I try to keep my commentary on this site rational, coherent, and dispassionate whenever possible. But the past few days have tested my patience. So what follows is spoken not from a place of reason, at least not entirely, and is permeated throughout with profanity and invective. So if you’re looking for news, this is not the place for you. If, however, you’re as fed up as I am with the rampant speculation on trades that could, if you listen to some, not only save the Phillies’ current season (!) but prevent the imminent disaster that is Domonic Brown from raining down volcanic ash and deadly plasma upon our fair city, yea, unto the seventh generation, then this is the post for you.
I think today is the day, as such a trade becomes, it seems, unavoidable, that we turn to the internet not out of fear but for catharsis, because after months of trying to discuss the situation analytically, my patience is wearing thin. I’m tired of discussing the pros and cons of Relief Pitcher A versus Relief Pitcher B, or Hunter Pence versus Carlos Quentin and Ryan Ludwick. I’m through being patient and ecumenical, because, frankly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that Ruben Amaro is going to do something, out of a misplaced sense of panic or perhaps nothing more complicated than his own ignorance, that is so profoundly stupid as to touch on the bounds of mental illness.
Here’s the thing. The Phillies have assembled a team that is clearly the best in the National League. Coolstandings.com, which probably does not bear as much resemblance to the Holy Gospel as I make it out to, but is still an interesting way to look at the standings, has them on pace to win 99 games for the first time since the Danny Ozark era and at a 96.9 percent chance of making the playoffs. What a laughable idea it is, in light of those facts, that the Phillies need to do anything!
Even after the Carlos Beltran deal, the Phillies still match up quite well with the Giants and Braves, certainly well enough for Charlie Manuel’s bunch to like their chances in a seven-game NLCS with home-field advantage. So why is Ruben Amaro putting his young players on the market, the ones who stand to continue this era of dominance that we’ve somehow all taken for granted will continue beyond 2012 or 2013?
Now that the trade market is settling into its final week before the non-waiver deadline, do you know what the Phillies have to do to be the overwhelming favorite to represent the National League in the World Series? Not a goddamned thing.
“Is anyone against pillaging the farm system for a mediocre bat and a relief pitcher?” Pat Gallen, Phillies Nation
“If the Phillies offered Singleton and Cosart for Pence and the Astros rejected it, 1) both teams are insane, 2) I hope ATL doesn’t beat that.” Peter Hjort, Capitol Avenue Club (Atlanta Braves’ SweetSpot affiliate)
Why the Phillies Shouldn’t Trade For Relief Pitchers
Cost. Pure and simple. Mike Adams and Heath Bell, the two Padres with whom the Phillies have been most seriously linked, are going to cost a lot. This is for two reasons: first, because Bell and Adams are both really good. Second, because relief pitchers are the most overrated commodity in baseball, perhaps in all of sports. Here’s the all-time list for leaders in wins above replacement for pitchers who didn’t make a single start in a given season. Since 1980 or so, when relievers started being capped at around 80 innings a season, only seasons of historical greatness (mostly by Mariano Rivera, with the occasional Brad Lidge and Jonathan Papelbon season thrown in) have been worth more than three wins above replacement: essentially, what Shane Victorino has done through two-thirds of this season. Let me say that again: a good (but not great) position player, like Victorino will help his team as much in two-thirds of a season as a historically great reliever does in the best season of his career. A good closer is worth maybe two wins nowadays. Domonic Brown is under team control for another five years and change. Even if he’s no better than Victorino–and expert projections suggest he’ll be far better–he’ll make up for a full season of Bell or Adams in a couple months. Jonathan Singleton is much the same, except he’d be under team control for six seasons.
