February 3, 2003

Burrell, as in hurl (seriously, that's how it's pronounced!)

The big baseball news yesterday was the Phillies signing Pat Burrell to a $50 million dollar contract extension.

The deal is for 6 years and runs from his age 26 season through his age 31 season.

In other words, the exact years a team would want to have a player locked up for.

The Phillies picked Pat Burrell with the #1 overall pick in the 1998 draft.

He was an extremely successful hitter at the University of Miami and a lot of people projected him as a future superstar at the time.

Burrell has hit everywhere he has played, but for some reason he has been able to sneek under the radar of most fans.

2002 was his 3rd Major League season and, although he isn't a superstar yet, he has established himself as one of the top young power hitters in baseball.

Check out his stats:

Year       G      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     2B     BB

2000 111 .260 .359 .463 18 27 63
2001 155 .258 .346 .469 27 29 70
2002 157 .282 .376 .544 37 39 89

His batting average has never been great, which is probably why he has yet to reach true star status.

It did improve a lot in 2002 though and he has everything else you'd want in a hitter.

Burrell smacked 37 homers, which ranked 7th in the NL, and added in 39 doubles, which ranked 10th.

He even added in some very good plate discipline, with 89 walks, although he strikes out a ton (162 and 153 in 01 and 02).

Predicting someone's batting average is a really tough thing to do, much harder than predicting power numbers (in my opinion).

That said, I think Burrell's average will continue to improve in the next couple of seasons.

He was an outstanding hitter for average in college and his minor league numbers were very good.

He hit .303, .333 and .294 in his 3 minor league stops.

I don't think he'll ever hit .320, but I wouldn't be surprised if he settled into the .285-.300 range.

Add in 85-100 walks, 35-45 homers and 40+ doubles and you've got a star player, no doubt about it.

Defensively, he's not great, but he is definitely improving.

Diamond-Mind gave him a left field rating of "FAIR" in 2002, which was a huge improvement over his "POOR" in 2001.

Burrell is the real deal and I already talked about the length of the contract being good for the Phillies.

As for the cost? Who knows.

We saw this off-season how quickly things can change in regard to contracts free agents are getting.

While teams still handed out a few big deals this off-season, I thought that, for the most part, there was more financial restraint shown this year than in any year I can recall.

The deal breaks down as follows:

$1.5 signing bonus

$1 in 2003

$4 in 2004

$7 in 2005

$9.5 in 2006

$13 in 2007

$14 in 2008

Like I said, who knows what we'll think of Pat Burrell making $14 million in 2008?

If I had to guess now, I'd say that, as long as he doesn't get hurt or completely fall of a cliff offensively, $14 mill will be a bargain in 2008's market.

The $1 mill in 2003 and $4 in 2004 look very cheap, but the Phillies have dibs on Burrell until 2006, when he stops being arbitration eligible.

So, basically, they bought out 3 arbitration years (2003, 2004 and 2005) and his first 3 years of free agency (2006, 2007, 2008).

I'd say it's a good deal, as much as any long-term deal given to a baseball player can be.

While signing Burrell to a 6-year deal doesn't really change anything for 2003, it does give me an opportunity to do something I've been wanting to do, which is to take a look at the Philadelphia lineup and see how it stacks up.

To recap their off-season...

They signed Jim Thome from Cleveland to replace Travis Lee (and Jeremy Giambi) at first base.

They signed David Bell from San Francisco to replace Scott Rolen, whom they dealt to St. Louis last year, at third base.

With Bell at 3B, they shifted their third baseman from the last half of 2002, Placido Polanco, over to second base and got rid of 2002's second baseman, Marlon Anderson.

In the outfield, center fielder Doug Glanville is (finally!) gone and will likely be replaced by Marlon Byrd, a rookie.

The shortstop, catcher, left fielder and right fielder all remain the same.

Here's what their lineup might end up looking like:

SS   Jimmy Rollins     .247 EqA

2B Placido Polanco .258
RF Bobby Abreu .323
1B Jim Thome .369
LF Pat Burrell .313
C Mike Lieberthal .279
CF Marlon Byrd .268*
3B David Bell .273

*Marlon Byrd spent 2002 in Triple-A, so his EqA is his minor league performance, adjusted to the National League.

