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Is a Sox-Style Rebuild Possible?

Posted by Ian Riccaboni, Tue, October 29, 2013 09:00 AM | Comments: 24
Analysis, Features, Opinion

On August 25, 2012, the Boston Red Sox unloaded the big contracts of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, trading the trio along with Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Baseball America’s #49 prospect Allen Webster, reliever Rubby De La Rosa, a year of James Loney, and a few other pieces. The move was half-symbolic, half-salary dump: sure, the Red Sox received Webster and De La Rosa, two small pieces of their AL Pennant-winning squad, and likely larger pieces of their future, but the move was done in large part to add flexibility to their 2012 free agency positioning.

In large part because of the trade, the Red Sox were able to add several veteran mid-level contracts. The Red Sox signed Mike Napoli (one year, $13 million), Ryan Dempster (two years, $26.5 million), Stephen Drew (one year, $9.5 million), Jonny Gomes (two years, $10 million), David Ortiz (two years, $26 million), Koji Uehara (two years, $9.25 million), and Shane Victorino (three years, $39 million). These contracts total $70.87 million and this total does not include arbitration raises for Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester and contractual increases for players like Dustin Pedroia.

The 2012 contracts of Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez, and Punto totaled $58.1 million. Add to this total the ~$37.33 expiring contracts of Ortiz, Marlon Byrd, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Vicente Padilla, Cody Ross, and Ryan Sweeney for a net savings of $24.56 million comparing these two groups. This number does not include the arbitration raises. Boston ended 2012 with a total payroll of $168.6 million with just 69 wins to show for it. In 2013, the Red Sox improved by 28 wins, won the AL East, and will finish, at worst, the top team in the American League, a 3-2 World Series lead with a $158.97 Opening Day payroll. Not bad.

Could the Phillies do something similar for 2014?

Let’s be clear: the Phillies do not have anyone like Xander Bogaerts, the just-turned-21 infield phenom who jumped into the playoff limelight without missing a step. Let’s also be clear that the Phillies do not have cornerstone talent like Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia. The Phillies can match the Sox ace for ace, Cole Hamels for Jon Lester, Cliff Lee for Clay Buchholz. But that’s about how similar things get.

And yet, if the Phillies were willing to, and were willing to get creative, they could do some major improving if they were willing to keep anything not nailed down moving on box cars to be competitive in 2014. Let’s take a look.

The Phillies entered 2013 with an Opening Day payroll of $159.58 million, about $30 million short of the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, but not including things like minor league contracts that also count against the luxury tax. Gone from this number are the contracts of Michael Young ($6 million), Delmon Young (included in the Opening Day projection at $500 K), Roy Halladay ($20 million), and Carlos Ruiz ($5 million), bringing the total to $128.08 million.

There are a few arbitration eligible players that will likely be back. Ruben Amaro has stated that Kyle Kendrick will be tendered a contract for 2014, which is estimated to be around $6.6 million. Add to this Antonio Bastardo ($2.0 million), Ben Revere ($1.5 million), and possibly Kevin Frandsen ($1.3 million) and John Mayberry ($1.7 million). Worst case scenario, the Phillies will add $13.1 million back to their payroll in arbitration-eligible players, pumping their likely Opening Day roster back to $141.18 million before raises built into contracts kick in.

The first raise goes to Ryan Howard, who is set to earn $5 million more in 2014. Meanwhile, Cole Hamels is set to earn $3 million more and Mike Adams $2 million more in 2014. And of course, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is signed for about $4 million in 2014. The number for the team before considering minor league costs then jumps back up to $155.18 million, just $4.40 million less than their 2013 Opening Day payroll, leaving them very little wiggle room to sign anyone, yet alone a top tier free agent.

So if the Phillies tried to free up some money, where would they start? And would a Red Sox-style turnaround be even remotely possible?

The problem the Phillies have, as we all know, is that very few players account for most of their salaries. For lack of a better word, the Red Sox were able to become more successful because they diversified their interests: they signed veteran players to short-term deals to fill holes in their line-up. Unfortunately for the Phillies, three of their larger contracts, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, are immovable due to size and a pair of no trade clauses. A fourth, Jonathan Papelbon, could likely only be dealt if a significant portion of his salary was absorbed.

