For my first returning post, I’ll give a brief account of the recent development of my adoration of Marlins top prospect Jose Fernandez.
(Image courtesy of MiLB.com)
About a year ago, my boyfriend Matt (then an intern with The Miami Herald) met Jose, his father and his agent at Alonso High School in Tampa to observe his workout, watch him throw a couple pitches and interview him for a short feature for the Herald. I stayed at our Clearwater hotel while Matt ventured out for a morning with Jose Fernandez, but when Matt returned, I heard all about the Cuban native’s multiple attempts to defect from his home country. I heard about his short stint in Cuban jail. Heavy topics — the kid’s only 19! But I also heard about Jose arriving and eating a fast-food sandwich for breakfast and referring to himself as a “bull”…topics seemingly more appropriate for a maturing teen. When Matt interviewed him, Jose had yet to sign with the Marlins. He and his agent were still playing the money game, waiting to see what the Marlins would offer before deciding whether he would head off to school or would become the newest addition to the Marlins’ farm. Obviously, he did the latter. And now, a year later, I’ll bet the Marlins are quite thrilled he did.
I’m a sucker for a good story. I loved Jose Fernandez just a little bit before I’d ever seen him pitch. Then, a month ago, on June 16, I went with a friend to a low A Greensboro Grasshoppers game. I currently live in North Carolina and was headed that direction for a teaching conference. A friend and I went early to see Jose pitch. I was floored. Stunned. Awestruck. Whatever word you want to pull out, I was it. His fastball averaged 96 mph, and he touched 98 a handful of times. He walked one batter and struck out 11, about half on one of the most beautiful curveballs I’ve ever seen. Sure, he let up a few hits (including one home run off a 97 mph fastball), but when it came down to it…Jose Fernandez was dominant. At the end of his eight-inning, 102-pitch outing, he sort of rolled his shoulders forward, clinched his fists and powered off the mound. He paused for a moment to throw a kiss up to the sky (I guess he’s a religious dude, too), then resumed his domineering stance. He reminded me of some kind of animal. An animal that’s crazy strong with a determined mentality and intimidating nostril flare. Oh, could it be the animal Jose Fernandez referred to himself as a year ago? He’s a BULL. That night, I nicknamed him El Toro and decided he’s my new favorite prospect. He’s with the Marlins, but I don’t much care. I’ve never enjoyed watching a pitcher quite as much as I enjoy watching him. I left Greensboro wishing I’d be able to see his next start.
But then, I turned super crazy lucky. El Toro was promoted to high A Jupiter, Fla. (the mighty Hammerheads) shortly after I saw him in North Carolina. And guess where my family lives and I was headed for a chunk of my summer break? You guessed it: the east coast of Florida. A few days after I got a wisdom tooth pulled (ouch), I went with my brother Alex to Jupiter to see El Toro. Matt had alerted me to the fact that he’d be pitching that night, so Alex and I made the 1.5-hour drive south. It was his first start at a higher level, and at first he didn’t look quite the same as when I’d seen him in Greensboro. His fastball velocity was down a little (avg. 94-95) and guys grabbed hits (and runs) off him here and there. But in his last two innings (the 4th and 5th), El Toro returned to form. The 4th and 5th were 10- and 9-pitch innings, respectively. In the 4th, he struck out two batters with his breaking ball (one swinging and one looking). Sandwiched in-between the two strikeouts was a flyout to left on a 97 mph fastball. Then in the 5th, two straight batters grounded out (to short and second, respectively), before El Toro induced a flyout to center on a first-pitch fastball. He had only thrown 64 pitches to that point, but I guess they’ve got him on a pitch count (or innings count, considering he’s gone 5 his first two starts with Jupiter). Unfortunately, Alex had been waiting in line for dollar dogs for about 45 minutes at that point and returned to our seats immediately after El Toro was finished for the game, so I had nobody to share the glory with. I told him all about it when he got back with our dogs, but he didn’t see it with his own eyes…I’ll have to take him to another game.
But that’s not all. Though Matt and I were at a Clearwater-Brevard County game (Phillies and Brewers FSL affiliates, respectively) during the Futures Game and are planning on watching the game soon on ESPN3, El Toro apparently rocked it out there, too, striking out two batters in his one inning. He cranked up the heat and threw a 97-99 mph fastball to impress. It evidently worked, as plenty of talent evaluators have said he was the most impressive pitcher in the event. This showing was after Baseball America had ranked El Toro No. 8 in their Midseason Top 50 Prospects List: http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2012/07/midseason-top-50-prospects-list-2/
Suffice it to say, I’m in prospect love. I can’t wait to see/hear more of El Toro in the future. He’s so good that Matt and I may make a day-long trip OUT OF Key West to Jupiter during our vacation to see him pitch. That’d be 10 hours of total driving for a 3-hour game (probably 2 or less of which El Toro will actually pitch), but I’d say he’s worth it.
This is the second time I’ve disappeared for a nutso long time and then returned, hoping to reclaim my post. And this time, there’s really nothing different about how busy I am (currently studying for the October 6 LSAT and writing lesson plans for the upcoming school year), but I’ve gone to a couple minor league baseball games recently, and seeing prospects (Phillies and otherwise) is sort of spurring me to come back.
The blog (still titled “Philling in the Blanks”) will likely not be 100-percent Phillies-centric, considering I’ve fallen in love with a few prospects outside of the Phillies organization. (Can anyone say Jose Fernandez?)
