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Oakland Athletics Slugger Brandon Moss Projects to Maintain Power

Oakland Athletics first baseman Brandon Moss is literally the big elephant in the room.

In his breakthrough season in 2013, Moss ranked among Major League Baseball’s best in every power category there is, forcing us to query as to whether or not he is a one-year wonder. If he does show us a significant decline in statistical production in 2014, it will be one of the greatest year-to-year wanes we have seen for some time.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Moss’ production at the plate. The 30-year-old slugger amassed more than 500 plate appearances for the first time in his career last season. In the three seasons before, he accumulated just 329. Additionally, he has just 66 career home runs. That means he hit nearly half of his career total in 2013 alone (30).

On the other hand, Moss is looking more like a late-bloomer and is showing no signs of slowing down. 2013 was the first season where he was able to earn a full slate of at-bats. Moss took advantage of the opportunity and never looked back. To the surprise of many, signs of a power breakthrough began in 2012.

While I’m not suggesting he is the hitting version of Dazzy Vance, whose Hall of Fame career began after age 30, all indicators fail to show any significant regression for the Oakland first baseman.

The story begins in 2012. A year after playing primarily in the minors for the Philadelphia Phillies, Moss landed in Oakland via a minor league contract. Two months into the season, he was called upon from Triple-A Sacramento. In 84 games that season, Moss would rake for 21 HR, 52 runs batted in and a batting average of .291. Not bad for a platoon player at first base.

Moss’ intriguing 2012 production came in just 296 plate appearances. His walk percentage (BB/PA) rested at 8.8 percent but more damning was his strikeout percentage (K/PA). At 30.4 percent, Moss’ strikeout rate, had it been eligible to qualify among all MLB hitters, would have been the fourth-highest K/PA rate in MLB. The qualifying hitters (minimum 502 PA) who struck out at a higher rate were Adam Dunn, Pedro Alvarez and Drew Stubbs.

Swings and misses often come packaged with power production. The 10 players with the highest strikeout rate in 2012 averaged 26.4 HR individually. In 2013, the 10 players with the highest K/PA rate averaged 30.6 HR individually. 

Because of the appetizer-sized sample the year before, many expected regression in 2013. Moss did regress slightly but his overall power production increased significantly, culminating in a two-year turnaround unlike any in baseball.

As the everyday first baseman, Moss finished tied for the 11th-most home runs in MLB, alongside Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz and Jay Bruce. He also decreased his strikeout rate while upping his walk rate to a more satisfactory 9.9 percent. While Moss’ average dipped to a level more in line with a power hitter, his fly-ball percentage (the number of fly balls per batted balls in play) increased 6 percent.

Additionally, his line-drive rate dropped nearly 3 percent, showing he was hitting the ball with more pop and distance than the year before.

What does this all mean? Barring any significant injury or catastrophic collapse, Moss proved he is one of MLB’s better power hitters when provided the opportunity. While his average and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) contracted, Moss improved elsewhere to prove his power is here to stay.

The decline in his AVG and BABIP is not necessarily concerning as they retreated to a more league-average level for a hitter of Moss’ pedigree. Small sample sizes, like his 2012, can do that to a player.

And just think, half of his AB came in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Coliseum. More commonly known as the Oakland Coliseum, the A’s home ballpark typically ranks as one of the worst for power hitters in MLB. According to ESPN’s ballpark factors, Coliseum ranked 25th out of 30 ballparks in HR allowed.

With no signs of slowing down, it’s a wonder that Moss was designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010. Even more remarkable, Moss was able to gain just six AB for the Phillies in 2011 after playing nearly the entire season in the minor leagues.

Then again, baseball players don’t typically emerge as significant power hitters as they encroach on the age of 30. Moss’ last two seasons and forward projections highlight the importance of perseverance. Not only has he done the impossible over the course of the last two seasons, he is doing it well, placing him among the elite power hitters in baseball.


Unless noted otherwise, all statistics provided courtesy of FanGraphs.



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Atlanta Braves: Answering the Contract Questions for 2016 and Beyond

In November 2012, we witnessed the Atlanta Braves do something they have shied away from for a while. They signed outfielder B.J. Upton to a five-year deal worth $75.25 million. The sum of the deal put Upton in special company. He joined Manny Ramirez and Carlos Beltran as the only outfielders 28 years old and younger to sign their name to a deal worth $75 million or more on Opening Day.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, B.J. Upton would fall flat on his face with a .184 batting average and -0.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 126 games.

The B.J. Upton signing could have ramifications for the Braves as they inch closer to the impending free agency of Justin Upton, Kris Medlen, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Brandon Beachy. 

The aforementioned names make up the bulk of the World Series-contending Braves core.

National League Most Valuable Player talk focused on Justin Upton for the first couple months of 2013. While he would slow down after an electrifying start in Atlanta, the younger half of the brothers Upton will turn 27 in August. He is also set to enter free agency following two more seasons with the Braves.

Medlen has won 25 games over the span of the last two seasons. A reliable arm in the rotation, Medlen isn’t known for striking out batters. Similar to a poor man’s Greg Maddux, he works the plate and gets batters out via their contact. The right-handed pitcher will be 28 for the 2014 season and, like Justin Upton, a free agent in 2016.

