Monday, November 06, 2006

MVP'S, FA'S & TBD'S

The race for the National League MVP award is the tightest in recent memory with Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols each deserving of the honor. As if their regular season exploits weren’t sufficient evidence of their prowess, both players have continued padding their credentials in the post-season. It is worth noting, however, that ballots were sent in by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, two from each city, by the end of the regular season. The post season cannot figure in the voting.

Pujols, of course, played an official post-season that will go down in the record books. His production helped the Cardinals win their first World Series in 24 years, but it cannot help him with the voters. Howard had to wait to put on his final spurt for the current MLB tour of Japan during which he hit three home runs in the first three games while batting .700. His towering blast in the Tokyo Dome will long be remembered by Japanese baseball fans, but those voters stateside who put him down first on their ballots can only privately nod their heads in satisfaction.

By the way, Pujol’s first Gold Glove cannot help him either, that award having been announced after the World Series. Good thing, too, because the “sure-handed and nimble fielder with a powerful and accurate throwing arm” that Howard is fast becoming would make next year’s contest even closer!!

* * * * * * *

The Phillies continue to be in the thick of several rumors regarding free agents and possible trades but thus far none of them convince me they will improve themselves significantly. The headliners among those thought to be on Pat Gillick’s radar include Gary Sheffield and Alfonso Soriano. The former may still be a dangerous hitter, but at age 38 he is a defensive liability with no good position and prone to injuries. He is also unlikely to be a positive clubhouse presence given his well-publicized annoyance with his current club, the Yankees, who exercised their option on him thus preventing Sheffield from filing for free agency. At best, he might be a one-year temp in Philadelphia; at worst, he would probably be a vocally unhappy one-year temp.

Alfonso Soriano is also rumored to be high on the Phillies’ shopping list and would be inserted somewhere in their lineup to provide protection for Ryan Howard. Were Soriano to bat fifth, the spot in the lineup where he might provide the most protection, the Phillies number four and five batters would enter 2007 with 341 strikeouts between them from the previous season. That’s a lot of balls not even put into play. Too many. Power is not the protection Howard or the Phillies need; putting the ball in play is.

In the end, the strongest argument for signing either Sheffield or Soriano may not be protection for Howard. It’s hardly a coincidence that both of them are outfielders, for better or worse. Overall the Phils’ outfield situation remains cloudy since they are openly shopping Pat Burrell, are unlikely to re-sign David Dellucci, and cannot possibly see Jeff Conine as anything other than a role player. When Aaron Rowand and the Phillies both declined their options last week setting up a likely arbitration hearing this off-season, Gillick announced his intention to retain the hell-bent-for-leather centerfielder. The only other outfielder on the roster who will definitely start next season is Shane Victorino. Michael Bourn and Chris Roberson remain long shots at best to fill the third spot. Without Sheffield or Soriano, the Phillies’ outfield would be profoundly short on power and somewhat less on experience. My solution would be to move Rowand and two pitchers, Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd, for someone like Carl Crawford. Tampa Bay no doubt wants more pitching than those two offer, especially starting pitching, but it would be a good place to start discussions. With Crawford and Victorino in the outfield, the Phils could afford to gamble on one of their own kids for the remaining spot.

Gillick’s track record is not that of a gambler; if anything, he prefers the familiar to the unknown as the Franklin and Rhodes signings indicated. While I have difficulty imagining him having made so much effort to free up salary only to turn around and give a big chunk of it to Soriano for five plus years or Sheffield for one, he does not strike me as someone who is planning to be stick around for more than another year or so. If that is the case, he might just decide he has nothing to lose by placing his biggest bet on Soriano with Sheffield as his backup plan.

17 Comments:

Blogger Oisín/Wizlah said...

The carl crawford idea is an interesting one tom. I'm going to disagree with you on gillick and gambling tho. At seattle he's gambled big in letting A-Rod, Jnr and Johnson go, and then gambled even bigger on Ichiro (give the up and down track record of japanese players in america to that point). I think the franklin and rhodes signings are typical signings of any gm with limited funds in their first year - go with the familiar if you think you can rely on it - but I don't think they indicate a willingness to always make that kind of a decision. In fact, I hesitate to say much of anything about gillick, other than he keeps his cards very close to his chest and he's ruthless when cutting mistakes.

Your point about how long he's expecting to stay though is the big question, and you're spot on to say that if he's not here after next year, a big contract isn't his issue. Having said that, the teams that he left in the past didn't seem to have any big contracts on their books when he left (please, someone, correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of him leaving an a-rod sized mistake - both in terms of duration and cost - on any of their books on his departure). Its just not the way he works.

