Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled Phillies GM Ruben Amaro as his team is about a month away from reporting to Clearwater, Florida for spring training. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a prognosticator willing to bet on the Phillies winning the NL East or even competing for one of the two Wild Card slots, but Amaro believes that if his team can stay healthy for the duration of the 2014 season, the Phillies will be contenders.
“If the club we believe is going to break camp is able to stay on the field, we’re a contending team,” Amaro said. “My job is for us to try to be a contending team every year. Our payroll should allow us to do that. We had a couple of crappy years because we couldn’t get guys on the field and couldn’t get the performances we’re accustomed to.”
Amaro seems to believe that the Phillies’ lack of health over the past two seasons has been bad luck, rather than the result of a poor gamble. But the Phillies last season had the second-oldest group of position players in the National League, averaging an even 30 years old. They had the oldest group in 2012 at 31.1 years old on average as well. He committed a lot of money to Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley despite the contracts taking them into their mid-30’s. While simply approaching 35 doesn’t guarantee an injury, athletes’ bodies tend to deteriorate more rapidly the further they get from their 20’s. If they’re not simply being less productive, they’re more likely to wind up on the disabled list. That’s the risk Amaro took in attaching so much money to an old group of players; it wasn’t bad luck.
That being said, every season those of us in the business of pumping out baseball content on the web heavily overrate at least one team and heavily underrate at least one team. No one expected the Red Sox to win the AL East, let alone win the World Series, this past season. You never know what can happen. Amaro’s optimism about the Phillies isn’t necessarily misplaced.
Outfielder Michael Bourn was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles late last season and hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with them through the end of the season. While that’s not enough to outweigh the miserable season he had in Arizona, it was enough to get the O’s to give him a look in spring training with a minor league deal. They signed him to one in late February.
Then, a couple of days later, Bourn broke his finger while playing catch with a football. Unable to play, the O’s cut him. In early April, once Bourn healed, the O’s signed him again. He played 11 games for their Triple-A affiliate and went 9-for-41 with ten walks in 51 plate appearances. While that makes for a decent OBP, his lack of any sort of pop or good contact suggests that if someone throws him strikes, he can’t do much with the ball.
As such, the O’s had not called him up to Baltimore. And as a result of that, Bourn exercised his opt-out rights and became a free agent.
Someone may take a look at him given that his batting eye seems to be intact and given that, in an admittedly small sample size, he still performed last season. But if he does get a look, it’ll likely be back at the minor league level.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement commits the players and the league to regular season games on foreign soil. Most of the focus of this has been on games in London, for which there has been a lot of activity and discussion.
Yesterday before the Astros-Tigers game in Houston, however, Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about playing games in Mexico. And not as just a one-off, but as a foot-in-the-water towards possible expansion:
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the time had come to play regular-season games in Mexico City as Major League Baseball weighs international expansion.
“We think it’s time to move past exhibition games and play real live ‘they-count’ games in Mexico,” Manfred said. “That is the kind of experiment that puts you in better position to make a judgement as to whether you have a market that could sustain an 81-game season and a Major League team.”
A team in Mexico could make some geographic sense and some marketing sense, though it’s not clear if there is a city that would be appropriate for that right now. Mexico City is huge but it has plenty of its own sports teams and is far away from the parts of the country where baseball is popular (mostly the border states and areas along the Pacific coast). At 7,382 feet, its elevation would make games at Coors Field look like the Deadball Era.
Monterrey has been talked about — games have been played there and it’s certainly closer — but it’s somewhat unknown territory demographically speaking. It’s not as big as Mexico City, obviously. Income stratification is greater there and most of the rest of Mexico than it is in the United States too, making projections of how much discretionary income people may spend on an expensive entertainment product like Major League Baseball uncertain. Especially when they have other sports they’ve been following for decades.
Interesting, though. It’s something Manfred has talked about many times over the years, so unlike so many other things he says he’s “considering” or “hasn’t ruled out,” Major League Baseball in Mexico is something worth keeping our eyes on.