Another star in Atlanta is set to enter free agency in 2016. Outfielder Jason Heyward will turn 25 in August. While hype has exacerbated his production, Heyward has become one of the best sluggers in the NL. It appears that he won’t necessarily hit for average but after freak injuries derailed his 2013 season, one positive is Heyward did improve on his walk and strikeout rates.

Set to be 25 years old in September, first baseman Freddie Freeman surged to being considered among the best power hitters in all of Major League Baseball. He has hit 46 home runs over the course of the last two seasons while boosting his average to .319 a year ago. Freeman leads the list of Braves set to hit free agency after the next three seasons.

Over the last three seasons, no closer has been as dynamic as Craig Kimbrel. During the same span, his fastball velocity has only increased from 96.2 to 96.9. He has averaged 46 saves annually since getting the nod as Atlanta’s closer in 2011. Due to turn 26 in May, one can see why it’s imperative for the Braves to lock up Kimbrel prior to his free agency year of 2017.

The last of the bunch, Brandon Beachy, is a major question mark. From June 2012 through July 2013, Beachy worked in the training facility while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The righty has plenty of potential but has yet to pitch more than 81 innings in a single MLB season. Akin to Freeman and Kimbrel, Beachy’s arbitration eligibility ends after 2016.

According to FanGraphs, the aforementioned six players combined for a 16.3 WAR. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest an increase in their cumulative WAR moving forward either. After all, it seems as if each player is entering his prime.

The situation isn’t all bad for Atlanta. Twenty-nine other MLB clubs would love to be in the conundrum Atlanta currently is in. Their scouting and development system has done one of the better jobs in baseball over the course of the last six or seven years. However, the problem Atlanta faces is keeping this core intact.

B.J. Upton’s deal isn’t likely to keep the Braves apprehensive from committing long-term to each of these aforesaid players. After all, the horrid decline of second baseman Dan Uggla and his $13 million annual contract didn’t keep the Braves from throwing bags of money at the older Upton.

The problem for Atlanta will be finding enough loot to keep this core intact.

Free agency in 2016 and 2017 may appear light years away. It really isn’t though. Organizations are more aggressive in securing their keystone players much earlier in their pre-arbitration and arbitration years.

For example, the Chicago Cubs signed first baseman Anthony Rizzo to a seven-year, $41 million contract extension last May. Compared to Freeman, Rizzo has less MLB service time and has yet to produce on a level parallel to the Braves first baseman. Yet, his long-term outlook with Chicago is guaranteed. Additionally, the Cubs saved money compared to what they would have had to spend had they played the waiting game. The Cubs are apparently ahead of the curve in understanding why committing to a long-term contract as soon as possible is beneficial to the team.

It would behoove Atlanta to buy out the remaining arbitration years for the players listed. On top of that, they should pay them accordingly for their first two to three seasons of free agency. This would come at a discount for Atlanta and secure team control over their core as they push to make multiple World Series runs through 2018. 

The longer the Braves remain stuck in neutral, the less incentive Jason Heyward and Co. will have to sign long-term deals as they creep closer to free agency. While some of the players could decide to do so, it is unlikely the entire core remains intact. 

It is feasible that Justin Upton, Heyward and Freeman would command contracts worth more than $100 million when they hit free agency. However, if the Braves stop sitting on their hands, they would likely be able to retain each of them for nearly half to three quarters of that sum. Beachy is in an awkward position to say the least. However, Medlen and Kimbrel could both see deals worth at least $50 million should they hit free agency.

Atlanta would do itself a favor by locking these players up before they get another year closer to free agency. By not doing so, they are playing with fire. After all, organizations such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees will price them out of the market on players they developed.

UPDATE: Jason Heyward and Atlanta Braves reach two-year deal

Per ESPN at 11:18 EST, the Atlanta Braves and Jason Heyward agreed to a two-year deal. This deal will buy out Heyward’s remaining years of arbitration, in effect making him a free agent in 2016. While terms of the new deal have not been disclosed yet, it is a discouraging sign that the Braves are willing to contend with other teams for the right to sign Heyward in two seasons. They may end up pricing themselves out of the market for the outfielder.

All statistics and contract information provided courtesy of, and

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Kansas City Royals: Trading Billy Butler for Pitching Makes Sense

Position players for the Kansas City Royals have a spring training report date of February 19. The current build of the Royals roster might not be intact when it’s time to report to Surprise, Arizona though. Slugger Billy Butler could be headed toward a new destination as Kansas City looks to beef up its pitching without overpaying in free agency.

It seems like it has been eons since Butler began carrying a big stick for the Royals. Since first attaining a full season’s worth of at bats, Butler has been nothing but a model of powerful consistency. He wards off injuries and has averaged 160 games played since 2009. 

Despite his power numbers being down last year and playing half of his games in the pitcher-friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium, he has still averaged 20 home runs annually. During the same span, Butler has driven in an average of 92 runs batted in while tallying a cumulative batting average of .302. 

Needless to say, Butler is one hell of a ball player.

And just think, Butler will not turn 28 years old until after the start of the season.

Despite seeing a dip in his total HR, RBI and AVG last season, Butler is still a formidable weapon at the plate. Opposing teams see this, too.

The Royals aren’t necessarily souring on their designated hitter, though. They have more pressing needs and find it more efficient to move Butler to another club in order to advance their pitching situation.

