Is Phillies' spending on free agent pitcher smart?

Gonzalez
Gonzalez
Posted: July 30, 2013

NEVER QUIET at trade-deadline time under the regime of Ruben Amaro Jr., the slumbering Phillies awoke the baseball world late Friday night when they reportedly signed a Cuban pitcher - one that pretty much no one in Philadelphia had ever heard of - to a lucrative free-agent contract.

According to a story that first broke on Yahoo! Sports, the Phils and 26-year-old Cuban Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez have agreed to a 6-year deal that could be worth as much as $59 million, reportedly pending a physical.

Gonzalez, a 6-3 righthander, throws in the low-to-mid 90s and had an array of pitches to complement his fastball in his repertoire: a split, a changeup, a slow curveball.

Perhaps Gonzalez's big arm is thrown into the bullpen within the next 2 or 3 weeks, giving the Phils a shutdown setup man in front of Jonathan Papelbon as they desperately try to stay alive in a pitiful NL East race. Perhaps he'll be in the rotation next spring, giving the team a righthanded arm to complement lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.

Regardless, Amaro's latest move isn't altogether surprising. He loves pitching.

Since taking over from Hall of Famer Pat Gillick in November 2008, Amaro has added the following to his pitching stable at one point or another: Lee, Pedro Martinez, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Lee (again), Papelbon, Gonzalez.

There have been others, too, of course. But there's no doubt Amaro is a big fan of the adage that a baseball team can never have enough pitching.

It's just worth wondering if that strategy has paid off.

Although the Phillies did have baseball's best record in 2010 and '11 (winning a franchise-record 102 games in '11), they have won all of two playoffs games since Amaro shocked the baseball world for the first time, signing Lee to a $120 million deal as a free agent 3 winters ago.

The Phils missed the playoffs altogether last year and appear to be headed to a similar fate in 2013.

While pitching (and the defense behind it) is paramount in trying to build a winning baseball team, offense helps, too. And offense has clearly been a problem pretty much since the end of the 2009 season.

The Phillies have lost a season-high eight straight games. They scored 14 runs in those eight games.

Sure, that's a small sample size - one week of games.

But . . . only three teams have scored fewer runs than the Phillies in the first 4 months of the 2013 season. And two of those teams are the woeful Astros and Marlins.

But . . . the Phils have the second-highest payroll in the National League, but they have the seventh-worst team OPS (.708) in the league.

If Amaro hopes to pry open the proverbial window of opportunity for the likes of Hamels and Lee, he may want to start spending real money on offense.

It's not as if Amaro hasn't allotted a fair amount of dollars to offense. He spent almost $160 million retaining Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.

But as much as he's enjoyed adding pitching from the outside - Amaro has spent approximately $220 million on Lee, Papelbon and Gonzalez alone - he hasn't spent a significant amount on a free-agent bat in nearly 5 years. The last big-ticket, offensive free agent Amaro signed from the outside (not including Rollins) was Raul Ibanez, at 3 years, $31.5 million, in December 2008.

Even last offseason, which the Phils entered without a starting third baseman or any proven outfielders, Amaro used the majority of his financial resources on another pitcher (setup man Mike Adams, $12 million over 2 years).

That's not to say throwing money at every free agent hitter is the route to go, either. Imagine the fervor from Phils fans if B.J. Upton signed a lucrative deal here and entered August with Michael Martinez-like numbers?

But while Amaro has boldly plucked pricey pitching off the free-agent market in the last 3 years, he's signed or traded for the likes of Delmon Young, Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix in an effort to improve the offense. Sure, he also traded for Hunter Pence, but since he flipped the All-Star outfielder away a year later, it wasn't too strong of a commitment from Amaro's end.

Perhaps Gonzalez will be the next Yu Darvish and give the Phils another All-Star caliber pitcher to a rotation that's often been stacked with aces in the last half decade. But if it only produces games like some on this road trip when the Phillies only scored one run, it might not make that big a difference on a team with more pressing needs beyond pitching.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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