How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

How'd We Do? Analyzing the Totality of the Sixers' Off-Season Moves

Halfway into July, if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say the
Philadelphia 76ers are basically done with their off-season maneuvering.
There's always the chance of the Andre Iguodala trade that we've been
predicting for about two-and-a-half years now, but talks have slowed on
that front, and most of the teams being talked of as possible landing
spots for 'Dre—whether a contending team like the Lakers or a rebuilding
one like the Warriors or Timberwolves—have either locked into their
current roster, and/or already looked elsewhere to fill their small
forward void elsewhere. With the free agent pool drying up and the
Sixers running up on the salary cap, it seems fairly likely that this is
the team the Sixers will take into next year.

So how did the Sixers do in what we here at the Level have been
calling the most pivotal off-season in the franchise's post-AI history?
Well, let's break it down into a series of questions.

Did We Get What We Wanted?

Superficially, the answer here would appear to be yes. If you'd
asked me before the off-season what the three things we needed the most
going into next year, I would have said a perimeter scorer who can
create his own shot, a knockdown three-point shooter, and a proven
interior presence who can anchor a defense. We basically got one of each
of those, in shooting guard Nick Young (17.4 ppg for Washington two
seasons ago), small forward Dorrell Wright (194 threes for the Warriors
two seasons ago) and big man Kwame Brown (starting center for the
Bobcats with decent results
two seasons ago), respectively. Technically speaking, the Sixers
managed to add the two pieces they most needed without needing to give
up anything on the two rosters.


What makes these moves so unsatisfying is that the Sixers basically
nabbed the lowest-cost, lowest-upside versions of the three players they
needed in Young, Wright and Brown. Young can score, but he can't do
anything else, Wright has little value when he's not parked behind the
three-point line, and while Brown has turned into a decent interior
defender and rebounder, he's certainly no Tyson Chandler, and his
offensive game can be charitably described as that of a "Rich Man's Ben
Wallace." Both still add something the team was sorely lacking, but
neither represents any sort of long-term solution for their respective
role. 

What's more, Young and Brown are notoriously low-IQ players with
long, long track records of losing and losing big, with Wright having
little post-season success of his own to speak of. Nick Young's
first-round victory with the Clippers this season was the first time in
any of the 24 combined seasons for the three players that one of them
won a playoff series in which they actually played. If creating a
"winning atmosphere" was one of the primary goals of the team this
off-season, this was an odd way to do it.

So I guess the answer here is yes, we got we wanted. But it turned out we didn't really want it that badly.

Did We Lose Much in the Interim?

No,
not really. Well, that's not totally true—we lost two of the guys that
came to define the team over the last half-decade of Sixers basketball
in overpaid free agent power forward Elton Brand and bench scorer turned
swaggy rapper Lou Williams. But the latter is basically replaced in
role by Nick Young, and while advanced stats still say that Lou was a
far better player than Nick the past few seasons...I'll believe that
when I start yelling at Young on one out of every three possessions as I
eventually was with Sour Patch Lou. And Elton was on his way out soon
anyway—either through a trade deadline deal or walking as a free agent
next summer—so though he was still an effective post defender and
occasional scoring option, you can't bemoan his loss too much.

If anything, you could argue that we should have lost more,
as the decision to retain Spencer Hawes at two years, 13 million was
probably the Sixers' most roundly mocked of the off-season, and
deservedly so—Spencer has still yet to prove that he can be a starter in
this league, and 6.5 a year is an awful lot for a backup. But
ultimately, the Sixers lost little that can't be fairly readily
replaced.

Did We Screw Ourselves For the Future?

Surprisingly,
no. If the Sixers want to claim one victory for the off-season, it's
this: They made absolutely zero moves that we'll be regretting four
years down the line. That, of course, is because the Sixers made no
moves that will imapct the team four years from now—every single thing
they did was for a maximum of two years. No contract signed by a Sixer,
old or new, this off-season, will still be going past the 2014
off-season.

