PN Mailbag Part Deux: Third, Utley, Upton – Phillies Nation

PN Mailbag Part Deux: Third, Utley, Upton

Headley had a monstrous 2012 but can the Phillies acquire him? Ian answers after the jump. Photo: AP

There was a lot of Phils’ news and rumors this week: the Phils were in on Josh Hamilton before they were out on Hamilton, they were finally linked to a bullpen arm, protected some Minor Leaguers while exposing others, and just as Ryan Dinger and I offered our opinions if the Phillies should make a play for the recently designated Chone Figgins, the Phillies signed a third baseman while Charlie showed confidence in Darin Ruf.

Today, a lot of the questions ended up focusing on filling third base.

Cole O. asks on our Facebook Page: What is the plan for (Josh) Fields?

Josh Fields was the Phils’ Black Friday bargain big pick-up this November. To me the best Black Friday purchase analogy for the Fields signing is buying a movie Iron Man on DVD for $1.96: yeah, you’ve already moved on to Blu-Ray and all your friends said Iron Man 2 was better, but for $1.96, if you don’t watch it, you likely won’t regret the $1.96 purchase price and if you do, it’s decent entertainment for the price.

The Phillies are not getting the Fields of 2007, not the one who best case was on the verge of a major breakout and worst case was on track to be a better version of Mark Reynolds. Fields hit .322/.392/.488 with 13 HR for the Dodgers Triple-A  affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes, in 2012 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with below-average defense and turns 30 in December. Barring injuries to Kevin Frandsen and others, Fields will likely start the year in Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

That being said, Fields could end up seeing some time with the Phillies in 2013. Best case, he may hit a few home runs and play OK defense. Worst case, he hits .200/.250/.300 for a week or two and quietly ends up in Triple-A again.

Mark A. asks on our Facebook Page: Do you think there is a chance for a trade to fill in the hole at 3rd, possibly Chase Headley?

First and foremost, Headley, for better or worse is no longer under the radar and would be incredibly costly in prospects to get. If the Phillies have pieces the Padres would want, it would officially devastate their own system.I’ve seen posters on our blog and on our Facebook Page suggest combinations including Kyle Kendrick, Vance Worley, Domonic Brown, and others – think bigger. Headley wouldn’t be as expensive in prospects than say Giancarlo Stanton but it would be enough to wipe the cupboard clean.

At 28, Headley had a breakout season for the Padres, hitting .286/.376/.498 with 31 HR in the tough Petco Park. Headley finished fourth in the NL in fWAR, fifth in the MVP and has two years of team control left. Headley’s season, which all analysis has seemingly been overlooked, was by statistical terms an anomaly: before 2012, he had never hit more than 12 HR, he saved the Padres runs at third for only his second out of five seasons, and his ISO was 67 points higher than his career average. Not only is a trade for Headley not likely but, if I was in the front office of the Phillies, I would avoid for possible regression and because, with last year’s numbers and two years left of team control, he’s not going to come with a small price tag in prospects or in arbitration.

Mike G. from our Facebook Page asks: Are they still looking at the possibility of Utley playing 3rd and if he is able to play at all?

I’ll answer the second question first: Chase Utley will play in 2013 and he will be productive. Despite playing in just 83 games last season, Utley produced the ninth highest WAR among second baseman. Projected across a 162 game season, Utley would have finished second among second baseman to Robinson Cano. Coulda, woulda, shoulda though, right?

That said, there were a lot of positives last season concerning Utley: he provided a positive (+5.3 runs) contribution on defense, he contributed a positive (+4.3 runs) contribution on the base paths, his knees looked good as his ISO went up for the first time since 2009, and he walked more and struck out less than his career averages. Take that with the negatives (average was a career low .256) and 2013 should be a productive, fringe-All-Star type year for Utley.

For your first question, Utley will not, I repeat, will not see time at third base next year. While Utley has great range, he lacks a strong and accurate arm, and you’d be wasting what is one of the most beautiful, and practical, skills he has defensively: his double-play pivot. Utley volunteered last year but plans were scrapped because the Phils ran out of time. I think that is the right move moving forward.

