COMMENTARY| Take a peek out to the outfield at Citizen's Bank Park during this wet and dreary autumn day in Philadelphia and it will be vacant. At this point, it would look just as empty if this were opening day because the Philadelphia Phillies haven't hammered out who will reside in any of their outfield spots for the 2013 season.
The names that raise eyebrows, hurt wallets and represent a big roll of the dice are Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton, Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourn. The Phillies would be smart to look beyond those big-time names to a player like Angel Pagan -- a veteran bat with speed, some pop, a winning attitude, and a fair market value that would enable them to address another glaring hole, third base, with someone like a Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger, 32, hit .325 for Tampa in 2012, with a .367 on-base percentage and would be a reputable two-year stop gap at the hot corner while the Phillies await the development and arrival of Cody Asche or Maikel Franco a couple of seasons down the road.
As a member of the San Francisco Giants in 2012, Pagan led the league in triples with 15. He also smashed 38 doubles, hit eight homers and knocked in a modest 56 runs. He hit .288 with a .338 on-base percentage while swiping 29 bases.
In comparison, Upton, who has been the hot rumor amongst the Philly media this week, has considerable power to go with his speed, and the Phillies do need a power bat in the lineup. However, I would rather get two consistent, durable, proven bats than one with great upside but questionable historical consistency. While Upton waffled a career-high 28 bombs and stole 31 bases last season, he also struck out a staggering 167 times. That is entirely too much for a top-of-the-lineup bat. And with the $60 to $75 million over four or five years that Upton will demand, that is certainly a top-of-the-lineup salary. Add it to the fact that Upton hit just .246 in 2012 and he's a .255 career hitter, the risk for the money ratio increases.
You can't hit in the 2-hole with an on-base percentage less than .300 (.298 in 2012 for Upton), and you can't add an undisciplined bat to the Phillies' lineup. The rampant lack of discipline displayed by Shane Victorino, who has also been rumored to be a candidate for return, and Hunter Pence have been cleaned from the slate. The Phillies actually, and this is relatively hard to believe, had the fourth lowest strikeout rate in the league in 2012 at just 17.7 percent. The Phillies need that number to stay the same, or improve.
Pagan struck out at a rate of 14.7 percent. Upton turned back to the dugout looking or swinging at air an incredible 26.7 percent. In addition, Pagan, whose stock did rise in 2012 after helping the Giants to a World Series title, will still come cheaper than Upton or any of the popular outfield free agents. He should fetch three or four years at somewhere to $35 to $45 million.
The Rays offered Upton a qualifying offer, which means that they'll receive a first-round draft pick if anyone signs him. The Phillies can ill-afford to give up their first-round draft pick. Finishing 81-81, it's the first decent one they've had in a while. For Pagan, they may not get all the pop, but they get the speed, the consistency, a worker, and their first-round pick. That could be the biggest difference between the two.
The general manager's meetings get under way in Indian Wells, Calif., this week, and although the climate for wheelings and dealings seems tight-lipped to this point, if you put the right people in the right room at the right time there's no telling what could go down. The big Winter Meetings will take place December 3-6 in Nashville. Organizations are more heavily represented at that gathering, but the flames of future relationships could undoubtedly ignite this week. Now, the hot stove is lit. Now, it's time for Phillies fans to pay attention. The next two months are going to go a long way in shaping the next couple of seasons.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. is in the market for at least one outfielder, possibly two. It's no secret that the Phillies could use an everyday center fielder. As they stand, they're entering the season with diamond in the rough Darin Ruf (pun intended), John Mayberry, Jr. and Dominic Brown. That triumvirate won't cut it while the payroll is already high and the window with the nucleus of players that won together in 2008 is still alive and kicking -- albeit on relative life support.
This is about filling out a lineup from one to eight. It's about eliminating holes, and we all know there were many of those in the lineup in 2012.
You aren't going to let a rookie (Ruf), a journeyman (Kevin Frandsen) or two increasingly ridiculous unknowns (Mayberry and Brown) hit in the meat of your order until one proves himself. Adding Keppinger and Pagan could legitimize the order. A lineup with Jimmy Rollins, Pagan, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Brown, Keppinger, and Mayberry, Jr. There's certainly more power throughout that lineup than in the current one.
Pete Lieber has been writing about Phillies baseball for three years and following the team since Dave Cash was turning two at second base in the 70s. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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