The 2010 Phillies will be a vastly different team than the 2009 Phillies, or for that matter, the 2008 World Series champs. That can be said with certainty for several different reasons – fresh faces, different chemistry, year-to-year fluctuation of performance, and, most importantly, the fact that any season in any professional sport is based on an unquantifiable amount of “luck.”
It can be said that a team makes its own luck based on the talent level of its players, but there’s also a degree of magic that each team either has or doesn’t have in any given year that is not solely determined by how talented it may be.
For example, think about all of the games that Raul Ibanez almost single-handedly won for the Phils in April and May. Was that due to his early success that led to a city-wide love affair between the then newcomer and his new place of business, that in turn led to soaring confidence? Was it due to the new dimensions he was playing in, or the fact that many of the pitchers he was facing were unfamiliar with an American League-lifer?
Ibanez’ season numbers (.272/.347/.552, 34 homers, 93 RBI,) were very good, but when we explain the 2009 Phillies to our children, we will describe Ibanez’ season as fantastic or stellar, or [insert positive adjective here.] This is because it was the timing of those 34 homers and those 93 RBI that single-handedly determined outcomes of games. If I believed in such a term, I’d say that Ibanez was the definition of “clutch” during the inaugural months of the 2009 season.
In contrast, look at the 2009 Philadelphia 76ers, a team that has talent, but the inability to score and make defensive stops when it matters most. The result? A 5-18 record, twelve consecutive losses, and countless last-minute defeats. They lack the timing, the magic, and the luck that a team needs to succeed, but not the talent.
Those first five paragraphs were designed to explain that, although the 2010 Phillies will feature many of the same names and faces that we’ve grown accustomed to over this unbelievable stretch of success, that fact alone does not assure them of another National League crown, or even a fourth straight National League East crown.
Think about the 2005-06 Eagles. After losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl following the 2004 season, the mindset of most fans was, “It’s okay, we’ll be back next year. We’re going to Detroit.” We felt that way because we knew the key components of that team would be back. (And we didn’t figure that a guy would do something career-threatening and mind-numbingly stupid like, I don’t know, do sit-ups in his driveway.)
Even though we don’t know the Phillies have another great year ahead of them, we do know that they are positioned better than approximately 27 other teams as of today. And with the experience gained from a bunch of playoff games and a good amount of adversity along the way, it’s hard to imagine the Phils not succeeding. So, even though anything discussed right now is speculative because the games aren’t played on paper, it’s December, and paper’s all we’ve got!
Love the move. Applauded audibly in my apartment in State College when I woke up and saw the story break on MLBTradeRumors.com, (a site that I wish I came up with when I was nine years old.) As I stated here, Polanco represents the best upgrade at the hot corner because he adds a new dimension to an already potent lineup.
He won’t strike out, he’ll produce runs with a man on third and less than two out, and you can bet the farm (if you operate and maintain a farm) that he’ll produce a .300/.350/.410 slash-line in 2010.
Yes, there are question marks on the defensive end. He hasn’t played third base since 2005, when Allen Iverson was here for the first time and George W. Bush was in the first year of his second term. But Polanco has been one of the top-three defensive second baseman in major league baseball for several years now, and was tops among all second baseman in 2009 (that Utley fella was second.) Third base includes more reaction and less range than second base, but don’t you want a 34 year-old going to the position that requires less range, rather than vice versa?
The terms of Polanco’s contract are not bad at all, despite the knee-jerk opinions that people furiously fired away on Twitter. A three-year/$18 million deal is exactly what I proposed in the article that argued on Polanco’s behalf, and that’s what Ruben Amaro gave him. Polanco will make $5M his first year, followed by $5.25M and $6.25M in the next two years. The rest of the money was paid out in bonuses and won’t affect what shows up on the payroll.
There is an option for a fourth season at $5.5M, but that option is mutual, meaning both the team and Polanco must agree to it in order for it to take effect. If Polanco has failed to live up to his contract by 2013, the Phils can say adios. If he is still producing, $5.5M is STILL a steal. As a point of reference, Kevin Correia will make $3.6M next year. Five or six million dollars may be more money than we all know what to do with, but in baseball terms, it isn’t a significant financial commitment, especially for a player as consistent as Polanco.
Lastly, the Phillies have NO answers at third base in the farm system. Anthony Hewitt was drafted in the first round two years ago to be the Phils’ third baseman of the future, but he’s struck out 132 times and drawn 16 walks in two seasons in the lowest levels of the minor leagues. He’s slashed .214/.255/.363 and he committed 26 errors in 56 games at third base last year. Nobody in this organization is holding their breath for an internal option to emerge.
The terms of Gload’s two-year deal are still undisclosed, but the Phils have signed him to, essentially, fill Matt Stairs’ role. Gload, a left-handed hitting first baseman and outfielder, led the majors with 21 pinch-hits in ’09 for the Florida Marlins. Last year might have been an apparition, but if not, the Phils will head into the 2010 season with two top-flight lefty pinch-hitters in Gload and Greg Dobbs. While this may spell the end for everybody’s “favorite-baseball-player-who-looks-more-like-a-roofer,” the fact that Stairs scuffled heavily in ’09 cannot be hidden.