Earlier this month, talk was abound via MLB Trade Rumors that suggested Kansas City was willing to move Butler in order to land a pitcher

According to MLB Depth Charts, the Royals have a projected rotation that consists of ace James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy. Elite prospect Yordano Ventura could be in the mix at some point in the summer as well.

On the flip side, nothing about leaning on Chen and Duffy makes the Royals ooze with confidence.

In 2011, the Royals and Butler agreed to a four-year, $30 million deal. With a significant option worth $12.5 million in 2015 (or a $1 million buyout), the Royals should be even more encouraged to move Butler.

He is set to earn a team-friendly $8 million this year, a figure which would be encouraging to any prospective club lacking legitimate power at first base or designated hitter.

Last season, Kansas City posted its first winning record since 2003. Since 1992, they have just three winning seasons. While the organization is clearly moving in the right direction, they also lack an adequate starting rotation to compete late into September with division rival Detroit.

Butler is the one piece the Royals could move to better round out their rotation. He comes with a friendly $8 million salary for 2014 and provides a great AVG to coincide with enough power to justify a deal. Finding the right match is what might derail Kansas City’s hopes of improving their rotation, though.

All statistics provided courtesy of and

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Are They World Series Contenders in 2014?

Behold a pale horse, the Pittsburgh Pirates are serious contenders for the World Series in 2014.

After 20 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates reversed their fortunes with a 94-win season in 2013. The pitch-framing prowess of Russell Martin, leadership of Andrew McCutchen, might of Pedro Alvarez and unforeseen success of the pitching staff led the Steel City exodus out of baseball purgatory once and for all.

Star center fielder McCutchen was quoted as saying, via, “We won’t let history define our future. Our actions will do the talking. Our determination will turn doubters into believers.” And the rest is almost history.

I say almost because the Pirates organization is rooted in a history rich with stars and World Series victories. From Honus Wagner to Roberto Clemente to Dave Parker, the Pirates have tallied five World Series championships.

The current makeup of the clubhouse is reaching the apex of greatness, but they aren’t quite there yet. McCutchen and Co. know a World Series victory, their first since 1979, is the only thing that will make them great.

For what it’s worth, the 2013 season will never be forgotten among the Pittsburgh faithful. The fervor in which fans raised the Jolly Roger at PNC Park in 2013 is also leading to increased expectations for 2014. With the current roster, the Pirates have enough juice to exceed those expectations and bring the Steel City its first World Series championship in 35 years.

In many ways, the 2014 Pirates mirror the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Alvarez is similar to Ryan Howard in power. Martin provides stability behind the plate much like Carlos Ruiz. Neil Walker is cut from the same cloth as Chase Utley. Starling Marte provides electricity akin to Shane Victorino. Finally, McCutchen is playing the role of Jimmy Rollins via superstar talent and leadership.

Like the 2008 Phillies, the 2014 Pirates pitching staff lacks billowing luster on paper.

Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, Brett Myers and Kyle Kendrick rounded out a Philly rotation that many considered mediocre. Closer Brad Lidge was lights out, tallying 41 saves in 41 opportunities, though. Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey and others filled out the bullpen.

In order for the Pirates to live up to and surpass expectations, they will need their pitching staff to outdistance their production from a year ago. Last season, Pittsburgh’s team earned run average (ERA) was third best in Major League Baseball. According to FanGraphs, their fielder independent pitching (FIP) was third best as well. 

A major provocateur of their 2013 success, A.J. Burnett, is currently a free agent. Over the winter, the Pirates let Burnett walk after figuring they would not be able to fit his $14 million option into their budgetTherefore, the rotation will have a slightly different look in 2014.

According to MLB Depth Charts, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez, Charlie Morton and Edinson Volquez are projected to round out the rotation. The projected bullpen consists of Vin Mazzaro, Stolmy Pimentel, Bryan Morris, Justin Wilson, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon and closer Jason Grilli.

While Cole has the pedigree to be one of the best arms in baseball for some time, a lot of question marks surround the rest of the staff. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, it has depth with Jeff Locke, Jeanmar Gomez, Brandon Cumpton and elite prospect Jameson Taillon.

To consider the pitching staff ho-hum is dismissing the position the team is in. The Pirates have a plethora of proficient arms to lean on if necessary.

The energy surrounding the lineup is another source of pride for this roster. With Marte leading off, the Pirates are constantly in a position to score runs early on. Shortstop Jordy Mercer is expected to bat second. While he may not be the long-term solution at the position for Pittsburgh, his .285 batting average last season was respectable.

The meat of the lineup consists of McCutchen, Alvarez and Walker. Martin is projected to bat sixth followed up by two platoon situations in the seven and eight holes. 

At first base, the Pirates are likely to split at-bats between Gaby Sanchez and Andrew Lambo. In right field, the platoon of Jose Tabata, Travis Snider and Lambo is expected to loom large.

On the plus side, the Pirates have a farm system affluent with talent. Taillon is the only pitcher who is close to being MLB-ready, though. As for position players, shortstop Alen Hanson and outfielder Gregory Polanco are nearing their turns in the majors. Should some pitching, Mercer or any outfielder not named Marte or McCutchen fail to suffice through June, the Pirates will be able to lean on one of their young and talented prospects to fill the void. 

