Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

State of the Phillies: corner outfield

Yesterday, we kicked off our week-long State of the Phillies series by breaking down the past, present and future of the first base and second base positions. Our mission over these next few days is to identify where, exactly, the Phillies can improve this roster. The outfield is one such area, although the free agent market isn't exactly bursting with talent there either. In today's story in the Daily News, Ruben Amaro Jr. tells Ryan Lawrence that the trade market could offer some possibilities. Here, we break it down.

State of the Phillies: corner outfield

Darin Ruf has shown that he can stay on a big league fastball and power it from alley to alley. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Darin Ruf has shown that he can stay on a big league fastball and power it from alley to alley. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

Yesterday, we kicked off our week-long State of the Phillies series by breaking down the past, present and future of the first base and second base positions. Our mission over these next few days is to identify where, exactly, the Phillies can improve this roster. The outfield is one such area, although the free agent market isn't exactly bursting with talent there either. In today's story in the Daily News, Ruben Amaro Jr. tells Ryan Lawrence that the trade market could offer some possibilities. Here, we break it down. 

I. 2012 production, Phillies c orner outfielder s (NL rank out of 16 teams in parentheses) 

Left field

AVG: .290 (6)

More coverage
 
How to fix the Phillies' outfield
 
State of the Phillies: What to do in center field?
 
Special Section: How to fix the Phillies
 
Phillies outfielders on the farm
 
Phillies' outfield to-do list

OBP: .340 (6)

SLG: .420 (10)

OPS: .760 (10)

HR: 13 (11)

RBI: 69 (13)

RS: 89 (5)

Right field

AVG: .246 (13)

OBP: .315 (15)

SLG: .411 (11)

OPS: .726 (13)

HR: 23 (7)

RBI: 81 (7)

RS: 81 (14)

BREAKDOWN: No position was as disappointing as right field this season, where the Phillies entered the year with Hunter Pence as a fixture in the middle of the lineup. In some regards, Pence was a victim of the expectations he set for himself with his torrid play after last July's trade from the Astros. In reality, his .270/.335/.446 line was right around his career averages in those departments and his 17 home runs were better than average. But the in juries to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard left the Phillies relying heavily on the production they would get out of Pence in right field and Victorino in center field. And Pence showed that while he is very good right-handed power bat, he lacks the consistency required to be a centerpiece bat capable of carrying a lineup. Left field was less of a surprise. In fact, the .760 OPS they got out of the position was probably better than anybody had a right to expect coming out of spring training, thanks to a resurgent year by Juan Pierre. Keep in mind the Phillies entered the spring thinking that John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix and Ty Wigginton would provide a capable rotation. Of all the problems the Phillies faced this season, left field was the most avoidable, since there were a number of proven power hitters available on the market for a reasonable price. You can argue the bullpen was the biggest area of neglect, but that ignores the slew of injuries that afflicted some of the younger relievers, and the regression of Antonio Bastardo during the first few months of the season.

II. Future salary commitments (luxury tax threshold $178 million in 2013, increases to $189 million in 2014)

2012: $13.7 million (opening day), 7.70 percent of luxury tax threshold (Hunter Pence, Juan Pierre, John Mayberry Jr., Ty Wigginton)

2013: 1.35 million, 1.00 percent of luxury tax threshold (Laynce Nix, 31 years old)

FLEXIBILITY : The Phillies have a blank slate here. Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf both have options, and Nix can slot into a role as a left-handed power bat off the bench. Brown's numbers were hardly eye-popping -- .235/.316/.396 with 5 home runs -- but he showed an ability to work a count and his defense was the detriment that some people feared. Brown has 496 major league plate appearances, but never more than 212 in a season. The feeling here is the potential reward of a cheap, young productive major league hitter outweighs the risk of Brown never developing into that player, which means the Phillies should not put themselves in a position where Brown is once again headed to the minor leagues in favor of a veteran. Between center field, the bullpen and the other corner outfield spot, the Phillies have enough places to spend their disposable income that they should enter spring training with the thought that Brown will be their opening day right fielder.

III. 2013 Organizational Depth Chart

 

  1. Domonic Brown, 25, pre-Arb (est. 1.090 service time) under club control through at least 2016
  2. Nate Schierholtz, 29, arb-eligible, $1.3 million in 2012 (4.078 ST) under club control through 2014
  3. Laynce Nix, 31, signed at $1.35 million through 2013
  4. John Mayberry Jr., 29, pre-Arb (2.095 ST) under club control through 2016
  5. Darin Ruf, 26, pre-arb (< 1.000 ST) under club control through at last 2018
  6. Tyson Gillies, 24, AA

 

BREAKDOWN: While age and injury have diminished the performance of the Phillies' veteran infield, the decline of the lineup can also be traced to the changing face of the outfield, which has seen Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence hold down the fort since 2007 and is now without any in-house candidate that has a proven ability to replace any one of them. Brown, Ruf and Mayberry are the only young players who have the potential to contribute next year. Gillies is a center fielder, but we put him on the list anyway.