This may not sound like that big of a deal, but it actually is—the
contracts that really end up hamstringing a team are the five-year,
$35-million type you give out to role players who either underperform or
turn out to be not $7-million-a-year important in their role, clogging
up a team's cap space for a half-decade and preventing any kind of big
moves from being made. The fact that Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes were
not given such deals has to be seen as some kind of progress. (Though,
puzzlingly, it seems like Lou was offered one and turned it down.)

Did the Sixers Show Evidence of Having a Long-Term Plan?

Sort
of, although how sound or noble the plan is is certainly up for debate.
It appears that the front office is basically planning on putting the
team on hold for two years, at which point Iguodala comes off the books
and the team has to have officially decided how much to invest in Jrue
Holiday and Evan Turner. In the meantime, they have the short-term
contracts and financial flexibility to either pursue free agents next
off-season or make a blockbuster trade for a big-name guy should the
opportunity for either arise. And they can use these seasons as sort of a
trial period to see who, along with Holiday and Turner, should be
considered a crucial part of the team's future.

It's a plan, anyway—certainly one better than pretending the team
was actually close to contending last post-season, and keeping the
team's core in place while adding pieces to put them "over the top."
(Team CEO Adam Aron basically admitted the team had maxed out as
currently constituted, which is a healthy realization for him to come
to.) It's not all that sexy of a plan, however, and it's not even one
the team followed through with all the way, as they failed to find a
trade for Andre Iguodala and their draft strategy of Young and Athletic
failed to mesh with their free agent strategy of Middle-Aged and Not
Totally Stiff. An inconsistent, unglamorous plan is probably still
better than no plan at all, but how much better is certainly subject for
debate.

Does Our Roster Make More Sense Than it Did At the End of Last Year?

And
this is where the Sixers really failed this off-season. None of their
signings or draft choices were explicitly terrible, none of the players
they cut bait with were particularly tragic losses, but the combination
thereof has left the Sixers with a roster totally lacking in balance. If
you count Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young (and in my opinion, you
should), the Sixers will be entering next season with a grand total of
five small forwards, all of whom will command some sort of consistent
minutes. Meanwhile, the team totally lacks a backup point guard (unless
you count Xavier Silas or Nick Young, which, no) and appears to be
giving serious consideration towards tipping off 2012-13 with a starting
front line of Spencer Hawes and Kwame Brown—which, really, shouldn't
happen under any circumstances ever.

Can Coach Doug Collins make sense out of the mess? Probably, but not
without some issues of poor roster equilibrium eventually being
exposed, and not without somebody bitching about role and/or
minutes. You'd like to think that a trade or two is still on the way to
help clear up the mess, but such a trade doesn't seem a particular
priority with the Sixers currently—rather, when they trade, it's for a
guy like Wright that has one very valuable skill, but also already has
four other dudes at the same position in front of him.

Ultimately, you might not be able to call this Sixers off-season a
total failure—the fact that Lou Williams was actually allowed to walk to
Atlanta basically disqualifies it from being labeled as such—but you
certainly wouldn't call it a resounding success, either. It was about
100x more active than the last four off-seasons, but ultimately we're
left in the same place—watching a mediocre team that keeps putting off
the decision of whether to rebuild or try to contend. The Sixers could
still be a fun team next year, but it's gonna be hard to be real excited
about the group Rod Thorn and company—whoever's making decisions for
the team these days—have put together.

The Phanatic scared the bejesus out of Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show

savannahguthrie-phanatic.jpg

The Phanatic scared the bejesus out of Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show

Perhaps the best thing about the Democratic National Convention descending upon the city of Philadelphia this week is the fact that the Phillie Phanatic can just pop up anywhere, at any given moment and scare the bejesus out of people.

That happened on the Today Show when Savannah Guthrie didn't see it coming.

Roundtable: Which young player makes least sense for Phillies to trade?

Roundtable: Which young player makes least sense for Phillies to trade?

Earlier this week, ESPN.com looked around baseball and came up with each team's most "untouchable" player. For contending teams, the untouchable player could have been a prospect — for example, Boston's representative was Yoan Moncada, a player who shouldn't be moved even in a win-now trade. Makes sense. He's the Red Sox version of J.P. Crawford.