My hunch is he'll keep the contracts as small as possible in terms of time this winter.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

Oisin: I don't know how much he "gambled" in letting A-Rod and Johnson go; I don't think he could afford them. As for Ichiro, I don't recall what his original contract called for and cannot say if from that standpoint Gillick gambled, but Ichiro was clearly the best player of his era in Japan, which made that move less of a gamble than one might think. And, apart from his hitting prowess, Ichiro was already one of the best defensive players in the game, worldwide, and a great threat on the bases. So, I cannot say Gillick gambled on talent. As for the intangibles, could he play in the US., could he deal with the language issue, yes, those would qualify.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Oisín/Wizlah said...

Okay, perhaps I should say instead that i don't see gillick as a manager who regularly relies on the familiar (in terms of particular players), and when you said he didn't gamble, I misconstrued that to mean he is overly conservative. Unless that *is* what you meant, in which case I would repeat that I don't think last years deals are truly indicative of gillick's preferences in players.

(I also tried to see if I could disprove that Ichiro was indeed blindingly better than all else , but jim albright's page suggests that he was indeed beating everyone else by several country miles!)

I do agree with george s that if we take soriano, he shouldn't necessarily be seen as protection - swap him for jimmy at leadoff and put jimmy behind howard - he strikes out a lot less.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous RickSchuBlues said...

As you probably know, I'm heavily on the Sheffield bandwagon. I disagree about your assessment that he is 'prone to injuries'; from 2003-2005 he averaged over 150 games, and his wrist injury was something which could have happened to anyone at any age. Sheffield represents a potentially far more consistent and dangerous threat behind Howard because he makes contact far more often. Advanced age aside, to me he's still very clearly an elite slugger and probably, along with the remote possibility of Aramis Ramirez, the most sensible acquisition the Phillies have a chance to make in this off-season.

3:26 PM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

RSB: I agree. "Prone" is not an accurate assessment and I knew he'd played 150 games in each of the past few seasons. I meant to say he is more prone as he gets older. Ramirez has always been my first choice: he solves the most problems the Phillies have in a single package. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to want to come here unless everyone is just posing right now. Of course, today's news seems to confirm Sheffield has even less desire to come here.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous RickSchuBlues said...

What news is that?

3:48 PM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

According to a link at Philliesflow, it appears Sheffield has listed teams to which he wants to be traded and speculation does not include the Phillies. Of course, he doesn't have a no-trade clause, but if he doesn't want to come here it isn't a good sign.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous J. Weitzel said...

Co-workers keep asking who the Phillies will get this offseason, and my answer is always Sheffield. The Phils will be outbid for Soriano. They say they're willing to take it to the limit, but I don't believe that. There's a number they will not cross. They'll fall back on Sheffield for a year, and I don't know that it's a crime.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

I just don't like rental players on lots of principles and I believe if Sheffield were to come here he would be just that. I cannot recall such a move ever working out for the Phillies or, for that matter, most teams. The Marlins won two WS with rental players figuring heavily (some were even shorter term than a year), but on balance they don't add much.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous J. Weitzel said...

The Yankees have every intention of dealing Sheffield on their own terms, regardless of Sheffield's preferences.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

That is indisputable!! They are in the driver's seat on this one.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous J. Weitzel said...

On a positive note, he'd essentially play for another contract somewhere. I'm borderline okay on the rental idea, because long-term commitments have hurt this team much, much more. They're only now starting to see the light of day from a failed era.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

Weitzel, if you are going to make this much sense, don't come here anymore!!

Seriously, your points are well taken, especially the one about how much long-term contracts have backfired on this teaml, which is why I hate the prospect of signing Soriano to one. But I doubt he is coming here no matter how close the Phils are on the money part of it.

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed that it's hard to believe the Phils would go all gung-ho with Soriano and offer him a big fat multi-year deal, after trying so hard to extract themselves from so many other contracts over the last few years. Sheffield will play here and *like it*!!

4:19 PM  
Blogger BenJah said...

tom -- you are so right: the phils don't really need power to protect howard, they need contact. that's one of the reasons i like sheffield - he has both. i realize he's expensive and old, but there aren't a lot of other options, period, let alone ones that are better. i'd rather pay heavy for one year, than pay heavy over the next 6-7 for a poor option.

also, as far as his "prone-ness" to injury: he's plays hurt and plays through injuries a lot. he guts it out as much, if not more, than any other player out there.

6:48 PM  
Blogger BenJah said...

plus, as much as sheffield is being a pain now...once he did get traded, he would have something to prove so that teams believe he is worth an extension. never underestimate the power of the "contract-year"

6:49 PM  
Blogger Tom Goodman said...

Excellent points by all of you. I am officially persuaded Sheffield would be a good option. I'm only sorry he apparently is not. Perhaps Bobby Abreu can vouch for someone the Phillies would be willing to give up to get him.

7:05 PM  

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