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Memo to the Phillies: Don’t “Go For It”

Nov 1, 2013, 12:17 PM EDT


With the World Series wrapping up this week, the Major League Baseball offseason is upon us. And with reports that the Phillies are in line to sign a hugely lucrative new local TV contract in the near future, a lot of fans of the local team are excited about a potential spending spree, one which will bring a whole bunch of big stars to town and quickly restore the team back to championship contention.

In conversations with my friends about the Phillies’ offseason, there’s all kinds of speculation. The Phillies should sign Carlos Beltran! And Jacoby Ellsbury! They should try to swing a trade for David Price, and toss in whatever prospects it takes to pry him from Tampa. And whatever’s left from the farm after that should go to Miami in a deal for Giancarlo Stanton.

There are indications that the team’s thinking is along similar lines. Following all that talk about the team’s many, many attempts to pry Stanton from the Marlins, a report Thursday by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman stated that the team is looking to go after “big-time free-agent outfielders,” with Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz and “possibly” Curtis Granderson listed as names on the team’s radar.

Heyman’s record when it comes to Phillies rumors is less than pristine, but if he’s right, it sounds like the Phils are looking to do what they’ve done throughout the Ruben Amaro era- target the biggest, most established names possible, and attempt to build a contending team with established superstars.

This is a mistake. The Phillies should not sign Ellsbury, Choo, Cruz or Granderson, nor pursue a trade for Stanton or Price. Instead, it’s time for them to start the rebuilding process.

Let’s look at where the Phillies are now. They’re coming off two bad seasons in a row and their core is aging fast, with the Howard/Utley/Rollins trio all in various stages of significant decline. Despite some contributions in 2013 from the likes of Cody Asche and Darin Ruf, they’re not really getting any type of reinforcements from the minors, and their farm system- thanks to years of bad drafting and all those trades for veterans- is among the weakest in the majors.

That means they probably won’t have any hope of beating out the prospect packages potentially offered by other teams for players like Price or Stanton- and even if they somehow did, they’d be even more bereft of quality minor leaguers than they are now. Dumping the entire top of their farm system for Price, who is a year away from free agency, would be especially senseless.

A big free agent splurge or a series of prospects-for-veteran trades is what a team should do when they’re entering their window of contention and are only a couple of players away.

But the Phillies are not, by any stretch of the imagination, “a couple of players away.” They’re a whole nucleus away. And fans whose idea for the offseason is to keep the current core intact while adding a few big names are- pardon the insult- thinking exactly like Ruben Amaro.

The four outfielders mentioned in the Heyman piece have one thing in common- they’re all 30 or older. And because they’re free agents, signing them would require beating out every other offer in both money and years. The Phillies have enough highly-paid position players on the wrong side of 30 as it is, so a four- or five-year deal for 32-year-old Nelson Cruz (coming off a PED suspension) or to Ellsbury (30) or Granderson (32)- both of whom have missed significant time with injuries recently- would only make the team’s biggest problem worse.

Not that building a team through free agency makes much sense these days anyway. The economics of the game have changed a lot in the last few years, and thanks to revenue sharing and lots of those major TV deals throughout the baseball, a whole lot of teams have money, and are therefore able to re-sign more of their own players.

That means fewer star players even reach the free agent market, and even when they do, they’re no longer in their prime. This partially explains the decline of the New York Yankees in recent years- their homegrown core has aged or retired, they’re not able to steal all the best players from small-market teams the way they used to, and they’re not as good at player development as a lot of their competitors. The Phillies’ problems are remarkably similar.

The way to build a winning team these days is by doing what the Pirates, Rays, Cardinals and other teams like that have done: Draft and scout well, and build a solid nucleus of homegrown players. Play in the international market. Pay more than cursory attention to advanced stats. Make savvy trades. Sure, make big splashes occasionally with trades and in the free agent market when you have holes to fill, but don’t make headline-grabbing free agent signings your primary method of team-building.

Minus the advanced-stats part, that’s exactly how the Phillies built their 2008 team. It was made up of a young homegrown core (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Hamels), a few unheralded players brought in from other teams (Werth, Victorino), and savvy international signings (Ruiz.)

