New Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg is making news this spring by sitting Jimmy Rollins for Freddy Galvis. It's the kind of story that's easy to pounce on -- new manager, famously surly veteran, and a young player. I can only imagine the thoughtful opinions on Facebook. Throw in a love interest, and I'll write the danged script myself.
The link up there goes to The Good Phight, and they break down the different scenarios in which this move makes sense. It could be practical (Rollins can make more money by triggering a vesting option), a tinkling contest (as in, either Sandberg or Rollins is being a jerkface), or a simple misunderstanding.
It's a curious strategic decision in just about any scenario. I'll guess Sandberg doesn't have a lot of use for WAR or WARP or ZiPS or PECOTA. It's moderately unrealistic to expect a manager, even in 2014, to have a grasp on that side of baseball. According to ZiPS, switching from Jimmy Rollins to Freddy Galvis at short will cost the Phillies roughly a win. Baseball Prospectus and WARP concur. A single, lonely win.
What does a win mean? For a team in the middle of a divisional race, it can mean millions of dollars, the difference between selling 100,000 t-shirts with a playoff logo or starting work on the 2015 slogan. Those teams spend $7 million on a player who can improve them by a measly win, which is the going rate on the free-agent market according to smart folks.
For a rebuilding team like the Astros, the extra win in 2014 isn't worth the extra two in the 2015 bush. That is, there was no sense replacing L.J. Hoes with Corey Hart this year for the chance at an extra win, because it's more important that Hoes contributes to future wins. Everyone wants to win more. But there are teams that need the wins in the future more than the present.
The Phillies have been acting like the former team, and they have been for a while. They're chasing one … more … year … , and they've been doing it for a couple of years. Ruben Amaro, Jr. hasn't been shy about it -- the Phillies see themselves as win-now. If you're close to the organization, and you remember these players contributing greatly to the team's success, it's not hard to see how the scenario is seductive. Give us one more year, Ryan. Keep it going for another season, Chase. Do your thing, Cliff and Cole, and we'll be fine.
I actually don't have a huge problem with that mindset for the Phillies. The money for the high-salary players isn't coming back, and it's not like anyone but the pitchers will bring back shiny prospects. So throw a penny into the fountain and sign A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd, as long as they aren't blocking anyone. It's just crazy enough to work.
(It won't work.)
Photo: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
But that strategy means that an extra win is something to shoot for. The Phillies can't have it both ways, signing players like Burnett and Byrd while keeping the core together, but also taking a "let's see what we've got in Galvis" approach. Or a "Rollins is going to be too expensive next year" approach. Or a "the skipper needs to establish himself" approach. Any of the reasons explored by The Good Phight don't make sense if the Phillies are looking to win now.
It's almost like the Phillies don't make sense, or … no, no, it's not my place to judge.
There's another scenario: The Phillies think Galvis is better right now. Forget the WAR and the WARP, and pretend the new Phillies stats people have something proprietary. Let's call it the Phillies' Objective Operational Projections, and according to their numbers and eyeballs, Galvis will help them win more in 2014. Or that the two players are close enough, that being a clubhouse usurper can function as a tiebreaker.
Rollins had 666 at-bats last year, you know. If you're into omens.
But that's just about the only way the Phillies come out looking normal in this. If they think Galvis is a better player than an aging Rollins, they're being consistent. But if they're contemplating sitting Rollins for any reason other than 2014, they're going against their own stubborn plan over the last couple years, long after they've spent good money after bad to keep the plan going.
Or this is a spring thing that will be forgotten in a week. Spring is the worst.
Don't underestimate the potential for the Phillies to be weird, though. After 14 years, 1,952 games, two pennants, and one championship, the Phillies might think there's a shortstop on hand who can help them win more than Jimmy Rollins. Considering how they spent their offseason, their timing is curious.