Let’s say Bell is traded here for Singleton, who has the potential to put up, conservatively, about 25 WAR or more in six seasons before he hits free agency. I’m aware Singleton isn’t a sure thing, but 20 innings (and that’s the absolute maximum you’d get from a reliever with a typical usage pattern from now until October) of Heath Bell is worth maybe a win, compared to 20 innings of David Herndon. Now, if you’re saying there’s only a four percent chance that Singleton turns into a pretty good major league player–which, by even the most conservative math, is what it would take to make a Singleton-for-Bell swap worth it, marginal win-for-marginal-win–then you’re debating from a position so intellectually untenable as to strain the bounds of believability. You’d have an easier time convincing anyone who actually knows baseball (and if you don’t think I do, ask Keith Law or Jim Callis) that the world is flat than convincing them that 20 innings of Heath Bell (which you’d get from Roy Halladay in two weeks) is worth six years of Jonathan Singleton. Trading a top prospect for any relief pitcher is walking-into-a-sliding-glass-door stupid. If a top Phillies prospect–mostly Singleton and Jarred Cosart, but especially Domonic Brown–is traded for a relief pitcher, you’re going to need buckets and fishing nets to gather up the dessicated, neatly-diced body parts I’ll leave in my wake.
Ruben Amaro is a noted pescatarian, meaning that the only meat he eats is fish, a trait he has in common with dolphins. If he trades Singleton or Brown for Heath Bell or Mike Adams, Amaro will have demonstrated that, like a dolphin, he is operating with, admittedly, some degree of sentience, but with a level of intelligence far below that of even the most developmentally handicapped human being. It boggles the mind that major league general managers–who ought to be, at least on paper, 30 of the most knowledgeable and cunning baseball minds in the game–still overvalue relief pitchers as they do. If baseball people ruled the world, I swear we’d all still be in the fucking Bronze Age.
Why It’s Not Worth It to Trade For an Outfield Bat
Now that Carlos Beltran is off the trade market, I’ll rank for you the remaining outfield bats on the trade market: 1) Hunter Pence 2) B.J. Upton 3) Carlos Quentin 4) any of the various hemorrhagic fevers endemic to central Africa 5) burning to death aboard the Hindenburg 6) Ryan Ludwick. Pence, Upton, and Quentin are all good ballplayers who could help the Phillies quite a bit in both the short and long term. Look at these AVG/OBP/SLG lines, courtesy of Phuture Phillies, who played this little mind game on Twitter yesterday. Player A is Ludwick, Player B is Ben Francisco, and Player C is Raul Ibanez. All of those (though Francisco has a decent OBP) are awful. Francisco is pretty cheap, and Ibanez, at this point, is a sunk cost. Now, if you consider that Ludwick would cost a minor leaguer plus a prorated share of his $6.7 million salary, it goes from “pretty awful” to Lost in Translation awful, to the point where you feel like a part of your soul has been stolen from you and consumed by a fire-breathing shitdemon in front of your very eyes. The spectre of the Phillies giving up anything of value for Ryan Ludwick hangs above this franchise like the Sword of Damocles, and it haunts me each night. If Ryan Ludwick puts on red pinstripes this season, I would be tempted to go on a homicidal rampage, a campaign of random and graphic violence that would make Patrick Bateman blush.
Upton, Pence, and Quentin, however, are a different story. The reason the Phillies have done so well trading for pitching over the past four years is that they’ve managed to give up only relatively risky prospects for the top-level arms, and they’ve sold high on the likes of Michael Taylor and J.A. Happ, who haven’t held their value since leaving Philadelphia. Of the minor leaguers they’ve traded since midseason 2008, only Gio Gonzalez and Carlos Carrasco have really amounted to much of anything so far, though I reserve the right to change my tune if and when Travis d’Arnaud and Anthony Gose turn into Mike Piazza and Rickey Henderson. The thing is, the Phillies, by flirting with the idea of trading Cosart, Singleton, and Brown, risk giving up more (remember, Brown was unavailable in the trades for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt, all of whom were better than any outfielder being discussed here) for second-tier players.
As an aside, each of the three aforementioned outfielders has a caveat. Upton is controlled by Andrew Friedman of the Rays, who actually is as shrewd and intelligent as a GM ought to be, and would almost certainly rip the Phillies off. Pence is having a career year based on an inflated BABIP. As a rookie, Pence’s slash line was similar to his 2011 stats, and his BABIP was .377, even more unsustainably high as his .367 mark in 2011. For the next three seasons, that BABIP dropped to around.300 and he went from a .900 OPS player to a .780 OPS player, which is decent for a corner outfielder, but not particularly good. We should expect more of the 2008-2010 Hunter Pence, rather than the 2010 Pence. And for his part, Carlos Quentin’s career high in games played is 131. You can’t contribute if you’re hurt.