But for selling teams, the focus was mainly on the 25-man roster. ESPN's David Schoenfield listed Aaron Nola as the Phillies' most untouchable player, despite the 4.75 ERA. 

I saw that and disagreed. Nola is a valuable piece, sure, and he's better and will be better than his current ERA indicates. But there are a couple players who should be regarded as even more untouchable than Nola. To see if this opinion was shared, I turned to three of my colleagues, all baseball people for Comcast SportsNet or CSNPhilly.com. (Only players currently on the Phils' 25-man roster were considered.)

Phillies insider Jim Salisbury — 3B Maikel Franco
I'm a believer in building around pitching and the idea that you can never have enough of it. But given the strides this team has made in adding what looks mostly like mid-rotation starting pitching depth — valuable but mid-rotation, nonetheless — and its continuing shortcomings on offense, I would make Maikel Franco my untouchable at this deadline.

He's had his ups and downs this season, but at 23, he is still a young, developing hitter with lots of upside. He leads the club in homers and RBIs while being a marked man in a lineup that provides little protection. Some of the adjustments he made after a difficult month of May suggest that he has the ability to improve his selectivity and that will speed his development.

The Phillies have been starving for a homegrown, middle-of-the-order, right-handed power bat almost from the time of Mike Schmidt, who, incidentally, sees MVP potential in Franco. Whether he stays at third, where he shows an excellent throwing arm and soft hands, or becomes an option at first base because of range concerns, Franco is an untouchable right now. 

Phillies Clubhouse producer Brian Brennan — CF Odubel Herrera
The Phillies have a wealth of talented young starting pitchers, so the guy I'd least want to part with is Odubel Herrera.
 
I think the potential is there for a perennial .850 OPS centerfielder who's a perfect fit at the top of a lineup. Herrera is on pace to score 90 runs this season without any consistent production elsewhere in the lineup. Once you add in J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams to pair with Herrera and Franco, you've got the makings of a dynamic top of the order for years to come. 

Herrera is currently fourth among MLB centerfielders in on-base percentage, behind only Mike Trout, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Yoenis Cespedes. Herrera is younger than all of them.
 
Herrera could be the National League's version of Mookie Betts if everything breaks right. He needs to hit a lot more doubles to get there, but I think he has the ability to hit 30 to 35 doubles in a season. He's under team control for four more seasons and that's a guy I'd be very unwilling to trade.  

Phillies Pregame/Postgame Live host Marshall Harris — 3B Maikel Franco
For me it's Franco. You're not going anywhere in today's game without a good offense and Franco is a solid building block to that end.

I realize that he's having a worse offensive year this year compared to 2015. But his errors are down compared to a year ago as he's proving himself to be an above-average defender at the hot corner. The Phillies have a plethora of young rotation arms ready to go, while the same can't be said about third basemen in the MiLB pipeline.

Franco isn't arbitration-eligible until 2018 and won't hit free agency until the 2022 season. At age 23, he's exactly the type of player you want to build around going forward. Even if he's not the best player on this team when it contends again, why would you not want a 30-plus HR player somewhere in your lineup?

Corey Seidman — OK, I'll play devil's advocate, SP Vince Velasquez
My answer would be Franco, as well, but I might even put Vince Velasquez ahead of Nola in terms of untouchability.

I just see more upside in Velasquez. This has been an up-and-down season for the 24-year-old right-hander, but even after a bad run in late May and an injury, Velasquez is 8-2 with a 3.34 ERA in 17 starts. 

Velasquez ranks ninth among National League starters with a swinging strike rate of 11.6 percent, ahead of guys like Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom. 

Velasquez has also struck out 27.2 percent of the batters he's faced, which is the eighth-highest strikeout rate in the NL. 

What's most impressive about Velasquez's ability to miss bats is that he usually does it without walking people. Even after walking eight batters in his last 13 innings, Velasquez has a K/BB ratio of 103 to 34 in 91⅔ innings this season. For his career, he has 161 K's and 55 walks, nearly a 3:1 ratio. 

