Friday, January 30, 2015

Billingsley Signed to 1-YR Deal, Phils' Pitching Depth

The Phillies signed RHP Chad Billingsley, age 30, to a one-year, $1.5MM deal with an awards package that could give him $8MM. The former Dodger has not seen a lot of ML action over the last two years because of, you guessed it, elbow issues. However, Chad passed his physical and will join a rotation that includes Cole Hamels (not likely to be traded), Cliff Lee (still expected healthy), Jerome Williams (re-signed to 1-YR/ $2.5MM deal), and Aaron Harang (1-YR/ $5MM).

Unfortunately, if Chad pitches well in Spring Training, this signing bumps David Buchannan (sophomore season) to the 6th spot starter, perhaps he’ll be the long-man in the ‘pen or perhaps he’ll start the year as the No. 1 in AAA. This also hurts Miguel Gonzalez (2nd YR of 3-YR/ $12MM deal) in his bid to become a ML-starter and means that Sean O’Sullivan, Ethan Martin and Aaron Nola (next in line on the depth chart) will definitely be sent to the minors amongst the first or second round of cuts. Jon Pettibone & Adam Morgan, who are recovering from injuries, and Jesse Biddle, who had a rough year in AA last season, will probably be sent down during round one.

Analysis: I like this signing better than Harang given the age & lack of depth at ML starter with K.K. & A.J. gone, but both Chad and Aaron should have been signed to minor-league deals with an invitation to Spring Training. I do not favor pushing David Buchannan out of the fourth or fifth starter. Pitching is probably the only thing that will keep the Phillies afloat in 2015 as the offense will be more likely to regress than progress thanks to the losses of Byrd & Rollins. In a rebuilding year with Rube as GM, these signings will happen. And regardless of a rebuild or not, these signings happen on a contending team as well, although more likely to be minor-league deals in the latter case.

Also, I am going to go a bit more into our bullpen depth, so here are the top 9 most likely to see action during the on-deck series: J. Pap (unless trade), K. Giles (8th inning or later), J. Diekman (innings 6-8, primarily the 7th), J. De Fratus (mid-to-late relief), M. Hollands (middle relief), A. Oliver (Rule 5 middle relief), D. Buchannan, M. Gonzalez, and H. Neris. This signing pushed C. Jimenez off the 40-man roster; L. Garcia & P. Aumont (yes, he’s still around) will be in camp. However, based on the last couple of years, they are going to be in AAA.

The next entry will likely discuss why we should be optimistic about 2015, mostly discussing the offense.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Franco's 7 RBI propel Gigantes del Cibao to Championship Round

From Teddy Cahill of

"Third baseman Maikel Franco, the Phillies' No. 3 prospect, was one of the hottest hitters throughout the winter ball playoffs in his native Dominican Republic. Though he saw his hitting streak snapped at 13 games on Tuesday, Franco continued to be a driving force in the lineup for Gigantes del Cibao when the games mattered most.

"Franco capped his playoff run Sunday in Game 8 of the Liga de Beisbol Domincano championship series against Estrellas de Oriente with a dominant effort, hitting two home runs and driving in seven runs as Cibao defeated Oriente, 12-5.

"With the victory, Gigantes won the best-of-nine series and will advance to next week's Caribbean Series in Puerto Rico to play the champions from winter leagues in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, as well as a Cuban team...."


Franco did quiet down a few days ago, but that's "baseball being baseball". Overall, he's continuing the hitting rampage he started during the second-half of the AAA season, which is a great sign as we head near Spring Training. Due to him being young, Asche still a viable option at 3B, Howard & Ruf blocking him at 1B, and - most importantly in a rebuilding year - keeping Franco's service clock near zero (via spending less than 107 days on 25-man roster O.D. to 8/31)... Maikel looks to start the year in AAA again. It would take a stellar spring from him and perhaps a quiet spring from Asche to convince the front office to put Franco on the MLB roster for most of the year. Still, seeing him continue to hit is good because that makes it more likely he'll be called up in May or June vs. July or August, especially considering holding back Giles last year (an OK - maybe a good - decision, in my opinion) led to him getting only 8 pts. in Rookie of the Year voting. I'd like to see Franco get a ton more this year. Rube, if you can only get one thing right this year, please let it be this!!!

Countdown to S.T.: 25 days.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Papelbon to Brewers Talks Hit Snag: Is Rube to Blame?

