Sunday, June 24, 2007

What's the plural for albatross?; or, Pat Gillick, Meet Billy King

So Jon Lieber's out for the season after blowing a foot tendon running to back up the catcher. Freddy Garcia hasn't had surgery -- yet -- but I'm not optimistic and neither is anybody else. According to Beerleaguer, which seems to have scooped everybody (including both Philly papers) on this, J.D. Durbin has been called up to fill the hole.

The Beerleaguer article and what little else I know of Durbin fails to excite me. Former top prospect, history of arm trouble, stats not compelling, etc. Maybe it's the fact that we now have two rookies in the starting rotation -- he and Kyle Kendrick (Who? Exactly!) -- and that Pat Burrell has all but officially been replaced by Michael Bourn, giving us three starting center fielders, but all of a sudden I'm not liking our chances to catch the Mets.

Which leaves the Phillies, as many of the linked blogs to the left have noted, in exactly the same position they've been in every year since Rico Brogna: not good enough to contend, not bad enough to blow up, and not enough payroll flexibility to make any moves big enough to save them.

And why is that, exactly? Why is there never any payroll flexibility? Let's take a look at some of the people they're paying the most. (All salaries courtesy Cot's Baseball Salaries, which might be the greatest site I've found since fleshbot.) I'll stick with this season for now, although a few of these guys will unfortunately be with us next year.

Pat Burrell: $13M / .205/.373/.376, 8 HR, 31 RBI
Freddy Garcia: $10M / 5.90 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 74 ERA+, 1-5 W/L, 58 IP, out for season
Jon Lieber: $7.5M / 4.73 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 93 ERA+, 3-6 W/L, 78 IP, out for season
Tom Gordon: $7M / 4.82 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 91 ERA+, 5 S, 9 IP, out long-term, possibly for season
Jim Thome: $7M / has not played for Philadelphia in a year and a half
Adam Eaton: $6.9M / 5.63 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 78 ERA+, 7-5 W/L

That's $51.4M of mostly wasted money, or roughly 57 percent of the 2007 payroll. More than half of the payroll is tied up in bad, injured, or completely absent players! What, are they taking a page from the Sixers? The only person listed there who will likely contribute anything significant for the rest of the season is Adam Eaton, who's also the cheapest of the bunch. And Pat Gillick is responsible for all those guys except for Burrell and Thome.

Meanwhile, their best players -- for my money, that's Rollins/Utley/Howard/Hamels/Myers/Rowand, not in that order -- make a grand total of just less than $22.5 milly. Granted, those numbers are skewed because Howard and Hamels haven't been in the majors long enough to get what they're worth and are still making less than $2M combined.

But still. The Phillies' payroll could be half as much and they'd be just as good (or just as bad, depending on how you choose to look at it). That's sickening.

Especially when you compare them to a team with a competent front office. For kicks, and because they're one of this blog's favorite teams, I browsed through the Padres' salaries. Here are their priciest players:

Maddux: $10M / 3.84 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 104 ERA+, 6-4
Brian Giles: $9M / .276/.347/.347, 1 HR, 12 RBI
"Mythical" Mike Cameron: $7M / .261/.322/.468, 8 HR, 34 RBI
Hoffman: $6.5M / 2.00 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 19 SV, lots of good publicity with his 500th
Peavy: $4.75M for the best pitcher in the NL

Sure, B. Giles is an iffy contract, but that's the only one that's even questionable, and at least he's going to play the rest of the season.

The moral of this post: you can have all the great young players you want (the Phillies have a ton, the Padres have ... uh, Khalil Greene), and if your front office sucks, it doesn't matter. The Padres have a much better GM in Towers, and that's why the Padres are going to go to the playoffs with a $58M payroll and the Phillies won't even though they're spending $89M.


Colin E. Laisure-Pool said...

Is Pat Gillick a bad general manager or just an unlucky one? I ask this question in earnest and it is intended in the most non-confrontational way possible; for when it comes to baseball, I typically don't know what I am talking about.

But I ask because it SEEMS that you are evincing something that I frequently see elsewhere and is a pet-peeve of mine: that the GM/coach/boss is somehow culpable for events that are out of his control.

