25 September 2002

Phollowing Up on Philly

You own a baseball team in a large city. Hypothetically, let's call it "Philadelphia". You have a stadium in which to play, which, while not glamorous is also not falling apart, for the most part. We'll call it "Veterans' Stadium". It's big and non-descript and pretty boring, and the turf isn't great, but it does the job, and besides, you didn't pay for it. Someone else did. We'll hypothetically call them "taxpayers". Anywho, there are teams for the other three major professional sports (NBA, NFL, NHL) in this "Philadelphia" too, and they all have very loyal fanbases and sell out a lot of games, if not all of them. They have all been able to contend in the last few years, some of them for several years. Some of them have had trouble with star players who don't seem to try as hard as these "Philadelphians" would like, but even after said players were jettisoned, (We'll call them "Eric Lindros", "Ricky Watters" or "Derrick Coleman." For the sake of the conversation, you understand.), the respective teams were still able to compete. But you own the baseball team, and nobody seems to be coming to the games. You haven't had a team in the playoffs in almost ten years, and before that, you hadn't had a team in the playoffs for another ten years. For that matter, you haven't had a winning season except for those two, ten years apart, until last year. Pop-Quiz, Hot-Shot: What do you do?

a) Try to win more. Maybe the reason nobody comes to games is that the team doesn't win? Nah...

b) Blame the players. Sure, you signed their contracts, but they're the ones who got hurt or sucked, despite the fact that they had a history of getting hurt and/or sucking! How were you to know? Or...

c) Blame the stadium. It's old. Well, not really. And it doesn't work right. Well, it mostly does. And the turf sucks...but you had it replaced. Everybody else is getting one. I think.

d) Blame the system. You can't afford to pay the salaries these players want, given that you're from such a small city....but you're not. Nobody could expect to succeed in this economic climate unless they're from a huge city...except the Athletics, Twins, Reds, Giants, Astros, Cardinals, Mariners...

e) Blame the fans. They should come even when the team stinks. That's what faithfulness is all about.

As the more astute readers have already figured out (congratulations!), this hypothetical "Philadelphia" is actually Philadelphia, PA (without the quotes, kinda like Clark Kent without the glasses). And of course, regardless of how much sense choice a) makes in light of the facts that...

1) It worked for the other three Philadelphia teams and
2) It worked in a lot of towns with smaller fanbases than Philly

...we all know that Philadelphia management and ownership has chosen instead to invest large amounts of time and energy in choices b) through e).

There's nothing wrong with planning for the future, it's just that the Phillies have done it so poorly. It didn't take to realize that the 2001 Phils team that won 86 games and contended until the last week of the season needed a better hitting 1B than Travis Lee, who, with all due respect to JT Snow, has been one of the worst hitting regular firstbasemen in the NL for about five years running. They needed a better hitting CF than Doug Glanville, and didn't get one. Terry Adams wasn't the ace their starting rotation needed.
A smart team would have parlayed its success into a good starting pitcher as an anchor for the rotation and a mentor for the likes of Brandon Duckworth, Brett Meyers, Dave Coggin and others. Or they'd have at least gotten a CF who can get on base, instead of squandering almost 450 plate appearances on Glanville. Now, they actually have a guy who can play first base and hit pretty well in Giambi the Younger, and BOWA NEVER PLAYS HIM!!! He's got a guy who could have hit 30+ homers and driven in 100+ runs if he'd just gotten to play every day, and Bowa has only given him 154 at-bats in 80 games!

The Phillies have the basis for a potentially good team. Let's look at the possibilities for next years' lineup:

1) Jimmy Rollins, SS
2) Marlon Anderson, 2B
3) Bobby Abreu, RF
4) Pat Burrell, LF
5) Jeremy Giambi, 1B
6) Mike Lieberthal, C
7) Marlon Byrd, CF
8) ???????????, 3B
9) Pitcher

The question marks will send you to an article written by John Sickels on ESPN.com, who knows as much as or more than anybody about rookies and prospects. He suggests that they platoon Chase Utley and Travis Chapman, and I agree, as it seems that they have little to lose in doing so. However, the Phils could easily put a stop-gap player like Robin Ventura, Edgardo Alfonzo, or some journeyman minor-leaguer in there until one of the rookies is ready to play full time. You'd like a better leadoff hitter, and Marlon Byrd may turn out to be that guy. Neither Anderson nor Rollins really walks enough to bat 1-2 in a major league lineup, but they don't have a lot of options. Besides, Rollins has some speed and enough youth that he might develop some plate discipline. Anderson probably won’t. Someone like Ray Durham could be a great help, as both a leadoff hitter and second baseman. Kenny Lofton, would fulfill the leadoff/CF jobs. With a low-base, incentive-laden contract, he wouldn’t hurt, especially if you can spell him with one of the young guys sometimes. Any of those guys (not all) would be a step in the right direction, though an unlikely one for the Phils.

(Incidentally, did you know that there’s never been another Marlon in the major leagues, and now the Phillies have two of ‘em? This just goes to support my theory: Britney Spears can’t sing for crap!)

The Abreu-Burrell-Giambi-Lieberthal line may not be the best in the majors, but it's very good, and you'll get production if you can ignore the occasional defensive miscues of Burrell and Giambi. Besides, they could have a great bench, with Placido Polanco, the so-called Super Utility player. Glanville can pinch-run, play great OF defense, or lay down a good bunt, and might not be a bad investment at 500K for some team, but not the Phils. Two other rookie OFs have potential to hit in Eric Valent and Jason Michaels, and they’d be cheap, too. Travis Lee can come off the bench to play late inning, 1B defense if you don't trust Giambi in that role, or even spot start during interleague games.

On the pitching side:

SP1 Vicente Padilla
SP2 Randy Wolf
SP3 Brandon Duckworth
SP4 Brett Myers
SP5 Dave Coggin

Closer: Joe Table $4.5 Mil
RP Carlos Silva $Table Scraps
RP Terry Adams $5.4 Mil Team Option
RP Rheal Cormier $2.9 Mil
RP Ricky Botallico $1.75 Mil Team Option
RP Turk Wendell $3.25 Mil

Wow, what a disparity. The rotation has a lot of upside, especially if they manage pitch counts well to help people stay healthy, and they’re all pretty young, and therefore pretty cheap. But the bullpen, woah. They’re saddled with Cormier’s and Wendell’s contracts no matter what, but they can opt out of Adams’ and Ricky Blowtallico’s, which I hope they do. Nobody who spends $5.4 million on Terry Adams has any business whining about revenue disparity or profit margins. If they do this, they can let Doug Nickle, and some journeymen round out the bullpen, and if they're not in the race in August, they can trade them for prospects. There's really no good reason for the Phillies to have kept Cormier and botallico and Adams on the roster the whole season when there are contending teams willing to overpay for relief pitchers. Heck, two bags of balls and a case of ethyl chloride would have been overpaying for Adams.

In summary, the Phillies are not that far from being a good team. Atlanta will have trouble keeping that team together, and even if they do, Glavine and Maddux may not be as good with an extra year of mileage on their respective arms, and there are big holes in the corner IF and catcher spots. The Mets have holes, too. BIG holes. Now is the time. Stop whining about the system, stop complaining about the lack of fans, stop blaming everyone and everything except your own inneptitude and poor choices, and go out and build one for the Gipper!!

My thanks to Aaron Gleeman of Aaron's Baseball Blog for the "hypothetical" idea, and to MLB Contracts, a searchable, well-done, though incomplete list of player contract data, for whom you will find a new link on your right.

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