As we continue our complete 30-team MLB breakdown at MLFS, it’s time to shift our focus to the NL East. In the words of the great philosopher Drake, we’re “startin’ from the bottom” and taking a look at the Philadelphia Phillies, my pick to be the cellar dwellers of the division.
Philadelphia is stuck in limbo as they attempt to dig out from the financial mess they’ve put themselves in. The transition will be long and arduous as they have already started shipping off veteran mainstays, but others remain whose ejection process will not be so cut and dry. Let’s take a look at the positional breakdown for the Phillies and see where you might be able to find some hidden value in your draft.
There was a time Chase Utley could only be had with a pick inside the top ten overall. Now he’ll be lucky to sniff the top ten among second basemen alone. Time has caught up with the 12-year vet and now he’s nothing more than a serviceable late-round pick who’ll net you low teens in HR (has 11 HR exactly in 3 of last 4 years), possibly double digits in steals and a mediocre batting average. He did manage to stay healthy last year and appeared in 155 games, his highest total since 2009, but expecting a repeat at this point in career is wishful thinking. Utley’s 10-and-5 rights will likely keep him in Philadelphia as he has publicly stated he would prefer to stay put, at least for the foreseeable future. Sadly for both Philly fans and fantasy owners, he’s the best offensive asset the City of Brotherly Love can offer.
That statement can and should be taken as a knock on Ryan Howard. Or perhaps it should be a knock on Ruben Amaro for having another two years and $60MM tied up in Howard. Like Utley, I was surprised to see Howard on the field so much coming off two injury riddled campaigns. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into much in the batter’s box as a .223/.310/.380 line was all he could muster. Howard slugging .380 is all you need to see to know the end is very near. He bailed out desperate owners with 23 HR and 95 RBI, but had zero or even negative contributions in the other offensive categories. Points league owners should be wearing a Hazmat suit to even consider touching Howard considering his league-leading 190 K in 2014. He’s an NL-only play at best, and not a very good one at that (hence why he hasn’t been dealt).
Speaking of deep plays, that’s exclusively where the Phillies’ primary backstop, Carlos Ruiz, should be considered. His 2012 breakout feels like forever ago and I’m guessing that will be the only season we see Ruiz surpass 10 HR or 60 RBI for his career. He sports an AVG that won’t hurt you (and he should be better than last year’s .252), and he still provides a nice boost to OBP for those that use it as a category, but that only makes Ruiz a serviceable play in very deep or two-catcher NL-only formats.
It gets even dicier around the rest of the infield. Cody Asche will start the season at third base, but he could end up being nothing more than a placeholder if he doesn’t turn any heads to start the season. Asche doesn’t do anything particularly well from a fantasy perspective, and probably won’t have much value to the Phillies once they turn to the brightest prospect in the organization, Maikel Franco. The 22-year old Franco should find himself in the big leagues for good after a last bit of seasoning with AAA-Lehigh Valley. He did struggle in his first go round with Philadelphia last year (.179/.190/.214 in 58 PA), but that was to be expected for such a young talent. You probably won’t see him called up until May thanks to our good friend, Super Two, but he could be worth a speculative add once he’s up for good.
You’re going to have to be super desperate/insane to look to Philadelphia to fill your SS needs. Freddy Galvis will take over for the now-departed Jimmy Rollins, but make no mistake, he’s there because of his glove, not his bat. In 550 career PA, Galvis has managed a meager .218/.259/.362 line with no power or speed to speak of. The only ray of hope is that he did steal 28 bases in 2011 across all levels in the minors, but it’s doubtful that comes into play this year. Currently, he’s the 53rd SS off the board in average draft position (according to www.fantasypros.com)
The outlook doesn’t get that much better as we take a look at Philadephia’s outfield situation, especially with Marlon Byrd now in Cincinnati. One player who will find himself in play in shallower leagues is Ben Revere. Any player who’s pushing 50 stolen bases will always find a home on someone’s roster. If you can also hit over .300 simultaneously, even better. It’s a shame he doesn’t have more help behind him considering he led the league in hits last year but managed to cross home just 71 times. Ultimately, Revere is a solid two-category contributor. If you load up on power early, he can fill in the gaps as a strong speed play.
As encouraging as Revere’s contributions are, that’s about as disappointing as Domonic Brown has been since he went bonkers in May of 2013. Most of us saw the regression coming last year, but he landed even harder than expected, not even swatting as many HR in all of 2014 as he did in his breakout month the season prior. His HR/FB rate fell by over 50% and Brown’s GB/FB rate jumped from 0.74 all the way to 1.01 in 2014. If you’re planning on spending a late pick in hopes of a return to his 2013 form, the numbers don’t support you.