According to, talks between Brewers GM Melvin and Phillies GM Amaro, Jr. regarding Papelbon have hit a snag. This is nothing new to this Phillies fan, nor should it be new to anyone else: Byrd to the Reds hit a snag but got done anyway. So, here's the latest: Papelbon is likely to waive his no-trade clause to go to a contender as he said "I didn't sign up for this", where "this" refers to loosing games. However, he has put the Brewers on his no-trade list, so he can block this trade. In order for him to waive his no-trade clause to go to Milwaukee, which is coincidentally where he said he'd be ok leaving Philly, he would probably require his $13MM option for 2016 to be picked up. So, if the Phillies send Pap over, the Brewers would be on the hook for $26MM over two years, which is expensive despite Pap's slightly-higher-than-2.0-ERA. The Phillies have proven that they will eat salary ($5MM went to the Reds in the Byrd deal), but despite that, talks with the Brewers stalled.

I have theory as to another factor that led to this stall besides Pap's salary and no-trade rights: Ruben Amaro, Jr. Yes, it's not farfetched. Most of the Phillies fan-base doesn't approve of his tenure - 96-98% disapprove last I checked. At first, it was the big moves: getting rid of Lee in December 2009 and shortly thereafter extending Howard two years before he was due to hit Free-Agency. Then, all the smaller moves added up, some bad from the start and others bad after the fact. That alone would not be a problem, nor all the contradictory statements regarding contention vs. rebuild. His accusation after the trade deadline - other GMs were not aggressive enough - cost him dearly. Rule No. 1 of negotiation: NEVER accuse or insult the other party, even when you may be correct. In Rube's case, we know that his assessment of his players was wrong.

Can he still negotiate? Yes. Can this trade still work out? Yes. But I have concluded that this process would be a whole lot smoother if Rube was not the Phillies GM. I must say: Rube & the front office have done a good job trading our veterans so far. Nice returns and very little money sent over so far.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Projecting the 2015 Roster

The full Spring Training roster is due to report in four weeks and I've completed the entries discussing last year and the off-season. With that discussed, it is time to project the Opening Day roster and depth chart.

Before I give out specific names, let's discuss numbers. Given the Phils' hitting needs, Ryne & Rube will probably go with 12 pitchers & 13 hitters - I would, if I were them. Assuming both Rule 5 picks make the roster, there are four spots open: one each for the rotation & bench and one bullpen spot. So, who will be guaranteed Phillies this year? Let's begin with the rotation.

  1. Lefty Cole Hamels as #1 - trade unlikely before O.D.
  2. Lefty Cliff Lee as #2 - his elbow seems to have recovered
  3. Righty Jerome Williams (re-signed to  1-YR deal)
  4. Righty David Buchannan (sophomore season)
*Will be lefty-then-righty as the Phillies have done in recent years.

9th Inning - RHR Papelbon (trade unlikely, despite Brewers' recent interest)
Late Relief - RHR Giles, LHR Diekman and RHR De Fratus
Middle Relief - LHR Andy Oliver (Rule 5 pick), LHP Mario Hollands

O.D. Line-Up (batting handedness in parentheses):
  1. CF Revere (L) - hit .306 last year (inconsistent), 13 BB (needs more), 49 steals
  2. C C. Ruiz (R) - adapts to any line-up spot; majority of looks this year to be in lower half of order.
  3. 2B Utley (L)- getting more rest this year, possibly in 2-hole most of year
  4. LF D. Ruf (R) - will get more playing time, especially against LHP
  5. 1B Howard (L) - I think he'll bounce back, but definitely needs to play less vs. LHP.
  6. 3B Asche (L) - Let's see if he can play nearly everyday.
  7. SS Galvis (S) - Let's see how he does nearly everyday.
  8. RF Brown (L) - Last chance to earn everyday job hitting-wise.

C Cameron Rupp (righty) - destroyed base-runners in brief look last year; year-round back-up
IF-CF Cesar Hernandez (switch) - destroyed winter league
OF Grady Sizemore (L) - Re-signed to 1-YR deal
IF-OF Odubel Herrera (L) - Rule 5 pick; also tore up winter league

So, who is competing? For the rotation, the competition will include many familiar names, whom I mentioned in the Stay-or-Go mini-series. For the bullpen, considering that late relief is set, the competition will be mainly for a long man, probably one of those on that fifth starter candidate list. The bench will have a spot waiting for 3B-1B Maikel Franco, who looks to start the year in AAA and then come up in mid-late May. Until then, it's these OF competing for the final spot: Jordan Danks, Jeff Francoeur, Brian Bogusevic, and Xavier Paul.

