Friday, March 26, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

When we last saw the Phillies, this happened: 

And then this happened: 

And then this happened: 

Now that I've made all the Phillies fans leave in disgust, let's get to it.  2010 Year In Preview: Philadelphia Phillies!

2010 Season: 93-69, Winners of the NL East and the NL Pennant; lost to the Yankees in six games in the World Series.  

Key Departures: Cliff Lee (traded to Mariners), Pedro Feliz (signed with Astros), Scott Eyre (quit), Brett Myers (signed with Astros), Chan Ho Park (signed with WSC Yankees)

Key Additions: 

Thanks to Drunk Jays Fans for giving us permission to use the image!  Huge fan of DJF.   

One Roy Halladay, arguably the best pitcher in the game (traded from Blue Jays), Placido Polanco (3B free agent), Jose Contreras (RHP, free agent).  

I'll cover the economics behind the Halladay/Lee deal in greater depth in the 2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook, which has apparently become my forte, but essentially the Phils swapped Halladay for Lee, and secured themselves a good pitching prospect in Phillippe Aumont in the process.  This move was about payroll, but also minor league depth.  

Talent En Route: 
The Phillies lost three of their best prospects in the Halladay deal when they sent RHP Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis d'Arnaud and OF Michael Taylor to the Blue Jays.  They got some prospects back by trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners, the best of which is Phillippe Aumont.  But getting Lee in the first place from the Indians cost them a bounty in Lou Marson, Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco.  In sum, the Phillies' minor league depth has been depleted a great deal, but there are still two prospects worth watching in 2010. 

The first is Domonic Brown. Brown is a giant specimen of a center fielder, standing in at 6'5" and weighing 220.  The Phillies drafted him straight out of high school in the 20th round of the 2006 MLB draft.  In his first full season of work as a nineteen year old, he posted a .299/.363/.415 line with 4 HR in 77 games, stealing 14 bases.  The next year as a 20 year old in high A ball he showed good OBP skills with a .291/.382/.417 line in 516 plate appearances.  As you can see, the power was not yet there.  The next year, Brown owned High A pitching to the tune of a .504 SLG and 11 home runs in 280 AB, and earned a callup to Double A.  There he went for .279/.346/.456 but only hit 3 home runs in 147 AB.  

There's a lot to like about Brown.  He has a projectable frame, and you can see that he could add power as he gets older and fills out.  He also possesses great speed and a plus arm.  The challenge for Brown is finding a consistent power stroke while learning how to adapt to better pitching.  As you can see from his minor league stats, he often struggles when he gets promoted up a level, and then learns to adjust.  For this reason, I'm thinking that Opening Day 2011 may be too aggressive of a timeline for Brown even though the Phillies' front office is hoping that he'll be able to take Werth's spot in RF.  My prediction for 2010: a .290/370/.490 line from Brown in Double A and a .280/.350/.410 line in Triple A in 2010.  

Phillippe Aumont is the other prospect I want to profile in the Phillies Year In Preview.  Aumont was drafted by the Mariners with the 11th pick of the 1st round of the 2007 draft, who completely converted him to a reliever.  Aumont stands in at 6'7", 220 lbs and features a heavy, sinking fastball that ranges from 92 to 96, a plus slider and a rudimentary changeup.  The Phillies plan to convert Aumont back into a starter in 2010, a move of which I wholeheartedly approve.  While Aumont may have been able to crack the bigs earlier as a reliever, his stuff merits a long look in the rotation.  Due to the fact that he was drafted straight of out high school and has thrown a mere 106 total innings in the two years since, Aumont won't likely have any impact on the Phillies rotation in 2010 and will need plenty of time to build arm strength and get a full year of innings under his belt.  There's plenty of reason to be optimistic, given his arsenal.  Frankie Piliere of AOL Fanhouse really liked what he saw: 

The best way to describe Aumont when he's on his game? He's a force of nature. With one of the best sinking fastballs in professional baseball, there are points in the game where Aumont can use that pitch almost exclusively and completely dominate a lineup. 
The entire piece is worth a read, so check it out.  I really enjoyed reading his scouting report on Aumont and on the perennial tease and frustration, Yankees RHP Christian Garcia, whom I love and hate with equal parts.  

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook
The Phillies are no small-market, gritty, overachieving, low-budget team like the Red Sox (#sarcasm), as they opened the 2009 season with a payroll of $113M.  Their payroll is set to go up at least $25M to $138M in 2010, due to the deal that Ryan Howard received (3 years, $54M), the extension that Halladay signed (3 years, $60M), and the baffling deal they handed to Blanton (3 years and $24M).  Let's stop and fixate on the Blanton deal for a second.  Ruben Amaro stated that the reason they dealt Lee was to replenish the farm system and to sign a top tier pitcher to a long-term, and affordable, deal.  Yet many have speculated that they also traded Lee to clear payroll for 2010.  Lee is only making $8M in 2010.  Was it really necessary to lock up Blanton to an $8M AAV deal while clearing space by trading Lee?  Imagine how formidable a rotation of Halladay-Lee-Hamels would be in the playoffs!  And if the reason for dealing Lee wasn't payroll, just to replenish the farm system, couldn't they have gotten a better return than Aumont and a few lesser pieces?  Why didn't they shop him longer, and more openly?  No teams were willing to offer more than Aumont for one year of Lee at $8M?  And finally, if not, why not keep him for 2010, deal Blanton, and then offer Lee arbitration after the 2010 season and use the draft pick to replenish the farm system?

I don't get it.  I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now.  Flags fly forever, and I think keeping Lee would have made the Phillies a far more fierce opponent in October.

All of that aside, the Phils still have $132M committed to their payroll in 2011, not factoring in arbitration raises to Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ and others.  That's a lot of coin.  Coming off the payroll are Moyer, Durbin and Werth.  Since their payroll is already so high, I would imagine that they let Werth walk and hope that Brown can assume the role full-time.  Other than RF, the Phillies will have no other significant holes in 2011.

Phillies Overview: 
To cut to the chase, the Phillies are a team built to win now. They have an excellent, but aging, core of players in Utley, Werth, Howard, Rollins and Halladay, all of whom are paid handsomely.  Their farm system has been depleted due to the trades for Lee and Halladay, and while getting Aumont back from the Mariners certainly doesn't hurt, they don't have now have a pitching prospect so close to the majors like they had in Drabek.  The Phillies have been very good at winning for the past two years.  There's no reason to think that won't continue in 2010; they are the cream of the crop of the National League.  But the warning signs are there - Werth will leave after 2010, Howard is very expensive, and their core of Utley and Rollins weakened considerably in 2009 with Rollins' dropoff and isn't getting any younger. For 2010 and 2011, though, there's no reason to think that the Phillies won't be near or at the top of NL East and competitive in the playoffs.  I wouldn't be surprised to see them back in the World Series this October as the first winner of three straight National League pennants in six decades, when the St. Louis Cardinals and Stan Musial reigned supreme.

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