Any time you’re planning on running Grady Sizemore out as a starting outfielder, that should be warning enough of the trouble you’re facing. Injuries are always the primary concern, but it’s not as if Sizemore will give you much of any category juice while he’s actually on the diamond. Darin Ruf will also see regular at-bats, and could be a useful deep-league contributor for those needing cheap power. His 20 career home runs have come in just 447 PA across his first three big league seasons, and he could be worth keeping an eye on if he nears everyday-player status. The Jeff Francoeur nationwide tour rolls into Philadelphia, making this his seventh team since 2009. It’s a low-risk move for the Phillies that gives them a veteran presence with some pop should he make the opening day roster.
The unquestioned strength of the Phillies, at least for now, can be found at the top of their rotation. I ranked Cole Hamels as the #14 starting pitcher in our preseason ranks, and there’s still room for improvement on that ranking should Hamels find himself with a better chance to rack up wins. Unfortunately for Philly fans, that scenario has a much better chance of happening for both he and Cliff Lee should they find themselves in different uniforms at some point in 2015. I’m not as high on Lee as others, ranking him just 33rd among starters. His elbow injury is a big concern for me as well as his diminished fastball velocity. While a Hamels deal could conceivably come any day now, Lee stands a much better chance to start and finish his season in Philadelphia thanks to the potential $52.5MM still remaining on his deal, much to the chagrin of fantasy owners.
The rest of the rotation is much more in flux. Aaron Harang comes over from Atlanta after a career resurrection in 2014. Odds we see another season like that out of Harang are closer to none than slim (that 1.40 WHIP from last year sticks out like a sore thumb), but there should be plenty of opportunities to spot start him against a handful of below average offenses he’ll face. You’ll have to be a little more adventurous to use David Buchanan or Jerome Williams, who figure to round out the rotation come opening day. Buchanan certainly had his moments, especially in his second stint with the big team as in 12 starts, he never surrendered more than 3 ER. Williams is nothing more than a stop-gap as other options are prepped and could easily find himself in the bullpen or a free agent midway through the season.
There are a couple of wild cards to keep an eye on as well. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez could be pushing for a rotation spot if he can outperform one of the incumbents enough to force his way in. Amaro suggested he wants to keep Gonzalez in a starting role, which means starting the season in AAA is a possibility, but a move to the bullpen isn’t out of the question. Also, Philadelphia did sign Chad Billingsley as a reclamation project in hopes he can return to his pre-injury form. He won’t be back in time for opening day, meaning that if and when Billingsley can return to the mound, it will have been over two years since his last major league start after Tommy John and flexor tendon surgeries.
Many times, we worry about a current closer being traded for fear that he might not keep that role with his new team. For Jonathan Papelbon, that’s a fear that can be assuaged here and now. Should a team deal for Papelbon, they’ll do it with the plan in place for him to assume the closer role from day one, meaning Papelbon’s value won’t change much, if any, over the course of the season. After surrendering a career-low two HR in 2014 and posting a sub-1.00 WHIP for the first time in three years, he’s still among my top-10 closers and a guy I’ll probably land once or twice in drafts considering I won’t pay for the Kimbrels or Chapmans of the world.
The prospective dealing of Papelbon opens up the closer role, and there is little doubt as to who will take over that spot. Ken Giles has posted a K/9 of at least 12.0 every year as a professional and is being groomed as the next dominant NL East stopper. His first taste of big league action was a resounding success last year as, in 44 appearances, Giles dazzled with a 1.18 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 5.82, netting him a fourth-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He should be among the first non-closers to be taken in drafts, and the argument can be made he’s worth drafting above a few who currently hold the role to open the season.
There’s a few other names of note for those that go super deep into the reliever pool. Jake Diekman was tied for 35th in baseball with 18 holds and squeezed his way into the top 100 with 19 inherited runners stranded. Toss in 100 K and you have a nice all-around package for a middle reliever. Justin De Fratas led the Phillies with 21 inherited runners stranded and saw his K:BB jump from 1.68 to 4.08 last season, easily the best mark of his short career.
It’ll be a long season for Philadelphia and its fans. Expect more talent to walk out the door than come through it as the Phillies transition themselves into a new era. They’ll need to get a decent haul for Hamels to make the wait to trade him worth it. The focus should be on developing younger talent and looking a few years down the road as they are far from being able to compete with the elite in the division. Franco and Giles give fantasy owners (especially those in dynasty formats) something to be excited about as soon as this year. The best case scenario sees these two hitting the ground running in their new roles along with one last year of decent production out of the aging veteran cast. Still, anything other than a last-place finish will be seen as a success, especially given Vegas has projected the Phillies to be the worst team in all of baseball.
2015 NL East Projection:
- Philadelphia Phillies (70-92)
(Click the Blue link below to listen live)
Major League Fantasy Sports: Join Ej Garr and Corey D. Roberts on Sunday March 8th from 7pm-8:30pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. We will be taking live callers during the show at 646.915.8596. This week’s show we will be discussing the 3rd base and catcher positions for the fantasy baseball 2015 season.