With Carlos Ruiz value dramatically increasing in both dollars and years over what was thought just a couple months ago, none of the big name free agent catchers is particularly appealing to the Phillies for one reason or another. These names include Brian McCann of the Braves, Jarrod “Salty” Saltalamachia of the Red Sox and A. J. Pierzynski of the Rangers.
McCann will cost too much for a player who probably only has about three years left behind the plate. He’d be much better served going to an A.L. team where he could DH on some days and eventually move there full time later in the contract. Salty is a switch hitter who hits much better as a left-handed hitter than he does as a right handed hitter. The Phils need for power from the right side is undeniable and Salty only had 2 of his 12 HR’s from the right side last year. His .218 BA against righties opposed to .294 against lefties further demonstrates he’s not a good fit in Philadelphia. Also, 2013 is the only good offensive season Saltalamacchia has had in the past three seasons, and I hate signing players who only perform in contract years. A. J. Pierzynski will be 37 before next season and has a reputation as a clubhouse lawyer. His age and attitude are two negatives that he can’t overcome with pedestrian numbers that are bound to decline in his late 30’s.
I would have liked the Phils to bring Ruiz back for another two years and would have signed off on a $14,000,000 extension last summer, but Amaro drug his feet on this one. I’m sure Ruiz’s suspension for Adderall use was one reason, as was his hamstring injury and slow start. That said, the GM needs down the road vision and Amaro should have known that Ruiz’s exceptional defense, consistent offense and his strong ability to handle a veteran pitching staff would make him a marketable commodity in a weak class of free agent catchers.
Today I’m hearing there are teams that will consider going 3 years, $30,000,000 for Ruiz (the Rockies name has surfaced numerous times as one of his suitors, as has Boston and the NY Yankees). In my opinion Ruiz isn’t worth that much, even in today’s over-inflated market. He would be a very good starter this coming year as the Phils continued their development of Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp. In the 2nd year of the deal he would have made for an excellent backup catcher or given one of the kids another year of developmental time.
It’s been reported that Amaro has made his offer to Ruiz and will not patiently wait as Ruiz shops his services across the league. Amaro doesn’t want to get caught flat-footed again like he did last year when none of his CF choices panned out and he was forced to trade for Ben Revere out of desperation for a fleet foot center fielder.
There is another angle to consider, but it is somewhat of a gamble. Amaro can choose to go with a Rupp/Kratz platoon which would only cost around $1,100,000 and put the money designated for a catcher to use in other areas of need. I’m starting to lean this way if the numbers for Ruiz get out of hand for several reasons. One option that will probably be available to the Phillies should they be legitimate contenders in 2014 is picking up an experienced catcher at the trade deadline next July. Meanwhile, by not signing Chooch there just may be enough money to sign Masahiro Tanaka (or trade for David Price) while signing two big name free agents such as Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz.
Price is the more established pitcher. He’s a former first pick in the draft and is only a year removed from a Cy Young Award. Tanaka is interesting in that even with the posting fee he’ll be significantly less expensive over the course of the next six years. Price’s next two years he’s arbitration eligible and will probably take home roughly $30,000,000. After that, he’ll be in line for a long-term contract that will probably pay him in the $25,000,000 per year neighborhood. Over the next six years he’s likely to cost around $130,000.000 and still have several big money seasons owed to him.
Tanaka is expected to sign for approximately what Yu Darvish signed for just two years ago. That was a $51,000,000 posting fee and a six-year $56,000,000 contract. At age 25 the Phils would be getting Tanaka for his entire prime. Tanaka is considered to be slightly behind where Darvish was at the same stage is his career. I doubt many people would argue that Darvish is a legitimate # 1 after going 13-9, 2.83 ERA, 1.073 WHIP and a major league leading 277 SO’s in just his second season in 2013. Another strong consideration for Tanaka is if he signed a similar deal to Darvish his contract AAV would be under $10,000,000, giving the team far more flexibility to bring in other players of need.