The easiest way to get talented players and to shed salary is to start from the top of the rotation: deal Hamels and Cliff Lee. Dealing Hamels is neither ideal or likely, but, even with $112.5 million remaining on his contract, he is among the most valuable trade chip on the roster and would free up $22.5 million from the payroll. Trading Hamels and, say, Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin, to a team looking to make a splash, for instance, the Reds, for Jay Bruce and Billy Hamilton or Homer Bailey and a prospect. A hypothetical trade that nets you $10-12 million in room under the luxury tax and either a replacement (Bailey) or a hole filler (Bruce) with a lottery ticket prospect would benefit the Phillies long term.

Trading Lee may be slightly easier. With two years left on his contract left, there may be a few interested teams for the 35-year old lefty. Who would say no first if the Phillies proposed Cliff Lee and two players to be named later to Texas for Adrian Beltre ($17 million in 2014, signed through 2015), Craig Gentry, and Luke Jackson? What if the Phillies sweetened the pot and included Maikel Franco and the Rangers included Martin Perez instead of Jackson? The Phillies would add a power hitting third baseman, a speedster outfielder, and one of the most-talked-about arms in the game, and net another $7.5 million more in space under the luxury tax threshold.

If we go with the above scenario of acquiring Bruce and Hamilton and the Rangers scenario of Beltre, Gentry, and Jackson, the Phillies would have shaved off $17.5 million from their books for 2014. In fWAR terms, the Phillies would add a 5 win third baseman, a gain of 5.4 wins from their 2013 mark from their third basemen and a 6.9-win swing from their right fielder. The addition of Hamilton makes Ben Revere expendable. If Hamilton is even a one-win player next year, it would improve their center field situation by 2.2 wins. The gain of 14.5 wins is, of course, reduced, by the loss of Hamels and Lee (9.3), but would net the Phillies about 5.2 wins. It would also likely take everyone short of Jesse Biddle to execute these deals.

With the $17.5 million in savings, what if the Phillies solidified their left field situation? The Phillies could sign Shin-Soo Choo for an average annual value of about that amount, adding about four wins. The Phillies would then have any combination of Cody Asche, Domonic Brown, Revere, and Darin Ruf to offer as trade chips. Brown and Revere have the most trade value while Asche has some and Ruf has very little. And even more unfortunately, the rest of the Phillies money is nearly immovable. Unless the Phillies get creative and trade players on minimum contracts for minimum contracts, they will not get very far trade wise and likely would have no money to spend.

 In short, even with fortuitous trades as outlined above, emptying out the farm, the Phillies would gain only about nine wins for 2014, bringing their improved total to 82 with an Opening Day payroll of about $158 million with total salaries near around $175 million (adding 11% of the salaries to the Opening Day total) with quite literally no starting pitching. Assuming the Phillies would choose to add another $12-13 million to go all the way to the luxury tax threshold, the Phillies could add maybe Scott Kazmir and Phil Hughes for 3.5 wins, if everything broke correctly, getting them to about 85 wins.

Even with the most advantageous series of trades and bargain bin shopping in recent history, the Phillies will be unable to blow up their team like the Red Sox did in 2012 to make a run in 2013. Even if they found takers for their largest contracts and were able to somehow obtain like-talent in the exchange, the Phillies are currently handcuffed rather badly to the point where some of their only options are bargain-bin discount players. This team, under the best circumstances, likely has a ceiling of 78-80 wins as is and there is no path out of it in sight.

Sigh.

As remote as it may be, the Phillies could field a pretty competitive team dumping all salary possible and loading up on middle of the road free agents while trading younger players to acquire more established talent. For instance, the Phillies could dump Lee and Hamels’ combined $47 million salary for 2014, combined with the $12 million or so they’ll have under the luxury tax and add a number of pretty decent pieces to fill holes. For an estimated $13 million per year, the Phillies could roll the dice on Ervin Santana (2.7 wins), put Chris Young in right for $7 million a year (1.1 wins), sign Kazmir and Hughes for around $13 combined for 3.5 wins, bring in Jarrod Saltalamacchia for $10 mil for 3.5 wins, and make a splash with Ellsbury in left or center for $19 million a year (4.5 wins).  Those moves would put the team at about the same spot the above scenario would but with the added bonus of having your trade chips in Brown and/or Revere plus no returning salary from the Hamels/Lee deals. All of those moves, however, while making the team more fluid, and likely stronger long term, would only net the Phils an additional six wins after considering the losses of Hamels and Lee.