Overall, that is a damn good lineup and the 3-4-5 is as good as any in the game.

Compared to the Major League average at their position, the Phils have quite a few guys that had EqAs significantly above average:

Jim Thome +.082 (.369 minus the MLB 1B average of .287)

Bobby Abreu +.040

Mike Lieberthal +.033

Pat Burrell +.030

David Bell +.009

Placido Polanco -.001

Marlon Byrd -.002

Jimmy Rollins -.009

They've got 4 guys that were among the best in baseball at their position offensively last year.

According to Baseball Prospectus' "Runs Above Replacement Position" (RARP) Thome was #1 among all MLB first basemen, Abreu was #5 among right fielders, Lieberthal was #4 among catchers and Burrell was #6 among left fielders.

That is pretty impressive.

David Bell was slightly above-average in 2002.

Philly has two guys that were right around average (Byrd and Polanco).

And one guy that was slightly below-average (Rollins).

I think Thome will decline in 2003, although nothing serious.

I would expect Abreu, Lieberthal and Polanco to play at about the same level.

Burrell seems like a candidate to boost his EqA by 10 or 15 points in 2003, as does Rollins.

I would guess that Bell would decline slightly, but not much.

Byrd is the real wild card, because what he can do at the ML level is an unknown.

I am a fan of Marlon Byrd's and I think he will be an excellent player.

Here is what I wrote about him in my "Top 50 Prospects" article for Baseball Primer:

While Doug Glanville has been devouring outs by the hundreds in Philadelphia for the past several seasons, the Phillies have been extremely conservative with Marlon Byrd. He has played full seasons at A, AA and AAA in the past 3 years, without any mid or late season promotions, except for last season’s September call up.

Byrd is ready, both offensively and defensively, and now that Glanville’s days of making 500 outs a year are over with - at least in Philadelphia - Byrd can step in as the everyday center fielder.

Marlon Byrd has been pretty much the same hitter for the last 3 years - .300 average, 50 walks, 60 extra base hits, 100 strikeouts and solid center field defense. The only thing that has really changed is his work on the bases. Byrd has always been a phenomenal base stealer, but his attempts at thievery have dwindled over the past few years, from 46 in 2000 to 37 in 2001 and only 16 this past year. He has always had an exceptional success rate, which is why the lack of attempts this year is troubling. Perhaps he just decided to focus entirely on hitting in 2002 or maybe he bulked up a little and lost some speed. Whatever the reason, if he hits like I think he can, the Phillies won’t really care what his stolen base totals look like.

Marlon Byrd doesn’t particularly look like a centerfielder, sort of like how Kirby Puckett didn’t look like a centerfielder. However, his defense has never been an issue and he should have no problem manning center for the Phillies.

Byrd will make Philadelphia fans forget Doug Glanville, because lord knows they’ll try to.

For 2003, I would put Marlon's EqA somewhere in the .265-.275 range, which would make him about average offensively for a center fielder.

The Phils could very easily have a 2003 lineup with 4 guys in the top 5 in baseball at their position and 4 guys hovering right around average.

That may not sound like it, but that's a recipe for a very good offense and I wouldn't be surprised if they led the NL in runs in 2003.

I would almost guarantee they will be among the top 2 or 3.

Defensively, the Phillies should be very good too.

Bell is excellent at third and Polanco is outstanding at any infield spot.

Rollins is above average at SS and while Thome is poor at 1B, defense there doesn't mean much and he isn't completely miserable.

In the outfield, Byrd should be above average in center and Abreu is very good in right field.

And we already talked about the improvements Burrell has made out in left.

Good offense? Check.

Good defense? Check.

Good pitching? Ch...not so fast!

You'll have to wait until I do my pre-season preview and predictions for each division to get my complete thoughts on the Phillies.

Until then, here is a hint: THE PHILLIES WILL WIN THE NL EAST DIVISION IN 2003!

That's all I am going to say for now.

I don't want to give too much away.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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