On Overvaluing Prospects and Staying the Course: The #FreeCordPhelps Edition

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the problem with the Cleveland Indians is that Cord Phelps has been playing at Columbus while Orlando Cabrera and Austin Kearns and Adam Everett are sucking the life-blood from the Big League club like so many parasitic vampire bats.  It’s true.  I heard it on the radio.

Like so many prospects before him, Cord Phelps is the solution to what ails us.  A panacea for all our deficiencies.  The answer to the enduring question: why the front office is always wrong.

And let me go on the record: I wish they’d bring up Cord Phelps too.  I really do.  I wrote several weeks back that it’s possible that “what we’ve gotten from [Orlando] Cabrera is already more than we had any right to expect, and that sometimes you need to quit while you’re ahead.” This was before he was moved up in the lineup, which I’ve been pretty vocally against.  Snark happened, as it’s wont to do.

So yes, I think that the team should promote Cord Phelps.  The corresponding roster move that makes the most sense to me would be to DFA Adam Everett, but I’d really not lose too much sleep over losing Kearns or O-Cab either.  Whatever.

But we should also be clear about something else: Cord Phelps is not going to save this team.  While we have a tendency to put all of our hopes into young players who we’ve not seen much of, we should remember that it’s exceedingly rare for these types to impact the team immediately.

Of all the prospects that have come through Cleveland in the last eight or so years—from Grady Sizemore to Shin-Soo Choo to Asdrubal Cabrera to Matt LaPorta to Michael Brantley to Jason Donald to Carlos Santana—do you know the only one who had an OPS over .820 after 100 at bats?  It was Carlos Santana.  The one that was rated the third best prospect in baseball.

Here, by the way, are the minor league OPS numbers for the rest of that crew:

  OPS
Brantley 0.765
LaPorta 0.953
Cabrera 0.773
Santana 0.899
Choo 0.817
Sizemore 0.791
Donald 0.803

Cord Phelps has a career minor league OPS of .805.

I’ve written this before, but he strikes me as a switch-hitting Jason Donald (not that there’s anything wrong with that) who’s not quite as sharp in the field.  That’s a useful player.  That’s an average player.  I’d rather have that player than Adam Everett or Orlando Cabrera.

But that player is not a salve for the Indians’ recent struggles.  Believe it or not, it was almost exactly a year ago that we heard how our second base situation was untenable—that Jason Donald needed to be brought up immediately.  That our very season depended on it.  It’s been a year.

Then, this spring, we had to send a message to the fanbase and bring up Lonnie Chisenhall.  It was everything that mattered.

And now Cord Phelps is wearing the hat of the savior.  He is the symbol of what could fix the Indians, and Orlando Cabrera has become the symbol of our collective lack.

I don’t say any of this to demean Cord Phelps.  I hope he’s great.  I hope we bring him up and we never look back.  I really do.

By the same token, I don’t say any of this to praise Orlando Cabrera.  I think his time as an everyday player needs to end.  I think his best days are years behind him.  I really do.

But the success of this season isn’t going to hinge on the periphery of the roster.  If Sizemore and Choo and Santana and Hafner hit like they can, we’ll have a chance to win the division.  If they don’t, we won’t.

It’s great fun to get worked up about the last few roster spots—to try to find out where those fractions of wins might be hiding.  But this team is going to sink or swim on its core players.  And Phelps and O-Cab just don’t have much to do with that.

  • Rick Manning

    they need to do something – the lineup makes me sick.

  • GhostToMost

    Although some are a bit overzealous in their love of Phelps or Chisenhall or whoever, I dont think anybody is expecting these guys to be the “saviors”. I think people just want the best possible team on the field. The team is playing very poorly and we need to do something, anything. At this point were out of reasons NOT to give these kids a shot and I think that’s where people’s frustration comes from. I don’t think there is a sane and/or logical person out there who really excepts these players to “save” us. The love for Cord Phelps is no more illogical than the people who defend Santana and say hes doing fine when hitting .200, or those who say with certainty that Santana will hit better because he had a high line drive rate in the minor leagues.

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  • NJ

    “The success of this season isn’t going to hinge on the periphery of the roster.”

    Disagree completely.

    I refer to something mentioned in a fangraphs chat earlier this week: people forget that replacement level talent is very important for a major league roster. The Diamondbacks are competing for the NL West with a roster full of those types of players.

    The numbers: Cabrera, Everett, and Kearns have combined for -1.2 WAR (Fangraphs) thus far. ROS, that means even at replacement level, three farm hands give us two and half more wins. How huge are two games come September?

    I agree that expecting Phelps (or whomever) to be a savior is misguided, but not sucking might be all the heroics we need.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Jon

    I think you’re right NJ. Perhaps I didn’t word my argument as well as I could have.

    I want the extra win or so that Phelps can provide us. You’re right to suggest that the margin of victory in the division could be slight.

    But none of that matters if the heart of the lineup continues to “perform” as it has. If that happens, we’ll end the season 10 games back and one or two wins won’t matter.

  • NJ

    True. And now that I reread the article, I notice that you’re appropriately harsh on Ocab and the rest.

    It just seems that there’s the other extreme in fan panic too. Basically, “Choo and Santana are the only ones who can save us”. That reaction is just as misguided as the “Phelps is our only hope” school of thought. For us to compete, we’re going to need positive contributions from everyone. We’re not good enough to afford a dead every day position or two.

    I believe that Choo and Santana will start hitting. Why? Same old song and dance: regression to the mean, BABIP, track record, approach, etc. And heck, if they don’t, we’re sunk anyway. Not just this year, but into 2012 and beyond. So in my mind, there’s no point worrying about that.

    But the rest of the roster? That seems worth obsessing over.

    Which is a long way to say that I never want to see Orlando Cabrera take the field again.