Offseason Transaction Report Card: Philadelphia Phillies

By Jonathan Reimer on Sunday, January 6th 2013
 Offseason Transaction Report Card: Philadelphia Phillies

As the Major League Baseball’s offseason enters January, most significant player transactions are complete and rosters largely settled for the 2013 season.  Through January, we’ll feature the contenders in both the National and American Leagues, assessing their offseason efforts to address their 2013 roster needs. We’ll look back at how each team’s 2012 season ended with an eye on the updates and upgrades required to compete in 2013, how they’ve fared through the offseason and what the team looks like as we approach spring training.

We’re looking at the National League, with today’s focus being the Philadelphia Phillies.

Phillies' 2012 Offseason Requirements

After five-consecutive NL East first place finishes, the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies’ age caught up with them, as the team finished with an 81-81 record.  The Phillies’ season was brought down by a combination of injuries to key players (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco), poor hitting, and an atrociously ineffective bullpen. The team started poorly, compiling a 37-50 record by the All-Star break.  Despite trading key players in the second half (Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and Hunter Pence) the team rebounded in the second half, compiling a 44-31 record.

General manager Ruben Amaro faced a balancing act going into the 2012 offseason.  His core of strong players, while aging, still provided the Phillies the opportunity to compete in the NL, particularly for a Wild Card spot; any team sporting a starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels can be expected to win the bulk of its’ games. However, with a high player payroll (already at $156M for 2013, with arb-eligible salaries to be confirmed), there’s not a lot of flexibility to acquire players that fill their glaring roster holes.

The Phillies had clear offseason needs to address at third base, across the outfield, and in the bullpen.  Polanco, through injuries and age, had shown his end was approaching and would not return in 2013 after concluding his three-year contract. The outfield had few clear incumbents, between Victorino and Pence’s departures and the disappointing performance of one-time key prospect Dominic Brown.  The bullpen required significant upgrades as the late inning relievers blew a whopping 19 blown saves in 2012.

Offseason Transaction Recap

Amaro’s first offseason task was to upgrade the team’s outfield.  While the free agent market offered many impact bats at the center field position, Amaro balked at the high asking prices of Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourne and BJ Upton.  Instead, Amaro upgraded his center field position through trade, acquiring the defence-first, slash-hitting Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins in return for pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May.

Revere, 24, is a slightly below-average hitter (2012 OPS+ of 88) with outstanding range.  Despite his poor hitting, he generated 3.4 WAR in 2012 in just 124 games.  He’s not arbitration eligible until the 2014 offseason, and is not free agent eligible until 2018.  Amaro’s price to acquire Revere was steep – Worley was an effective fourth starter in 2011 and 2012, while May was ranked the Phillies number one pitching prospect by Baseball America. However, Revere effectively locks up the Phillies’ centre field at a considerable bargain to the available free agent options. 

Amaro addressed his third base needs by acquiring Michael Young and $10M from the Texas Rangers in return for pitching prospect Lisalverto Bonilla and reliever Josh Lindblom. While Young’s had a long, productive career , he had a miserable 2012 campaign. He was considered the worst MLB regular in 2012 by way of his -1.4 WAR posted over 651 ABs.  The Phillies acquired the 36-year old Young for the last year of his contract and will only pay $6M of his $16M salary.  They’ll rely on him to play 3B, a position he’s not played regularly since 2010. He’s never been a good fielder, posting a negative total zone rating every year since 2008. 

There’s hope in this deal for the Phillies. Young’s always used his high line drive rate to miss fielders and get on base.  That’s a skill set that does not diminish quickly and there’s good reason to think his low 2012 BABIP is indication of a one-year fluke.  A notoriously impatient hitter, Young actually posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career in 2012.  He struck out just 10.8% of his at bats, which was well below his career rate of 14.3% of ABs. As the Phillies are just paying him $6M, they’re not paying for performance reminiscent of his peak.  If he can produce 12 HRs, 70 RBIs, and a return to his career .301 batting average, they’ll be happy with his production at 3B.

After the Winter Meetings, the Phillies plugged the rotation hole created through the Vance Worley trade, signing former Nationals’ starting pitcher John Lannan to a one-year contract for $2.5M. Lannan, 29, is a reliable back of rotation starter that can reliably pitch 150-180 innings.  He’s a pitch-to-contact guy (56% ground ball ratio) who relies on his defence to save him from his low strikeout rate (4.6 SO/9).  He’ll benefit from a strong up-the-middle defence, though Charlie Manuel would be wise to sit third baseman Young on Lannan’s schedule starting pitching dates. It’s a low-risk, low-reward signing that reflects the Phillies maxed payroll.

This last week, the Phillies finalized a two-year, $12M contract for reliever Mike Adams. Adams owns a 2.28 career ERA, with ¾ of his career’s 328 innings pitched being in the 8th inning.  He’s long been considered one of baseball’s best setup men and will improve a Phillies bullpen that had trouble handing 2012 leads to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

2012 Offseason Report Card and Look Forward to 2013

Amaro has been creative in addressing many of the Phillies roster needs on a constrained budget.  His trade for Revere locks up centerfield with an elite defender for the next five years, while the subsequent signing of John Lannan effectively replaced traded pitcher Vance Worley. Recognizing the Rangers’ pressing need to rid themselves of Michael Young allowed Amaro to acquire a one-year third base fix for a modest $6M commitment.  There’s still life in Young bat, and frankly, there’s not bad one year deals in baseball.

Nonetheless, there remain significant gaps on the Phillies roster.  Despite adding Revere, their outfield may be the weakest in baseball, as they’re slated to start Darrin Ruf and Dominic Brown at the corner outfield positions.  They’ll need to upgrade at least one of these positions before Spring Training.  Signing free agent (and former Phillie) Michael Bourne to a one-year contract may yet be in the cards.

The Phillies can expect improvements in 2013, primarily as a result of the better health of their key performers. If Howard, Halladay and Utley can consistently return alongside regulars Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon, there’s a lot of talent to compete with the Braves and Nationals in the NL East.

Amaro deserves an B+ for his offseason upgrades, and that grade made get bumped up if he can effectively address his remaining corner outfield needs.

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