So here’s what the Phillies should do, gradually over the next year or so: Make a bunch of trades of veterans for prospects (If they could do what the Red Sox did- unload all of their bad contracts in one trade- that would be wonderful, but that’s probably not possible.) Take some of that new TV money and invest heavily in international scouting and player development. Hire not an “analytics guy” but rather an entire analytics department. And save some of those millions for a rainy day- for making some signings when the team is ready to contend again.

source:  The next Phillies team to reach the World Series, it’s sad to say, probably won’t include Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee or Carlos Ruiz. Cole Hamels, because he’s signed for so long, has a chance to stay on as a constant. But yes, they should consider trading him as well.

I don’t expect the Phillies to do anything like this; more likely, they’ll retain their whole core, sign two out of Cruz, Ellsbury and Choo, and either re-sign Carlos Ruiz or throw nine figures at Brian McCann instead. I wouldn’t be shocked if Roy Halladay returned. And they could even trade Domonic Brown, who despite the slumps and tiresome Cowboys fandom, remains the Phillies’ lone young bat of any consequence. They’ll keep getting older and more injured, until finally they truly hit rock bottom.

The Phillies haven’t had much occasion to emulate the Sixers over the last several years. But believe it or not, the Phils’ best course of action right now might be to look across the parking lot at what Sam Hinkie is doing, and implement something along those lines. They won’t, but they should.

  1. brnt7342 - Nov 1, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    So you think they should just throw in the towel and blow up the team? What good would that do them? The problem isn’t that they’ve traded away talent, it’s that they’ve been awful at drafting talent. No one that’s been traded under RAJ has had any major league success. How’s Drabek’s career going?

    They’ve got the money and I think doing what they can to keep us competitive with free agents is necessary because that awful farm is going to take at least 3 years to improve. However I do agree that they shouldn’t trade away what talent they have for someone like Price or Stanton. We may not win the division but bringing in someone like Ellsbury and a relief arm will at least get us back into the mix.

    • marvinmartian53 - Nov 2, 2013 at 10:30 PM

      Well here is my answer to you sir. First RAJ goes and Dom Dombrowski, who is available is hired. Second, release and then sign Holiday to a lesser contract as a bullpen coach so he can rehabilitate properly. Howard is done as the plaguing knee has shown so buy him out and say goodbye.. Get rid of the closer Papelbon as he has too many blown saves and he is a distraction in the clubhouse. Promote Asche and leave him alone at third. he has potential and can handle the job while developing. Give Ruf the first base job and also keep Ruiz. Keep Lee and Hamels as the starters to build around. Kyle Kendrick could become better with Holiday around and could be a 10 to 15 game winner under his tutelage. Get rid of the incompetent bullpen and find some adequate replacements while they rebuild. Go after and get the outfielder from the Marlins or Twins. Restructure Revere’s contract to lock him up for 4 or more years. Bring in 1 quality free agent to fill a gap and then let the fun begin. If everyone remembers right, we traded away Sandberg who is one of the top second baseman to ever play Rollins is no longer a leader and was dogging it as Sandberg proved so he is not the captain, Lee should be the captain or Hamels.Make sure Ruiz stays with clauses that penalize him for any further substance abuse. Finally, revamp the scouting system to improve the farm system and retool the organization. As a result, money is saved and the organization remains competitive and if an opportunity presents itself to acquire a quality player, then the money is there.

  2. Jay D - Nov 1, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    With all the money this team has, we just need some friggin smart people to get the RIGHT players here. Look at the A’s they’re a great team with great chemistry but no real huge names. Giving free agents their big pay day isn’t the answer.
    The phils started to decline once all the big pay days were being handed out. In no way am i saying they didn’t deserve to be paid, they did. But, i just feel that once a player gets his ring and a big pay day, they’re on cruise control. You got to find these diamonds in the rough and in order to do that the organization needs to hire the right people to find them.

  3. Eric - Nov 1, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Totally disagree.

    If the TV deal is finalized and the money is there why not give spend some money on short term deals(like Cruz). The best chance to win is right now, with Howard back, Utley resigned. I understand they are declining but we can still rebuild the farm system while possibly making it back to the playoffs.

    I agree do not dump prospects on a guy like Price. Keep drafting well and bring in some new development coaches. If the Phillies can acquire a RH OF and more pitching depth, they can still compete THIS year while the farm is still developing.

