Mailbag

Sunday Hot Stove Mailbag! – First Edition

November is a great month for many reasons for sports fans: basketball season is in full swing, college football’s BCS scenarios get clearer, and, most importantly, baseball’s Hot Stove gets fired up. The term Hot Stove is in reference to the practice of discussing sports in the winter, literally around a hot stove. For baseball, it’s strictly for off-season talk while our friends up north in Canada also use the term to discuss in-season hockey goings-ons.

There has been a lot of news and rumors floating about already, just a few weeks after the Giants were crowned 2012 World Series Champions. We try to follow these news and rumors by doing a daily wrap-up post but many times, our faithful readership asks follow-ups on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Yesterday, we solicited questions and we will do our best to give some answers based on the top news and rumors.

Side note: The mailbag concept has been around for quite sometime but this particular mailbag was sparked explicitly by the wonderful mailbags put together by my former Phillies Nation co-writer Michael Baumann. Big shout out to Mike.

On to the questions! We had a few duplicates so I have combined some into categories but we’ll start off with a pretty open ended question:

Bradey P. asked: What player/players do the Phillies HAVE to get to remain contenders?

This is an excellent question, Bradley. It really depends on your definition of contender, however. Do you consider the Phillies making the playoffs, even as a Wild Card, a contender, or a full-on run-away-with-the-division-by-September year? If the former is your question, you’re in luck, there’s a few realistic scenarios out there where the Phillies can quickly, easily, and affordably get back in the playoff mix. Unfortunately, the pieces probably aren’t in place to get back to the latter within the next season or two.

But let’s examined where the Phils finished last year, seven games behind the Cardinals, and the performance of some of their key players. Roy Halladay provided just 2.5 fWAR last year, his lowest total since 2001, Cliff Lee posted just 4.9 WAR (very good but off his normal pace) and Ryan Howard provided -1.0 WAR last year. If Doc bounces back to even 3.5 WAR, which is likely, Lee produces 6.0 WAR (an All-Star caliber year), and Howard provides just 1.0 WAR, a 2.0 WAR net-gain, the Phils are suddenly only three games behind the 88-win threshold that likely gets them the second Wild Card. Jimmy Rollins posted an astounding 4.9 WAR last year, while Chooch posted a career-high 5.5 WAR. Let’s say those guys come back to earth, at least a little bit, and each lose a win. The Phillies are now back to five games off the 88 win pace. So in between now and Opening Day, the Phillies need to add five wins.

What is the best way to get there? Adding Josh Hamilton would add at least four wins immediately but only a net of about three wins because Hunter Pence and Domonic Brown were worth about one wins combined. Adding B.J. Upton would have less of an effect in center because: 1.) He’s a 3.5 – 4.0 win player and 2.) he’d be replacing 2.6 wins from Shane Victorino and John Mayberry Jr. Adding both, however impossible it may sound, would be the quickest, but also the most unlikely scenario to immediately catapult the Phillies back into the playoff mix. If I had to pick one difference maker, I would sign Hamilton because his addition combined with who he is replacing gives you the biggest bang for your buck but I advise that this is not the ideal way to consider moves, although this strategy could work incrementally across each position.

Speaking of Hamilton…

Danny B. asked: are we still looking into going for Josh Hamilton?

If I were in the Phils’ front office, I would monitor the Hamilton situation very closely. MLB.com’s Greg Johns reported yesterday that the Mariners are now very likely out of the running for Hamilton, leaving his presumed suitors to include Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, and Philadelphia. Atlanta is believed to be aggressively pursuing both B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn, it is unknown if Baltimore has the payroll flexibility to compete to sign Hamilton, and Boston certainly has the cash but may not have the pride to sign yet another big contract this quickly after dumping Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford so quickly. Texas has offered Hamilton a three-year deal – the Phillies likely will have to be willing to go at least five to have a chance. I could see them offering five years. He would have the biggest net-impact among the free agent pool but would force the Phillies into some tedious decisions like I outlined in my 2013 plan: the Phillies would have to give up the 16th overall pick and would likely have to decline Doc’s 2014 option if Hamilton signs. Is it worth it? Four to five years and anything with an average annual value under $23 million would certainly be, though. Hamilton should get that and then some – it remains to be seen if it will be from the Phils.

Outfield Questions Galore!:

@MikeCorson asked: what are the chances of signing BJ Upton then trading for Justin Upton?

This scenario, unfortunately, is highly unlikely. My main man Pat Gallen wrote about the improbability of this here last week.

Michael G asked: Who’s gonna play center field?

If you had to hold me to a pick: John Mayberry Jr. with Angel Pagan as my second pick. Even though his tools are among the best fits for this Phillies line-up, I believe B.J. Upton will sign with the Braves and Michael Bourn ends up in Washington. Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday that Pagan will likely be the first chip to fall in the center field snatch-’em-up, with the Giants, Phillies, Nationals, and Braves being the main suitors. Rosenthal predicted Pagan will sign before the Winter Meetings start on December 3 and previously stated that Giants’ GM Brian Sabean was “confident” the club would resign Pagan. Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty, however, said to John Fay of the Cincinatti Enquirer that the team has not contacted Pagan but “not that we wouldn’t but I wonder about the money.”  That could be a blessing and a curse. More on that in the next one.

