As people debate about whether the Phillies should be buyers or sellers at this year's trading deadline, Ruben Amaro shocked the world and signed RHP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. The deal is reported at 6 years and $48 million, meaning that the AAV will be eight million a season--with escalators that could bring the deal to $59 million. This move shouldn't alter what the Phillies pursue at the deadline as far as buying or selling, and it comes off as a major risk.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (henceforth known as M.A.G.) is a 26 year-old right-handed pitcher from Cuba. The back story on M.A.G. is quite interesting, as he hasn't been eligible to play for the Cuban national team for the last two years as punishment for trying to leave the island. He has shined in different international tournaments in the past, but the lack of recent professional competition is a concern.
As far as his scouting report, scouts appear to be split on the pitcher. M.A.G. features a low-90's fastball that can touch the mid-90's. While he controls the pitch well, reports suggest that the command of the pitch becomes a concern at higher velocities. M.A.G. throws both a pair of off-speed pitches--a splitter/fork and a change up--that he can use as swing-and-miss pitches. He throws a breaking ball that gets mixed reviews, with some scouts seeing it as just an average pitch at best.
M.A.G. profiles as a possible back-end starter, yet some scouts believe he can be a solid number three and others think he is bound for the bullpen.
The scouting report on M.A.G. is what makes this deal the most perplexing. At 6 years/$48 million, the Phillies have committed to $8 million AAV to the righty. The phrase "number three starter" is quite ambiguous in valuation, so predicting future value for M.A.G.'s ceiling is difficult. In 2012, the 60th best qualified starting pitcher reached 1.9 fWAR. When it is considered that some teams may have no "number three starters" a comfortable value for a "number three starter" is roughly 2.5 fWAR.
If M.A.G. reaches this ceiling, he'll be worth about $12.5 million AAV, which would make the contract a wild success. However, a more popular opinion of M.A.G. seems to be as a back-end starter. Of the 88 qualified starters in 2012, the bottom 25 starters--back end contributors--combined for just under 1.0 fWAR. If M.A.G. were to fall into this threshold--and the scouting reports point to this being the case--then he contributes about $5 million AAV and the deal becomes a bit puzzling.
The real wild card in this deal is what exactly the phrase "bullpen arm" means. Bullpen positions range in value based on the frequency of high and low-leverage appearances. At best, M.A.G. evolves into an elite-level pitcher out of the bullpen. In 2012, the top ten relievers in the game averaged 2.27 fWAR. If M.A.G. were to fall into this range, he would be worth roughly $11.35 AAV, which makes the contract a success. However, if M.A.G. were to fall outside of that group, the deal becomes a question mark. Only 14 relievers in 2012 reached the necessary fWAR to justify the kind of money M.A.G. is going to be paid.
There are a lot of things that can be done with $50 million. For example, a recent Chase Utley extension was reported in a range of $50 million spread out over three years. Anthony Rizzo's extension with Chicago was $41 million, Martin Prado's extension was $40 million, and Matt Harrison's extension was $55 million. The point here is that this is the kind of money that is reserved for significant MLB assets.
However, the most intriguing thing about this deal is that the Phillies decided to invest so much into a player with so much risk. Now, the deal looks like chump change when compared to other international pitching signings in recent years. When the posting fee is considered, the Rangers paid $108 million to Yu Darvish over six years. While the consensus would be that Darvish is a much better pitcher, that's still 225% of what the Phillies gave M.A.G.
Going back to an earlier suggestion, this deal will not impact the Phillies as buyers or sellers. Many seem to think that M.A.G. needs some time in the high minors before joining the MLB club, so this is a move made for the future rather than the 2013 stretch run. While the deal is certainly a risk, the Phillies don't need to move assets around to make the deal fit--especially if they get a large television deal after 2015. Since M.A.G. doesn't seem to have an elite ceiling and the AAV committed is only eight million dollars, there should also not be significant pressure for the Phillies to "build around" the pitcher.
With this deal, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (M.A.G.) becomes the ninth-highest paid player on Philadelphia's payroll. With the $48 million commitment, the Phillies have taken quite the gamble on their scouts' impressions of the right-handed pitcher's rare professional outings. At 26 years old, M.A.G. is a polished pitcher without much room to grow, and his lack of recent professional experience might leave him more rusty than can be anticipated.
While he could out-perform the money given to him on the contract, the more likely bet is that M.A.G. has been signed for something close to market value. This would be fine if M.A.G. was established, but since he is an unknown, the contract carries more risk. If the Phillies buy, M.A.G. could be a solid addition to this year's bullpen. If they sell, then he could become a cost-controlled asset that helps relieve the pain of rebuilding. Either way, the Phillies have rolled the die on this deal, and we'll have to wait a while before we know how it turns out.
Big thanks to FanGraphs, Baseball America, and Yahoo Sports for the data and information that went into the piece.