Assuming the Phils don’t sign a catcher, prefer Price over Tanaka and make a trade for him using Domonic Brown as the centerpiece – along with a couple of top prospects (another advantage Tanaka has. He costs nothing in talent), there may be enough money to pursue two top free agents (Choo and Cruz – I’m guessing approximately $32,000,000 AAV for both players). When you add these players to the money already committed to the Phils payroll it comes out to approximately $183,000,000. The luxury tax is set at $189,000,000 and teams are advised to set aside $10,000,000 for player benefits and insurance. This would leave the Phillies roughly $4,000,0000 over the tax. The first time a team goes over the luxury tax it is charged 20 cents on the dollar. In this case that would amount to $800,000.
In the past the luxury tax has been a hard line in the sand for President David Montgomery. If he’s still insistent the Phils don’t exceed the tax they could always sign and trade Kyle Kendrick for prospects, saving about $7,000,000 in the process and getting beneath the tax. I don’t advise this because of the lack of starting pitching depth the Phillies have, but if that’s what’s necessary to field a team with a legitimate chance to contend this year I’d do it. Our model below is going to show David Price in the starting rotation, however if we were to substitute Tanaka the AAV of salaries would probably come in just beneath the tax while still keeping Kendrick.
The reason I’d start any deal for Price with Brown is I’m not completely sold on Brown and he still gets hurt too often. The other players I think that could get the deal done would be Darin Ruf, to replace free agent James Loney (after Evan Longoria the Rays next best home run hitter was super utility man Matthew Joyce with 18) and Jesse Biddle. Depending on how high the bidding goes another top 10 Phils prospect may need to be added. The lineup below would score more runs than last year and if Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez works out, the starting pitching would be significantly improved. This projected lineup would allow Jonathan Pettibone to start the season as a long relief man, and be the first pitcher in line if an injury occurs to a starter.
Revere – CF, Choo – RF, Utley – 2B, Cruz – RF, Howard – 1B, Rollins – SS, Asche/Franco – 3B, Kratz/Rupp – C
Hamels, Price, Lee, Gonzalez, Kendrick
I know how unpopular Kendrick is with the Philly fan base right now, but as a 5th starter you’d have a pitcher that can take the ball 30 times and give the team close to 200 innings. This rotation would lessen the need for bullpen help because they’ll pitch deeper into games than most staffs, but bullpen help will be necessary. Hopefully Diekman and Martin can man the 8th inning as a lefty-righty flame-throwing combo. I doubt Adams will be back and hopefully his salary is covered by insurance and will therefore not go against the luxury tax. I have to be honest in saying I was unable to find the answer to that question regardless of my intense search for a definitive answer.
Hernandez – 2B/CF, Frandsen – 1B/2B/3B, Galvis – 3B/SS/LF, Mayberry – LF/CF/ RF, Rupp – C
Papelbon, Diekman, Martin, Bastardo, Rosenburg, Pettibone, Stutes/DeFratus
For those who are worried about leading off with three left hand hitters you need to remember that 68-70% of the league’s pitching is right-handed. The lefty heavy lineup may present problems later in the game when teams go to their bullpen and begin rolling out lefties, but that should be more than offset, theoretically speaking, by giving these players 2-3 AB’s against right hand pitching to start the game – where hopefully the team will build some substantial leads. These top three at the top of the order also hit a respectable .254 combined against left hand pitching, so it’s not as if they’re easy outs swinging against lefties.
Does this team have holes…sure it does. The team is weak at catcher and the OF defense is improved, but not nearly as much as we’d like to see. The Phils are in need of bounce back years from Howard, Rollins and Papelbon. They have to hope Asche is the real deal and that Franco continues to pound the ball forcing his way into the lineup by June/July. They have to hope that Diekman and Martin continue their ascension as set up relief pitchers…and there’s very little minor league depth in the event of injury – especially at pitching.
All things considered it would be a much more fun team to watch than the 2013 Phils. If they get the bounce back years we talked about, especially from Howard, this team should score over a run a game more than the 2013 Phils. I’m asking for a lot in this article, but I’m fairly certain that this can be done right up against the tax and no more than $5,000,000 over it. There’s several ways to save that $ 5M if necessary. They could go after Tanaka instead of Price. They could ship out Kendrick. This is do-able. It will be interesting to see what Ruben Amaro Jr. does starting at the winter meetings on Monday.