Nix and Schierholtz have never been everyday players. At this point, both profile as bench bats, but both are left-handed, which means it could be difficult to get them at-bats and still give Brown a chance to play regularly. 

Mayberry played better down the stretch after an awful start to the season, but his .695 OPS still ranked 41st out of 49 right-handed hitting outfielders in MLB (min. 250 PAs).

IV. Potential for personnel upgrades

TRADE POTENTIAL: Corner outfield is always a position with significant trade possibility simply because there are more corner outfielders playing the game than any other position. There have been rumblings all season at the Diamondbacks would seriously consider trading star Justin Upton. The Rockies could look to unload Michael Cuddyer. But the Phillies really do not appear to be in a position to take on an aging player whose production either has dropped or is in the process of dropping precipitously. We'll have to take a longer look at this to identify some players who would make sensible trade targets, much like the Athletics acquired in Josh Reddick. 

FREE AGENT MARKET: A lot depends on where the Phillies decide to go in center field. I have long been an advocate of Nick Swisher, who is a switch-hitter and brings healthy on base and extra base numbers. But he is also at the top of the market, and at 32 years old probably is not worth the money that he will likely seek. One problem the Phillies could have is convincing a veteran that he will have a legitimate shot at a starting job with so many players in the mix. A right-handed bat like Cody Ross or Scott Hairston would make a lot of sense, especially given their abilities to play center field. Would it surprise me to see the Phillies go with a wide-ranging rotation of mid-tier veterans and young players? Not at all. In fact, the economics might make sense. Say, bring in a guy like Ross and a more natural center fielder like Angel Pagan and let the whole mix sort itself out. That being said, the opportunity to add a power bat at a reasonable price was much greater last offseason than it is this one. 

Here is an extremely preliminary power ranking of the available corner outfielders.

1. Josh Hamilton, 32

2. Nick Swisher, 32

3. Melky Cabrera, 28

4. Delmon Young, 27

5. Cody Ross, 32

6. Scott Hairston, 33

7. Torii Hunter, 37

8. Ichiro Suzuki, 39

9. Jonny Gomes, 32

10. Reed Johnson, 36

That's about it, although we'll have a much more in-depth look at the market as we get closer to free agency.

V. Corner outfield, in conclusion

Before the Phillies figure out how to approach the offseason, they need to figure out how they feel about the guys they already have in the fold. They have probably already done this, or at least have begun the process in earnest, but we are not privy to those discussions, so we can only operate on what we've seen. And what we've seen suggests that this offseason could force the Phillies to make a significant decision on Mayberry. Really, we could write an entire blog post on the situation. And given the length of October, there is a good chance that we will. At some point, the Phillies could reach a juncture where they must decide between bringing in a veteran right-handed corner outfielder like Cody Ross or Scott Hairston or sticking with Mayberry as a rotational guy. Again, a more in-depth breakdown is needed before I set my belief in stone, but if this offseason really is going to come down to incremental upgrades at all available positions, then Mayberry's role -- whether it is right-handed pinch-hitter/defensive replacement who is projected to get 250 plate appearances or a platoon/rotational guy who is projected to get 400 plate appearances -- is certainly one that the Phillies must examine.

As we noted earlier, Domonic Brown has the most upside of any position player in the upper levels of the organization, and the Phillies are in no position to leave upside unexplored. It is fair to mention Nate Schierholtz getting non-tendered as a possibility. It wouldn't appear to make much sense to eat the $1.35 million owed to Laynce Nix since, at the very worst, he gives you a left-handed power option off the bench and depth in the outfield and at first base. The wild card, of course, is Darin Ruf. I was one of many who snickered at the hoopla surrounding a 25-year-old Double-A player who has never been considered a real prospect, but I like to think that I keep an open mind, and I think anybody who does has to acknowledge that, at the very least, Ruf has shown that he can stay on a big league fastball and power it from alley to alley. I don't think you need a big sample size to be able to say that. The question is his ability to handle the offspeed stuff and pitchability of big league veterans with consistency. But you could argue that is the same question that faces Mayberry. And if the Phillies add a center fielder and a right-handed veteran, particularly one who can provide depth in center field like a Ross or a Hairston, then you could proceed to argue that Mayberry's skill set is redundant, and that they might as well ride Ruf (I'm in the process of trademarking that), carry him as, at worst, a right-handed bat off the bench who is capable of smashing a late-inning fastball, and perhaps he continues to refuse to let them ignore him, and he ends up playing his way into an everyday job and 10 years from now we find ourselves wondering how close he would've come to Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron if it hadn't taken all of us until he was 26 years old to realize that he is the greatest pure slugger the sport of baseball has ever seen. You can quibble with the details, but the underlying premise remains.



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