Addressing the Phillies' outfield issues

Posted: October 11, 2013

Part 2 of a four-part series.

THREE YEARS AGO, the Phillies entered the offseason with their best (and only?) righthanded, middle-of-the-order bat set to test the free-agent market.

Jayson Werth ended up taking a ridiculous 7-year, $126 million deal with the Washington Nationals (who can blame him, really?) and the Phillies moved on, hoping that John Mayberry Jr. could handle the job until Domonic Brown, a lefthanded hitter, was ready for the big leagues. We all know how that worked out.

The Phillies eventually had to trade for Hunter Pence, giving up arguably their best hitting and pitching prospects at the time to do so, but they didn't like Pence enough to keep him around for more than a calendar year. Pence recently avoided free agency by signing a 5-year, $90 million contract with San Francisco.

Worth wondering: If the Phils had made that exact offer to Werth three summers ago, before he switched agents to Scott Boras, would he still be around?

It's a question without an answer, which is fitting, since the Phillies have not found an answer for the righthanded outfield power bat since Werth's departure. For three consecutive offseasons, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. put too much faith in the likes of Mayberry and Delmon Young and the results have been, well, predictable.

Although Brown is coming off an All-Star season and Revere showed promise in the final 2 months he played before breaking his foot, the outfield continues to be an unresolved issue for the fourth straight offseason.

Even the newest person on the Phillies' payroll is aware.

"The outfield play wasn't what it needed to be [in 2013]," bench coach Larry Bowa said yesterday. "That doesn't mean you don't have the pieces . . . you have to do your best to make them better."

Thankfully for Phillies fans, there was the emergence of Darin Ruf. Ruf, a righthanded hitter who has played both corner outfield spots, had a .771 OPS and 97 total bases after the All-Star break; only Chase Utley was better in both categories.

So Ruf looks like the answer, right?

"Ruf is not a rightfielder," Amaro said on the penultimate day of the 2013 season. "I think he can fill in for us. I think he can fill in in certain areas, but I can't sit here and tell you that he's an everyday player for us. He's going to have to fight for a job in some way, shape or form."

Not really an endorsement for the guy who led the Phillies with 12 home runs after the All-Star break, the same number of homers, by the way, that Mike Trout and Hanley Ramirez hit after the break. Only 16 big-leaguers hit more home runs after the break; three of those players were Werth, Pence and Brandon Moss, three former Phillies outfield bats whom Amaro didn't see fit to keep around.

You have to wonder whether Ruf thinks he's shown enough to warrant a real shot at a regular job in 2014.

"I want that opportunity, to be able to come into spring training and be able to compete [for a job]," Ruf said. "That's all you can ask for, you know? Obviously, we need to get better as a team. I expect the front office to do everything they can. Individually, all I can ask for is to have an opportunity in spring training."

Whether that opportunity comes is unknown, but the Phillies undoubtedly will look to add an outfield bat this winter.

Among the free agents are lefthanded hitters Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson, righthanded hitters Michael Morse and Corey Hart and switch-hitter Carlos Beltran. Of those names, Choo, Granderson and Ellsbury have all played considerable time in centerfield in the last 2 years, which is likely attractive to the Phillies.

Although Revere's bat awoke after a horrid April, his arm may be better suited for leftfield. The Phils could sign a centerfielder, move Brown to right and have Ruf and Revere platoon in left.

The Phils could have had that centerfielder, had they decided to keep Shane Victorino, whose 3-year, $39 million free-agent contract with Boston already has paid dividends.

No matter what the Phillies decide to do with the outfield, it's clear they need both better play defensively and more production at the plate.

Revere, Brown and Ruf all have their faults on defense, be it arm strength, foot speed or route-running. On the offensive side, Phils outfielders hit a collective .259 with a .407 slugging percentage and .720 OPS; all of those numbers fell short of the major league averages for outfielders (.262, .415, .741), and that's with the All-Star numbers of Brown included.

Phillies rightfielders not named Darin Ruf hit only 13 home runs. Phillies centerfielders had a .663 OPS; only five teams in baseball had worse production in centerfield.

Whether the front office adds a rightfielder or a centerfielder, or a righthanded bat or a lefthanded bat, it's clear they're going to add someone.

"We're keeping our minds open," Amaro said. "We just need to be better in the outfield overall. No question."

The Phillies have no shortage of outfield bats in the minor leagues, but, of the best eight players, only three of them are old enough to drink legally, meaning they're very unlikely to reach a major league field anytime soon.

The most major league-ready is likely former top pick Kelly Dugan. The 23-year-old Dugan, who plays both corner outfield spots and hits from the left side, hit .291 with an .858 OPS and 20 home runs in 112 games between Class A Clearwater and Double A Reading in 2013.

Since Dugan has played only 56 games above “A’’ ball, and had a .299 OBP in those games, he obviously will need more seasoning on the farm. Dugan is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League.

Playing alongside Dugan in the AFL this month is Aaron Altherr. Altherr, 22, showed promise by hitting .275 with a .792 OPS in 123 games at Class A Clearwater this season. He also played 64 games in centerfield, arguably the position with the most shallow talent pool on the farm.

Others worth watching develop (with ages in parentheses): Carlos Tocci (18), Andrew Pullin (20), Dylan Cozens (19), Cord Sandberg (18), Larry Greene (20) and Cameron Perkins (23).

Two winters ago, a 34-year-old Carlos Beltran hit the free-agent market and couldn’t find anything more attractive than a 2-year, $26 million offer from the St. Louis Cardinals. All Beltran did for the Cardinals, excluding playoffs, was hit .282 with an .836 OPS, 56 home runs and 181 RBI.

Beltran, who turns 37 in April, is set to become a free agent yet again and should definitely command something more than the 3-year, $31.5 million deal the Phillies gave a 37-year-old Raul Ibanez 5 years ago. With his bat clearly still capable of driving in runs, it might be the kind of risk the Phillies have to take to upgrade their lineup.The switch-hitting Beltran is old, but if he’s an All-Star-caliber player for at least 2 more years, it increases the Phillies’ chances of winning with the likes of Cliff Lee and Chase Utley still under contract.

Others: Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson (lefthanded hitters), and Michael Morse and Corey Hart (righthanded hitters).

The Phils could choose instead to add via trade, as they did a year ago in getting Ben Revere. Should he become available, Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton would be the apple in the eye of many a major league general manager.

Tomorrow: starting pitching.


" @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|