    They have trade pieces.. trade Ruf, trade Hernandez, trade Franco or Asche. These guys are expandable right now. Keep players like Biddle, Roman Quinn, Crawford and continue to build in the farm.

    • Murgatroid - Nov 1, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      I’d be okay with signing some players to short term deals in free agency, but why would someone like Ellsbury take a short term deal with us when he get can a long term deal elsewhere? We’re not going to get the big free agents with short term deals.

      And why trade Ruf, Hernandez, Franco, or Asche? Asche hit under .250 with little power and Ruf is 27 years old and still has no real position. Nobody’s going to trade us anything of real value for these guys. Besides, the absolute LAST thing we need is to make our team older. If we keep this up, in three years we won’t have any major league caliber players at all.

  4. Tim - Nov 1, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Thank God someone has some common sense. This team needs to stand pat.

  5. BenE. - Nov 1, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    Like everyone else said, the Phillies should trade for star players like Price and Stanton. The Phillies also shouldn’t hand out any more pay days to players north of 30. But the big problem in this article is in the following sentence:

    “So here’s what the Phillies should do, gradually over the next year or so: Make a bunch of trades of veterans for prospects”

    The Phillies have had the opportunity to do that for the past two seasons. Teams asked about Utley, Ruiz, and Cliff Lee. Rollins could have been let go via free agency before 2012. Now, everyone is a year, two years older, and if the Phillies didn’t unload those guys already, what indication do we have that the Phillies will unload them now? I’m sorry to say, barring monster seasons from all of them, the time to trade these guys for their max value has passed.

    • BenE. - Nov 1, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      should NOT* trade. Christ.

  6. willh888 - Nov 1, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    You add the right pieces. There’s no one way to do it. We see teams do it with the farm, some teams do it with FA and some teams do it with both. Erase that urge to build another 2008 team because timing that scenario would be unlikely. Mediocre baseball for the next 5 years isn’t what the team needs. You need stability in your farm before you even think about building a core for 2017. Look how many years teams like the Royals or Mariners sprinkled farm boys on their roster. The Astros? They’ve been stockpiling young guns and virtually nothing to show for it. Look how many prospects the phils gave up for Oswalt, Halladay, Lee, etc. How many of those guys are either still in the minors, or just plain suck in the majors. You sign the right FA’s if they fit your team and you never, ever let your team have dumpy pitching.

    You can’t limit yourself in any situation just because rebuilding sounds sexy

    • phillies8008 - Nov 1, 2013 at 2:45 PM

      I think the key point here is just that the FO needs to (for once) have an eye towards the future. Realistically, we probably have too many holes to be a contender next year, regardless of what they do this offseason. Using free agency is still potentially fine, but we can’t just hand out huge five year contracts with no-trade clauses. We don’t want to be stuck with any albatross contracts four years from now, when we might otherwise be competitive again. Like everyone’s already said, we really shouldn’t be trading away prospects at this point.

      One thing to keep in mind is that free agency can actually help rebuilding teams out. If we can get some solid players for good value, we could potentially deal them at the trade deadline for prospects. The problem last year with Papelbon (and even Lee) is that other teams are going to be reluctant to take on big contracts. Using free agency is fine, our FO just needs to be smarter about it.

      • phillies8008 - Nov 1, 2013 at 2:47 PM

        Whoops, didn’t mean for this to be in response to anyone, just a general comment.

      • willh888 - Nov 1, 2013 at 3:06 PM

        It’s cool. To add, i don’t think giving out bad contracts should scare you away from giving out any contracts. You don’t have to be bad for half a decade to be good in 2017. Scouting should be independent from any major/minor move the team makes. You don’t have to give up a laundry list of major prospects just to net one David Price, though sometimes it just makes sense to snag a 28 year old stud. Doesn’t mean you have to bite though. Some teams like prospect A while another likes prospect B. How did the Phils manage to keep their top prospect all those years while acquiring dudes like Roy Halladay who at the time was easily one of the 3 best pitchers on the planet. To me, that deal just screams “pull the trigger.”

