MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves

Nothing like using a paradox to frame an article, eh? There is no fixing the Phillies, right? They’re an aging team run by a defiant throwback to a simpler time. The Phillies famously eschewed advanced statistical analysis until very recently, but that isn’t the reason they’re doomed as we find them today.

Well, let’s hold on a second here. The Phillies aren’t doomed as much as they’re…up against it. The Phillies have a ton of payroll tied up in some rapidly aging players. Their farm system ranks among the worst in baseball, a by-product of a “win-now” mentality that brought them incredible success for the better part of a decade.

The Phillies, for all their faults, are not too far gone as to advocate a complete and total sell-off. The best reason to look for other ways to help the Phillies, aside from the fire sale option, is because the Phillies are not going to give up now. They will not. They probably should but they almost certainly won’t.

Two different buzzwords from two different industries come to mind when I think about the Phillies and their past, present, and future. The first is “sunk cost” and the second is “pot committed.”

Sunk cost is a financial term used for “retrospective cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.” The Phillies are going to pay more for their roster than the players will produce in terms of on-field value. This is the cost of doing business when the goal is contending every year and the path chosen to do so forces continually re-signing your own players as they age.

The Phillies are hanging on for dear life, trying to squeeze a few last drops of competitiveness from players like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley. It isn’t as though these players are especially bad – they’re just older and more injury prone and less likely to produce at a rate consistent with their pay packets as a result.

The idea of “high variance” players appears on these pages sporadically, often in reference to young players without a proven track record to draw from. The Phils veterans can be considered high variance players because — while their performance when healthy is easier to project — the amount of time they’re likely to spend on the field is in doubt.

With a rotation anchored by two elite arms and some “good when healthy” players in the middle of their lineup, the Phillies are more than capable of putting together a few great weeks or even months, bringing us to our second “industry term” – the Phillies are pot committed.

Pot committed is a poker term often incorrectly used to describe instances in which a player invests a significant amount of money in a given hand. The prevailing belief holds that, with so much money already invested in the hand, it behooves the player to call a raise of nearly any size as they’ve “committed” so much of their chip stack.

The misconception stems from the belief that a poker player should call a bet of nearly any size after a certain point. If a player knows they’re beaten, folding is always the correct play. Pot committed means calling only when the potential payout (size of the pot) is related to the odds against winning (if a player believes they have a 25% chance of showing the best hand, they can call a bet where the final payout is about 3-to-1).

A few deft moves and a big bag of good luck and the Phillies could foreseeable compete with the roster they have now – after our fixes take effect, of course.

  1. Acquire Aramis Ramirez
  2. Sign Francisco Rodriguez & Ryan Madson
  3. Trade Jonathan Papelbon
  4. Trade for Nick Franklin

The first trade, making a move for Aramis Ramirez, is almost believable as something that could actually happen in our world. Ramirez enters the final year of the three-year contract he signed in Milwaukee and offers a some nice right-handed power to the Phils lefty-heavy lineup. Ramirez was terrific in 2012 but injuries only allowed the 35-year old 350 plate appearances.

The question, as always, is price. The Brewers won’t give Ramirez away for free and the Phillies farm system contains precious few impact players. Might Cody Asche, the current name atop the Phillies third base depth chart, get a deal done?

Philadelphia would essentially trade six years of control for a player eligible for free agency at the end of the season (though an $14M mutual option exists for 2015 with a $4MM buyout. With Maikel Franco, the Phillies top position player prospect and fellow third baseman, coming up behind Asche, it isn’t’ beyond the realm of possibility that Asche could figure into such a deal. Not the best idea per se but this is about winning now, in 2014, not doing the “smart” thing.

Adding at least $20MM in salary for Ramirez makes matters dicey for the Phillies, which makes paying their closer $13MM a season too expensive to consider. So why not trade Jonathan Papelbon and sign Francisco Rodriguez and reunite with Ryan Madson to cover the ninth?

Trading Papelbon won’t be easy, as he’s owed an awful lot of money and many of his peripheral numbers suggest doom lurks around the corner. But he’s still very good and he might bring back something worthwhile in return. If the return looks disappointing, ship him out to the team willing to pay the freight.

Francisco Rodriguez, you might be surprised to learn, was very good in 2013. As a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, he was downright nasty. Then a deadline deal shipped him to Baltimore, where he served (and pouted, if reports are true) as a setup guy. His numbers mostly look great – 28 strikeouts in just 22 innings pitched, only four unintentional walks. Swinging strike rate still good, velocity the same. All is well – other than the fact that he was smacked around significantly back in the AL. He gave up five home runs in those 22 innings and 11 runs overall. Looking more closely, we see he left far too many fastballs up in the zone and paid the price, over and over again.

That said, he is definitely worth a flyer as a bandaid closer. Bringing back the rehabbing Ryan Madson provides a little cover and a nice feel-good story to boot. Madson was very, very good for the Phillies in his day, recovering some of that form and holding down the 7th/8th innings would be a nice bonus.

Trading for Mariners infielder is a nice idea but, as always, the Phillies lack any real bargaining chips. Does sending back another pre-arb player like Dom Brown help the ultimate cause of competing in 2014? Of course not, especially since Franklin’s hypothetical job is caddying for Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. That’s a pretty high price to pay for a much-needed insurance policy, especially since this entire exercise is predicated on perfect health from those two invaluable veterans.

These are all minor moves, moves to make slight improvements over their in-house options. Sadly for this piece and the future of the Phillies, there is no papering over their problems. There is a reference made to “variance” earlier in this post. Unless multiple players able to “turn back the clock” and play WAY over their head for an entire season, I just don’t see how much better than .500 Philly can expect to be.

Unless all four of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz play to their absolute peak — while Ben Revere and Dom Brown do the same — it’s going to be a disappointing season in Philadelphia. Fortunately, for the future of the franchise, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. seems open to this new reality. The club is spending nearly to its maximum payroll and the GM openly admits the squad is short on quality starters.

There is just enough talent and past success on this roster to make the diehard believe the Phillies could somehow conspire to win a lot of games in 2014. Darin Ruf is close enough to useful that he can stand around in left field or near first base and hit the odd home run and make even more people believe.

The top-heavy rotation has a strong backbone now, with durable if unspectacular pitchers like Roberto Hernandez and Kyle Kendrick bringing up the rear. Cuban import Miguel Gonzalez is a true wild card, though one scouts realistically place in the middle of a big league rotation. The highs of Lee and Hamels mixed with 90 serviceable starts from those three players put a team in good position, provided it scores its share of runs along the way.

The reality is the Phillies will end up sellers at the trade deadline, a cautionary tale for those wishing to get the band back together one more time. Fans in the City of Brotherly Love can only hope the core members of the best run in franchise history can go out with their heads high, rather than playing out the string in the crushed sedona red of the Arizona Diamondbacks. A fate too cruel to imagine for most Philly fans.