I've read it enough that I've kind of got to the point of being tired of it: The Phillies are done, and Amaro is a bust. In fact, even optimism is fake now. Seriously. This team is just screwed. I mean, first we heard how bad Michael Young is, then how Ben Revere has no power, then how Lannan couldn't make the Nationals (I personally don't see Ross Detweiller as worlds better, but ok), then how Mike Adams is a bust, and of course now how Delmon Young is the worst signing ever. We're screwed, royally.
I just have trouble buying it. This isn't shocking, I'm one of the few people on the 'net that thinks that Billy Beane and his "Moneyball" is an utter failure (in a decade plus's time, he hasn't had one team make the World Series), so I'm not quite always with the prevailing wisdom. I both don't think the Nationals and Braves have improved as much as others think, and I don't think the Phillies are in such a ridiculous decline either. Am I saying the Phillies are the team to beat, or even necessarily better than the Braves today? No. I also would say that I probably wouldn't have done much different this off-season, and I think this team will be a contender.
Let's start with the competition. In 2013, the Mets and Marlins are pathetically bad baseball teams on paper, and don't warrant much discussion, except to say that the Phillies better put double digit wins (I'm thinking 25 total, at least) on both of them. Let's then move to the teams that matter, the Nationals and Braves. Here's their off-seasons to date:
- Nationals- Replace Edwin Jackson with Danny Haren, Replace Michael Morse in the line-up with Denard Span, Replace Sean Burnett with Rafael Soriano.
- Braves- Replace Michael Bourn with B.J. Upton, Replace Martin Prado with Justin Upton, Replace Chipper Jones with Chris Johnson. Add Jordan Walden while giving away Tommy Hanson.
Let's not kid ourselves, almost all of these moves could go either way. Haren could be healthy, he could not, in which case that wildly alters the fifth starter situation in DC. They'll miss Morse, but Span is solid and fills more of a need, though he doesn't upgrade their production much. Soriano is an upgrade on Burnett, but he's also another righty in a 'pen full of them. The Braves may have gained in the power department, but given up some in other areas of their offense. The most likely take away from this is that both teams are about as good on paper going into the year as they were last year- when both finished ahead of the Phillies, and made the playoffs.
Let's now put the Phillies through the same ringer, and see how they look.
- Ben Revere essentially takes Juan Pierre's line-up role, and Mayberry's defensive job at the end of the year.
- John Lannan essentially replaces Vance Worley.
- Mike Adams essentially replaces no one, as we had no real set-up person that is gone.
- Michael Young replaces Placido Polanco.
- Delmon Young essentially replaces Mayberry in the line-up, and Pierre defensively, but mostly Schierholtz on the roster.
- Kevin Frandsen now replaces Michael Martinez, as Erik Kratz replaces Brian Schneider.
Revere is a better defender than Mayberry, though a younger, similar version of Pierre. Lannan may end up being a downgrade from Worley, but maybe not too. Adams, even last year's worst season of his career version, is a huge upgrade on anything we had. Young is an upgrade offensively, and health wise, on Polanco. Young should be a better hitter than Mayberry, but a much worse defender than Pierre. Frandsen and Kratz would appear to be upgrades, right now. Looking at it this way, the Phillies right now are a little better than they were at the end of last season- in which they finished 81-81, but 44-31 in the second half of the season.
What all of this means about the Phillies is, they are about as good as their health is. Does Chase Utley play a full season, and 130 games or more? How about Ryan Howard? Does Roy Halladay join Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels making 30 All-Star level starts this season? If those things are true, there is no reason to doubt that this team can win 92-95 games as constructed right now, even in a difficult division. Post trade deadline they played very well against both Washington and Atlanta in their head-to-head games.