I love this move just for the simple fact that it means Paul Bako will not be returning in 2010. No disrespect to all seven of Bako’s fans out there, but there simply is no justfication for this guy still being in the major leagues. He hasn’t hit over .235 since 1999. (And, for anyone who went and looked that up in an attempt to prove me wrong – no, Bako’s 4o at-bats in 2005 don’t qualify.)
Literally ANY Double-A or Triple-A catcher could be a backup catcher in place of Bako and provide the same production (with more upside,) as well as a cheaper contract. And if anybody says anything about Bako “handling a pitching staff well,” I’m going to react like Ruxin on “The League” did when Antonio Gates torched him in Week Two. That phrase means absolutely nothing and is only used to excuse a lack of offensive production from a catcher.
Schneider, a left-handed hitting Phillie-killer, is coming off a horrible year and I do declare (Michael Scott-voice) that the Phils overpaid to sign him. Not because $3M is a ton of money or he won’t be worth it, but because he could have been signed for two years/$2.25M instead. Oh well.
Schneider built a reputation as being a very good defensive catcher, and anybody who has followed the Phillies over the last decade knows that he has the ability to deliver big hits. He is a viable backup backstop and won’t be a terrible hole in the lineup if Carlos Ruiz happens to go down for a few weeks in mid-July.
As with Schneider, I like the signing because it spells the end of someone else’s tenure with the Phillies – one Eric Bruntlett. Castro carries a mediocre stick but plays every infield position, and since literally any major leaguer is an upgrade over Bruntlett, Castro can only help the Phils.
DeWayne Wise, Wilson Valdez, Cody Ransom
Wise is the guy who made the unbelievable catch in center field to save Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. He’s a left-handed hitting outfielder with speed who can be used as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. If he makes the major league roster, he’ll contribute.
Valdez was one of the 9,461 players the Mets tried out at a middle-infield position last year. He probably won’t make the major league roster. If he does, it will be because he outdid Juan Castro in spring training as the utility infielder.
Ransom is a right-handed hitting utility infielder who made 18 starts at third base for the Yankees last year. He was invited to Spring Training so that there are enough able bodies to play in the Grapefruit League. (Who named the Grapefruit League? Why is it named the Grapefruit League? Because Florida produces a lot of grapefruit? If so, why can’t it be called the Cocaine League, the Social Security League, or the Illegal Immigration League?)
Say No to Halladay
At this point, I hope the Phillies don’t land Roy Halladay. As several writers pointed out earlier this week, the Phils would likely have to trade Joe Blanton in order to make room for the hefty $15.75M Halladay is due in 2010. This would mean that, in addition to trading J.A. Happ and Dominic Brown/Michael Taylor, there would be no more Blanton, and probably no more Chan Ho Park or Scott Eyre either because their price tags would also be too steep for the $140M payroll that management has mandated.
It also means that the Phils would probably not re-sign Cliff Lee, but instead opt to give Halladay a long-term extension. I’d rather have Lee long-term, because he’s a year younger, has less mileage in his arm, and doesn’t carry an injury history as long as Halladay’s.
Relievers on the Market
The Astros confused everybody by giving Brandon Lyon $300 million over two years to be a late-inning reliever on a 75-win team. (NB: 3 yrs/$15M was the actual overpayment.) Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration and was shipped to Tampa. That leaves Fernando Rodney and Mike Gonzalez as potential late-inning relievers for the Phils to sign, or a guy like John Smoltz, whose name has been linked to the team often in recent days.
Rodney would not fit well here and the Phils would likely have to dole out big bucks to get him. Gonzalez is coming off of a very good year, but he missed most of 2007 and 2008 to injuries. He’s struggled with a lack of command in his career and is not the ideal compliment to J.C. Romero, the Phillies current “effectively wild” lefty.
Smoltz would be a good signing because it would be a one-year, likely incentive-laden deal. He could pitch the seventh, the eighth, or even the ninth if needbe. He could also make a spot start in case of an emergency.
I understand that the Phils decided to part ways with Myers a long time ago, but it makes sense for them to re-visit the pros and cons of having Myers on the team. Like Smoltz, Myers would be a flexible pitcher who could pitch the middle innings, the late innings, be a long reliever, or even a spot starter. He wouldn’t command a ton of money and could probably be had for less than Rodney or Gonzalez. Myers is more proven than either of those pitchers and possesses much more versatility.
Amaro seems to know what he’s doing. The lack of confidence during free agency doesn’t exist with Amaro like it once did with Ed Wade, who is now doing a good job of screwing up a directionless team in Houston. (Yes, I know that owner Drayton McLane only makes it harder for Wade to do his job, but come on – that much money for Lyon when you have holes at catcher, second, and short? Yeesh!)
If the worst thing you can say about our GM is that he’s slightly overpaid with Ibanez and Polanco, well, maybe you need to wake up and realize how good you’ve got it.