The most creative thinking may not be able to allow the Phillies to escape this hole. Through 2015, the game plan may be “Hamels, Lee, pray for rain, and that Maikel Franco is the 2015 NL MVP”.

Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

About Ian Riccaboni

Ian Riccaboni has written 804 articles on Phillies Nation.

Ian's athletic achievements include getting stuffed by NBA center Aaron Gray in high school and hitting .179 over four years for NYU against D-III, NAIA, JuCo, and NCBA schools. Ian hopes his athletic successes will help him achieve his dream of becoming the underground Bob Uecker.

 
 
  • Posts: 0 CS

    That trade to the Red’s is a pretty crazy idea but may just be worth while.
    RF-Bruce
    CF-Hamilton
    LF-Brown
    4OF-Revere

    Basically whatever has to happen to improve this team needs to be big, creative and more then the free agent market provides. I also like how the Utley trade rumor story was pared with this. I really wanted to get something from the royals system but maybe Cesar, Ruf and a SP could work?

     
  • Posts: 0 Sandy Durso

    I agree if the Phillies want to improve the moves they make are going to have to be bold and creative. Unfortunately I have seen no sign from management that they are prepared to move in that direction. To me the resigning of Chase Utley(I have a great respect for Utley don’t get me wrong) was a signal that the Phillies still think they can “tweak” themselves back into the mix of competition. I don’t think that is going to work. . Also I think the Phillies are going to have to find some diamond in the rough bench players and get rid of those such as Mayberry a player who continues to make this roster besides the fact that he is simply not going to provide any offense to the team. The bullpen was ungodly bad last year as well and there are no easy solutions for that. I would like to see the Phillies move towards a long range plan to rebuild this team into a competition but as I said I don’t see that mindset from its General Manager right now.

     
    • Posts: 0 schmenkman

      Sandy, just curious — in what way does the Utley signing hurt their ability to rebuild?

       
      • Posts: 0 Benny

        Phillies should’ve traded Utley this past season at the trade deadline. Phillies aren’t going to the Playoffs with this current crop of players, so a trade for a few decent prospects would’ve made sense.

        Utley
        Rollins
        Cliff Lee
        Hamels
        Papelbon
        Mini Mart (just kidding)

        All those players should’ve gotten the Phillies at least 7-8 prospects.

        Utley won’t push Phillies into the playoffs. So it’s better to trade him and try to re-build. And perhaps sign a couple of cheap veterans.

        This article was one of the best in a long time. Finally people are starting to realize that there is a need to do radical things. And holding on to fan favorites is just prolonging the rebuilding process.

        Phillies should do whatever it takes to trade Howard too. If it means eating 20 of his 25 million yearly salary, then fine. Do that and get at least one prospect in return.

        Howard is only blocking up and coming players. Phillies aren’t making the playoffs because of him.

        Howard could actually be almost half decent if he was allowed to split time between DH and first base, so AL is necessary.

        A team like Tampa would be a good fit, eat 20 mil of Howards contract, and get one of their average prospects in return.

        A complete overhaul is necessary.

        Some of you guys that are such fans of Hamels, Lee and especially Utley, may remember that prior to the big Dodgers-Red Sox trade last year, Dodgers actually called Phillies about a deal for Cliff Lee. That was the moment when Ruben could’ve overhauled Phillies.

        But he didn’t. And now Red Sox, not Phillies, are one game away from winning the world Series.

         
      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        @Benny, the way I see it, we have:

        - a big market team
        - a front office willing to spend something close to the luxury tax threshold
        - a new TV deal coming up that will mean an additional $100-$150 million or more in annual revenue
        - a desire to maintain a competitive team so as to maximize that deal

        Given all of that, I don’t think there was ever a chance of a full scale rebuild of the kind you describe.

