Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Let’s turn our attention to today’s topic … In the 2004-2005 off-season, Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane had a difficult decision to make. The A’s had just narrowly failed to qualify for the playoff for the first time since 1999. The A’s Moneyball philosophy was under fire and the team faced the prospect of losing free agents Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder after their walk years in 2005. Hudson, Mulder and Barry Zito formed the Big Three, the tough trio of pitchers who dominated the American League and helped the A’s anemic offense chug into the post-season. Beane made the hard the decision to deal Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton. Meanwhile, Beane dealt Hudson to the Atlanta Braves, acquiring low-level talent such as Charles Thomas, Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz.
The deal for Mulder turned out alright for the A’s: Haren has turned into a great pitcher, while Mulder has barely played for the Cardinals over the last two seasons after a decent 16-8, 3.64 ERA season in 2005. Calero and Barton were busts.
The Hudson deal has not worked well. None of those three players has turned out to amount to much at all.
At the time the fact that Billy Beane dealt his two best pitchers for nothing more than some so-so minor leaguers, no established players or sure-fire prospects, stunned the baseball world, but what little choice did Beane have? Let Hudson and Mulder walk for nothing? It was a hard choice, but he made it.
There are a number of teams out there in binds like Billy Beane’s: talented pitchers due to walk on their teams that cannot afford to re-sign them. What to do? Keep them and hope to use their talents to win, knowing they’ll be gone? Or deal them and hope to acquire some talent in exchange? In Florida, the Marlins are in flux, having posted a losing season and having seemingly no hope of bringing ace Dontrelle Willis back. In Chicago, the White Sox are going to lose pitcher Jon Garland and seem destined to rebuild after their horrific collapse in 2007. Finally, in Minnesota, the Twins must decide on dealing ace pitcher Johan Santana or riding him to another playoff shot in 2008, as it seems unlikely they will be able to fork out the $20-25 million bucks Santana will fetch on the open market.
These teams, these opportunities, are where the Phillies are going to have to secure their future pitching from. While we would all salivate at the prospect of seeing Johan Santana wearing the red pinstripes in 2008, it is a fantasy that Phillies fans need to banish from their minds. There is no way that the Phillies would be foolish enough to part with players in their farm system when they know that Santana would be a single-season rental, not a fixture in their rotation for years to come. There is no way that the Phillies could fork over $20 million or more, which is what Santana would be worth, taking into account the fact that Barry Zito, a soft-tossing pitcher who doesn’t have Santana’s blazing fastballs, commanded about $16 million from the Giants. Actually, Santana is likely to get in the ballpark of $20-22 mil from a big-market, free-spending team like the Dodgers, Angels, Yankees or Mets.
Similarly, I can’t see the Florida Marlins being foolish enough to deal their star pitcher to a division rival, especially when the Marlins, with their young talent, have a chance at making a run on the playoffs in 2008.
I see one major possibility for the Phillies. A trade with the Chicago White Sox for Jon Garland:
The Phillies and White Sox have had a lot of dealings over the last few seasons, so there is something of a track record for deals here. The Jim Thome – Aaron Rowand deal in the winter of ’05 was their first deal, followed by decision to send Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez to the White Sox for Freddy Garcia, then this season, when the Phillies needed middle infield help when Chase Utley went down, the Phillies dealt minor-league pitcher Michael Dubee for Second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. So there is a track record of deals between the two franchises, and with the White Sox in decline, their relative positions are clear: the White Sox are sellers and the Phillies are buyers. Expect the Phillies to do some shopping in the South Side of Chicago and look for Garland to be their target.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
WHIP – Walks plus hits by innings pitched: (BB + H) / IP = WHIP
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Garland wouldn’t be a bad fit for the Phillies. He’s a little like Jon Lieber, a control-oriented pitcher who doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but doesn’t allow many walks or home runs and gives his fielders good chances to make plays. In 2005 and 2006, his walks allowed per nine innings were under 2.00:
Despite the fact that he doesn’t get many strikeouts …
… his strikeout-to-walk ratio is pretty darn good …
… and despite playing in a park that is friendly to home-run hitters, he didn’t give up many home runs …
The critical thing here is how well the Phillies would field behind him. The White Sox were great behind Garland, converting better than 69% of the balls put into play when he was on the mound into outs:
Much like Lieber, the Phillies could sink or swim based on how well they field behind Garland. Garland could be someone who makes the Phillies defense very good, or he could be the guy who allows hit after hit after hit.
Who would the Phillies deal for Garland? It is pretty clear from their track record that the White Sox are busy stockpiling pitching, so look for the White Sox to ask for either Carlos Carrasco or Josh Outman. Carrasco and Outman are the best arms in the Phillies system and seem destined to play in the majors. Carrasco was a dominating pitcher in Single-A Lakewood in 2006 (12-6, 2.26 ERA), and in Advanced Single-A Clearwater (6-2, 2.84 ERA, 1.03 HR/9, 2.84 BB/9, 6.85 K/9, 1.019 WHIP), but he struggled with his control in Reading (6-4, 4.86 ERA, 1.15 HR/9, 5.88 BB/9, 6.27 K/9, 1.578 WHIP). He is the Phillies top prospect.
Outman, one-third of the big three that pitched the Lakewood Blue Claws to the 2006 South Atlantic League title along with Carrasco and the since-departed Matt Maloney, is another great arm. After a strong performance in Lakewood (14-6, 2.95 ERA), he pitched well in Clearwater (10-4, 2.45 ERA, 0.53 HR/9, 4.14 BB/9, 8.97 K/9, 1.346 WHIP) and struggled in Reading (2-3, 4.50 ERA, 1.07 HR/9, 4.92 BB/9, 7.29 K/9, 1.452 WHIP). Both have bright futures ahead of them, but expect one of them to be the price the White Sox exact for Garland. No doubt the White Sox will want two players for Garland’s services, so expect the Phillies to toss in shortstop Jason Donald as well: Donald had a .409 OBP in Lakewood and a .386 OBP in Clearwater in 2007. He’s a defensive-oriented shortstop with a good eye at the plate. He’d make a great throw-in. After all, the Phillies have a pretty good infield combo right now.
Expect the Phillies to deal Outman and Donald to the White Sox for Garland in a few weeks, right around Thanksgiving.