Example: The otherwise inexcusable Matt Millen as taken a lot of heat for, among other things, Joey Harrington and Charles Rodgers' fall from grace as professionals following sparkling collegiate careers. I know it is a tough slog defending Millen, but can he honestly be blamed for the injuries (Rodgers) and enigmatic suckitude (Harrington) of players for which there was no traceable indication of either? Nary a soul questioned these decisions at the time they were made, yet these debacles never fail to appear among his list of gaffes.

I could be wrong, but isn't it a bit harsh throwing Gillick under the bus for Lieber/Garcia/Gordon's injury status? After all, he doesn't exactly have domain over Jon Lieber's right foot tendon. The situation changes if it is revealed that Leiber had a history of such injuries, or was prone to irresponsible foot treatment, but until then, it just seems like Monday morning quarterbacking.

Feel free to rip this comment to shreds. I am very excitable (read: fiery), but hard to offend.

Diesel said...

I think my latest post addresses some of that, but specific to the Gillick question, here are some answers:

Lieber — Bad luck, and he was trying to trade him during the offseason, so maybe there's an excuse to be made here.

Garcia — A likely combination of a lack of due dilligence on the part of the Phillies, who should have noticed what a lot of scouts noticed at the end of last season, which was that Garcia's velocity was down (almost always an indication of shoulder problems). MRIs aren't conclusive, and it's possible that had the Phillies done one on Garcia, nothing would have showed up. But they didn't even do that, which is insane.

Gordon — His usage patterns with the Yankees, his injury history and his age all suggested that he was an excellent candidate for breakdown. Torre beat the living shit out of him his last two years with the Yankees, something that Gillick should have realized was a problem. Furthermore, power pitchers hardly ever age well, especially ones that were almost out of baseball not five years ago because of arm troubles.

A wise man once said that luck is the product of design, and it is Gillick's relative lack of an identifiable, proven strategy that I believe has caused the franchise's "bad luck." It doesn't help that the GM before Gillick was even more incompetent, and saddled his successor with some truly indefensible contracts that hurt the team to this day.

As for Millen: I remember the Harrington pick being embraced, but Rodgers was a different story. In fact, I remember a lot of people HATED that pick, if only because a team as bad as the Lions had bigger holes to fill than WR. Further, Millen gets killed because he chased the Rodgers pick with Mike Williams (massive overdraft), Roy Williams (who is awesome, but another fucking wide receiver, and general incompetence in the free agent/trade market. I think Gillick is a bad GM, but he's no Millen.

Colin E. Laisure-Pool said...

Consider me edified on the baseball situation.

Re: Millen. Good points, but I seem to recall you lauding his choice of Calvin Johnson over my agonized wails of 'yet another fucking receiver!!!!!, this is worse than the Holocaust!!!!' at 16th street. Tell me that this team does not need Joe Thomas.

St said...

Colin: a valid point. I also don't like it when sports fans or writers get self-righteously revisionist about developments nobody could have seen coming. (I remember this particularly with the T.O. situation, one of the worst six-month stretches of my sports media-consuming life.)

My larger point was not just about the ineptitude of Gillick, but the historic ineptitude of the Phillies front office. He's part of that, obviously, though not nearly as bad as Ed Wade was.

So, to answer your question about blame, I'll say this:

Lieber: not his fault.

Garcia: I think it's the organization's fault for not doing the MRI. Exactly what Connor said, essentially. Would it have shown anything? Who knows. But anybody with half a brain orders one in that situation.

Gordon: not to blame for his injury, absolutely to blame for signing him to the contract he did. Desperate for bullpen help two years ago, he added an extra year to the deal to convince Flash to sign with Philly. Now we're on the hook for $7M this year and something right around there next year. For a 40-something pitcher who everybody knew had one good year left in him, if that, for the reasons Connor described.

Eaton: I'm ambivalent. He's overpaid, but the starting pitching market was/is so ridiculous that it's hard to blame the $ amount on Gillick. We're basically paying near-premium for an average 4th or 5th starter. But that's kind of how it is. So it's not a horrible move by Gillick, but it's far from a masterstroke.

Overall, though, once you factor in the continuing effect of Ed Wade's retardedness (the Burrell contract was unforgivable, in any context, and Thome's was a year too long), the Phils' front office has wreaked serious long-term havoc on the team's chances to contend.

I just hope their incompetence doesn't waste the entire primes of Utley/Howard/Rollins/Myers, all of whom are homegrown guys in their late 20s who have incredible potential. (I would add Hamels, but he's in his early 20s.)