        And from my perspective, that’s fine, because a) chances are only some portion of the “7-8 prospects” would have panned out, and b) there is nothing saying that at the end of that, in a few years, you would have a competitive team, let alone one that makes it to the postseason. Those prospects who did pan out would be paired with players like Hernandez and Asche (who have been projected as good bench to at best average major leaguers), and some day Franco and Biddle if they continue to develop.

        The contracts they’ve signed for Hamels, Utley, and Lee (and for at least 2012, Rollins), have not been for nostalgia’s sake — they have all been at market or lower prices, providing some of the best production at their respective positions.

        They’ve been rebuilding since July 2012 while trying to remain competitive. The strategy was a sound one — it’s the execution that could have been better. We all hope execution improves this off-season, but that would have likely been the case no matter what strategy they pursued.

         
  • Posts: 0 George

    This article is so full of holes I can’t hardly begin to comment.

    The first thing that springs to mind is the idea that because the Phils’ opening day was $i59.58 million in 2012 does not mean that that is the maximum figure they can spend. They can spend up to the tax limit (or beyond, if they choose) so even if they start 2014 at your figure of $155.18 M it doesn’t mean they only have $4.4 M to spend. It’s assinine to even say that.

    Also, the Reds may wish to make a splash, but they aren’t a large market team so it’s not likely they’ll add salary in order to trade away a highly rated prospect such as Hamilton.

    I also don’t see why the Phils would want an aging 3rd baseman, probably on the decline, instead of just keeping Franco, who is way younger, way cheaper, and also hits for power.

    If Hamels is gone, or Lee, who is to replace them? Santana and Hughes certainly can’t.

    In fact, the entire idea of trading young players for more established ones is what got them in trouble to begin with. Win now? If they had the farm system of Boston, maybe they could dump a few key players like Lee or Hamels. But they don’t.

    They will have to be creative, as you state. But that doesn’t mean they have to toss out the baby with the bathwater.

     
    • Posts: 436 Ian Riccaboni

      Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

      “This article is so full of holes I can’t hardly begin to comment.”

      This is the entire premise: there is no way out of what the Phillies are in, even in the most advantageous or creative or creatively advantageous scenario. They can improve the teams from a wins perspective but there is no fix coming within the next 2-3 years.

       
      • Posts: 0 Benny

        Ian, you’re gold worth to this website.

        You’re no nonsense approach and willingness to call out those in charge of questionable decisions is refreshing.

        In comparison to a guy like Todd Zolecki, you actually don’t just rehash the company media message.

        We need more writers like you. It’s keeping our beloved Phillies more honest.

        I don’t always agree with you, but I always find your opinions interesting and well founded.

        Keep up the good work, but I fear you’ll soon be picked up by some major media organisation. Probably in Boston or New York, where they’re used to the no BS journalistic approach.

         
      • Posts: 436 Ian Riccaboni

        Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

        I appreciate the compliment very much, Benny. Thank you for reading and I hope you will continue during the rough patches for the Phillies!

         
      • Posts: 0 George

        So there’s no way out?

        Then why did you bother to write all those trade scenarios, free agent signings, etc? It appeared to me that you were advocating a makeover so that the team could improve or be fixed, and now in further comments, you say it’s impossible. That’s just a cop out for a lack of clarity in the first place. If you think a makeover is impossible, you need to say so up front, or at least give reasons ion your initial post why your trade proposals and signings aren’t gointg to do the job.

        I read nothing in your article indicating a rebuild can’t work, at least on some level.

         
      • Posts: 436 Ian Riccaboni

        Avatar of Ian Riccaboni

        George – it’s toward the bottom:

        “Even with the most advantageous series of trades and bargain bin shopping in recent history, the Phillies will be unable to blow up their team like the Red Sox did in 2012 to make a run in 2013. Even if they found takers for their largest contracts and were able to somehow obtain like-talent in the exchange, the Phillies are currently handcuffed rather badly to the point where some of their only options are bargain-bin discount players. This team, under the best circumstances, likely has a ceiling of 78-80 wins as is and there is no path out of it in sight.”

        That is the entire hinge pin of the article.