I will soon discuss some preliminary predictions and, based in part on this Corey Seidman article, where to look for optimism. Go Phillies!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Grading the 2014 Phillies: "Stay or Go?" - Part II: Offense

The Phillies continue to try and trade some of their veterans and there is now a sense of urgency with pitchers, catchers, and injured players reporting in less than one month. Therefore, I give you part two of the “Stay or Go?” game: Offense/ Defense. We begin with catchers, starting with the primary.

Carlos Ruiz is certainly doing his part to get wins. When healthy, he plays in ~70% of the Phils’ games and does every aspect well: good rapport with pitchers, keeps balls in dirt in front of him, nabs a good chunk of base stealers, and even hits well anywhere in the line-up. You can’t ask more from a catcher. We may be slightly overpaying for him, especially with not being contenders, but he is welcomed to stay. Grade: B+/ A-.

We will discuss the back-ups to Ruiz, beginning with his primary back-up Wil Nieves. For a back-up to hit well over .200 while doing his part behind the dish is certainly a welcomed return on a one-year deal. It certainly will help further the development of Rupp, Joseph & Valle if Nieves is re-signed. Cameron Rupp may be ready to take the primary back-up role, especially with his knack for throwing out base-runners, but I don’t think he’s ready to take the lead position when Ruiz is injured. It should be interesting to watch. I have no clue who will be next to reach the majors. Tommy Joseph (AA/ AAA), Sebastian Valle (AA/ AAA), and Andrew Knapp (A) come to mind, but they’re at least 1.5 years from a call-up. So, both Nieves & Rupp get a yes to a return and combined “B” for 2014. Now, onto the rest of the line-up in defensive (3-9) order, so first basemen are next.

Ryan Howard remained on the field in 2014 after missing big chunks of 2012 & 2013 to Achillies & knee injuries, respectfully. He appeared in 153 games: 95 RBI, 23 HRs, .223 AVG, 190 Ks, .690 OPS. On the surface, 95 RBIs is ok production by one player, especially considering Howard had family issues and that it takes awhile to recover from leg injuries (per Larry Andersen).  His .288 BABIP is ok (near-avg.). So, what went wrong? His 29.3% strike-out rate and 16% RBI/ROB rates, the former of which was closer to 33% w/ RISP. Not only did he fail with the bat beyond 95 RBIs being ok, he does nothing else much right: part of his -1.1 WAR is terrible plate discipline & base-running plus novice-level defense (except he still limits errors). I predict a bounce-back year offensively for the former ROY & MVP in 2015: the family issues are resolved & he's back from injury. Ryne still should play him less (every other day consistently, pending lefty pitching) and maybe move him down. If Howard bounces back, that should up his trade value a bit for the deadlines, although his history & contract make trading him virtually impossible. Grade: "F+/D-"

What in the heck are the Phillies doing with Darin Ruf? Why is he only playing 1-3 days per week instead of 5-6 days per week? What was the whole point of benching Howard those three days? “To see what others can do” according to Sandberg, but then Rube apparently nixed that idea – we know now that he was trying to get Howard’s trade value up. It’s still frustrating! Phillies front office and coaches… you’ve seen Howard plenty now and Ruf can play both corner spots (see OF section for more on that). Please give Ruf playing opportunities. Grade: unable to determine due to injury, recovery mismanagement, and lack of playing time.

Next for evaluation are the infield bench players, Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. Like Ruf, they fell victim to rehab mismanagement and/ or lack of playing time. With Rollins gone, Galvis looks to be the "everyday shortstop." I think he may do well as the primary shortstop (5 games per week), so do put him out there. Hernandez tore up the Winter Leagues. With that momentum plus defensive versatility (CF, 2B, 3B, SS), I welcome him to the bench. Grade: "Pass"/ "No Grade"

Come May 28th, Chase Utley seemed well on his way to a .290 AVG with .300 seemingly within reach. Unfortunately, too much playing time wore down our only 2014 All-Star. I think, with at least one day of rest per week and sliding up to the two-hole, he can still produce for us to a .285 AVG. He definitely earned the $15MM he makes per year, especially considering he still plays the game right and the blame falls on Ryne for playing him too much. Grade: B+ (I’m hoping he stays). Now, we discuss our third basemen.

Keep in mind that Cody Asche has only been in the majors 1.5 seasons. The University of Nebraska product came into the majors with a .300 AVG in the minors over the equivalent of two full seasons. Could he have benefit from more time at AAA? Probably. Did the Phillies play him often enough after his call-up? I think so, although a bit of a mental break from time to time would help. I like Asche, especially in a platoon, but the jury’s still out on whether he can play every day or not. Grade: Pass.

