Sunday, August 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Second-guessing the second-guessing of alleged second-guessing: Part I

In addition to an observer, recorder, and analyzer of history and the human condition, a writer is also a therapeutic device, the disembodied equivalent of dry wall. Rather than punching a hole through the actual source of one's discontent, an individual can punch a hole through the words of the person who chronicles it, thus limiting the chance of physical harm or public shame or prison time. I enjoy the role, but I also like to make sure that the displaced aggression is grounded in some form of reality. For instance, the Phillies' rough start has produced a rash of allegations from emailers and commenters to this blog that writers like myself are guilty of second-guessing, that we spent all offseason and spring training singing glorious psalms of inevitable success for this team and are now little more than bandwagon deserters. It is a serious charge, but it is one that I dispute. So I spent part of a recent morning reading back through the archives of the newspaper and the blog and highlighted some pertinent excerpts. We'll take a periodic look at these excerpts, which I have grouped together in categories.

Second-guessing the second-guessing of alleged second-guessing: Part I

A large number of the moves the Phillies made revolved around Ryan Howard´s injury. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
A large number of the moves the Phillies made revolved around Ryan Howard's injury. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

In addition to an observer, recorder, and analyzer of history and the human condition, a writer is also a therapeutic device, the disembodied equivalent of dry wall. Rather than punching a hole through the actual source of one's discontent, an individual can punch a hole through the words of the person who chronicles it, thus limiting the chance of physical harm or public shame or prison time. I enjoy the role, but I also like to make sure that the displaced aggression is grounded in some form of reality. For instance, the Phillies' rough start has produced a rash of allegations from emailers and commenters to this blog that writers like myself are guilty of second-guessing, that we spent all offseason and spring training singing glorious psalms of inevitable success for this team and are now little more than bandwagon deserters. It is a serious charge, but it is one that I dispute. So I spent part of a recent morning reading back through the archives of the newspaper and the blog and highlighted some pertinent excerpts. We'll take a periodic look at these excerpts, which I have grouped together in categories.

Next week, we'll look at our coverage of Chase Utley's injury and our analysis of the offseason moves that were made. Today, we'll start with our analysis of the moves the Phillies needed to make in what was then the upcoming offseason, culled from blog posts and Daily News stories that ran from October to early November:

ON THE FRONT OFFICE'S PAST MOVES: "When you really break it down, a front office's job is to predict the future better than other front offices. Certainly, it is to predict the future better than the general public. Nobody is saying that Amaro and his fellow executives have failed. Remember, the Phillies are coming of a 102-win season. If they lose to the Braves in the final series of the regular season and eliminate the Cardinals from the playoffs, there is a good chance they are still playing. For the second straight year, they ran into the one team that was built to beat them in the postseason. This is not revisionist history. I said it last summer about the Giants, and I said it this summer about the Cardinals. At the time, neither team was a lock for the playoffs. Both of them snuck in. And, as fate would have it, both ended up playing the Phillies. At the same time, the Phillies learned a tough lesson. When you put the majority of your chip stack on black, and the wheel lands on red, you have a problem. Black is postseason success. Black is pitching. The Phillies' traded for Roy Oswalt and signed Cliff Lee. They did not add a corner outfielder like Lance Berkman, or reserves like Nick Punto or Ryan Theriot or Rafael Furcal. Oswalt battled injuries, saw his strikeout rate dip, and allowed five runs while taking the loss in Game 4. Lee dominated during the regular season, then allowed five runs and took the loss in Game 2."

PERSONNEL, NOT APPROACH, IS THE PROBLEM: "Maybe Amaro thinks that the Phillies need to stop going to the plate looking for a pitch they can drive, and instead look for a pitch they can put into play to get on base. Maybe if they had that mentality, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez would have hit singles instead of flying out in front of the wall in Game 5. On the other hand, maybe the players on the roster are who they are. Maybe the roster was constructed with hitters who have spent their entire careers looking for pitches they can drive. In 2002, former big league manager Chuck Tanner told Baseball Digest, "If a guy is a .250 hitter, he's going to hit .250. It's as simple as that."

More coverage
 
The Phillies Zone: Where Amaro went wrong
 
High Cheese: Subpar Phillies playing to potential
 
The Phillies Zone: Phillies searching for bullpen help
That's Baseball: The Chooch Travesty
Photos: Philies' 2012 draft picks

ON POTENTIAL ROAD BUMPS: "One of these years, the Braves are going to get it all together and mount a serious challenge for NL East supremacy. As long as Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels remain healthy, this team should continue to win a lot of games, regardless of the offense. But one serious pitching injury -- or one serious opponent in the playoffs -- could make this year's NLDS disappointment seem mild. The Phillies are no longer a team that can rely on their ability to crush fastballs and poorly executed offspeed pitches, because they are not crushing those fastballs and poorly executed offspeed pitches like they did in their prime. Witness Utley and Ibanez flying out to the wall on Friday night. Who knows where those balls land a few years ago? This is not a team in need of an implosion, but it is a team that has not changed its offensive identity nearly as fast as its former identity has changed. They need a hitter or two who can reach base, who can work a count, and they need depth at all positions."

