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Phillies Offseason Plans: Eric’s Version

It’s time to roll out the offseason plans, where a few members of the PN writing team build their ideal 2014 Phillies Roster, taking into account team needs as well as payroll and luxury tax ramifications. 

None of us put together solid offseason plans last year. Through a combination of the financial restraints the team faced, and several targeted players producing poorly, not one of our plans beat the Phillies’ plan. It went to show how tough it was for the Phillies to build a winner. I was financially conservative and my moves followed a pattern: cheap productivity.

The story is different this year. The Phillies are in a tough spot as a franchise. They have enough talent to succeed if everything breaks right, but very little has broken right over the last two seasons. There are several youngsters deserving of extended looks, regardless of team success, but there’s also a strong desire to win now. There are question marks at numerous spots. Injuries are always a concern these days. To avoid that dead zone of 77-84 wins, the Phils will need to spend some money this winter.

My plan involves five free-agent signings that could put the team in a better spot to succeed.

Move #1: Sign Ubaldo Jimenez (4 yrs, $50 million)
Let’s play everyone’s favorite game — Guess That Player! From 2011-13, here are three different pitching lines.

Player A: 95 GS, 547 IP … 8.5 K/9 … 4.1 BB/9 … 43.1% GB … 4.10 SIERA
Player B: 93 GS, 564 IP … 7.2 K/9 … 2.9 BB/9 … 47.4% GB … 3.94 SIERA
Player C: 91 GS, 546 IP … 8.3 K/9 … 3.5 BB/9 … 42.8% GB … 3.93 SIERA

All three pitchers have very similar lines. Player B is Edwin Jackson, who signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs last season based almost entirely on his age, durability and potential. Player C is Ryan Dempster, who signed a two-year, $26.5 million contract last season, despite being in his mid-30s. Both pitchers signed for an average annual value (AAV) of roughly $13 million. Jimenez falls somewhere in between.

Jimenez had a poor 2012 season but tallied 3.3 WAR in 2011 and 3.2 WAR last year. His 2013 campaign was very encouraging as he fixed issues with his mechanics and was a clear-cut ace from May 1-on. Seriously, he finished April with a 7.12 ERA, but from May 1 until his final start on September 29, he put up a 2.72 ERA and 2.6 K/BB over 160 innings. Contrary to popular belief, his success was for far more than just half of a season.

He has also proven himself a lock for 32 starts and 185+ innings. His numbers should improve even more moving back to the senior circuit. Matt Garza may be the prized starter of this year’s crop, but this is a wiser investment.

On top of his own production, Jimenez would help stabilize a potentially shaky rotation. What do you really have beyond Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels? Kyle Kendrick is a solid enough #4 or #5 starter but he’s currently the Phils #3 option. Color me skeptical that Miguel Gonzalez immediately cements himself as a sturdy #3 starter.

Then there’s Jon Pettibone, Adam Morgan et al — guys who could perform well but remain question marks at this juncture. The likely floor for Jimenez is 180 IP with a 4.30 ERA. But he has an All-Star ceiling and the savings from choosing him over Garza will help elsewhere.

Move #2: Sign Curtis Granderson (3 yrs, $42 million, 4th-yr option)
Simply put, I would rather go after Grandy coming off of a down year than the left-handed Choo and Ellsbury coming off of stellar campaigns. He’s not an elite defender but he has elite power for the position and can still steal 10-20 bags a season.

Granderson is a lefty, but over the last three years has a .243/.312/.528 line against lefties. His line against righties is an almost identical .245/.328/.500. The key when discussing whether a lineup is too left-handed is whether or not those players struggle against lefties. Granderson hasn’t recently. Chase Utley’s career splits are almost identical. Just standing on one side of the box doesn’t automatically mean a batter becomes Ryan Howard facing Javier Lopez. Adding a lefty who hits lefties is perfectly fine.

Domonic Brown can move back to his more natural right field and Ben Revere can better mask his poor reads in left field.

It’s hard to see Granderson signing for much more than this. He still carries risk, but projection systems view him as a .334 wOBA player with 25 HR and 11 SB. Those systems more heavily weight his recent injury-plagued campaign, and his productivity should improve if the health woes are behind him.

Move #3: Sign Joaquin Benoit (2 yrs, $16 million)
Move #4: Sign Edward Mujica (3 yrs, $15 million)
The Phillies’ bullpen has been a major problem area these last few seasons. They paid top dollar for pitchers who either got hurt, performed poorly, or were poorly used. It’s too early to know if Ryne Sandberg has the chops to effectively utilize a bullpen, but one workaround involves stocking the ‘pen with solid bets to perform.

Both Benoit and Mujica have been solid performers for years, and while there is no sure thing when discussing bullpens, these guys are as close as it gets.

Jim Salisbury of reported Monday night from the GM Meetings in Orlando that the Phils have internally discussed Benoit.

Mujica is essentially allergic to walks, with a career 1.4 BB/9, and he has increased his groundball rate to 48% over the last few seasons. His late-season struggles are of certain concern — they appeared to be a result of shoulder soreness.

Benoit is seven years older than Mujica but has quietly put together a terrific relief career. While relievers don’t typically generate gaudy WAR totals, Benoit has consistently put up around 1.5 WAR per season. He misses bats, limits walks and generates weak contact when batters do make contact. He would be signed for the role Mike Adams was supposed to occupy and could certainly close if Jonathan Papelbon needed a day off.

Move #5: Re-Sign Carlos Ruiz (2 yrs, $14 million)
I’m not particularly enamored with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and while Dioner Navarro is an intriguing name, bringing Ruiz back just feels right. He is coveted by many teams but it’s hard to imagine the offers being that different. In 92 games last year he still tallied 1.5 WAR (about 2.5 WAR prorated over a typical Ruiz season) and his true talent offensive ability is likely more in line with his late-season surge than his early struggles.

Chooch at .270/.340/.380 to complement his defense and pitch-calling is perfectly viable and certainly worth $7 million per year. He can also help mentor a youngster like Cameron Rupp, as well as younger pitchers. The Phillies have said they won’t wait to hear back from him, because they don’t want to miss out on other options, but this feels like one of those situations where both sides will make it work.

Overall Roster
The end result leaves us at about $179 million. Adding in the allocable portion of league-wide benefits would put the Phils slightly over the luxury tax threshold of $189 million.

But who cares? I don’t consider it a big deal if the team has to pay a relatively small tax if it means putting a potential winner on the field. Bad past decisions shouldn’t hinder current or future ones. Teams who do let bad decisions haunt them remain mediocre.

My rotation is Lee, Hamels, Jimenez, Kendrick, Gonzalez.

The infield is Howard, Utley, Rollins and Asche, with Galvis as a backup.

My catchers are Ruiz, with Rupp as a backup.

The outfield consists of Granderson, Brown and Revere, with Ruf and Hernandez as backups.

The bullpen features Papelbon, Benoit, Mujica and Bastardo with the rest of the spots up for grabs among league minimum guys like De Fratus, Rosenberg, Pettibone, and Diekman.

Both Mayberry and Frandsen are non-tendered in this scenario. This is another situation where things must break right to succeed, but I would much rather take chances on guys like Jimenez and Granderson than break the bank for Garza and Ellsbury.

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