Maikel Franco started the year in AAA and really started slow. But in the 2nd half, with help from none other than Charlie Manuel, he tore it up. To use the front office’s words, the 21-year-old Venezuelan “forced” them to call him up in Sept. He played in 16 GM, made just under 60 PAs, had a .404 OPS, and only one error. Scouts say he’s better than Asche overall. Right now, he is behind Asche, which is fine for a 21-Y.O., so more time in AAA will benefit not only Franco but Asche as well (As I said, "the jury is still out on" Asche as an everyday player.). Furthermore, if Franco spends more than five weeks in AAA, his free agency time will come one year later than if he'd opened the year in the majors. However, if Franco can continue hitting at the pace from which he left off - he’s doing/ did in winter ball - I would welcome him up hear anytime, as early as Opening Day. Grade (incl. minors): Pass. Now, instead of discussing more of the Rollins trade & his replacements, we go onto the outfield.

Marlon Byrd did what was asked of him, and that was to stabilize right field offensively & defensively. He struck out a lot, but I didn’t notice it being a detriment this year. I would have loved to see him back, but in a rebuilding year, a trade was the right move. This opens up right field to Domonic Brown, his natural position in A & AA, which should (and has to) benefit him mentally. Left field is open to Ruf or  perhaps some of the utility guys (Hernandez, Asche) or, if the Phillies want to slide him over, Revere (Please do, Ryne!). Ben Revere did well offensively, considering he batted >.300 overall and stole 49 bags despite slow starts & finishes to the season and screws in his ankle. Now that he's no longer screwed up, he should be (1) more consistent despite another slow start and (2) able to more easily use his speed to stretch 1B into 2B. We have Grady Sizemore back, giving us four OFs, and to round out the MLB depth, the Phillies have five players competing for one (or two, if Howard goes) sports: Jordan Danks (off waivers from White Sox), Rule 5 pick Odubel Herrera (another who tore up the winter league) and - on minor league deals - Jeff Francoeur, Brian Bogusevic & Xavier Paul. And now, the 2014 Phillies Outfielders' scores: Brown: D-/F+… 2015 will be make or break; Revere: B-; Byrd: A-; Sizemore: Pass.

With the rebuild underway, the Phillies should be competitive in 2016 and definitely by 2017. We have prospects coming up this year (Franco & Nola) and more at AA (most of our top pitching prospects plus Crawford in 2nd half), who will come up in late 2016/ early-to-mid 2017. I agree with Gillick’s assessment of the rebuild (2017) and look forward to continued progress (not continued success) with our prospects. I said the rotation would be the rebuilding theme this year, but with Rollins & Byrd gone, it looks like I can say the offense can get started, too. Good luck in 2015, guys!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Phillies' Offseason Update

Pardon the missing second part of the “Stay or Go” entry. I’m almost done that. I have been busy with weather blogs & forecasting, posts, and music – mainly the Mummers. I have a bit more time now, so expect SGP2 soon. For now, here’s an update midway through the off-season:

The Phillies’ off-season is heating up and they have shown they are clear sellers. Rollins, Bastardo and Byrd have been traded for four pitching prospects, at least two of which look promising (i.e. a “Top 20 prospect”). Utley (10-and-5 rights), Howard ($60MM owed with declining production), Papelbon ($13MM owed plus clubhouse issues), and Hamels (4-YR/ $95MM left on contract + high asking price) are the biggest names on the trading block this year yet are difficult to trade. Rube, who should be fired but isn’t, used two picks in the Rule 5 draft for promising players and signed several aging veterans to cheap one-year deals (Harang, Sizemore, Williams, W. Rodriguez) as we continue to develop the following players: Hernandez, Biddle, Nola, Franco, Neris, Galvis, Crawford, Morgan (recovery from surgery), Gonzalez, Pettibone (surgery) and O’Sullivan... and of course, the 2014 Phillies RoYs: Buchannan, Diekman, De Fratus, Hollands, and (4th in RoY voting) Giles. Cody Asche, Ben Revere, Darin Ruf, and Domonic Brown will continue to get playing time (I hope all four will) to find out what roles they can fill down the road. I see many of these guys as five-days-per-week-players. And if you're wondering, yes... we do have players that can spell these guys.

So, this year is all about player development and if these guys develop at the pace the bullpen did last year, then we shouldn’t reach the 100-loss mark. We shall see. It all depends on (1) how smart the Phillies are with the rebuild and playing time, and (2), of course, the players’ performances.

Preliminary Prediction: 62-75 wins... I'm thinking 68 is where we'll be.