Monday, December 10, 2012

Wheelin' and Dealin'...?

Well, now that the Eagles have won a game more recently than the Phillies (and I'm just as glad to not have to hear that stat again as I am that it is no longer relevant), it's about time we go back to ignoring the Birds, right?  After all, there have been some moderately-sized wheelings and dealings done by the Phils in the last week. 

The Phillies entered the offseason with major needs in at least one outfield position (particularly CF) and third base.  There had been rumors circulating over the past couple weeks about Angel Pagan, Shane Victorino, BJ and Justin Upton, Michael Bourn, and even Josh Hamilton as possibilities to improve a projected outfield of John Mayberry Jr., Domonic Brown, and Darin Ruf.  There hadn't been as much talk from the perspective of third base, but Kevin Youkilis and Michael Young were generally the ones I heard about.  Many of those options were likely to involve $50+ million contracts and further hamstring a franchise that still has four years to try to get itself out from under the Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard albatrosses. 

They appear to have taken a slightly cheaper route than it initially seemed they would.  In case you missed it, Philadelphia traded 4th starter Vance Worley and pre-2012 top pitching prospect Trevor May to the Twins for outfielder Ben Revere, and also traded reliever Josh Lindblom and pitching prospect Lisalverto Bonilla to the Rangers in exchange for third baseman Michael Young and $10 million of his $16 million contract for 2013.

So how did the Phils do?  Let's take this one-by-one.

For some background, Revere is a 24-year-old former left-fielder who could have easily played center for the Twins if Denard Span were not already entrenched in the position.  He has a career .278/.319/.323 BA/OBP/SLG line, which, combined with his zero career home runs and 68% ground ball rate, profile him as a guy who gets a lot of slap/bunt singles, and that's pretty much it.  He is also quite speedy, grabbing 74 steals in 241 games the past two years and posting a significantly-above-average 16 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in the field.  Given the cost difference between him and Michael Bourn (Revere won't hit free agency for five years and costs under $1 million this year, while Bourn is asking for something in the range of 5 years, $75 million), Revere actually compares quite favorably to the free agent.  Bourn owns a career .272/.339/.365 line with 22 career home runs, a 55% ground ball rate, and an 8 UZR and 103 steals in 313 games the past two years.  Given that Revere is 5.5 years younger and millions of dollars per year cheaper, I'm willing to take that swap.

Dealing May, the team's best pitching prospect coming into the year, doesn't concern me much at all.  Have you seen any of the top prospects we shipped off for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence do anything significant in the majors so far?  And besides, the guy nearly had a 5.00 ERA last season.  Worley, on the other hand, is considered a very solid back-end starter, although I'm sure his recent bout with bone spurs in his elbow concerned GM Ruben Amaro Jr. (and likely had a role in his 1.20 jump in ERA from last season, although the .340 BABIP against him probably didn't help).  I think his value as a solid insurance policy during the next couple years as our aces age may have been slightly disregarded by Phillies management, and while it's unlikely that Worley is anything significantly above average next season, the drop off from him to whoever replaces him (Tyler Cloyd?) is probably sizable.

As for the Young deal, I totally get the intent of snagging a veteran player off a down year while avoiding most of his contract.  However, it should be pointed out that this is no everyday down year -- Young's -1.4 WAR was the worst in the league among qualified players last season.  He dropped by 3 home runs, 9 runs, 39 RBI, 4 steals, .061 in BA, .068 in OBP, and .104 in SLG from 2011, although it should be pointed out that 2011 was his best year since 2006, if you believe WAR.  He hasn't posted even an average defensive season since 2006, which poses a nontrivial downgrade from the departed Placido Polanco.  All that being said, he has experienced alternating increases and decreases in offensive performance each of the past six years, so while age is certainly catching up to him, a significant rebound is likely.  At the current going rate by FanGraphs' standards,  a player should earn about $5 million per WAR produced, so Young would need to improve from -1.4 to about 1.2 WAR to justify his contract.  Considering he didn't have fewer than 2.5 WAR between 2003 and 2011, I think that it's fairly safe to say he'll be worth it.  And trading away an average reliever and a raw pitching prospect isn't much skin off my bones.

So how do the Phillies look now?  To be honest, not great.  We're basically trading the departed Juan Pierre for a very similar player in Revere, and dropping the Mayberry/Victorino, Pence/Brown platoons for a Brown/Ruf/Mayberry trio doesn't sound like an upgrade to me.  Young should give about a one-win improvement at third, and a full season of Howard and Utley should give another win or two (although Howard posted -1 WAR himself in half a season in 2012).  A healthy Halladay should give the Phils a win, but the dropoff from Worley will probably cost a win.  A jump from a bottom-ten bullpen to an average one is worth about a win, based on last year's numbers.  Add 'em all up and you're looking at only about a 4-win improvement, which would put the team's record at an unimpressive 85-77, which in all likelihood won't warrant a playoff berth.  Better keep moving, Ruben.

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