The GM Game: Convert Potential Into Talent

In this edition of the GM Game, Matt wants to look for some experienced players by using young players with plenty of potential to get what the Phillies need to win now. It's an age old argument of how much youth a club really needs, but it's certainly worth taking a look at.

Matt says... Daniel Haigwood, Giovany Gonzalez, Scott Mathieson, Cole Hamels: They all seem to be good prospects, but the Phils will not have room to break in four new starters in 2007 and 2008. The Phillies need to take this depth and trade it for starters (Barry Zito), relief help or third base and catching prospects who are stronger and/or closer to being ready to play in the majors. The organization seems to be
waiting on players at single-A for those positions (Jason Jaramillo, Mike Costanzo, Lou Marson, Welinson Baez, etc.), who will not be completely ready until perhaps 2009, which leaves after this year, two years to fill those positions for opening day.

It will be interesting to see how the Phillies will maneuver all of those young pitchers. Charlie Manuel recently said that Cole Hamels will be given a shot at making the starting rotation in 2006. You didn't mention Gavin Floyd, but he will be given a chance at winning a spot next spring as well. Since Manuel also said that he really wants Ryan Madson in the starting rotation, it's unlikely that Hamels and Floyd will both be in the 2006 rotation. For the sake of argument, we'll say that Floyd wins the battle, since Hamels may need more time in the minors and has had injury problems.

In the spring of 2007, Cory Lidle's contract will have run out and we'll say that the Phillies let him go. Randy Wolf will be coming off a shortened season because of his elbow surgery and will also be a free agent. Let's say all is well with Hamels, but Wolf and Lidle are out of the rotation. Hamels steps in to fill one spot and if no other veterans would be signed, that would leave room for one more rookie - we'll say Gonzalez. In the spring of 2008, Jon Lieber's contract will have expired and we'll say he exits, putting either Haigwood or Mathieson into the mix. Even in this bright and rosy scenario, the Phillies would still have one young pitcher who is in their organization right now that they won't be able to fit into the starting rotation until 2009 and who knows who else may develop by then. In other words, there is seemingly no reason why one of the pitchers you mentioned couldn't be dealt.

Unless they're the Florida Marlins, teams generally don't want more than one rookie coming into the starting rotation per season. The Phillies seem stacked in that area, so there is the potential to move a pitcher or two to get reinforcements. Keep in mind though, that there are some variables. You didn't mention Floyd, but let's keep his recent struggles in mind. Remember also, that Hamels hasn't been injury free for some time and there has to be a big question mark drawn around his name and his spot in the rotation can only be penciled in for right now. I'm a fan of Hamels and I think that he may still be the pitcher that we all hoped that he would, but let's be honest, there are questions. That leaves Haigwood, Gonzalez and Mathieson.

History is full of young pitchers who, for one reason or another, simply didn't develop or blew out their arm. If you look at the five young pitchers that we've been focusing on and realize that two already have question marks, the odds are that at least two of the five aren't likely to be as good as figured. It's just the way things tend to play out.

For now, Floyd and Hamels don't have a huge trade value because of their various struggles. Dealing one of them right now would guarantee a lesser than equal return, especially if they were to develop down the road. Many scouts believe that Mathieson was the best pitcher in the Arizona Fall League and he may be at a point where he has the best - or close to the best - trade value among the young guns. He's also likely to be the furthest away from the majors though, so some teams may not want to give too much in return for the speculation that would be attached to Mathieson. Haigwood and Gonzalez would be likely to bring the most in a trade, because both are relatively close to the majors and both are thought of as strong prospects. In fact, other clubs have already acquired about Gonzalez since he arrived in Philadelphia.

While it appears that Oakland has decided to keep Zito, there may be other deals that could be made. The Phillies may want to keep all of their young pitchers for now and see how things develop. Turnarounds by Hamels and/or Floyd and continued progress from Haigwood and/or Gonzalez would up their value. In the case of Hamels, his value could skyrocket if he stays healthy and dominates and the same has to be said for Floyd. Haigwood and Gonzalez both have the potential to show that they are ready to help in the majors by late this season if all goes perfectly and Mathieson could begin to move quicker than he has so far as well. With the trade market being what it is right now and the Phillies turning more and more of their attention to internal solutions, it's likely that the Phillies won't deal away young pitching for the time being. By mid-season though, that is likely to change a lot if things all fall into place.

As mentioned earlier, things like this tend to work themselves out one way or another. Just when it looks like you have a bunch of young pitching, injuries or slumps derail everything. When it looks like you may be scrambling for pitching, a Jim Thome deal comes along that adds two strong left-handers to the organization. That brings up another point. Haigwood, Gonzalez and Hamels are all left-handers. You have to figure that in the next couple seasons, the Phillies would like to have two of those three in the rotation if Randy Wolf isn't healthy and re-signed. If Wolf does rebound and stays in Philadelphia, then there are too many left-handers for the Phillies to really deal with down the road.

As for the other young players you mentioned, the Phillies hope that Costanzo and Jaramillo could be ready for 2008. Marson and Baez would be a year later. Jaramillo and Marson are both catchers, so the Phillies could conceivably look at including one of them in the right deal as well, since catching is generally at a premium. Just some more fodder for future editions of The GM Game.

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