How to Be Worse than Teams That Are Trying to Lose Part 1: The Phillies


No introduction. No frills. I’m not wasting your time garnishing these shit steaks. Here are the 2013 salaries and win totals for four bad baseball teams:

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The Phillies actually outperformed their pythagorean W-L record by 8 games, so you could easily think of them as a sub-70 win team.

Miami and Houston are openly trying to lose, slashing costs and making money while stockpiling prospects. There is a plan in being executed. Houston in particular is doing this very successfully and I have no doubt they will increase their payroll radically when they feel they have their core established and their window begins to open. The Marlins… we’ll see.

The draft system and economics of the game happen to be very favorable to this strategy at the moment and if I were running a franchise that lacked a young core and a well stocked farm system, I would strongly suggest it to my bosses. (Look for an article on Houston coming soon).

Back to Chicago and Philadelphia. What you want to ask here is if somewhere between 1 and 11 more victories than Miami should be costing Chicago and Philly $85MM and $120MM respectively. Unless you’re a Dubai oil billionaire and have no idea how much stuff costs, you probably don’t think so. How did it happen?

The Phillies

The basics:
– Dedicated huge sums of money and prospects to secure a core of aging, injury prone veterans.
– No production from the farm system
– Jonathan Papelbon
– Inability to take defensive value into account.

Trade Overview:
Players traded away to get Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence, Ben Revere and Freddy Garcia:

Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Jason Knapp, J.A. Happ, Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar, Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana, Trevor May, Vance Worley, Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez.

Prospects returned for trading away Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, Michael Young and Shane Victorino:

J. C. Ramírez, Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, Nate Schierholtz, Tommy Joseph, Seth Rosin, Josh Lindblom, Ethan Martin and Rob Rasmussen.

The prospects the Phillies have traded to get major chips around have been largely disappointing to the teams on the receiving end, which is a testament to the club’s evaluation of its own players. But the fact that for Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino they received no impact prospects is an abject failure.

Ethan Martin still has sky high walk rates (5.21 at AAA in ’13) and Phillippe Aumont’s are downright insane (9.59/9 in AAA and 6.05/9 in the Majors). Tommy Joseph saw time at AAA, but was limited to 36 unimpressive games last year due to a concussion and related symptoms. Even prior to his injury, he fell somewhere between a bad and lackluster hitter at previous levels of the minors.

The System:
As far as the home grown talent the Phillies have held onto, since 2008 the system has left them with little more than Darren Ruf, Tyler Cloyd, Freddie Galvis, John Mayberry Jr, Domonic Brown and Cody Asche.

Ruf is a DH, and not a particularly promising one. Cloyd is a back-of-the-rotation starter. Galvis is a replacement level utility player. Mayberry is a replacement level fourth outfielder with no defensive value or speed. Cody Asche may yet be the best of the group, having put up solid numbers with peripherals to match in the high levels of the minors before holding his own in a late call-up last season.

Domonic Brown is a mirage. Don’t let one good half with the stick fool you into thinking he will be the cornerstone of any future winners in Philadelphia. In the outfield Brown is brutally ugly, hobbling after balls like a man twice his age. He cost his squad more runs defensively (-15.9 per Fangraphs) than he created on offense in 2013 despite hitting 27 home runs. He is a dead pull hitter, whose ISO after the break was .121, as compared with .262 in the first half. He doesn’t walk, run or field, which means the only thing he lacks in terms of being an ideal extension candidate (based on the Phillies’ philosophy of chucking money around) is that he is not yet 35 years old.

Spending Dumb on Old:
If the farm system has been the belly ache of this franchise, their willingness, no eagerness, to throw money into a wood-chipper for aging players has been it’s throbbing ulcer. This is a team that voluntarily rostered Michael and Delmon Young last season after already featuring extreme defensive potholes in left field and at first base.

And if you think they’ve learned from their mistakes (Ryan Howard contract), let’s call to light the most recent investments the Phillies have made.

– Chase Utley, age 35 –  2/$27MM extension with 3 vesting options, worth $15MM each.
– Carlos Ruiz, age 34 – 3/$26MM extension with a team option for a fourth year
– Marlon Byrd, age 36 – signed as a free agent, 2/$16MM with a vesting option on a third year.

Add to that a rapidly declining Jimmy Rollins (age 35), who is entering the final year of an extension signed in 2011.

On the pitching side, $45MM is a lot of money, but Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are both damn fine pitchers. However, no closer is worth $13MM a year. Jonathan Papelbon has provided 2.4 WAR in two years, for which the Phillies have payed him $24MM. That’s a bargain compared to what they’re paying Howard, so maybe they can’t even tell how obscene it truly is. Papelbon will get $26MM between this season and next, before his deal ends.

Let’s take a second to swing wildly away from this topic and then swiftly, if not jarringly back to it.

When I was in college I went through a phase where I was “looking for answers” of a spiritual variety and I explored a host of options. During this year-long folly, I was once told “you may say you worship one thing, you may even believe that you worship it, but if your actions tell another story, well then that’s what you really worship.” And while the concept of worship has outlived it’s usefulness for me, this is still a valuable piece of logic.

Based on what the Phillies practice, what would we say they believe? What should we think, based solely on their actions, that they are trying to do?

They are trying to establish a core of players in their mid-thirties, all of which are either badly damaged goods, have been busted recently for PEDs, and who have defensive values, which are either negative or rapidly approaching zero. They would like, as often as possible, to do this without hedging their bets with young talent in the pipeline.

Now that’s the presentation to give in your interview for a GM job! Can’t you just see the stock photograph of two teams of businessmen in black suits shaking hands under the florescent bathed cubicle rows, outside the conference room where the guy with the folder under his arm just hash tag fucking nailed it!

Above all the aforementioned failures and shortcomings of the organization, the most damaging of all is that the Phillies don’t know when they have been wrong so often and for so long, that they need to trade the valuable pieces they have in order to start rebuilding. This lack of critical thinking and self-awareness leaves them treading toilet water and it ultimately means, that as grotesque as the Phillies have been to look at for the last couple years, the next three should be like doing a google image search for skin diseases. Enjoy.

Continued in Part 2: The White Sox

[R.A. Rowe]


About ra_rowe

A long suffering Padres fan who grew up in San Diego, and moved to Pasadena, Rowe works as a Junior Product Manager and writes poetry in addition to knowing everything about baseball.

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