For those of you who are very sabermetric friendly, look at it like this- Revere was a 2.4 WAR player in 2012, while Pierre was a 1.9 WAR player. Lannan was a 0.3 WAR pitcher, while Worley was a 0.7 WAR pitcher. While Michael Young was a -2.4 WAR player (which strikes me as ridiculous for a .277 hitter with 79 runs scored, but ok), Polanco was somehow a 0.3 (which strikes me as almost disqualifying for this stat). Delmon Young's -1.2 WAR (similarly weird to me, but ok) wasn't good, but Schierholtz's -0.1 WAR wasn't either. Frandsen's 1.5 WAR and Kratz's 1.4 WAR, are both huge upgrades on Martinez's -0.2 (which is simply not low enough) and Schneider's 0 WAR. Mike Adams adds 1.2 WAR. Bottom line? We're 0.6 WAR better (Note that I don't really believe in WAR).
What's that all mean? Well, it means that we're probably dependent on some aging stars having come back years, such as Halladay, Howard, and Utley. Lots of blogs are saying it won't happen, and that this team has become much worse this off-season, and for my two cents I couldn't disagree more. If Roy Halladay's issue was a lat-pull (which is what they say), and he took the time to heal this winter (which they say again), then I have to believe he will return much closer to what he was in 2011 than in 2012. Based on the power numbers put up by Howard and Utley in their shortened seasons, I have no reason to doubt they still have some good baseball left too (also, in Utley's case, how much he did play after returning, nearly every day period, is a good sign). If those three are good this season, and the Phillies other players don't all turn to trash, why aren't they a 90 win team? I'm still not picking up that argument very well.
My optimism that the 2013 Phillies can still be at least a playoff level team is tempered by lots of things, sure. They're not as young as the other two competitors in this division. They finished third last year. The Nationals and Braves have some very nice ballplayers, and frankly still have more financial flexibility than we appear to have right now, if we need a move in season. Finally, yes, I do know that guys who get injured seriously tend to keep getting injured, so I'm not rock solid in my hopes for Utley, Howard, or Halladay. My skepticism is not based on the moves the Phillies made this off-season though, or the moves of the Nationals and Braves. We may flop this season, sure, but it will be because the core of our team has aged, not because we brought in Delmon Young.
I'm also not using this to defend Ruben Amaro's overall performance, which I'd rate as somewhere between low mediocrity and decent. He's made trades and signings I like, such as moves for Halladay and Lee, but also moves I can't stand, such as the entire Hunter Pence fiasco, not playing Dom Brown for an extended enough period to come to a final opinion, and even the higher than market value deals with Howard and Papelbon (mostly because we don't have those dollars for other things, not because the players stink). He's won three divisions in four years, but we've went backwards in the post-season picture each year. Our drafts, since he was hired over Mike Arbuckle, have not so far yielded the kinds of blue-chip talents that Arbuckle was landing when he built our title teams. I still think he's not doing enough to sign international talent either. With that all said, I'm neither willing to call his tenure a complete failure yet, or that this team is going nowhere.
I will defend his off-season though. Should we have overpaid B.J. Upton, or traded every chip left in our system (which still probably doesn't get it done) to get his brother? Should we over pay the wildly mediocre Nick Swisher, or give Angel Pagan a major payday after his best year? I think not. Ruben spent this off-season giving out very short-term commitments to players who might make this team just a little bit better this year, in the hopes that his core players, many of them facing impending free agency, can pull out one more year of greatness, and give the developing talent he does have, one more year to develop. Cody Asche, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Tommy Joseph, Tyson Gillies, Jesse Biddle, and other names who will be in Reading and Allentown, will probably have more to do with how this team is in three years than Delmon Young and Michael Young, and by extension, they will probably have more to do with whether or not Ruben Amaro is still here in two or three years. By resisting the urge to overpay a Josh Hamilton, Ruben kept this off-season from digging his payroll hole deeper with an aging team. I actually have to say this off-season is better than last, when he both spent money and didn't upgrade the team much.
All of this talk will soon be irrelevant. Spring training is almost here, and I'm actually remaining optimistic on the whole.