ON ADDING OFFENSIVE DEPTH: "The success of the rotation overshadowed a lot of depth problems, not only in the bullpen, but on the bench. The Phillies simply do not have the young home-grown talent that the Cardinals were able to use to off-set their veteran core. The lack of depth was on display throughout the stretch run in playoffs. The Phillies simply did not have anybody who could play in place of Polanco. Their top left-handed option off the bench was Ross Gload, whose power was sapped by a hip injury. We haven't even mentioned Chase Utley's knee problem. He played all season, but not at the elite level that the Phillies need. This line-up has reached an age where injuries need to be factored into roster construction. Expecting guys like Polanco and Utley and Rollins to make it through a whole season unscathed borders on fantasy."

ON LEFT FIELD AS OFFSEASON PRIORITY: "Regardless of what the Phillies say publicly, they are going to bring in an outfielder who can give them some depth/insurance behind John Mayberry Jr. Mayberry played great last season, but nobody knows if he can do it on an every day basis. The smart money is on a left-handed bat. I've floated the name David DeJesus because he is one of the few options who brings any sort of offensive and defensive versatility to the table, and because he is just one year removed from hitting .300 and doing a lot of nice things for the Royals. He had a career-worst year last season in Oakland, but let's face it: a lot of players have career-worst years in Oakland. Johnny Damon is another guy who has some upside, but he is also far enough away from his peak years that any investment is fraught with risk. The rumor mill has mentioned the Phillies in the same sentence with Twins lefty Jason Kubel on several occasions. Such a signing would not surprise me, although it would seem to run counter to the Phillies' desire to change the dynamic of their lineup. . .Josh Willingham is one of the better offensive outfielders available, but there have never been any indications that the Phillies view him as a likely fit. One wild card to watch is Carlos Beltran. If the veteran outfielder was prioritizing a shot to win a ring and was willing to accept a one or two-year deal, the Phillies might find themselves tempted to make a run at him. He would drastically upgrade the offense, provided he remained healthy."

ON THE SET-UP MEN: "In a perfect world, Triple-A relievers Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont are ready to make instant impacts and get the call to the majors at some point in 2012 and Joe Savery or Jacob Diekman establishes himself as a reliable left-handed option. But those are all huge question marks. Entering the season without a veteran swing-and-miss pitcher to complement (the closer) and Bastardo will constitute a significant risk if the Phillies hope to rein in their starters. Assuming the Phillies do not have unlimited payroll flexibility, the $1.25 million they are paying to Thome is $1.25 million they cannot pay to somebody else. And if they carry six bench players, it leaves them with three open spots behind (the closer), Bastardo and a long man, and decreases Manuel's ability to mix-and-match his way through the late innings."

ON SIGNING A CLOSER: "Cost-effectiveness is the key here. After all, Madson blew just one save this year and the Phillies still lost in the first round of the playoffs. They went to Game 6 of the World Series when Brad Lidge had one of the worst years ever out of a closer. Sure, it's an important position. But not important enough that a team should sacrifice the ability to upgrade in another area."

ON COMPENSATING FOR LOSING RYAN HOWARD: "What if Howard's recovery does stretch into next season? If the Phillies had any doubt about devoting some serious consideration toward left field, it would likely be eliminated. The team would have to think about playing John Mayberry Jr. at first. They obviously aren't going to be players for Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols. Veterans like Michael Cuddyer and Wilson Betemit leave much to be desired on the defensive end, but they can play first base and outfield along with third base. . .Maybe Howard is back to full strength by the start of next season, or shortly thereafter. But his power and on base numbers and even his RBI total have dropped over the last three seasons. Same goes for Chase Utley at second base. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are the only two regulars who are undoubtedly in the prime of their careers. If Jimmy Rollins leaves via free agency, they will already head into next season weaker at one position (Jose Reyes is not an option and Rollins is clearly the second-best available offensive shortstop). If Howard's injury is not a big factor, Mayberry is the best option in left. But he has never played on a regular basis. And heading into a season with him and Domonic Brown as the top two options in left would require a huge leap of faith. Which is why the Phillies should seriously consider free agency, assuming Amaro can't pull another big trade out of his hat. Nick Swisher could be a free agent if the Yankees decline his option. That isn't a sure thing, but he's an OBP guy who can work a count, something that was noticably missing from the Phillies' line-up during the postseason. Josh Willingham is another player in that mold. Defense is the big issue there, but he isn't replacing a Gold Glove in Ibanez. I wouldn't rule out Ibanez returning at a drastically lower salary and without any guarantee of regular playing time. But his is the one position that can clearly be upgraded through free agency. Remember when the Cardinals took a chance on Lance Berkman?"

David Murphy Daily News Staff Writer
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