The next one is quite long but it’s worth diving into…

Andrew G. from our Facebook Page asks: Although Hamilton is a “risk” with his past problems and need for a good support system, even though B.J. Upton is younger, isn’t he just as big of risk considering he hasn’t hit over .250 the past four seasons and averages 175 strikeouts a year? Don’t the Phillies have enough players hitting below .260 with a ton of strikeouts that makes B.J. Upton just as big of risk as Hamilton, even with Hamilton’s age and past problems?

Jim Salisbury asked pretty much this question, albeit shorter, of Ruben Amaro Jr. yesterday and his answer was quite interesting: the Phillies were the hardest team in the National League in 2012 to strike out. Imagine being a Nationals fan and seeing 231 more strikeouts! How angry would you be then?!

Anyways, the Phillies had 160 strikeouts from the center field position last year anyways. If Upton were to again get 175 strikeouts, it would be only 15 more over what they had last year, not in addition to it. Yes, perhaps one or two those will come in situations where it isn’t optimal, see Howard, Ryan, but random distribution and all things being equal, most would be the equivalent of a can-of-corn pop fly to left. As for the batting average thing, the Phils’ center fielders hit .253, two points below their team average of .255. Their average out of their center fielders was good enough for eighth in the National League and their team average was good enough for seventh in the National League, just six points behind the Nationals. Upton’s batting average is not good or bad enough to really swing the pendulum either way and that batting average isn’t a really productive way to measure success: five of the top eight teams in batting average did not make the NL Playoffs, including the first-in-batting Colorado Rockies, who won 64 games.

Upton has been a 4-WAR center fielder consistently since 2007, is eighth in WAR among center fielders over the last five seasons, was second in defensive value in that time to Michael Bourn, and third in base running value in that time behind Bourn and Shane Victorino. Yet, Upton’s 2012 proved to produce just 3.3 WAR, only 0.6 more than the Phillies accumulated while playing Victorino for half the season, Mayberry for most of the other half, Michael Martinez for a few games, mixed with a select number of Domonic Brown cameos. Upton provides value in a lot of aspects of his game but there is concern: I wouldn’t be concerned that Upton would detract from the team, I am concerned that Upton just wouldn’t improve it very much. Much of Hamilton’s concern is due to aging but Hamilton would provide a greater improvement, per say, if he played right: Hamilton is about a 4-WAR right fielder and the Phils only put up 1.2 WAR there last year – that nets them about another three wins instead of a net of a half-win.

Thank you for your questions this week, they were again fantastic! Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Keep an eye out on our FB Page for the official mailbag thread on Saturday afternoons and you can always Tweet questions @ianriccaboni.



  1. Lefty

    November 25, 2012 at 7:46 am

    I agree that Upton could be the type of player we already had, and not much of an improvement. That being the case, why would they spend so much (pick/dollars/years) for him if they don’t have to?

    They must really hate the idea of bringing back Victorino, a nearly 6 WAR player just two seasons ago. Does everyone feel that way? I don’t.

    • hk

      November 25, 2012 at 8:24 am


      Shane is nearly 4 years older than BJ, so whereas Shane is probably in the plateau or decline phase of his career, it’s possible that BJ is still improving. If nothing else, Upton’s power is still improving as he’s increased his HR’s from 9 to 11 to 18 to 23 to 28 from 2008 to 2012. It really comes down to how much more in AAV and in # of years it would cost to get Upton vs. Victorino. If the options are $75M / 5 (plus the loss of a 1st round pick) for Upton and $22M / 2 for Shane, I’d prefer Shane. If the difference between the contracts that they sign ends up being significantly closer, Upton might be the better value.

  2. Chuck A.

    November 25, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Lefty, before I even read your comment I was thinking …. and was going to write…..essentially the same thing. At the end of his article Ian writes, “I wouldn’t be concerned that Upton would detract from the team, I am concerned that Upton just wouldn’t improve it very much.”

    Yeah, I don’t get it too…the sort of wanting to move on from Shane thing. Did he really piss someone off?? Was that little “situation” between him and Cliff not so little after all?

    Shane could be had for, I would think, a very team friendly 3 year deal. And I would assume that he would want to come back, no? Why go out and spend $65-75 M on a player that’s not any better…and some could argue WORSE… than he is?? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    • Ken Bland

      November 25, 2012 at 10:08 am

      “Shane could be had for, I would think, a very team friendly 3 year deal.”