If Velasquez can ever put it all together and find a way to get deeper into games consistently, he could be an ace or high-end No. 2 starter. He has more upside than Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin or Jake Thompson because he can pick up a strikeout at any time with that mid-90s fastball that has some late life and zip.

And if it turns out Velasquez never does put it all together, he could be a very good closer. That's what makes the Ken Giles trade so confusing. If the Astros so badly wanted a young, inexpensive fireballer in the back end of their bullpen, they could have simply converted Velasquez into a full-time reliever.

Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams reducing strikeout rate, still showing pop

Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams reducing strikeout rate, still showing pop

An impressive year for the Phillies' farm system continued this week with the promotions of two of their second base prospects, Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery. Valentin replaced Taylor Featherston at Triple A when Featherston took Andres Blanco's spot on the Phils' roster, and Kingery replaced Valentin at Double A.

Valentin is a former first-round pick and Kingery was the Phils' second-rounder in 2015. It's a good sign for the organization that even their second-tier prospects are advancing up the chain.

But in this last Future Phillies Report before the non-waiver trade deadline, let's take a look at how the Phils' most intriguing prospects have been performing lately.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams' call-up could be coming soon. He continues to hit, he continues to show power, and he's even reduced his strikeout rate lately.

Williams has punched out just nine times in his last 17 games, a span of 67 plate appearances. He has 90 K's on the season in 395 plate appearances, which really isn't that egregiously high of a strikeout rate. Still, the Phillies wanted to see less swing-and-miss from him and lately he's obliged.

Williams' power was slow to emerge this season as he was playing in the coldest conditions of his life, but things changed right around the second week of May. Over his last 70 games, Williams has hit .289 with a .489 slugging percentage, hitting 26 doubles, three triples and eight home runs. His run production has increased each month.

Defensively, Williams has been playing a lot of left field lately. It makes sense because that's the position he is most likely to play when he's called up to the majors. Odubel Herrera is in center field for the Phillies and Aaron Altherr will be the regular rightfielder the final two months. And so 15 of Williams' last 26 games have been in left field.

He has the defensive ability to play all three outfield spots, but Williams likes center field the most, saying the various routes a CF takes make him feel like more of an athlete than he does in the corner outfield. 

But it's his bat more than anything else that has gotten Williams this far in his pro career. He's knocking on the door to the majors and should be added to the 40-man roster soon.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Crawford has slowed a bit after a month-long hot streak, going 6 for 36, all singles, in his last 10 games. He's hitting .261/.336/.346 through 60 games at Triple A and .262/.360/.362 in 96 total games this season.

Defensively, Crawford has not been as sound over the last few weeks, committing six errors in his last 20 games after having just two in his first 40 at Triple A. 

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said earlier this week that it wasn't a consideration to bring up Crawford when Blanco got hurt. That may frustrate some Phillies fans, but there's just no need to rush him to the majors while he's not hitting. The Phils have to be confident that when they're ready to promote these guys — Crawford, Williams, Jake Thompson — that they're ready to hit the ground running and stick in The Show. So far, Crawford has held his own at Triple A but hasn't dominated. And that's no big deal considering he's 5.6 years younger than the average age in the International League.

Crawford could see some time with the Phils in September. But he's not going to be handed any sort of job just because he's long been considered a top prospect. The fact remains that at the minors' two highest levels, Crawford has hit .264/.357/.384. He's yet to truly break out the way most top-five prospects do. 

SP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson wasn't going to stay perfect forever and his ridiculous run of four earned runs in 62⅓ innings ended in his last start Tuesday. Thompson gave up three runs in the first inning and five in five innings, but still got the win thanks to a big offensive night from the IronPigs.

Through 20 starts at Triple A, Thompson is 10-5 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. A good sign was that even in defeat, eight of 10 balls put into play against Thompson were groundballs. Over his last 10 starts, Thompson has a 1.20 ERA and a groundball rate of 51 percent. 

That one misstep will not change the Phillies' opinions about Thompson's readiness for a call-up. All that is standing in the way is Jeremy Hellickson, who could very well be traded by the Aug. 1 deadline. 