Baseball is budding once again in Pittsburgh.

The last time the Pirates sustained a run of consecutive winning seasons was from 1990 through 1992. The last time they were a serious threat to reach and win the World Series ended on October 14, 1992. Atlanta Braves first baseman and Carlisle, Pa., native Sid Bream crossed the plate, and the Pirates became irrelevant for the next two decades.

Vegas Insider has the Pittsburgh Pirates at 25-1 odds to win the World Series in 2014. With dark-horse odds, many won’t expect them to be as successful as they were a year ago. To win the National League pennant, the Pirates have the seventh-best odds at 12-1. Those odds are just slightly better than the woeful Phillies. 

Inside Pirates’ fandom, expectations are huge. Understanding the consequences of seeing Burnett walk into free agency are met with realistic assumptions about the rest of the roster. But to suggest a 37-year-old pitcher will make or break a baseball team is asinine. His loss is not that big of a deal for Pittsburgh.

The truth is that an organization no longer has to spend an abundance of dollars in order to field a championship-caliber club. No, it has to develop talent in-house and play matchmaker with the rest of the pieces to the puzzle.

So far, it looks as if general manager Neal Huntington and skipper Clint Hurdle are doing a great job with that task.

With one of the better farm systems in baseball, the Pirates have turned themselves into the Tampa Bay Rays of the NL. With a roster loaded with potential and following a year where they had better-than-expected success in the postseason, Pittsburgh is priming itself for a serious run at the World Series in 2014.

Major League Baseball is officially on alert.

All statistics provided courtesy of and

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Philadelphia Phillies’ Christmas Wishlist: More Scrooge Than Santa This Year

Oh, the yuletide spirit is among us. As families and friends gather over the holiday season, unwrapping gifts and perusing old photo albums, let us not forget what the Philadelphia Phillies should be wishing for this Christmas season.

Anyone wishing for Ruben Amaro Jr. (and his bad contracts) to take a hike out of the city via the Schuylkill Expressway will be out of luck. You might as well cross that off your wishlist. A more reasonable approach to drafting a wishlist is necessary. This season is not about erasing bad memories but forging stronger bonds for the coming year. 

While they may not deserve it, the Phillies are in need of several gifts. 2013 wasn’t very kind to the organization. It’s time to recollect and move forward with a realistic wishlist. Not a scroll of paper asking for a new Mercedes, in-ground swimming pool or a new spouse, but a pragmatic list that is realistically attainable.


Wish No. 1: A healthy Ryan Howard

The truth is that the Phillies are a better team when Ryan Howard sees at least 620 at-bats per season. Unfortunately, a concrete causal relationship between Howard and Phillies’ wins doesn’t exist because of so many other variables. However, when Howard missed the majority of the last two seasons, the Phillies suffered. The last time he was fully healthy, the Phillies played in October.

Howard’s days of producing a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 4 or 5 are likely over, but the Phillies have missed his presence in the heart of the lineup. In his last two seasons at full strength, the big lefty averaged 32 home runs and 112 RBI. 

His strikeout percentage climbed to nearly one in every three AB over the last two injury-plagued seasons. No one can tell for certain if his injury problems are behind him, but if they are, the Phillies will be a better team with him in the lineup. Even if he does strike out 190 times in 2014.


Wish No. 2: Jonathan Pettibone’s emergence as a viable starter

Apparently cash-strapped, the Phillies are not going to sign Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana after all. With one of the top one-two punches in Major League Baseball (Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee), the Phillies need the back end of their rotation to show up and be productive for 200 or more innings.

The onus is on Jonathan Pettibone. The righty saw 100.1 innings last year and finished with a semi-respectable 4.04 ERA. His win-loss record of 5-4 is forgettable though. With a low strikeout rate, Pettibone relies on his control and command. 

He didn’t appear to be too hit-or-miss last season though. His worst stretch came between Memorial Day and June 15th. Of the 45 earned runs he allowed last season, 33 percent of them came between the aforementioned span. Needless to say, Pettibone is crucial to the Phillies’ success moving forward. A few more steps in the right direction will satisfy everyone in Phillies Nation.


Wish No. 3: A Jesse Biddle promotion

A 5-14 record in Double-A Reading is nothing to write home about, but the organization’s top prospect is gearing himself for a MLB debut in 2014. As for the pros, Biddle has heat, and his 10-plus K/9 rate is recognized as something he could come close to retaining when he reaches the majors. 

The cons are his inconsistency and 5.33 walk percentage. If the local product can fine-tune his command and control more appropriately, the Phillies could see him in July. After all, no one is confident in Kyle Kendrick or Roberto Hernandez.


Wish No. 4: No Jonathan Papelbon Jerseys

Let’s get it over with. Even if the Phillies have to eat $8 million of his remaining salary per annum, they should do it. Papelbon acts as if he hates Philadelphia and, because of his attitude, Philadelphia is growing to hate him.

Aside from Amaro Jr., if anyone will be getting booed on Opening Day, it will be the closer. No one trusts Papelbon. His age and contract make him nearly untradeable. The Phillies are essentially stuck with him unless they give him away, eat the majority of his contract and accept pebbles in return. Dump the guy already.


