Change-UpApril 05, 2010
Stakeholders - Philadelphia Phillies
By Patrick Sullivan

Since late February, a collection of bloggers, analysts, mainstream writers and senior front office personnel have joined us to discuss a specific team's hopes for 2010. Some have been in-depth, some light, some analytical, some less so but the series has been well received and we were thrilled about the lineup of guests we were able to attract. While it was intended as a preview series, time got away from us and so we are just going to keep at it until we have finished all 30 teams. We may even keep at it throughout the season. Today it's Tommy Bennett on the Philadelphia Phillies.

Patrick Sullivan: So the Phillies have Roy Halladay. That's a very good thing as far as the 2010 club is concerned. But they also lost Cliff Lee, and there are some that viewed the move as just kind of wheel-spinning and unnecessary when you look at all the pieces exchanged. What were your thoughts?

Tommy Bennertt: The answer to this question depends entirely on how you frame the tradeoff. Compare the deal the Phillies now have Halladay signed to ($60M for 2011-2013) is almost certainly better than the deal that the Phillies could have reached with Cliff Lee, and I think it's pretty clear that Halladay is the superior pitcher. However, when you disaggregate the deal that brought Halladay to town from the one that sent Lee to Seattle, it looks a little bit more questionable.

Ultimately, I view the two trades together as a shifting forward of wins from four (or so) years in the future to the immediate present and next two years. Those two years are critical for the Phillies, because that's when you'll have Howard, Rollins, Werth, and the rest of the core together on the same team. As much as possible, you want to stack your wins in the same seasons, and I think this helps them do that. That being said, I think the prospects the Phillies gave up--especially Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor--are going to be good players.

PS: What did you think of the off-season more generally? Did you support the Placido Polanco acquisition? Is Ruben Amaro lucky, good, neither?

TB: I thought Polly was a fine pickup. From the looking that I've done, the best bargains are usually found later in the winter, but it comes at the considerable cost of certainty. What Amaro did was trade value for certainty, and with a team that is this ready to compete, I think that is a completely justifiable tradeoff. The transition from second to third won't be as hard on Polanco as it would be on some other players (because of his defensive skill set, most notably his arm). Also, he's going to have a natural comfort level in Philadelphia from playing there in the past that frankly a lot of other guys would not. You can deny the measurability of intangibles all you want, but until you've survived the boos raining down from the upper decks, you can't really say you'll hack it in Philly.

PS: Ok, I'll stop with the negativity. Let's now discuss how the Phillies sure seem to have an awesome baseball team. Talk about Cole Hamels. I am already hearing some in the mainstream talking about how Hamels looks as sharp as ever and how he is poised for a big "bounce-back" year. We know the truth though, right? He will probably be really good again because, well, he is really good.

TB: Things that were very close to the same or better from '08 to '09 about Cole Hamels: K/9, BB/9, HR/9, GB%, FIP, SIERA.

Things that were worse from '08 to '09 about Cole Hamels: Strand rate, ERA, BABIP, IP.

Hamels is one of those cases that will really test your faith in DIPS theory. If you would rather rely on strand rate, ERA and BABIP, then you can say he's worse now than he was last offseason. Otherwise, just relax. It's fine. He's a great pitcher.

One impulse might be to say that Hamels was regressing to the mean after a stellar '08, but even that isn't really true when you look at his peripherals. He basically repeated every skill-based achievement last year except innings pitched that he had in '08. Like I said, though, Philly fans are fickle and there are some things you just can't get away with.

PS: Can we get Chase Utley an MVP award? Want to talk about him? How good is he and how good has he been? Want to put some historical context around it? He's terrific, of course, but I would guess there are still some who think that he's been the 3rd best position player throughout this great Phillies run.

TB: I have this theory that historically great second basemen are always underrated. The best second basemen ever (Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins) are almost criminally underrated as ballplayers. Even Jackie Robinson, one of the most celebrated players in baseball history, isn't given the respect he deserves for his actual play on the field. So I think Utley has a bit of an uphill climb.

On the other hand, he's basically doing all the things you need to do to become a top-20, and perhaps top-10 or higher, second baseman all time. Basically, he's got a good shot at passing Sandberg and Alomar (and I think you can make a reasonable case that he'll do both), and once he's there he's basically in the top 10 all-time. I have a hard time conceiving of a Hall of Fame that doesn't include the ten best players at each position. In other words, barring injury, I think he's got a legitimate shot at the Hall, and a fortiori, a shot at a minimum of one MVP award.

Let me put it another way for perspective: Chase Utley is the best player on the Phillies and he's the best player in baseball that doesn't have a Cy Young, a Rookie of the Year, or an MVP award. Then again, he's got the most glorious television expletive in Philadelphia history.

PS: Ok, 2010. What do you expect of the Phillies? Will they get a serious challenge in the NL East? Do they have another title run in them?

TB:I'm legitimately worried about the Braves. Their weakest positions on offense are probably second base (Martin Prado) and right field (Jason Heyward). Those are still two pretty darn good players, and their pitching staff will do enough so that they'll win around 87-88 games. If Tommy Hanson doesn't hit a stumbling block, I think they can survive that thumping sound you hear (Jair Jurrjens falling back to earth).

If the Phils can hold off the Braves (or at least secure the Wild Card), I'm not sure there's a team they are likely to face before the World Series that would be able to go 1-2 like Halladay-Hamels in a short series. The bullpen could always, however, make things interesting. Call it Halladay, Hamels, rain, and pray for a complete game.

Tommy Bennett writes for Baseball Prospectus and can be found on Twitter @tommy_bennett