Luis T. asked: What is the best move the Phillies should make to shore up the outfield? Sign a big name free agent? Pull off a trade? Or go for someone like Angel Pagan?

I think Angel Pagan would be a nice fit in Philadelphia. Interesting, none of the four of us who gave predictions picked him for our dream 2013 Phillies team. Pagan, per reports, is being targeted by anyone and everyone who is looking for a center fielder as a back-up plan, which is directly driving up his price and limiting his suitors to the teams with the biggest pocket books.  It’s a shame the Phillies do not seem to be in on Shane Victorino – he was last linked to Cincinnati and Cleveland – and would probably provide equal value at a lesser price than Pagan. The best move, in my opinion, for 2013 is a combination of signing Hamilton and Victorino to plug right and center. Long term, that plan is likely a disaster. Long term, Upton and in-house, cost controlled options is the way to go.

@Kevb26 asked: if Phils lose out on Upton and Bourn, would they consider Victorino?

Kevin – you read my mind. I think of Victorino as the really reliable friend – the one that doesn’t like to go on impulse gambling trips, the one that isn’t your sports watching or sports game day buddy, or the one who isn’t really into pro wrestling and is absolutely not available any time WWE is on. Victorino is the Phillies friend who could stop by whenever, even after not seeing each other for years, and fit right back in just like old times. I’m not implying or suggesting that he would come at a discount but it would be among the least shocking things if Victorino was the Phils’ center fielder next year, particularly if they sign Hamilton or a combination of mid-level free agents. They may sign one to play third, which leads to:

Bobby H. (Unfortunately, not Heenan) asked: Who is going to play third? Youkilis?

You’d certainly think that if you refreshed MLB Trade Rumors several times a day like I do. Kevin Frandsen filled in admirably at third but is not an every day player. Freddy Galvis plays the infield well but has played nothing but shortstop in the Venezuelan Winter League. Cody Asche is now a hot-hitting solution but will need seasoning in Triple-A before he mans the hot corner for the Phils. Ideally, a solution for the Phils is: 1.) one year and 2.) cost-effective. Frandsen meets that qualification. Frandsen, Placido Polanco, and Mike Fontenot provided about 2.4 wins last year for the Phillies – 20 MLB third baseman provided that level of production last year, and one of them was Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger is a free agent but will likely get a two year deal worth from $7-10 million. That’s a swallow-able commitment, unlikely Youkilis, who may get more, is deteriorating quickly after five trips in the last four years to the DL, and who provides below average defense. Again, though, if I had to pull the trigger on someone to play third, I’d pick Frandsen as the Opening Day third baseman.

For the final two Phillies-related questions, we will stay with the theme of late-season over-achievers:

Tony M. asked: Will Ruf get a chance to play Left Field? and

Shane W. asked: With Chooch playing regularly behind the plate, what role will Kratz serve? As a little pop off the bench or on the minors until he is called up again?

Ruf will absolutely get the opportunity to play left but he has a lot working against him. First, should the Phillies sign any outfielder, that means there is six outfielders: Outfielder X, Ruf, Brown, Mayberry, Schierholtz, Nix. The easy out? Non-tender or trade Schierholtz. The more expensive solution? Cut Nix. The cheapest and most cost-effective solution? Let Ruf start in Triple-A. All three might be necessary should they sign three outfielders. But, the good news for Ruf is that he is hitting and got the attention of the GM per CSN’s Jim Salisbury:

Amaro said he has been impressed with the reports on Darin Ruf, who was hitting .264 with nine homers and 19 RBIs in 72 at-bats over 20 games in Venezuela. Amaro has gotten positive feedback on Ruf’s progress in left field from manager Jorge Velandia, a Phillies staffer.

“Yeah, baby, I love it,” Amaro said of the reports on Ruf. “I hope that he’s challenging for a job in left field next year for the Fightins. Jorge likes him and says he can play left field. We’ll get others to see him. We’re not giving him anything, but he’s certainly in the conversation.”

As for Kratz, I anticipate Kratz’s has fully earned his role as the back-up catcher for the Phils. The Phils, rightly, let Brian Schneider become a free agent and Kratz is better than any back-up caliber option available on the open market. He should be sprinkled in more next season to relieve Chooch, particularly if Chooch continues to have minor, nagging injuries. As for using him off the bench, it is always a tough call to pinch hit using your back-up catcher but he demonstrated against Craig Kimbrall that he can be a weapon from there. It will depend on Chooch’s health but Kratz is absolutely on the Phils in 2013 with a slightly bigger role than Schneider had from 2010-2012.

Finally, for the last question:

Michael S. asked: Ian who ??

Ian Riccaboni – Riccaboni is the plural of Riccabono, which translated from Italian means fortunate and rich. No, I am not related to Harry “The Hunchback” Riccobene. I’m from Allentown, PA and have been writing for and appearing on television representing Phillies Nation for exactly one year as of last week. Before that, I graduated from NYU, blogged for several years, had a few appearances on MTV, and was the second-banana on a local television show. I support several foundations, including Angel 34 and Phillies Nation Charities. That should answer your question – thank you for asking. Thank you everyone for your questions! Looking forward to hearing from you again next Sunday.

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