The upside to losing nine of the last 11 games and finishing with the franchise’s worst record in 13 years, at least if there is such a thing, is that the Phillies will have the opportunity to add a premiere free agent this winter without losing much in the form of compensation, while also getting to draft a premium prospect next June.
The Phillies finished the 2013 season with the seventh worst record in baseball, meaning they’ll pick No.7 in the 2014 draft. Here is a small sampling of players picked seventh overall in the last dozen years: Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder, Matt Harvey and Mike Minor.
Since the pick is also within the top 10, it’s protected; if a prospective free agent receives a qualifying offer from his old team, a team picking in the top 10 spots does not lose that pick for signing that player.
The New York Mets, for example, had interest in Michael Bourn last winter but didn’t en up signing him in part because they would have forfeited their 11th pick in the draft by doing so.
“I don’t like the fact that we’re picking that high, but I think it’s a good thing for us,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “It gives us a little more flexibility to do things. … I think it helps us.”
With an aging, expensive payroll and not enough victories to show for it this summer, the Phillies will need all the help they can get this winter.
After riding the Ryan Howard-Chase Utley-Jimmy Rollins nucleus to five straight division titles, the Phils will watch the playoffs at home for the second straight year. The second, consecutive underachieving season was not without its casualties: the beloved Charlie Manuel, who has more wins than any manager in franchise history, was fired in August, and on Monday, his right-hand man, pitching coach Rich Dubee, was informed his contract would not be renewed for 2014.
While the rest of the coaching staff is the first priority Amaro said he has to take care of this offseason, it’s clear the front office has much, much more work to do. The $118.5 committed to seven players in 2014 makes upgrading the roster all the more of a challenge for Amaro.
At some point soon, Amaro will talk to team president David Montgomery about just how much financial leeway he has at his disposal this winter.
“Obviously we had a lot less people coming to the ballpark this year,” Amaro said. “We have to be cognizant of that. We have been greatly supported – our payroll was, what, $165 million? That should be enough to put a contender on the field.
“We didn’t do it for a variety of reasons – some from the decisions that we made, some were because we just didn’t have the health that was necessary to have success. We have to make better decisions.”
Some of the upcoming changes could impact that decision-making. Slow to incorporate advanced statistics into their thinking – the Phillies seem to value RBI over OBP, for example – Amaro said the front office does plan to adjust their thinking this winter, although he said they’d be “pretty minor.”
“I think we’re doing some stuff analytically to change the way do some evaluations,” Amaro said. “Look, we are going to continue to be a scouting organization. That said, I think we owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate. We’re going to build more analytics into it. Is it going to change dramatically the way we go about our business? No, but we owe it to ourselves to at least explore other avenues.”
If that means fewer Delmon Youngs in the lineup, perhaps the offense can avoid finishing with a team OBP of .306 again next season.
Amaro went into last winter without a single proven major league outfielder. He ended up signing the unproductive Young to a low-risk deal, trading for the power-deprived bat of Ben Revere and holding out hope that Domonic Brown would mature into a an every day big league player.
A year later, the outfield remains largely unsolved.
“Our outfield defense... (it’s) not very good,” Amaro said. “It needs to be better.”
Amaro said Brown could move back to right field, where his arm would play up better. There’s speculation that Revere’s arm would be a better fit in left. And Darin Ruf?
“Ruf is not a right fielder,” Amaro said. “I think he can fill in for us. I think he can fill in in certain areas, but I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s an everyday player for us.”
Since fielding an outfield with a trio of All-Stars in Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez, Amaro is heading into his fourth straight offseason attempting to get it right. Relying too heavily on the likes of John Mayberry Jr. hasn’t exactly worked out.
Some potential free agent outfielders: left-handed hitters Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson, righthanded hitters Michael Morse and Corey Hart and switch hitter Carlos Beltran. The Phils could peruse the trade market, too.
No matter how they go about upgrading the outfield – and the rest of the sizable holes on the roster, too – it’s clear Amaro and Co. have to have better results in the next four months. Otherwise, the front office won’t be the ones handing out pink slips to the coaching staff – they’ll have to be concerned about their own job security.
“I always feel under the gun – I put myself under the gun,” said Amaro, whose series of misfires has fueled near-constant criticism from a rabid fan base.
“I don’t listen to a lot of it,” Amaro continued. “But listen, I’m the G.M. of the club, so I fully expect to take heat for it. I’m the one who is making the decisions on player-personnel. I’m accountable for the things that have happened. I have not had a very good year; our team did not have a very good year.
“I think we win as a team and lose as a team. The fact of the matter is that I should take a lot of heat. I need to be better, and our guys need to be better. We need to evaluate better, we need to make better decisions and make better mojo overall.”