Assessing the Moves Amaro Didn’t Make

I love trade talk and speculation. My favorite point of the baseball season has been the run-up to the trade deadline and, for Phillies fans, it has been amongst the most exciting in recent years. Ryan and Corey have drawn their lines in the sand about where to stand with Cole Hamels: Corey says it’s imperative to trade Hamels, Ryan to stand pat. Either way, I love reading the rumors and speculative Tweets.

Whatever Ruben Amaro Jr. does with Hamels, he has made a number of moves specifically geared for 2012 and publicly avoided others. As we approach the midway point of the season, let’s take a look at some moves that Amaro did not make and whether he made the right call or the wrong call.

Keeping Jim Thome

Jim Thome

The Thome Experiment

This is a small scale version of the Cole Hamels dilemma but this one was a little bit easier to tackle. Thome had hit 5 HRs with a .242/.338/.516 triple-slash in 71 PA for the Phillies in a part-time role but was blocked at first by John Mayberry Jr., Ty Wigginton, and the eventual returns of Laynce Nix and Ryan Howard. With nowhere to play, the decision to trade Thome was rather easy. What was surprising is the level of prospect Amaro got in return. For Thome, the Phillies received Kyle Simon, a 21-year-old 6’5″ righty who will likely be organizational depth at Lakewood and Reading in 2012 with a low-ceiling, and also Gabriel Lino, a high-ceiling, high-reward righty catcher who just turned 19 in May.

Lino reported to Single-A Clearwater after the trade and is in just his third season in professional baseball. Mike Newman of FanGraphs notes Lino is playing at an advanced level for his age and is among “the top-5 catching prospects (Newman has) scouted in person in terms of talent and ceiling.”  The grade on this one is easy. Verdict: Right Move

Signing Cuddyer instead of trading for Wigginton

One of the most popular off-season rumors was the Phillies’ interest in Twins free-agent-to-be Michael Cuddyer. Around the time that Cuddyer was still in play for the Phillies, the Phillies executed a trade with the Rockies to acquire Wigginton and cash to bring his salary down to $2 million for a Player To Be Named. At the time, I labeled the trade the equivalent of Amaro shopping at a discount retailer. Even after the trade, Cuddyer was still in play and available.

Yet, the Phillies successfully avoided a $31 million money trap. Yes, Wigginton has not solved the Phillies lack of production in left field, however, he has filled in admirably at first and third base. Wigginton has played exactly 0.0 fWAR baseball thus far with a .249/.322/.404 triple-slash line v. Cuddyer’s strikingly comparable .262/.315/.482 triple-slash and 0.9 WAR. Is one win worth the $8 million per year difference to the Phillies? No. It is also worth noting that Cuddyer’s superior WAR performance is measured primarily against other right fielders as that is where Colorado has been playing him. If Cuddyer put up those numbers primarily playing first base, his WAR would be adjusted to other first basemen and quickly drop even closer to Wigginton’s.

With $29 million saved, this one is also easy. Verdict: Right Move

Signing Rafael Furcal instead of Rollins

Furcal the All-Star

In case you were not aware, Rafael Furcal is the 2012 NL All-Star starter at shortstop. I am as surprised as you are. It is not that Furcal is having a bad season, .274/.340/.366 with 5 HR and 9 SB, it is just that Furcal is currently ranked 7th in the NL in WAR, behind surprise seasons by Ian Desmond and Jed Lowrie, ranked first and second, Jimmy Rollins at third, and Starlin Castro, Zack Cozart, and Jose Reyes at fourth through sixth.

The Phillies were rumored to have interest in Furcal to replace free-agent Rollins. Furcal signed at a modest $14 million/2 years with the defending champion Cardinals, Rollins $33 million/3 years. Was it the right move? This is the toughest decision thus far. Rollins has recovered after a slow start to be among the best shortstops in the NL once again and his production now falls almost squarely between his 2010 and 2011 numbers. Rollins is the youngest out of the possible three shortstop targets (Rollins, Furcal, and Alex Gonzalez) and this year has been the most productive. This isn’t the contract that will prohibit the Phillies from giving Hamels what he wants, but it may be what put the teeter-totter on the fulcrum.

FanGraphs ranks Rollins as providing $9 million in value to the Phillies already this year, which is only $2 million away from his annual contract value; with three months left in the season he should easily provide surplus value as he did in 2011 when Rollins provided $17.3 million in value. As easy as it is to pull the trigger and be angry at the Phils slow start, very little, if any, of the blame can be placed on Rollins’ shoulders alone. And if signing a consistent top-5 shortstop for a market-value contract puts them out of play for Hamels, then the Phillies have bigger issues to address. Still, they could benefit from slightly more payroll flexibility now and in the future. It won’t be the 2012 or 2013 money that will hurt them; it is the third year and the vesting option for the fourth. Verdict: Likely the Right Move, Need More Time to Tell

Trading Blanton, Receiving Burnett

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. A.J. Burnett was paid $16.5 million last year to have an incredibly mediocre season that FanGraphs valued at $6.7 million. This year, Burnett has provided that exact same value at the halfway mark of the season and the team he is playing for is only on the hook for $5 million of the $16.5 million he is again making.

In a series of two trades, the Phillies could have turned Joe Blanton of 2012 into A.J. Burnett for 2012 and 2013. Blanton is receiving $8.5 million this year and has been worth approximately $4.5 million already. Burnett’s best years seemed to be behind him, posting very good years between 2005 and 2009, and two average ones since. At the time, this one seemed like a no-brainer, a big, solid no. But the Pirates got a terrific deal: they are paying just $5 million for Burnett in 2012 and $8 million in 2013. Blanton, complete game, two-hitter aside against the Braves, has had a whacky year: career best K/9 IP and BB/9 IP v. a career high HR/9 IP. With hindsight, Burnett for $5 million is better than Blanton at $8.5. In fact, Burnett’s 3.74 ERA and 3.50 xFIP is pretty comparable or better than Blanton’s 4.85 ERA and 3.45 xFIP.

If the Phillies got the same money from the Yankees the Pirates did, this one is an easy Wrong Move.

Winning the Oswalt Sweepsteaks

Did Roy Oswalt get beat up Tuesday or what? In his third start back, Oswalt allowed 11 runs, 9 earned, on 13 hits in a 19-2 loss to the White Sox. Yet, Oswalt’s peripherals adjust his 7.79 ERA down to a 3.77 xFIP and he is posting a career-high 8.31 K/9 IP. For $5 million, Oswalt would have steadied and shored up a rotation that still ranks 3rd in MLB and 2nd in the NL in WAR but that starts Blanton and Kyle Kendrick two out of every five games. For $5 million, this was a gamble worth taking and would not have effected the Phillies long-term plans. This one involves less hindsight than the others and for me is an easy Wrong Move.

Keep Moss

This one came from out of nowhere. Brandon Moss went from top prospect to organizational filler to key contributor on a surprisingly competitive A’s team. In just 24 games, Moss is among the hottest players in baseball hitting 10 (yes, 10)  HRs since being called up and posting a triple-slash of .282/.349/.718. Moss is striking out at a 31.4% clip, but he would have been a welcome addition to the Phillies who rank 11th out of 16 in the NL in LF WAR. Using hindsight, Moss easily is outperforming Mayberry and Juan Pierre, and would have been a clear upgrade in left if the Phillies kept him. Moss is filling in at first for the A’s, but has plenty of outfield experience. Verdict: Wrong Move.

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