Wish No. 5: A dinger for Ben Revere

After 342 MLB games and 1,400 plate appearances, Revere still has warning track power. Nothing more. Imagine if Revere was standing in the box, staring down Stephen Strasburg. Upon Strasburg’s leg lift and delivery, Revere squares on the ball and boom, it goes flying into the left field bleachers? Citizens Bank Park would go nuts.

I know most people are still unsure of what to think about the center fielder. He was traded for a fan favorite, Vance Worley, and was abysmal to start in 2013. Revere did bounce back, but an injury ended his season. Nothing more than a wallop over the fence would get fans more energized for Revere.

But then again, who am I kidding? Former Phillies center fielder and Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn had just 29 career HRs. Ashburn is the guy the organization chose to name the center field concourse after, as if he could hit a ball there.

Regardless, a homer from Revere would be nice to see. 

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Jesse Biddle, Other Prospects Who Could Help the Philadelphia Phillies in 2014

A headline declaring “Phillies Grab Whatever Roberto Hernandez is”, per Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, reaffirms the sad state of affairs at 1 Citizens Bank Way. With a roster in flux and a determination to disappoint in 2014, the Philadelphia Phillies will have to rely on some prospects at some point in the upcoming season.

Naturally, the estimated time of arrival for the following prospects is hard to predict. Philadelphia’s front office is obstinate in making the roster work with its current configuration. No matter how humdrum the lineup appears, David Montgomery, Bill Giles and Ruben Amaro, Jr. will trot a band of 30-something’s out onto the diamond under the illusion that the team is built to be a contender now.

Most folks don’t have the wool pulled over their eyes though. 

The fact is the Phillies are not on the same level as the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals. Outside of their own division, other squads, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds appear much more viable as National League Wild Card contenders than the Phillies.

Still, hope remains in Philadelphia. The hope which engulfs Phillies Nation is banking on some of the up-and-coming prospects overachieving and proving the analysts at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs wrong. 

If any of the following prospects emerge as efficient and productive Major League Baseball players, then the Phillies will be able to counter their apparent dismal roster construction with younger talent. However, finding space on the 25-man active roster for the following prospects will be tough with how it is projected to be assembled.

Let’s take a look at who could possibly help the Phils in 2014.


LHP Jesse Biddle

Widely regarded as the organization’s best pitcher, Biddle projects to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter. A local product born in Philly who attended Germantown Friends School, Biddle was drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft. 

With a four-pitch repertoire, the lefty has the savvy to be a force on the mound. His fastball and curveball grade out the best, but overall, his command has been iffy. Regarding his mechanics, many suggest Biddle still has some work to do. At 22 though, he still has some room to grow, especially since the Phillies added the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona.

Expectations for Biddle will likely be as high as they once were for Cole Hamels. While Biddle isn’t necessarily the prospect that Hamels was, the fact that Biddle is a local product from Mount Airy won’t suppress the excitement of his arrival.


RHP Ethan Martin

Martin landed in Philadelphia via the Shane Victorino-to-Los Angeles Dodgers trade in 2012. He was the first high school pitcher selected in the 2008 MLB draft. Martin appeared in 15 MLB games this past season where he proved his command was fallible. While putting up an earned run average of over six, Martin still managed to average more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

With a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, Martin can cruise through an at-bat so long as his pitch count remains low. The longer he is on the mound, the dicier he gets. The late break in his curveball shows promise, but Martin’s best secondary pitch is his changeup. 

Martin is likely to see the majors before Biddle this year. GM Amaro Jr. recently stated that Martin is expected to be “stretched out” during the spring, per Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, implying the Phillies are planning to use Martin as a starting pitcher. At the same time, Martin is likely to make his money as a reliever in the majors. 


3B Maikel Franco

The Phillies will give Cody Asche every opportunity to win the third base job this spring. While Asche could be considered a prospect, the fact he had 179 plate appearances last season removes the title from before his name. Still, as promising as Asche has looked at times, it is Franco who could be the better player. Only time will tell though.

As a right-handed hitter, Franco mashed 31 home runs in the minor leagues last year. The highest level of development he reached was Double-A though. With a strikeout percentage that is less than half of what Ryan Howard’s is, Franco does show some promise at the plate. Ironically enough though, Franco only walks 3.4 percent of the time.

For an organization short on right-handed hitting talent, Franco is a lock to get an opportunity to shine in spring training. However, he is expected to begin the year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If Asche fails to present himself as a viable everyday third baseman, Franco’s chances of being promoted increase drastically, so long as Franco himself continues to display power. 



At the end of the day, the Phillies farm system isn’t awash with talent. Roman Quinn, a speedy shortstop who showed tons of promise at the lower levels, ruptured his Achilles tendon early last month. One of the better prospects for Philadelphia, Quinn will take a major step back as he could miss all of 2014.

J.P. Crawford, the Philllies’ first overall pick of the 2013 MLB draft, is still a couple years away from the big leagues. He did win the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League batting crown, showing promise for the future.

Catcher Tommy Joseph is a virtual unknown as this point. While he appeared to be a strong candidate to open 2014 with the big league team, a concussion last May set him back considerably. 

Lefty Adam Morgan has an incredible slider, but that appears to be it. He was expected to be rushed along but with his faulty command and control, could see the entire 2014 season in the minors.

