Phillies Try Cuba

Hopefully Kramer Isn't Their International Scout.

Hopefully Kramer Isn’t Their International Scout.

I was asked in the comments what my initial reaction to the Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez signing was, and honestly other than a strong urge to refer to him as “Fettuccine,” I didn’t really know much about him.  I’m sure no one has a great handle on the guy.  He’s pitched sparingly in the last two years, but the consensus is the Phillies have signed a Major Leaguer.  Whether he’ll be a burden or a bargain at 48 million remains to be seen.

The scouting report is low-90s fastball that can creep up toward 95 and then from there it gets a little cloudy.  There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on his secondary pitches.  Some say they are good enough to give him #2 starter ceiling while others say they will relegate him to relief duty.  Gonzalez is “26.”  Are we still dubious on the ages of Cuban players?  Is that not a thing anymore?  Well, regardless it’s the first long-term contract the Phillies have given anyone lately that won’t end significantly after the player has left their prime years–so, that’s a good thing.

But, what else could this signing mean?

First, it’s not a huge outlay of money.  It’s a lot of money to give an unproven player, but baseball has always had a huge advantage over their prospects.  If Gonzalez was entering the NFL, this is the kind of deal he’d get–totally untested.  And really, the money equates to that of a 3rd or 4th starter on a big-market payroll.  If Joe Blanton can make 8 million, the expectations attached to that number shouldn’t be too burdensome.

There is an expectation of something more, though, and part of that is the Cuban mystique and part of it the recent success of Cuban players.  Yoenis Cespedes (despite his struggles this year) has been viewed as a good signing and of course, Yasiel Puig has stormed into the National League with some awe-inspiring performances.  Both these players will likely easily justify their large contracts, but it doesn’t mean Gonzalez is a sure thing.  There is still plenty of risk for the Phillies, but it’s not going to define the era, or be an albatross of a contract.

I also don’t think the signing signifies money coming off the books in other areas.  They don’t need to trade anyone to pay for Gonzalez.  Not really.  Plenty of money comes off next year to squeeze in an 8-million dollar deal.  So, what strikes me most about this signing is that position Gonzalez plays.  Perhaps you noticed he isn’t an outfielder.  Or a third baseman.  Or a catcher.  Nope, the Phillies went out and got another starting pitcher.  This despite looking at massive holes at 3 positions next season.  The Phillies, who have lost six in a row and scored 10 runs total in those games are adding another arm.  Why not?

I could be wrong, but I think this is Ruben trying to build one more great rotation.  Perhaps he knows the offense is too flawed to fix.  He won 102 games two years ago with an average offense.  So, is he tempted by the idea of Lee, Hamels, Gonzalez, Halladay (on a team-friendly, short term deal) and Kendrick as a starting rotation in 2014?  He’d have to be, and for upside potential–it’s a hell of a rotation.

Ruben has tremendous belief in his current players, because he signed most of them long-term, but I can see him getting especially rosy about the prospects of Hamels and Halladay returning to form next year to compliment Lee and now Gonzalez. Essentially with one signing he’s given himself a shot at something, which is a lot easier than trying to figure out the lineup.  And, who is out there to play 3b anyway?  Or catcher, or a corner outfield spot?

So, I could be wrong, and Lee could be shipped off to a contender today, but this feels like Ruben trying to fix things one last time.  Expect Utley to stick around.   Maybe Ruiz too.  And there will another year of Delmon Young or someone similar in RF. The bench and the bullpen will likely remain black holes.

A final question I have is, I’m not sure this is what Phillies fans want.  Another coat of paint, so to speak?  Sure, it could be a good rotation, but it could get awfully ugly.  The age and health of Utley/Rollins/Howard will become an even bigger concern. And, if Dom Brown isn’t a middle of the order presence?  Then what?  I am pulling for Brown, but he’s got six good weeks in the big leagues.  Not exactly a bankable record.  If Howard can’t produce and Brown struggles, this team will score NO runs next year and it won’t matter how much they get from the starters.

The jury obviously will remain out on this one for a while, but it was a nice distraction from getting dominated by Doug Fister.

 

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