A Bad Outfield as Investment Opportunity

I used to read The Economist. This was back when I had the silly notion that I’d use my economics degree in a normal way. For the uninitiated, The Economist is a weekly periodical in which world events are viewed through the lens of economics. Maybe that sounds boring. It’s also the best source of news analysis on the planet. But I digress…

Every week, there was an ad: Invest in Macedonia. The gist of the pitch was this – it’s kind of crap now, but all the peripherals are there for massive growth. As with all investments, there is a tight link between diversity and volatility. Invest in one unit of Macedonia, you get huge risk and reward. Scatter your investments and you’re a little safer.

The Philadelphia Phillies are performing a slow motion pivot towards contention. They are Macedonia. Part of that effort is re-engaging their fan base by improving the product on the field. This has to be carefully balanced against giving young players the space and opportunity to become assets for the team.

Currently, the Phillies are rumored to be looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder. They’ve also been tenuously linked to Jose Bautista and other big names. The idea is simple – Philadelphia has the war chest (CASH) to be opportunists. There’s really no reason they shouldn’t try to catch lightning in a barrel if the opportunity is right. That’s not to say they should sign Bautista, it’s just something that’s been discussed.

Center fielder Odubel Herrera signed a valuable contract extension earlier this offseason. I don’t feel compelled to elaborate on his virtues, he’s the most visible player on the roster. Herrera has breakout power potential, plus speed (also a TOOTBLAN king), and an ability to adjust. One note on the power, he’s currently an oppo-field hitter. If he switches to a pull-happy approach, Herrera could exceed 20 home runs at the cost of some batting average.

Howie Kendrick was acquired to provide veterany stability to the lineup. Kendrick typically features a high average, middling OBP, and below average power. His consistency with putting the ball in play often leads to a valuable lineup role despite a seemingly mediocre batting profile. Don’t be surprised to see him batting somewhere between second and fifth in the lineup. Like Herrera, Kendrick is also an oppo-field hitter which limits his power upside. He should be free in most leagues.

Until last year, Kendrick was mostly a second baseman with some third base experience. Should something happen to Maikel Franco or Cesar Hernandez, Kendrick will probably return to an infield role. He’s also trade bait at the July and August deadlines. Consistent, utile veterans are usually in high demand even if they aren’t very valuable. In other words, if one of the next two players is blocked in April, it may only be temporary.

Back in 2015, it looked like the Phillies finally struck gold with Aaron Altherr. Originally considered a toolsy prospect when drafted in 2009, the baseball skills were slow to materialize. We’ve heard that story before. However, it’s less common for a breakthrough to occur six years later.

After his successful 2015 debut, Altherr’s 2016 season was wiped out by a broken wrist. He returned for the final third of the year, but he quite obviously wasn’t healthy. It’s glaringly obvious in his basic batted ball data. In his debut, he featured a balanced approach – both in batted ball types and where they went. Late last year, his pull rate surged, and everything was on the ground. Pulled grounders are easy outs. It’s no wonder he showed no power.

It’s almost certain his wrist wasn’t completely healed. Hopefully, a full winter will put him in a better position to mimic his 2015 performance. He flashed 20/20 ability with a low-ish average and OBP. Altherr should be nearly free in all but the deepest formats.

He’ll have competition for a job. In addition to the rumored and as yet hypothetical left-handed hitter, the Phillies also have Roman Quinn in camp. The never healthy speedster is one of the top prospects in the system. He has a good sense of the strike zone and sneaky pop. His speed also gives him a very high floor defensively – especially as a corner outfielder.

Quinn has yet to play in Triple-A. If he doesn’t beat Altherr for a starting job during Spring Training, he may be optioned to the minors in order to play regularly. The Phillies should consider carefully managing Quinn’s playing time until he proves he can stay healthy. They did something similar with Michael Bourn back in 2006 and 2007.

Those are the four main options for the Phillies plus the rumored fifth guy. Other internal choices include Tyler Goeddel and Daniel Nava. Goeddel has options and will almost certainly go to the minors now that he’s fulfilled the Rule 5 requirements.

In my opinion, the best fits on the market include Colby Rasmus, Chris Coghlan, Coco Crisp, and Angel Pagan. They’ve been more frequently tied to Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders. Jay Bruce is also a match if the Mets ever realize they’ll need to eat part of his salary to trade him.

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

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6 years ago

Economics? Brad, you were so cool before you mentioned that.