Carlos Tocci is another prospect who is much closer to Single-A than he is to the majors. Despite considerable upside in his bat and defense, the talk of him being a five-tool player is a bit premature. Signed when he was 16, he still has a long way to go.

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Philadelphia Phillies: A Closer Look at Domonic Brown’s Numbers Last Year

Much is being made of the Philadelphia Phillies‘ desire to trade left fielder Domonic Brown, as reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan. A line in the sand has been drawn, and there are those who feel as if Brown is the keystone for the Phillies’ future while others are screaming sell, sell, sell!

Independent of where one stands on this issue, the fact remains that Brown burst out of a disappointing start to his career to have a breakout, All-Star season in 2013. In 540 at-bats, Brown smashed 27 home runs and drove in 83 runs.

His dinger tally put him alongside the likes of Mike Trout, Robinson Cano and Justin Upton for 17th most in Major League Baseball. He finished 34th in the big leagues, alongside Victor Martinez, with his 83 RBI. While Brown’s .272 AVG is nothing to write home about, it did place him at second among the Phillies’ qualifying hitters.

On the surface, Brown’s numbers don’t look all that bad. Sure, nearly half (12) of Brown’s HR total came in the month of May and they all landed in right field, but that doesn’t necessarily negate his production for the Phillies.

What does negate his production is when we look at what he did (or didn’t do) beyond the box score.

Among qualifying left fielders, Brown finished 2013 with the third-worst Wins Above Replacement (WAR). His 1.6 WAR ranked ahead of only Eric Young and Chris Carter. It compared to that of Daniel Nava (1.8) and Michael Brantley (1.6).

Brown’s on-base percentage (OBP) ranked 11th among the same group of qualifying left fielders. A walk rate of just 7.2 percent can be attributed to this. Walking in just about seven percent of his at-bats, Brown was slightly better than just four other qualifying left fielders. The worst was Starling Marte who tallied a 4.4 percent walk rate.

To make matters worse, Brown’s Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was second worst among this group. With a .287 BABIP, Brown finished 32 percentage points less than Chris Denorfia

In terms of Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), the Phillies’ lefty slugger finished with 123. Since the MLB average is 100, Brown finished slightly above average in this regard but 20 fewer than Matt Holliday and five fewer than Nava. Brown was closer to Marte in this measurement. 

Finally, Brown’s defensive WAR comes in at minus-15.9. Only four other left fielders come in worse, including Upton. However, there is a 26-defensive WAR difference between Brown and Gregor Blanco. Needless to say, Brown has his issues in left field.

The finer details to Brown’s production show us that he compares more favorably to the likes of Nava, Carter, Young and Marte than he does Holliday or Upton.

With such a small sample though, some outliers do emerge. Brown does look more favorably than Alex Gordon is some measurements. He even bests Yoenis Cespedes in others. However, it is his future projections that look more alarming. 

In just his first full season of MLB play, Brown looks to have already reached his ceiling. Projections for Brown’s traditional statistics look weaker than what he accumulated this past season. In addition to his decline, the descent elsewhere is likely the reason for the Phillies shopping him.

The upside to Brown is that he is under team control. This will make a deal for him look more likely but at the same time, the Phillies should not expect a top-of-the-farm pitching prospect in return. Brown’s statistical anomalies should be corrected as he gains more experience as an everyday piece of the lineup, be it in Philadelphia or elsewhere.

No one should fault Ruben Amaro Jr. for trying to sell Brown high. All indications point to Brown hitting his peak in 2013. If this is the case, the descent will be a long one for the 26-year-old. The fact that Brown may not be as good as Chris Young, a comparable player, was in 2007 through 2011 with the Arizona Diamondbacks is a telling sign.

Young has reached the point where he will likely be piggy-backing one-year deals throughout the next couple of years. What will Brown end up accomplishing production-wise? For whichever team he plays moving forward, production similar to Young’s aforementioned four-year span is the most desirable, even if it won’t necessarily be pretty.

The question for those looking at Brown as a possible piece in a trade with the Phillies is: What can Brown do for you?

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Carlos Beltran’s Deal Makes Nelson Cruz to Philadelphia Phillies Possible

Jonathan Papelbon and Kyle Kendrick are on the trading block for a reason, and that reason’s name is Nelson Cruz. The Philadelphia Phillies are looking to find wiggle room financially so they can land another high-priced free agent or two.

Early speculation has the Phillies in on Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. With up to $26 million already available to be spent, deals involving Papelbon ($13 million) and Kendrick (projected $7 million) could free up another $20 million so long as the Phillies don’t have to consume any portion of Papelbon’s remaining deal.

The notion of having close to $46 million available to spend while we head into Major League Baseball’s winter meetings is appetizing for Phillies nation. With none of the aforementioned trio of pitchers expected to land a deal worth more than $15 million annually, a $31 million void remains.

Let’s suppose the Phillies do end up dealing Papelbon while swallowing $5 million of his annual salary. This would leave the Phillies with $26 million remaining before they encroach upon the luxury tax (after signing one of Garza, Santana or Jimenez, of course).

One major hypothetical question remains. Do the Phillies pursue Nelson Cruz?

Cruz’s asking price rests at $25 million per season. He is looking for a four-year deal. Lofty expectations aside, Cruz is also backed into a corner because he rejected a qualifying offer. This means that nearly two-thirds of MLB‘s organizations will be reluctant to sign Cruz to any deal because they would then lose their first-round selection in the 2014 MLB Draft.