      I tend to put creedence in the reports that he’s looking for 3 years. So yes to that part.

      But if he gets caught up in the insecurity of frustration of a subpar 2012 that grew worse as the year wrent on, and lack of a motivating offer despite 8 rumored feelers, I don’t know that he might not let his frustration get the best of him down the road if he does a club friendly 3
      year deal. . So reupping with him might carry a little risk beyond getting him to agree to a favorable price. I wouldn’t suggest he’s a cancer,and the guy is human, but he maybe doesn’t have great skill for applying not letting the highs not get you too high, or the lows getting you too low.

      Something I can’t put a finger on holds me back from being too feel good about bringing him back. The 39 steals was terrific, but the rest of his game was really non descript. It’s that same gray feeling that holds me back from being fired up about him as a Comebacer k of the Year candidate.

      I’m guessing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if moving on wasn’t the right thing to do. So bringing him back when he still wants to play everyday and all seems a little out of kilter. Bench player 3-4 years from now? Quite possible.

      Fair amount of mystery in this relationship between player and club. Best to just see where it goes, even long term instead of getting tricked into thinking you know more than what was publicly available in 2012. A pretty average at best ballplayer. .

      Color me pretty cautious on this one.

      • Chuck A.

        November 25, 2012 at 10:24 am

        I don’t entirely disagree. I think he most certainly let the contract situation (the lack of an extension by the Phillies) get in his way and affect his game. The Phils did the right thing by trading him…even if what they got in return is somewhat questionable at this point.

        I just don’t see, however, that signing BJ Upton to a 5/65-75 deal is a better move than signing Vic to a 3/24-30. My feeling is that it’s not worth the extra committed 40-50,000 just to get a player that’s 3 or 4 years younger. Maybe I’m wrong but I just don’t see Upton worth that when you compare him to Vic.

      • Ken Bland

        November 25, 2012 at 10:29 am

        In short, I like BJ. Prima approaching, power, athletic. Guys that K alot and don’t offer much all around game really bug me, but multi faceted skills help him escape that dislike from me. JDub K’d a lot, but lots of good to offset it. I see BJ in that vein. So the difference between us is to what extent we like BJ. Your lower opinion of him does make Vic more pallatable. But that’s the difference.

      • schmenkman

        November 25, 2012 at 11:41 am

        I don’t think we can know how much of 2012 can be attributed to his contract situation vs. The wrist that bothered him.

    • Lefty

      November 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

      Chuck, I guess it’s possible that there was more to the little “situation” you mentioned than we know. Hard to speculate on things like that, but I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility.

      Shane said he put it behind him, but Lee apparently kept mum on it.

  3. George

    November 25, 2012 at 9:12 am

    First, Andrew G’s question was not fully answered, because only one half of the two players involved was really adressed. Andrew was comparing Hamilton and Upton, but no mention was made in the answer about the risks/positives of signing Hamilton. Although Hamilton’s risks might seem obvious in the question, there ARE other factors, one being Hamilton’s production. The biggest risk would probably be cost, but one other problem is that if the Phils chose him instead of Upton, they’d still need a center fielder.

    To me, Upton should be a much safer option than Victorino. Although Vic has had some good years, he’s likely on the downslope of his career. He also had a really bad lefty/righty split this past season.

    I don’t think he’s been ruled out, though. Amaro mentioned a number of CF options when questioned. I’m certain that should Upton’s price be too high, someone else will be added.

    I’ll also point out that the Braves have made B.J. their number one CF option. That could indicate that scouts in general are more certain of Upton than of anyone else.

  4. Chuck A.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Fresh in from MLBTR:

    “The Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Cubs, and many more are inquiring on rightfielder Giancarlo Stanton, a major league source tells Cafardo. However, commissioner Bud Selig is watching the situation closely after the club’s colossal salary dump in the Blue Jays deal. He didn’t move to block that trade, but he may not be fond of a deal for the Marlins’ biggest draw.”

    Can Selig really do anything at this point? Geez, half the team’s roster turned over in one fell swoop and he did nothing to stop it. Trading Stanton would be the final straw for Marlins fans but I can’t imagine that it would be denied as long as it’s equal value for equal value…or at least an attempt at such since it’s hard to always know what equal value really is.

