So, what does Roy Oswalt really do for the Phiilies?

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We know Roy Oswalt makes the Phillies better. That’s a no-brainer. But how much better? Better enough to send them surging past the Braves and into the postseason?  To answer that question, let’s look at some Random Royness:

  • Oswalt in Citizens Bank Park:  Oswalt has thrived in Citizens Bank Park, going 4-0 with a 2.60 ERA in four starts while giving up only one home run there in 27 innings, and that against a Phillies lineup that has been stacked for several years.  In short: Oswalt loves pitching in Philly, so this will be a great fit.
  • Oswalt against the Braves:  As the Mets slowly fall away, the NL East is turning into a two-horse race: Phillies vs. Braves.  Philly has dug itself a bit of a hole in recent weeks, but they’re on a roll right now.  Still, the road to the division title goes through Atlanta, with six games against the Braves in the final two weeks of the season, including the final three games of the year. Against the Braves, however, Oswalt is not so good:  0-3 with a 7.58 ERA in seven starts.  For him to be an asset rather than a liability against Atlanta down the stretch, that will have to change.
  • Oswalt in the Playoffs:  Say the Phillies do get into the postseason, via either the division crown or the wild card. What then?  Well then you have a pretty decent Oswalt: He’s 4-0 in eight starts with a 3.66 ERA.  That’s skewed a bit too by the fact that he got beat up pretty bad in his one World Series start against the White Sox in 2005.  But of course we’re still dealing with a small sample size, the last data point of which was five years ago.  The point here, I think, is that Oswalt has playoff experience and that can only help him and the Phillies.

OK, I’ll admit it: the reason I started in on this exercise is because I’m a shameless Braves fan who wanted an excuse to write about Oswalt’s struggles against Atlanta. But that doesn’t seem very relevant to me right now. All I’m seeing is that an already good team, on the upswing, just picked up a stud pitcher with playoff experience who does really well in his new park.

Maybe we can’t quantify what that does for the Phillies, but what it does is very, very good.

Pressure is on Phillies to finally spend “stupid money”

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For the Phillies, the term “stupid money” has defined their offseason. Coined in November when owner John Middleton said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” While Middleton caught himself, adding, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid,” it was a rare promise — especially these days — by a team owner appearing to actually commit to spending money. Austerity measures, it seems, have been implemented by most other front offices across the league.

One of two bombshells finally dropped on Tuesday: infielder Manny Machado reportedly signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. The deal also apparently includes an opt-out clause after the fifth year. The other bombshell, of course, is free agent outfielder Bryce Harper.

While the Phillies have been more strongly linked to the superstar Harper, the club’s connection to Machado could not be overlooked. Several prominent members of the front office, including president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, worked with Machado during his years in Baltimore. Upon learning today’s news, Klentak said (via Matt Gelb of The Athletic), “If the reports are true, this contract will exceed our valuation. Sometimes you have to walk away.”

The Phillies, mind you, spent the last five years actively and publicly rebuilding, which included a complete overhaul of the front office. All of that losing was designed to have the club be built up just in time for this offseason, featuring two mega-free agents in Machado and Harper. There are free agents every year. Few of them are of Machado and Harper’s caliber and at the age of 26. The free agent market has stagnated in recent years, in part, due to more analytics-focused front offices being hesitant to pay players lots of money beyond their prime years. Machado and Harper still have plenty of prime years left and, arguably, may not have even entered their primes yet. As far as free agency goes, there are no better bets than Machado or Harper.

So, the pressure is now on the Phillies to go get Harper and live up to Middleton’s “stupid money” proclamation. Despite adding J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and Jean Segura this offseason, PECOTA still projects the Phillies to finish tied for third place in the NL East at 85-77, just four games behind the projected first-place Nationals. The whole point of rebuilding is to avoid being an 85-win team, teetering on playoff contention. To these more analytically-oriented front offices, it’s either boom or bust. Failing to get Harper would not only make the spurt of activity over the last four months and the entire rebuilding scheme pointless, it would be a slap in the face to fans who endured the pitiful quality of play the club has shown over the last half-decade. Klentak, hired after the 2015 season, subjected fans to things like Jeanmar Gomez, closer; Rhys Hoskins, left fielder; and whatever the heck you call the last three editions of the starting rotation beyond Aaron Nola.

If the Phillies do fail to sign Harper, Klentak will likely say something similar to what he said today, that Harper’s ask didn’t match up with their internal valuations. There will be claims that the Phillies can still spend “stupid money” elsewhere in free agency, like going on a binge and signing Craig Kimbrel, Marwin González, and Dallas Keuchel. No one player left in free agency is a better bet than Harper and no group of players would impact the Phillies’ strength relative to their competitors more than Harper alone would. For the Phillies, it is now Harper-or-bust, and fans should revolt if the club opens the regular season not having signed a free agent superstar.