One team that wouldn’t lose a pick is the Phillies.

Drafting seventh overall in next year’s draft, the Phillies can’t lose their first round pick by signing someone who was extended a qualifying offer because it is protected. This gives them a relative advantage over other organizations.

First, the Phillies have the capital to splurge on a riskier free agent like Cruz. Second, the Phillies don’t have to worry about losing their pick in next year’s draft. Finally, the Phillies are an organization that matches well with Cruz’s skill set.

Thanks to declining power from Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, the Phillies are in need of some extra muscle at the plate. They signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal worth $16 million (plus a third-year option) but Byrd can’t reasonably be expected to repeat his numbers from last year. 

Domonic Brown emerged as a power threat at the plate, but he is a left-handed hitter. As every fan knows, the Phillies need some might from the right side of the plate. 

With Carlos Beltran inking a deal with the New York Yankees for $15 million annually, one has to suspect that Cruz’s asking price will come down as we tread further into the winter. No organization can logically sign Cruz for $10 million more per season than Beltran received, even if Cruz will be three years younger than Beltran.

While Beltran’s deal makes Cruz more signable, many parts must move accordingly for it to work. With the organization tendering John Mayberry, the Phillies will have outfielders tripping over themselves.

Brown, Byrd, Ben Revere and Mayberry plus the addition of Cruz makes for a crowded outfield. Now let’s not fool ourselves, we know what the pecking order would be. 

Would the Phillies be willing to swallow their pride and realize the acquisition of Revere last winter was a mistake and move him? A lefty with no power in a lineup loaded with power deficient lefties makes no sense. Coming off of an injury makes Revere nearly untradeable though.

Domonic Brown simply cannot be traded. Despite some suggesting his 2013 emergence was a fluke, at 26-years-old, Brown is the only source of power the Phillies have under the age of 30, even if his production slows down moving forward.

The Phillies could look at moving Revere into a bench role and trading Mayberry for whatever they can get. This could open right field for Cruz. This is contingent on the Phillies trusting Byrd in center field. Byrd hasn’t started more than 100 games in center since 2011 with the Chicago Cubs though.

Despite sounding like such, Cruz-to-Philadelphia is not blind speculation. The Phillies have been linked to Cruz for some time. The odds of landing him remain pretty slim though. Too many pieces have to be moved in order for a Cruz deal to work.

However, Beltran’s deal does make Cruz’s $25 million asking price look salty. If one thing is certain, it is that Cruz’s asking price will come down somewhat. One thing that is not certain is whether or not the Phillies will dish out the juice to get him.

If the Phillies do sign Cruz, things will have to already have occurred or major changes will loom. First, Papelbon and/or Kendrick will have to have been dealt. Second, the Phillies would have moved or are planning to move Brown, Revere or Mayberry. Finally, the front office has to realize its lack of right-handed hitting power will not suffice in the near-term.

Switch-hitting Rollins, Byrd and Carlos Ruiz are the only projected 2014 starters who hit from the right side of the plate. Howard, Brown, Utley, Revere and Cody Asche all stand in the left batter’s box. Something has to change. One change that could boost the Phillies offense would be the signing of Cruz.

As friendly as his asking price might be in the aftermath of the Beltran-to-New York deal, don’t expect it to happen. There are too many moving parts involved.



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Philadelphia Phillies: Possible Landing Destinations for Jonathan Papelbon

A pivotal change could be looming for the Philadelphia Phillies and for once, it isn’t all bad.

Ken Rosenthal reported earlier that the Phillies are trying to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon in order to get out from under his contract. Handcuffed to a pricey contract that would make Nelson Rockefeller blush, Papelbon is owed $26 million over the next two seasons with a $13 million vesting option for 2016. 

Aside from the rich contract a team would inherit if they were to deal for Papelbon, things are made much more complicated due to the contentious atmosphere Papelbon is partly credited to bringing into the Phillies clubhouse.

So who would be interested in an overpriced reliever who is beyond his prime and known to bring a party pooper’s attitude into a clubhouse?

Realistically speaking, only time will tell.

It is true that many clubs are looking to bolster their bullpen but as we see with the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Braves, teams have found a more cost-effective way to do so.

Therefore it is highly unlikely that Papelbon is dealt without the Phillies swallowing a major portion of his contract. 

Papelbon’s velocity has declined for two years in a row. At 33-years old, he is no longer the young pup with the ferocious competitiveness that we once saw in Fenway Park. From 2006-09, Papelbon averaged 38 saves per season on top of a 1.74 ERA and 10.73 K/9 rate.

From 2010 through 2012, Papelbon’s numbers slowly trended downward. In those three seasons, he averaged a 3.09 ERA to go along with 35 saves per year.

Things appeared to hit rock bottom in 2013. For the first time in his career as a closer, Papelbon failed to reach 30 saves. He managed to finish with a respectable 2.92 ERA, but a meager K/9 rate of 8.32. 2013 was the first year the righty failed to strike out at least nine batters per nine innings.

Needless to say, Papelbon is trending in the wrong direction.

On the other hand, the remainder of his contract is comparable to that of Joe Nathan—who recently signed with the Detroit Tigers.