    This guy would look pretty good in red pinstripes, though…

  5. Lefty

    November 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

    With BJ Upton, it’s all about the price for me. The 16th pick, I don’t know- there are only three CF’s that have declined their QO’s, four OF’s altogether. I see a lot of choices other than those three where they won’t have to give up the pick, or pay in a long commitment of years.

    We’re not even talking about a guy like Scott Hairston, a guy that just killed the Phillies last season (.263/.299/.504/.803 – 20HRs 57RBI in less than 400AB’s). I realize he’s not a true CF, but he’s played it in spacious parks like Oakland and San Diego. Maybe just keep Mayberry and Hairston- although both have trouble against right handers.

    Look, in all honesty, I really don’t know what’s best and I’m terrible at playing GM. But I just don’t think a big splash, losing the pick, paying a big salary for a long term is necessary for a team that won 102 games just over a year ago. If they’re healthier this season, and it’s hard to imagine it being anything but better, I think guys like Vic, Pagan, Hairston would be fine.

  6. Lefty

    November 25, 2012 at 11:15 am

    One more thing that I left out of the last comment. The Phillies won five straight division titles meaning their draft picks, when they didn’t lose them for FA’s, were somewhere in the late 20’s to 30 range. For the first time in a while they have a pick in the teens, and I don’t get why (rumors say) they are so willing to give that up – for players that may be better than average, but not great players in Upton or Bourn.

    Stepping off my soapbox now.

  7. Chuck A.

    November 25, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Lefty, your comment about a “big splash” is exactly what Ruben probably wants to do. He’s done it many times in the recent past. Some of the splashes have panned out, others haven’t and there have been some that really didn’t affect the team and it’s financial health at all. I don’t know that he will do this for sure but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he signed some guy like Upton to a ridiculous contract….and, yes, 65-75 million for a player like BJ Upton IS ridiculous. In my humble opinion.

  8. Allen Thornburg

    November 25, 2012 at 11:31 am

    The Phils will sign Upton, and he will be a disaster that will make the much-despised Pence acquisition look like a brilliant move. We got rid of two free-swingers at the trade deadline, and what we need to replace them is someone like Nick Swisher with actual plate discipline, not a more powerful version of Jimmy Rollins (would like to see Rollins go too–would further signal a change in hitting philosophy, but there’s no good alternative out there). Upton’s career OBP is lower than Pence’s, for crying out loud–I would rather have kept Pence Vic than dump them and combine their salaries to get Upton. I would either sign Swisher and platoon Mayberry and Schierholz in CF (let Ruf and Brown fight it out for LF) or sign Swisher and trade for Peter Bourjos, who would provide good defense and, unlike BJ, who has underacheived for years, has some actual “upside.”

    • Chuck A.

      November 25, 2012 at 11:36 am

      Love your optimism.

    • EricL

      November 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm

      A rogue planet could slam into the earth tomorrow, raining devastation the likes of which our species has never seen onto life as we know it, and it still wouldn’t make the Hunter Pence deal look like a brilliant move.

      • Chuck A.

        November 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm

        That’s pretty funny. Although…at the time … I liked the move, even if it did cost a king’s ransom and then some. But it was painfully obvious and apparent this season that he needed to go. Of course, Hunter has the last laugh as he has a ring and the 2012 Phillies do not.

  9. hk

    November 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    It’s hard to say that they should get Bourjos instead of Upton until we know what the Angels want in return for Bouros. There are a lot of available (through free agency) and seemingly available (through trade) players that I would not mind seeing patrol CF for the Phils next year. The list includes Bourn, Upton, Pagan, Victorino, Bourjos, Denard Span and even Coco Crisp. The key to me will be the price the Phils pay to acquire their CF. If it is a free agent, it will be the player’s contract plus whether or not they surrender the 16th pick in next June’s draft. If it is via a trade, it will depend upon what prospects and players the Phils surrender and the contract and team control of the player they acquire. In this off season’s CF market, I think good things will come to those who wait.

  10. Bob in Bucks

    November 25, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    BJ Upton will not significantly improve this team. If this deal is done it is for PR. I would rather wait for 2013 where there will be more interesting candidates or go for Hamilton and bet the ranch. Mediocre is what the Phils are and this move will solidify it.

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