There have been talks and talks and more talks about whether the Phillies should trade Joe Blanton or keep him around for 2011. A recent guest columnist on Crashburn Alley argues that the Phillies should hold onto Blanton at least through the All-Star break in hopes that he regains some value and can then be traded without the Phillies having to eat any of his salary.
I think that’s sound enough reasoning, but I maintain that the Phillies should go with the option that will guarantee them money in return… This is not a comment on how I think Blanton will perform in 2011, rather a comment on financial sense on the Phillies’ part.
1. If the Phillies keep Blanton…
**Disclaimer: The percentage values assigned with each scenario are assuming randomness, not factoring in Blanton’s past performance or predicted future performance.**
Best Case Scenario: Blanton shocks all doubters and posts insane numbers, making the Phillies’ rotation even scarier than ever imagined. The Phillies win the World Series. The $17 million paid to Blanton over the next two seasons are well worth it. No money freed up for other deals, but that’s no matter. Percent chance, given the Phillies keep Blanton for 2011, this scenario happens: 33.3%
Middle Case Scenario: Blanton does a little better than in his 2010 campaign and manages to push his value up so that the Phillies have to eat little to none of his salary. But they will have already paid him somewhere in the $4 million range. Let’s say they then have to eat $3 million. That’s $7 million spent for an OK half-season. Considering Blanton’s salary over the full season is $8.5 million, it’s almost a pointless effort to unload him at the break, unless the Phillies don’t have to eat any greens and can thereby free up $4.5 million from 2011, plus $8.5 million from 2012, totaling $13 million freed up in 2012 signings. This $13 million saved is the best case of the middle case, a rather conservative estimate assuming the Phillies would not have to eat any of Blanton’s salary. Let’s say the Phillies wait until the end of the season to trade Blanton, under the same conditions. They free up $8.5 million. Again, this is if no salary must be eaten. Percentage chance best case of middle case (approx. $13 million freed up) happens: 11.1%. Percentage chance the Phillies unload Blanton at the end of the year without eating salary ($8.5 million freed up): 11.1%. Percentage chance Blanton improves, but not enough to free the Phillies from eating any of his salary: 11.1%
Worst Case Scenario: Blanton performs even worse than last season and Kendrick and/or Worley end up starting in his place. With Blanton benched, his $8.5 million 2011 salary is a sunk cost. The Phillies are basically paying $8.5 million for a sack of balls. At the end of the season, it’s a must-do to unload him, but they have to eat $5 million of his 2012 salary, freeing up just $3.5 million for other deals. Percentage chance this scenario happens, whereby the Phillies have a net gain of around $3.5 million: 33.3%
2. If the Phillies unload Blanton before the start of the 2011 season…
Only Case Scenario: The Phillies eat $8-9 million of Blanton’s remaining $17 million, freeing up $8-9 million committed dollars. Percent chance the Phillies get this money, given they unload Blanton prior to 2011: 100%
I’d take the guaranteed $8-9 million for other signings any day, especially knowing Kendrick (who had about the same average production as Blanton in 2010 and who will probably be making around $2 million in 2011, arbitration decision pending) and Worley (whose minor league stats and 13 IP in the majors project him as a solid guy in the fifth slot) will be around.
When it comes down to it, you can grumble and grumble over whether you think Blanton will improve and up his trade stock or even contribute substantially to the rotation, but the option that makes the most financial sense is to unload him now, before the 2011 season even thinks about beginning.
The only reason I would suggest considering keeping Blanton is if the Phillies have to eat more than $9 million of his salary. Even if that were the case, I would still heavily lean toward accepting the guaranteed, rather than banking on something you just cannot predict.
A little late on this one (today’s Matt’s birthday!), but if you go to Citizens Bank Park today, you can buy three ornaments and get a fourth free! Also, if you spend $100 or more, you’ll get a free Charlie Manuel Louisville Slugger Bat…
Not sure I’ll be going to CBP for a third day in a row, though I’m slightly tempted to go every day leading up to my sad departure from the area (heading to Chicago) Dec. 23. Either way, that shouldn’t stop you from going to get 25% off all Phillies DVDs and CDs! Plus a free rally towel with any purchase, while supplies last. But most importantly…
Matt and I planned on going to Citizens Bank Park today for Cliff Lee’s press conference. We read (on trusty ol’ Twitter) at around 12:30 that it would be at 3 p.m. By that point, we had already resigned ourselves to a later time, around 4 p.m. or so and made other plans through the afternoon. So we sort of shifted around some things and zoomed to CBP to get there just a couple of minutes after 3. On the way, we heard on 97.5 the Fanatic that they were at McFadden’s for that afternoon/early evening show, so we went into the restaurant instead of the Majestic store.
After the presser, Matt and I went to the Majestic store to see if they had any Lee T-shirts available… There weren’t any out, so I asked an employee how much it would cost to get Lee’s name and number printed on a plain shirt. She grinned and said, “They’re on their way now! Just wait a few minutes!” About five minutes later, a few employees trudged in with big brown boxes filled with shirts. Another half hour later, the shirts were finally ready for sale, all stacked up on a nice red-tableclothed table right near the doors:
I’ll be here waiting just like the rest of us for Cliff Lee’s press conference! He has his physical this morning and then will be addressing the media at some point later today (theoretically, unless something goes awry with his physical.)
After the reindeer lineup, we were in the clubhouse and greeted by this view:
(Excuse the poor image quality–cell phone picture.)