Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Philadelphia's preemptive acquisition of Billy Wagner earlier this week is the latest in a series of moves that should frighten Phillies' Phans rather seriously. Florida beat the Phillies largely because Philadelphia's bullpen faltered. GM Ed Wade's failure to add one of the several solid relievers on the market strikes me as an obvious failure, yet Wade remains in charge of the front office.
Larry Bowa's acrimonious relationship with many players contributed to the dismissal of Tyler Houston, one of baseball's top pinch-hitters, prior to the end of the season. Philadelphia finished with a merely decent 20-18 record in one-run games, as well as between three and five games below their projected record given the total number of runs they scored and allowed. They wound up five games behind the Marlins after losing 12 of their final 19 contests, yet Larry Bowa remains in charge of the dugout.
We expected the Phillies to unseat the Braves' long run at the top of their division; they instead lost the Wild Card to the eventual World Champions. Somehow management shifted all the blame to the players even though only Jose Mesa, Pat Burrell, and David Bell played truly badly.
Now Philadelphia moves into a new stadium, and despite the tremendous new financial resources, I question the direction of this team. Billy Wagner is one of the top few relievers in baseball and Brandon Duckworth wasn't in the Phillies' plans, but why did Wade include both Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio? Philadelphia buys a degree of certainty in acquiring Wagner, yet with Kevin Millwood likely departing this winter in free agency after reportedly clashing with Bowa, trading starting pitching depth is a mistake. Keith Foulke is as good as Wagner, if not as obviously dominant, and he likely won't cost as much as the $17M Wagner will make over the next two seasons if the Phillies exercise his 2005 option.
At least the Phillies' lineup is in good shape. Marlon Byrd, Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome, Mike Lieberthal, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, and David Bell all remain under Philadelphia's control for the next few years. Placido Polanco is trade bait given Bell's contract, so hopefully Wade can leverage him into a quality pitcher as Bell belongs in the starting lineup given his salary, and Utley earned his starting job.
A couple weeks ago I suggested Boston offer Pedro to Philadelphia for Brett Myers and a couple prospects, including either Cole Hamels or Gavin Floyd. Wade claims that the Phillies only will add secondary free agents to fill out the rotation and bullpen, but even after acquiring Wagner, I believe a grander move is necessary.
While Brett Myers may be a future ace, Thome, Abreu, and Lieberthal won't remain in their respective primes forever. Philadelphia already missed one obvious chance to win the Series, and given their current roster, they need to go for it all now. Losing Millwood after only one season is a big blow, and as they likely won't sign Andy Pettitte or Bartolo Colon, adding a true ace is a necessary move. Giving up Myers may be a long-term mistake, however a rotation led by Pedro, Randy Wolf, and Vicente Padilla could win any playoff series.
Amaury Telemaco and Ryan Madson should complete the rotation since the Phillies need to save money somewhere after spending nearly $28M on Wagner and Pedro. The 2003 salaries of Polanco, Millwood, Mesa, Terry Adams, and Turk Wendell total over $23M, yet given the expected revenue increase from the new park, I see no reason the Phillies shouldn't seize this opportunity. With Wagner, Rheal Cormier, and Carlos Silva in the bullpen, along with Geoff Geary and a couple of inexpensive veterans signed late in the off-season, the relief corps alone should save a few dozen more runs.
With a team full of veterans and a new ballpark, Philadelphia should challenge for the 2004 World Series. As long as Wade boosts the payroll, thereby allowing the acquisition of a true ace to head the rotation before the playoffs, and he doesn't overspend on generic right-handed relievers, I expect the Phillies to overcome the problems created by Larry Bowa to earn their first playoff berth in over a decade.
Geoff Geary, 27, RH Reliever
After dominating the International League for over two seasons, Geary received his first cup-of-coffee this fall and should enter spring training as a favorite for a bullpen spot. His skills suggest he should emerge as a viable fantasy option as soon as the Phillies give him an extended shot, and I also wouldn't be surprised to see him closing in the near future. Exercise some caution in drafting him since he doesn't appear to be an organization favorite, but if he breaks camp in the majors, he still warrants a Dollar Days pick in most leagues, not to mention a couple bucks in strikeout leagues if he emerges as a primary short reliever.
With Brandon Duckworth out of the organization, Madson should break camp as Philadelphia's 5th starter after his dominant AAA performance this season. His skills largely improved as he rose through the system, so I harbor little doubt that Madson immediately should produce for the Phillies. My only hesitance in recommending him stems from our lack of knowledge regarding Citizens' Bank Park, yet he should succeed even if Philadelphia's new park favors hitters. Assuming Madson breaks camp in the Phillies' rotation as expected, he definitely merits a few bucks in any standard draft.
Taylor Buchholz, 22, RH Starter
His inclusion in the Billy Wagner deal could push Buchholz the top of Houston's pitching prospects, however his relative lack of dominance leaves him with less upside than some similar youngsters. My other concern here is that Buchholz, who was born, grew up, and now resides near Philadelphia, might not enjoy pitching for an organization other than the hometown team that convinced him to forego college a couple years ago. Of course, he still possesses solid all-around skills and should see some time with the Astros in 2004, but don't show much interest in him until he begins succeeding in Houston given the problems many pitchers face when competing in Minute Maid.
