Nate Schierholtz would not have solved Phillies' problems

Posted: August 08, 2013

IF THERE IS one thing that we have learned about the Phillies over the past couple of weeks, it is that they are a missing a lot more than Nate Schierholtz. So maybe their decision to non-tender the veteran rightfielder is a case of all being well that ends well. At this point, all he would be doing is threatening the top-10 pick in next year's draft that they seem destined to earn, or perhaps clogging the lineup spot now occupied by Darin Ruf, who homered and doubled in the Phillies' 9-8 win over the Cubs last night.

Right now, the only thing left is the upside. It was on display against the Cubs as Ruf extended his on-base streak to 33 games, going 2-for-4 to improve to 25-for-81 with seven doubles, four home runs, 12 walks, three hit by pitches, and 26 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. Domonic Brown returned to the lineup after a 2-week absence because of concussion symptoms and drove in two of the Phillies' runs. Cody Asche went 2-for-2 with a walk and tallied his first extra-base hit as a major leaguer, a double off Edwin Jackson. They are three reasons to keep watching, which is two more than were present throughout much of the first half of the season.

In the days after the nonwaiver trade deadline, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he chose not to part with any of his veteran players because he was not offered any deals that would have made his team better. But it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which they would have entered this series playing any worse. Before last night's victory, the Phillies had lost all five of their games since the July 31 deadline, when Amaro exasperated plenty of fans (and, no doubt, a fellow general manager or two) by failing to strike a deal that might have landed the organization a lottery ticket or two, or some payroll flexibility, for the future.

Since improving to one game over .500 on July 19, the Phillies had lost 13 of 14 games, leaving them in the company of the teams that had given up on the 2013 season before it even started. Six of the seven teams that had worse records heading into last night's games were the Mets, Cubs, Twins, Marlins, White Sox and Astros.

The 2013 Phillies: We actually tried!

But where we were? Ah, right . . . Schierholtz. By now, you are probably familiar with the numbers he has put up (a .273/.331/.505 line with 14 home runs in 311 at-bats) and how those numbers compare with those of the rightfielders the Phillies elected to carry on their roster instead of him (Laynce Nix and Delmon Young have combined for 10 home runs in 394 plate appearances with a batting line that, let's just say, is a lot worse). It was a relevant topic of conversation yesterday because Amaro and Co. parted ways with Nix, designating him for assignment after a season in which he hit just .180/.228/.258 with 44 strikeouts in 128 at-bats. Meanwhile, Schierholtz returned to town as a member of the Cubs, who signed him to a 1-year, $2.25 million contract shortly after the Phillies declined to tender him an offer, thus making him a free agent.

Before last night's win, Amaro said a lot of things he has said before, including the fact he and the coaching staff were unable to get a good look at Schierholtz because of a broken toe he suffered shortly after his arrival in the trade that sent Hunter Pence to the Giants.

It's a curious rationale, mostly because, 2 years ago, the Phillies felt comfortable handing a 2-year contract to Nix despite never having seen him up close, and despite the fact he had not finished a season with more than 351 plate appearances since 2004. In fact, Nix had accumulated only 883 plate appearances in the four seasons before he signed with the club. In the four seasons prior to the Phillies' decision to non-tender Schierholtz, the 29-year-old outfielder had logged 1,191 plate appearances. It is unclear what the Phillies thought they needed to see out of a guy who had already established himself as a solid rotational outfielder during his time in San Fracisco, or what they thought they had seen out of Nix, who had missed half of 2012 with a calf injury, finishing with a .246/.315/.412 line, three home runs and 42 strikeouts in 114 at-bats in his first season with the club. That the Cubs pounced on Schierholtz with a contract similar to the one he would have earned through arbitration suggests that the Phillies could have kept him around for spring training and then given him away if they decided they did not have a roster spot for him. The risk of cutting him loose outweighed the risk of keeping him around. There isn't any logic to suggest otherwise.

The concerning thing about the Phillies isn't a micro issue such as Schierholtz vs. Nix; it's the impression the team gives about its plan for bolstering its aging roster and making victories like last night less of an anomaly: specifically, that it is stumbling into the future without one.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy


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