        Other than that, you can sign mid-level FA’s to reasonable 2-3 year contracts to fill a hole. Maybe you’ll put together another 81 win team. Maybe they’ll get solid BP help and win 8 more and squeak into the playoffs. Maybe the guy gets hurt 1 month into a 2 year contract and you fill the holes with a frandsen, joseph, asche type. Only thing I’m against is paying 30+ year olds major money unless they’re a sure thing–and that’s a bit rare. I’m just saying overall, you don’t have to be bad in 2014 to be good in 2017

  7. Mark432 - Nov 1, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    There’s a case to be made on either side but I will say this – the teams that spend big (this year’s Blue Jays for example) never put it together in any sport, especially baseball. The Phils need to improve but be smart. I’m wary about some of the FA’s like Ellsbury and Cruz. To me they are the next over-priced FA busts waiting to happen. Also wary about bringing in Stanton.

    • Stockton - Nov 1, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      Part of me agrees with this and part of me says no. The Dodgers looked pretty potent and were a series removed from the World Series. On the other end of the stick, a team like the Angels or the Jays looked like crap.

      I think teams should do things the way of St. Louis for long-term success. That is build your team to compete, not necessarily win right out of the gates. Spend the money in scouts and analysts and draft properly. From there, you bring in the appropriate young players and free agent veterans to fill the holes.

      Building a team the way Boston did is very flukey and happens once in a blue moon. They had just the right mix of guys that are normally injury-prone stay healthy, veterans who stepped up and free agent pick-ups who cashed in at their full potential. I remember reading an article before the League Championships that said St. Louis is the team that you model yourself after and should win it all because they have the right make up, but it will be Boston who’s getting hot at the right time, with the right players playing winning ball that will make the Red Sox World Series champions.

      • willh888 - Nov 1, 2013 at 3:24 PM

        Cards and Giants won 3 in a row with similar makeup. Look at guys like Holliday, Berkman, Furcal, or Pence, Pagan, Scutaro, etc. Major parts of these teams that were seemingly (except holliday) insignificant pieces. Yet the teams had two things in common, great core pieced together with free agents. You can find that on any team, so saying you have to be like the Cards is like saying you would jump higher if you were like MJ. Cards just do it way better. They remain good with a healthy blend of youth and vets yet always find these damn Wacha’s and Kelly’s. But then they get beat by the rag tag Sox with friggen dudes like Jonny Gomes and Wil MIddlebrooks fallin’ down all over the place. They blended a healthy core with reasonable free agents really. Maybe there’s no rhyme or reason and you just have to get lucky on some guys. Phils biggest mid-season additions in 2008–Blanton, Stairs and Scott Eyre. Team Snausages

  8. WTF2014 - Nov 1, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    Trade Browne if the right deal is there. They should be open to any thing and everything. If a team is going to give you several pieces in return why wouldn’t you?

    Trade JRoll. He is going no where but down. Utley is at least productive. Howard…you can’t because no one wants a guy who has been hurt over the past two years. And if he’s healthy he’s able to hit 30 plus HR and knock in 100 plus RBI. That alone changes your lineup.

    The biggest thing is addressing the BP. They won in 2008 bc of the BP being solid and consistent. Starters go 6. BP gets last 9 outs. If you don’t have a consistent lineup to drive in 4.5-6 runs you need a lights out BP to give you a chance for a 2-1 or 3-2 win.

    Saving money? With this deal they will be able to wipe their asses with the cash and still have enough to go around. It’s about spending it on the right guy(s).

    Trumbo and Bjours(sp) are available from LAA. get the CF and you have upgraded. Sign a reliable 8th inning guy and now you piece together the 7th. BC you probably won’t be able to trade Pap.

    You mentioned Price as not being a good move. I’d rather spend $$$ on a given 15-20 game winner than wait and hope and pray for a potential 15-20 game winner for 5 years, who may be only a 5th Starter or a long man. Go with the given. If they were to add Price, their starters would have 3 aces who could eat innings and give you a chance every day they are on the mound.

    Either way being cheap and waiting isn’t going to work. But throwing money to throw money isn’t the best option either.


    • Robert - Nov 2, 2013 at 1:45 PM

      Rollins has 10 and 5 rights. Unless he approves a rade, he is not going anywhere.

      The team needs a rebuild, but Amaro does not have the patience or skil to do it, amd ownership seems to not understand that the fans are not going to come to see players on the downside of their careers.

      I’m for trading anyone who can hekp this team rebuild.

  9. Scott B - Nov 1, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    The funny thing that isn’t much discussed by the media is how much the Red Sox need to give thanks to the Dodgers for their World Series.