I don't understand why Detroit kept three Rule 5 pitchers yet returned Chapman to the Phillies, however he should win a starting job in the majors no later than 2005. While some degradation in his plate discipline following his promotion from AA Reading led to a 30-point batting average drop, Chapman otherwise posted almost identical offensive numbers to his 2002 campaign. I don't view him as more than a backup right now, but if Philadelphia gives him another AAA season to develop, he should emerge as a major league-ready starting third baseman. Unfortunately, his uncertain place in the organization makes him a poor fantasy gamble right now despite his intriguing skills.
Despite his poor record and unimpressive overall skills, Crowell still possesses enough talent to replace likely retiree Dan Plesac in the Phillies' pen next year. Of course, I expect Philadelphia will find a superior option, however Crowell could quickly establish himself if given the necessary opportunity. Wait until he secures a stable role with good results before rostering him.
Philadelphia bought his contract from San Diego in May, and Giese proceeded to emerge as perhaps the best relief prospect in the system. I don't expect him to break camp next spring given the competition provided by Geoff Geary, Josh Hancock, and Eric Junge, however Giese is ready to contribute and will warrant fantasy consideration as soon as secures a bullpen job in the majors.
Hancock continued his development as one of the more unheralded solid starting prospects in baseball. He appears ready for a major league job, and he likely could break camp with any one of a dozen franchises. Unfortunately, Philadelphia not only should have four veteran starters, but the Phillies have Ryan Madson ahead of Hancock and Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels rushing up the minor league ladder behind him. Hancock almost certainly should be included in a deadline or off-season deal in the near future unless the club decides to convert him to the bullpen. He appears able to succeed in any role right now, yet while you certainly can gamble a buck or two if he breaks camp in the majors, don't select him otherwise since we won't know if he'll return to the big leagues with the Phillies.
Following three reasonably impressive seasons with the White Sox at AAA Charlotte, Inglin found himself back at AA this year, an unfair demotion given his overall offensive potential. He likely can echo these numbers at AAA if given the opportunity, thus placing himself only an injury away from his big league debut. Unfortunately, since we don't know when Inglin will get that chance, he isn't a fantasy option now.
I expect the Phillies to carry at least one young reliever due to their exodus of free agent pitchers, and given his performance in limited duty over the last two years, Junge looks like the top candidate for the job. However, after shoulder surgery ended his season in June, Junge needs to avoid more injuries in 2004 to avoid falling down the organization's depth chart. Other prospects like Geoff Geary appear almost equally prepared for a significant role in the majors, so even if Junge wins a roster spot, wait until he demonstrates both good health and solid skills before rostering him.
Kubes' conversion to the bullpen this year appears a reasonable success, and if he cuts his hit rate to near a hit per inning, he should emerge as a very promising lefty reliever. While his lack of dominance precludes me from recommending him at this time, Kubes should enjoy a relatively lengthy career, especially if he can find employment on teams with good defenses.
Philadelphia almost certainly won't have room for Lee in their rotation any time soon, making him trade bait at best. Since he isn't a dominant pitcher and posted a poor homer rate this year, don't consider him for your team until he at least echoes these skills over a full AAA season.
Machado's performance this season suggests he could peak as anything from a AAAA utilityman to a premiere leadoff hitter. Since Philadelphia doesn't need a shortstop, gambling on Machado this winter makes little sense, however his long-term upside necessitates keeping him in mind.
A broken left hand cost Padilla a majority of the season, yet he still owns promising power potential and decent speed skills. While he still could develop into a solid starter, he needs to play a full season at AAA for us to better judge his upside. He isn't a good fantasy choice right now.
Gavin Floyd, 20, RH Starter
The 4th overall pick of the 2001 draft, Floyd might reach the majors late next season, however I suspect the Phillies will leave him in the minors all year barring multiple injuries at the big league level. While Floyd's performance this year also isn't as good as I expected after he largely dominated the Sally League in 2002, he remains one of the brightest pitching prospects in the game and won't be changing teams any time soon. He should enter Philadelphia's rotation sometime in 2005 if he remains healthy, yet you should downgrade Floyd slightly since I don't believe he'll dominate opponents until his second or third major league season.
Hamels' absolute domination of the Sally League in his professional debut immediately places him among the top lefty prospects in the game. His overall performance this season suggests we should see him in the majors during the 2005 season, and he should earn a permanent rotation spot by the following season. Of course, considering he still needs two more years of development time, only owners in the deepest league should draft him, but he certainly possesses a very bright future.
While I shouldn't fault the lack of upper-level position players in the organization considering the farm system graduated Pat Burrell, Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, and Chase Utley to the majors over the past four years, only Philadelphia's pitching particularly intrigues me right now. Of course, Madson, Floyd, and Hamels easily could join Wolf and Myers to give the Phillies perhaps the most dominant entirely homegrown rotation in the majors, however Floyd and Hamels are a couple years away and Madson isn't guaranteed a rotation spot. You also probably should wait to see how the new park plays before investing heavily in any Phillies' pitching prospect.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(Restovich, Mauer, Crain, Balfour, Bartlett)
1. Ryan Madson, SP
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