Could I find peace if the Phillies were to acquire B.J. Upton at the cost of three middling prospects? Absolutely; I’d rejoice at it and twiddle my thumbs lustily at the prospect of Upton playing center field next to Victorino in right–imagine how few fly balls would drop then. But for two or more potential superstars? Absolutely not. My objection to Hunter Pence and his ilk has never been their quality, which is self-evident; Pence, Upton, and Quentin could all help the team. It’s the idea of giving up too much for too little.
Imagine you’re at a bar ordering a beer. A glass of Chimay Grand Reserve (my favorite beer on the planet) might run you $8, which is fair. A pint of Guinness might be $5.50, Yuengling $3.50, and Bud Light $2. The Phillies have dined out for three years on acquiring glasses of Chimay (Halladay and Lee) for the price of a Guinness, but if Singleton and Cosart, plus another prospect went to Houston for Pence, as Ruben Amaro was rumored to have offered, that would represent spending $6 or $7 for a Yuengling, which is a nice beer, but not worth paying extra for. If anything of value goes to San Diego for Ryan Ludwick, even if he’s packaged with a reliever, that would be equivalent to buying a lukewarm bucket of leper’s vomit for the price of a Yuengling.
For one of these players, it would be reasonable to trade Singleton or Cosart, neither of whom, after all, are known quantities, and may represent fair value for an above-average corner outfielder. But trading Domonic Brown would be lunacy of the highest order, the kind of foolhardiness that recalls lemmings or the Children’s Crusade, and could represent just that kind of a disaster. You see, if we expect a .780 OPS from Hunter Pence–and if you’re at all willing to look consider arguments other than “…but he’s Hunter Pence and he’s great!” then you ought to–then why can’t Brown, who is much younger, cheaper, has room to improve and a .749 OPS this season all while recovering from a power-sapping hand injury, fill that void himself? Why spend more in salary and give up years of team control, to say nothing of the vast improvement that Brown is all but certain to undergo in the coming years, for only a marginal improvement on the field?
What’s more, what’s the guarantee that Hunter Pence hits better than Domonic Brown in the playoffs anyway? To those of you who say last year’s NLCS proved the Phillies needed another bat–were you watching the playoffs last year? The bats that lifted the Giants to the title belonged to Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, and the corpse of Edgar Renteria, hardly a murderer’s row of elite hitters, at least by 2010. The Phillies, on their run to the title in 2008, played 14 playoff games, a sample so small and so subject to randomness that the word insignificant scarcely does it justice. In a 12-game span from July 5 to July 23, Michael Martinez hit .298/.346/.489, but does that mean that he’s a good player? Absolutely not. There’s no telling whether Pence, or Brown, or even someone of obviously lesser quality, such as Raul Ibanez could wind up getting the key hit, which is why the playoffs, while entertaining, are a crapshoot.
I am at a loss to find a logical explanation for why anyone but a total sheep-buggering simpleton would do such a thing as trade Brown for Pence, unless he buys into the kind of bread-and-circuses doubletalk that gets poured into the eyes of Daily News readers and WIP listeners like so much shit into a medieval chamber pot. And if you believe the ill-considered shouted garbage that you see and hear in those media, than salvation and enlightenment may truly be beyond your grasp. May God have mercy on your soul.
In short, I’m praying that one of two eventualities comes to pass: 1) that Rube is posturing and that one of Pence, Upton, or Quentin could be had for a reasonable price–they’re all quality players, for sure, and he’s waiting until Ed Wade gets desperate to pounce on Pence, which is a surprisingly fun thing to say out loud. 2) That the Phillies, who, as I’ve said, need to to absolutely nothing to keep up with the top teams in baseball.
If another scenario plays out, however, then I won’t be held responsible for what I do. So go ahead, Rube, and trade Domonic Brown for a second-tier outfielder or a middle reliever, and let’s see what fucking happens.