    Without the Dodgers taking on contracts in excess of 200m for Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto, the Sox are still at the hands of having a Top-3 payroll and most likely don’t get those key guys (Shane, Gomes, Peavy, Uehara, Tazawa, etc.) that helped turn the team from worst to first.

    Now that said, their farm is much healtier than ours but thinking along those lines, I agree with the article, RAJ just going to find and try to fill holes with guys that can slow the flood to a leak when the real problem is rewarding for past performance vs. predicting future numbers. Unlesss we can get a team to buy in, we’re still stuck with an injury and strikeout prone high-priced 1B, 2B that was better than advertsised with his knees but another year older and a SS, lead off hitter that cant get on base.

  10. Mike S - Nov 1, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    You are writing this 2 years too late

  11. Brian - Nov 1, 2013 at 9:15 PM

    Check out my Phillies blog!

    • Precious - Nov 1, 2013 at 11:31 PM

      ^^^^I did….not that good.

  12. Susquehanna80 - Nov 2, 2013 at 1:02 AM

    Memo to 700 Level.. you don’t know what the Fig you are talking about.. To say ‘rebuild’ is easy.. its Cheap! It takes a patient fan base (which Philly is Not) and takes true loyalty..the kind where fans will pay to keep seeing a loser (once again, Philly fans are Not that loyal).. and a true rebuild takes 3-5 years with Zero guarantee of anything. Whoever wrote the column above is a moron.. sorry to personalize things but you are. Probably in your early-mid 20s.. no memory of what baseball was like through 1984-2006.. one year after another of depressing, mediocre teams always rebuilding.. 1993 was a fluke thanks in part to steriods (Dykstra, Daulton, Hollins, Incagvilia, among others used the needle).. So don’t tell me about re-building.. I want to see a team try every year and but the best roster they can, win or lose

  13. Matt - Nov 2, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    Holy crap, this might be one of the worst articles I’ve ever seen written about the Phillies. This is a troll job right? A parody? I would hope so.

  14. Mike - Nov 2, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    What you are saying makes sense. Everyone was shocked that the Red Sox traded away Adrian Gonzalez when they did. He was the only bright spot on a team that was loaded with Payroll and starving for wins. They traded him away in order to ditch all those other horrible contracts (Crawford, Beckett). It would be like the Phillies trading Dom Brown in order to get rid of Howard and Lee’s contract. The Sox got young talent to go with their already stacked farm (Xander Bogarts batted almost .300 in the post season) and one year later they are in the WS.

    The problem with this article is that it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that the Phillies missed a huge opportunity to do as the red sox did. Utley, Ruiz, Pap, Lee and Michael Young were all on the trading block at the deadline. You trade them all away for prospects who are 1 or 2 years away from the bigs (instead of getting nothing for Young weeks later after he starts to suck). By doing that, and letting Halladay walk in the off season, you have cleared a large majority of the nucleolus you mentioned. We are stuck with Howard, we need to hope he can salvage this massive contract of his. The idea is that in 2014, 2015 and 2016 prospects emerge as MLB talent, and you supplement them with an arm in the rotation, and an arm in the pen – you could be looking good. At that point one of these OF FA signs looks genius (see Victarino) and the trade for a pitcher is worth giving up the prospects (see Peavy). The Sox run to the WS was shocking and I don’t expect the Phillies to turn it around in one year, but realistically they could have been two years away from a solid team. Now these guys I mentioned are getting older and will only get worse – their value is dropping with every pitch they throw and even game missed.

    As much as I have liked both of them – I just pray Halladay and Chooch are lost to free agency. If you think this dude writing this article is crazy, you don’t watch baseball and you most definitely have not followed what the Sox did this season. It couldn’t have been scripted any better. “How to fix you team and make them WS contenders 101: By the Boston Red Sox”

  15. officialgame - Nov 2, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    They still have good starting pitching, they still have some good young arms in the bullpen, they still have several young position players to transition in next year. They should try and trade for a young right handed outfielder who can hit since none of the free agents seem worthy. If Howard bounces back now that he is two years removed from his major injury there is no reason to think this team can’t compete. Are the Braves and Nationals that great? I don’t think so.

  16. bob - Nov 2, 2013 at 8:12 PM

    great article send it to dave montgomery and add one more point fire that loser amaro!


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