And even if Hellickson isn't dealt, it would not be at all surprising to see the Phillies go to a six-man rotation at some point in mid-to-late August to keep their young pitchers' innings in check. Aaron Nola is on pace for 167, which isn't too bad. But Jerad Eickhoff is on pace for 200, which is a bit much in his first full season. Vince Velasquez is on pace for 20 more innings than he's ever thrown.

CF Roman Quinn (AA)
Quinn is back on the field after missing seven weeks with an oblique injury. He began a rehab assignment Monday in the Gulf Coast League and went 2 for 6 with a walk, a steal and two runs in two games. 

The Phillies are hoping Quinn can stay healthy for the remainder of the season because this was another year in which he lost valuable at-bats. Quinn has never played in more than 88 games in a season, which must be frustrating for such a talented and versatile player. Quinn is a switch-hitter who has the best speed and CF defense in the Phillies' farm system and also has deceptive power. 

Look for him to play some winter ball to make up for some of that lost time. Quinn played 25 games in the Dominican Winter League in 2015. 

OF Mickey Moniak (GCL)
The Phillies' first overall pick has performed as advertised so far, hitting .321/.389/.429 in 95 plate appearances in Rookie ball. The Phillies saw Moniak as a high-floor, high-ceiling high school bat, saying that he was safer than many of the top college hitters available in the draft. 

He may never hit for power, but he's quickly translated his hit tool from the California HS circuit to the minors' lowest level.

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
Alfaro had a four-hit night with three RBIs Wednesday to raise his season batting line to .295/.333/.480. It's been a great first year in the Phillies' system for the powerful catcher, who has proven he can stay on the field, playing pretty much every day since May 7.

Alfaro hasn't gotten as hot as he was to start the year, when he went 18 for 36 with six extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in his first eight games, but he's also avoided lengthy slumps. He's spent much of the season with a batting average hovering around .300, which is a good sign considering that tool is behind his raw power and arm. There seems to be a near consensus that Alfaro can, in a few years, be a catcher who controls the running game and hits 20 to 25 home runs. If he can do that with a high batting average as well, you'll be looking at one of the game's most valuable pieces.

Alfaro is already on the 40-man roster, so he could see some time in the majors in September even though he's yet to play at Triple A.

OF Dylan Cozens, 1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Hoskins has 29 homers and 92 RBIs. Cozens has 26 and 88. Both are going to reach 30 and 100, barring unforeseen circumstances. Those are the kind of numbers that get you noticed and promoted, even if you have glaring weaknesses, too.

For both players, that weakness is a penchant to swing and miss. Cozens has 124 K's in 376 at-bats, essentially one every three ABs. Hoskins' rate isn't quite as high — he's pretty much in line with Williams.

Hoskins is the older of the two and will be 24 next March. The expectation is that both will get invites to big-league camp, and if Hoskins really stands out, perhaps he battles with Tommy Joseph for everyday 1B duty next season. The Phils are going to want to see sooner rather than later what they have in Hoskins. If he's called up next season, he'd be the same age Joseph was when the Phils promoted him.

RHP Jimmy Cordero (AA)
The hard-throwing right-handed reliever acquired by the Phillies from the Blue Jays in last summer's Ben Revere trade was promoted to Double A Reading earlier this week after pitching eight games with High A Clearwater.

Cordero missed the first three months of the season with an arm injury but has made 11 appearances since July 1. He's shown some rust, allowing seven runs and walking seven in 13⅔ innings to go along with 12 strikeouts.

Because he is already on the 40-man roster like Alfaro, the Phils could take a look at Cordero in September even though he hasn't pitched much this season.

The Phillies have stockpiled a lot of prospects over the last two years and the often overlooked position group in all of that has been relief arms. With Cordero, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano (acquired with Valentin from the Dodgers for Roberto Hernandez in August 2014), the Phils are hoping to build a late relief corps that can rack up strikeouts. Arano has a 2.40 ERA with 68 K's in 60 innings this season at Clearwater.