         
    • Posts: 0 Brass Villanueva

      To take it a step further, spending money won’t get them out of this mess. The era of being able to buy success through free agency is over. Giving someone a five year deal for what amounts to two years of meaningful production puts a team on the fast track to mediocrity.

      This organization needs to get back to developing it’s own players. The fans will be patient if they know there’s an actual plan in place.

       
  • Posts: 0 Jael

    Look if out Cliff Lee and cole
    we can’t win games hello you take way this 2 we be the same ok you need keep Cliff Lee and cole two good players for a player you real do not know gohelp out the teem hmm I know cliff lee and cole help out the teem this year I like cliff lee and cole I be so damn mad if the phillies tried them thing I will not be a fan at all just have cliff lee be there for 3 years he be done playing the games .

     
    • Posts: 0 Ben

      What did I just read?

       
      • Posts: 0 Mike B

        what read you know i don’t figure and can’t it out either.

         
  • Posts: 2990 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    Is a Sox-style rebuild possible you ask? No…not as long as Ruben Amaro, Jr. is the GM.

    Next…

     
  • Posts: 0 Double Trouble Del

    i am one of the biggest pessimists out there but the fact of the matter is no one knows for sure how Howard’s return to the lineup will affect the players around him and the way they’re pitched to. Having a healthy Howard is the x-factor. Again we weren’t really discussing Maikel Franco at this time last year so we also don’t know if the light will turn on for a minor league player who can contribute at the major league level.

     
    • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

      I would wager, Del, that even as the guy writing that, you under estimate the depth of that comment.

      Just off Howard alone, there is a ton to fret about, and be pessimistic about, because there’s an attraction to that sort of thing. Case in point, film at 11 always goes hand in hand with murder or a fire.

      But it’s not complete fantasy to think of him doing better than is seemingly expected. And it could well effect other parts of the lineup. It’s kinda silly to put numbers on it, let’s just think of improvement, and see if it happens, and where it leads.

      While I’m not carried away optimistic on it happening, it’s one of the reasons I’m gung ho on pitching being a priority.

      Franko was a good mention, too.

       
  • Posts: 0 Joe

    Franco not asche, we need right handed bats. Split 3rd between asche and Franco next year, and if Franco is better as expected trade asche before the trade deadline.

     
  • Posts: 0 bacardipr

    No….Maybe 2 years ago they could of attempted something like this. With the exception of Lee and Cole there isnt anyone on this team worth much in a trade. For that matter not sure anyone will take many of old players out of our hands. They also dont have many A level prospects to build on. Im not jumping on the Franco wagon just yet. Also without further ado ( not going to beat this horse much) but then their is the Howard contract which i wouldnt say is crippling but is undermining what they can do.

     
  • Posts: 0 Bob D

    Another way out is Howard to bounce back to the 260 35+Hr 100+Rbi and Rollins get on base much more. Then the entire bullpen have a good year, Asche prove he is an everyday 3B in the league.

     
    • Posts: 0 Benny

      …and I might win the Powerball lottery tomorrow.

      Your line of wishful thinking, hoping and counting for the best outcome always, is what has brought this franchise down.

      Roy Halladay COULD bounce back and be an ace again.
      Utley could regain his health and strength and hit .300 and mash 30+ homers again.
      Rollins could have another MVP season.
      Papelbon could strike out everyone he faces.
      Kendrick could add 10 MPH on his fastball and be the best thing since sliced bread.
      Stan Musial could rise from the dead and come back to the Phillies.

      Everything is possible, I guess.

      But praying and wishing won’t get us anywhere.

      That’s why all you guys who were happy when Hamels and Utley were resigned, are at fault.

      Do you seriously think Mozeliak was popular in St Louis when he allowed Pujols walk?

      No. But he was obviously right.

       
      • Posts: 829 schmenkman

        Avatar of schmenkman

        I said above, a) when you have $180 M to spend, an overhaul was never in the cards, and b) given that, signing Hamels and Utley, two of the best at their respective positions, are good deals.

         
      • Posts: 829 schmenkman

        Avatar of schmenkman

        That came out more argumentative than I intended, although the points stand.

         
 
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