NASHVILLE, Tenn. - At various points during the 4-day free-for-all that is baseball's annual winter meetings, Ruben Amaro Jr. and Charlie Manuel talked about their disappointment with the way the Phillies played in 2012.
They talked about the defensive lapses, the shoddy baserunning, the lack of fundamentals displayed during the course of an 81-81 season. So perhaps it should not have come as such a surprise that they decided to part with starter Vance Worley and well-regarded pitching prospect Trevor May in exchange for 24-year-old centerfielder Ben Revere. His abilities in the field and on the basepaths were both considered to be superb during his time with the Minnesota Twins.
The pertinent issue, though, is whether the Phillies are in a better position to contend for a World Series now than they were at the beginning of the week. And the exact nature of that reality is difficult to determine. On one hand, the Phillies landed a player who reminds them a lot of former prospect Michael Bourn, who blossomed into an All-Star after he was traded to the Astros and is now on the free-agent market looking for a monster contract. They injected their roster with speed and potential, two qualities that have diminished as the team's core players have aged. And if defense and fundamentals were really as big a problem as Amaro and Manuel have indicated, this move should address that.
But the Phillies also had more quantifiable problems: namely, the inability to drive the ball and the inability to reach base with professional at-bats. And neither of those are addressed by the addition of Revere. While the speedy centerfielder hit .294 and stole 40 bases in 2012, he posted an on-base percentage of just .333, a mark eclipsed by 11 of the 16 major leaguers who had at least 400 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter. Longtime Phillies leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins has a .326 OBP over the last two seasons, which is better than Revere's .322 mark during that span. Rollins also offsets his relatively paltry base-reaching ability with power: In 1,330 plate appearances over the last 2 years, he has 101 extra-base hits, 39 of them home runs. Revere has yet to hit a home run in his major league career, and has just 33 extra-base hits in 1,034 plate appearances over the last two seasons.
Essentially, Revere is a young, poor man's Juan Pierre who can play excellent centerfield defense. In a vacuum, that is not an awful thing for the Phillies to have, especially when you consider their options on the free-agent market. But is it worth the price they paid, parting with two valuable trade chips and opening up a hole in their rotation?
The answer to that question will depend largely on Revere's continued development. His batting average, OBP and slugging percentage all increased last year, his second full season in the majors. But all of those marks were due mostly to an increase in singles, which, as a ground-ball hitter, could be attributed to luck. His walk rate and extra-base hit rate were largely unchanged, as was his home-run rate (again, zero).
Besides his defense and base-running, Revere's most attractive quality is his cheap price: He will not be eligible for arbitration until after this season (at the earliest), meaning he should make in the neighborhood of $515,000 this year. That will enable the Phillies to concentrate their remaining dollars on four key areas of need: a righthanded power bat for rightfield, a starting pitcher to replace Worley, a setup man for the bullpen and a third baseman.
How much they have to spend is unclear, although Amaro said he anticipates the Phillies' payroll to be in the neighborhood of what it was last year, when it fell just short of the $178 million luxury-tax threshold.
The Phillies currently have an official payroll of $149.5 million for 16 players (the league uses the average annual value of contracts to determine a team's official payroll). That includes the usual $10 million that each club must contribute for player benefits, plus projected salaries for Revere, John Mayberry Jr., Erik Kratz, Darin Ruf and Domonic Brown. If the Phillies were to include five of their young players in the bullpen, that would add roughly $2 million, bringing the total to $151 million. That would leave them with, at most, $27 million to spend before hitting the luxury-tax threshold.
As of Thursday night, the Phillies were reported to be waiting on Rangers infielder Michael Young to accept or decline a deal that would send him to the Phillies for an unspecified minor leaguer. The Rangers still owe the 36-year-old righthanded hitter $16 million, and they would have to pick up the majority of that. But exactly how much is unclear. There is a big difference between paying Young, whose defensive abilities have slipped over the last few years and who struggled mightily at the plate last season, $2 million and paying him $6 million.
Among the corner outfielders who fit the profile the Phillies appear to be seeking are Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick and Scott Hairston.
As for starting pitchers, it is hard to imagine the Phillies outbidding the Dodgers or Rangers for former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke. One report suggests that former Marlins righthander Anibal Sanchez is looking for $18 million over 5 years, which might be the neighborhood that Edwin Jackson shoots for as well. Because the Phillies already have signed Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to long-term deals, there is a good chance that they end up targeting a player who will agree to a shorter-term deal. One report out of the winter meetings said that Ryan Dempster had rejected a 2-year, $26 million contract from the Royals. Another said that he is looking for a 3-year deal from the Brewers. There are a host of other veterans available who likely would command less money, although price tags have been difficult to forecast this year.
Thursday's deal was just the first domino. Its viability will depend on the ones that have yet to fall.