number three starter and should see his numbers get even better pitching in National League. Gonzalez and Kendrick would then be your number 4 and 5 pitchers and don’t resign Halladay.

    Reply

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