So once again, who would take on the challenge of reforming Papelbon into one of Major League Baseball’s elite closers?

First and foremost, the New York Yankees should be considered as potential trade partners. For starters, the Yankees’ farm system is nothing to write home about, but they would be doing the Phillies a favor by helping take Papelbon off of their books.

Mariano Rivera has retired and the Yankees still are floundering with regard to who will handle the closing duties. While it appears that David Robertson is primed to take over the ninth inning for the Bronx Bombers, nothing is yet written in stone.

Robertson will turn 29 this April. He has just 8 career saves under his belt. While he has turned into one of baseball’s most prolific relievers, nobody can be certain he has the guts it takes to lock down the final three outs of a ballgame.

Another possible destination for Papelbon is the Texas Rangers. With Nathan moving on to Motown, the Rangers are stuck in a tough situation. They are likely to lean on oft-injured Neftali Feliz to be their closer, but Tanner Scheppers is another in-house possibility.

Making a deal work between the Rangers and Phillies would be a daunting task. The Rangers are likely unwilling to be left on the hook for all of Papelbon’s remaining contract. Therefore, the Phillies would have to be willing to eat a majority of the remaining deal and possibly the entirety of Papelbon’s vesting option should it kick in for 2016. Such a scenario doesn’t make much financial sense for Philadelphia.

Finally, the Seattle Mariners appear to be all hands on deck. After signing Robinson Cano and apparently being in the mix for David Price, the M’s could use a solid option to solidify their bullpen.

Seattle blew the seventh most saves in 2013 (23), so the bullpen is in flux. The conundrum plaguing Seattle is an attempt to become relevant for the first time since Lou Piniella was the manager.

Speculation aside, it is going to be difficult for the Phillies to move Papelbon. The deal he was signed to a couple of winters ago is decimating the Phillies’ potential to move forward. 

If anything, it is another indictment on the front office in Philadelphia. The contracts given to Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Mike Adams look bad, but so does Papelbon’s. It will take a lot to move Papelbon this offseason. 

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Philadelphia Phillies: A Revolution Manifesto Against Ruben Amaro Jr.

As time continues to tick by, the present, unchanging, never-ending tenure of Ruben Amaro Jr. as general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies will plague the organization well into the latter half of this decade.

Overpriced contracts, comical vesting options and other various head scratching decisions from Amaro have negated the feel that many Phillies fans had in 2006 when they knew their team was on the verge of something great. A feeling that shouldn’t have subsided so quick, since the Phillies have been awash in Benjamin Franklin’s, but a feeling that has turned numb due to complacent idiocy with no regard towards tomorrow.

Today, Phillies fans know their team is on the verge of something awful.

Phillies nation is inundated with fans that know their baseball. They know about conventional numbers and advanced metrics. These folk understand what it takes to build a winner from the ground up because for so long, they have been looking up from under the soles of the Atlanta Braves

There is one thing fans in baseball hateknowing that their franchise has no shot to win over the course of a multi-year time span. Understanding the payroll, farm system and front office are in shambles is what brings fans to the stadium with paper bags over their heads. 

Another thing fans of baseball hate is when they are being lied to. That is exactly what Amaro continues to do to the Phillies fan base.

His comments, whether in print or on air, about having a team that can compete for an N.L. pennant in 2014 are blatant lies. They are laughable. Everybody knows that the Phillies are designed to be abysmal in 2014.

First off, the production on the field will not match the price tag that accompanies the roster.

As I noted several weeks ago, the defensive production (or lack thereof) is reminiscent of something I would find in The Exorcist

Secondly, the anemic offense will continue to allow fans to flock to the gates by the turn of the seventh inning. As FanGraphs notes, the Phillies offense combined for a 6.2 Wins Above Replacement in 2013. Only the Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros and Miami Marlins were worse.

So how did Philadelphia get to the point of having a bottom-feeding defense and offense?

It begins with the apathetic regard towards Amaro. The general manager needs to take blame for preserving a cast of has-been’s. However, the fans must take blame too. The boisterous minority who continue to drum beat for the Phillies, who place blind faith in Amaro‘s decision making, need to take blame for the maintenance of the status quo

These same fans who rail against anyone who dares to speak the truth about the sad state of affairs at Citizen’s Bank Park need a gut check. Unfortunately, their opaque blinders disallow them to see the crisis in South Philly. These homers are virtually running towards the front line with zero ammo and no regard for the land mines under their feet.

At least they are outfitted with the newest Phillies hat and Marlon Byrd jersey.

The majority of us have already prepared. We have our bunkers outfitted with stashes of bottled water, MREs and Shane Victorino bobbleheads. We knew what the signal was from the get-go. We understand that we will be hunkered down below the terrain for the next several years while the zombies continue to feast on whoever buys the hype of the Amaro gravy train.

We will not trade in our love for the Phillies. Rather, we will be armed for the takeover once the walls of Amaro come tumbling down. We will patiently wait for the arrival of J.P. Crawford, for the healing of Roman Quinn and cross our fingers to score the next Kris Bryant or Mark Appel in a couple years.

Until then, we will be sitting with our arms crossed, staring belligerently into the eyes of the Phillie Phanatic as we wait for baseball’s greatest mascot to pelt Amaro with his Hatfield Hot Dog gun until Amaro has realized he is no longer welcome in Philadelphia.

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