Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas comes ear-LEE

Cole Hamels is now a No. 4 starter.

Let me repeat that.

Hamels, the crafty left-hander with a career ERA of 3.53 while pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, is the fourth-best starting pitcher in his team's rotation.

Most teams are happy if their No. 4 reaches the sixth inning, but the Philadelphia Phillies really won't have to give the sixth inning a second thought in 2011 after they pulled off the deal of the century Monday night. Cliff Lee, the most pursued player in the offseason, is returning for his second tour of duty with Philadelphia. He helped us reach the World Series, and exactly one year after we sent him packing, he turned down more lucrative deals with the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers to come back for five years and $120 million.

Things like this just don't happen, do they? It's like getting a winning lottery ticket, losing it and the lottery printing you a another copy of the winner.

OK, it wasn't quite that easy for Ruben Amaro and the rest of the Phillies brass, but it's not everyday in this present climate that you offer a guy less money than the competition and end up with him. Lee has not only proven himself as an elite pitcher, but an elite human being who unlike some others (ahem...Jayson Werth) considers multiple factors in a potential deal over just dollars and cents.

In an odd twist of fate, we have Amaro to thank for setting up this "fearsome foursome" of pitchers that may provide enough of an edge over a wildly inconsistent offense. Had he traded for Roy Halladay and kept Lee before the 2010 season, it's likely he wouldn't have traded for Roy Oswalt at the deadline. Sure, he would've saved himself a lot of grief, but things could not have worked out better for him or the team.

Lee made it clear several times over the past year that he didn't want to leave Philadelphia after the 2009 season. He loved his teammates, he loved his coaches, he loved the fans and so did his family.

And my fellow Phillie fans, pay your respects to Kristen Lee, Cliff's wife. She reportedly had just as much of a say in this decision, and why shouldn't she? I mean really, where would any of us be without our wives? She loathed the poor treatment she received from Yankee fans during the ALCS in October, while the Lee's most fond memories during the last two years of frequent city-hopping were apparently made with Philadelphia.

The best part: all of the high-prized free agents are gone, and the Yankees didn't land any of them. In the end, their bottomless wallets got the shaft from Lee twice in less than six months, and he returns to the place he never wanted to leave.

Welcome home, anointed one, and hang your red stockings with cheer.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Brushing off the nats

The world made a lot more sense to me before Jayson Werth ended his brief status as a free agent by signing a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals.

Werth was one of the most sought-after players on the market, but this deal made a pathetic splash in a pool drained by years of sucking. The former Phillies right fielder allowed one World Series ring on his finger to pay lip service to his conscience before he finalized the humongous payday.

Maybe the Boston Red Sox could've given Werth a similar contract, and they probably would have before the Nationals jumped the gun, but they made the right move grabbing Adrian Gonzalez first. Gonazalez is three years younger and is a more proven commodity.

I'm not going to pretend that any other person in Werth's position would turn down the exact contract he and agent Scott Boras were looking for, but he can't expect his experience on the field to be as enjoyable either. A doubling in salary will prove a substantial price to pay.

In a division as competitive as the NL East, the Nationals are easily still a few years away from finishing better than fourth place. Werth will impress his teammates with his enviable blend of power and speed, but the response to his big blasts out of the yard won't stir the same frenzy in the half-empty Nationals Park.

Werth will also deal getting beaten by his former team 10-15 times out of the year, and given the fairly short distance between Philadelphia and D.C., he'll hear plenty of boos when the Phillies are the visiting team.

Werth isn't a savior that the Nationals are banking on. He's presently on the slow rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. Werth may sell a few tickets before Stephen Strasburg's return, but in a baseball sense, everyone's getting screwed from this deal. The Phillies lost a key right-handed bat in the middle of their lineup, the Nationals are losing money that could've been better spent on the pitching they desperately need, and Werth is losing those special extra games in October he's grown so accustomed to playing over the last four years.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Werth out of the yahd

Good news for Jayson Werth: it sounds like he’ll be able to keep the scruff after all.

The New York Yankees have more immediate concerns than the free agent right fielder – who just declined arbitration – such as shoving their cold shoulder into Derek Jeter’s mouth and luring Cliff Lee into a pitching rotation that was supposed to get them another World Series title. Werth didn’t get one either with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, but with the numbers he’s put up over the past three years, he’s the best outfielder on the market that money from another contender can buy.

And said contender will likely jack up its payroll for the purchase. The question is whether or not the bearded slugger is ‘Werth’ the amount hardball agent Scott Boras will demand.

A nine-figure payday would be unlikely even if Werth was still south of 30, because he’s not a big enough name to attract that kind of dough in the present economic climate. But Boras will work his magic to replace his own pupils with dollar signs, while an emphatic “ca-ching” escapes from his mouth.

Werth will then sit comfortably with his new team, likely with a multi-year deal making nearly double per season than he did in 2010 with the Phillies (7.5 million).

The "right" offer could send Werth anywhere from Beantown to Chi-town or Hollywood, and he will be paid too much to play in any one of those places. Business deals are never without an element of risk, and Werth is most definitely a risk.

His resume is impressive, but it lacks a monster season that warrants 15 million. Any ballclub spending that much is paying for a versatile outfielder who will put up blinding offensive numbers for approximately six weeks out of the season, while tolling the Mendoza Line during the other four months. That team must also endure countless at-bats during which Werth will lunge unsuccessfully at a 3-2 pitch out of the zone with runners in scoring position.

However, buyers are looking at more than Werth’s box scores, and despite the previously mentioned end result, he works the count full better than anyone in the game. In this era of over-protectiveness concerning starting pitchers, Werth is the kind of batter that will drive up pitch counts.

Werth’s OPS has also increased in each of the last three years, and he surpassed 100 runs scored for the first time in 2010.

Among all the teams with a chance to make the postseason, this is a match made in heaven for the Red Sox. Werth is a sabermetric goldmine to Boston GM Theo Epstein.

The Red Sox were hurt even more than the Phillies last season and still managed to lead all of baseball in team OPS (.790). Not only will Werth fit right in with a lineup full of patient sluggers, but Boston can cover Boras’ ridiculous asking price.

Werth’s bat would replace the recent hole left by Victor Martinez, and his right-handed swing is a good complement to lefty David Ortiz. His swagger and long locks will woo the ladies, and his blasts over the Green Monster will encourage all of Red Sox Nation to chant his name. It’s an easy and inviting image that will be hard for Epstein to dismiss from his mind heading into the Winter Meetings.

Boras can make those daydreams a reality, and Werth will soon get a visit from another bearded fellow. Santa is coming early this year and he’s wearing a Boston cap.