Release of Phelps is perplexing

On Tuesday, the Pirates designated Josh Phelps for assignment in order to make room on the 40-man roster. This move came as a surprise to me, as he enjoyed staggering success in a limited role with the team in 2007. After struggling with the Yankees early in the season, Phelps took off after being claimed by the Pirates in June. In 77 at-bats, he hit .351/.463/.649 for an OPS+ of 187. 11 of his 27 hits went for extra bases as he provided much needed pop off the bench. These numbers are even more incredible when compared with the rest of the Pirates’ offense. As a team, the Bucs hit .263/.325/.411 in 2007, well below league average. Phelps was an anomaly at the plate.
Of course, there are a few reasons that the Pirates’ may view Phelps as expendable. The most obvious is the small sample size of his extraordinary performance. As Pirate fans, we know all too well how easy it is to get caught up in a small sampling of success, only to get burnt. We have experienced it many times. However, while it is preposterous to expect Phelps to duplicate his performance from last season, he has a track record of above average offense. Beginning in 2002, he has produced an OPS+ of 100 or better four times. For his career, he has hit .273/.344/.476 for an OPS+ of 112. No regular Pirate player had an OPS+ higher than 112 in 2007.
Another possibility is that the Pirates did not expect to have a spot for Phelps in 2008. He is unimpressive defensively, and Ronny Paulino, Adam LaRoche, Ryan Doumit, Steve Pearce and Xavier Nady are all capable of manning Phelps’ primary positions. Assuming each of these players is still with the team next season, there would not be a bench spot available for Phelps. However, it is quite possible that Neal Huntington will look to trade at least one out of the group of Nady, LaRoche and Jason Bay this offseason. If any of these players is dealt, the depth provided by Phelps would be very helpful.
Finally, finances may have played a part in this decision. Phelps earned $600,000 in 2007, and is due a fairly significant raise in 2008 as he is eligible for arbitration for the first time. The team may have deemed that too high a price for a decent hitter off the bench with limited versatility and poor defense. This reasoning makes some sense to me, as the Pirates are not in a situation where they should be overpaying for bench players.
All things considered, it seems silly to release a player who provides above average offense. This is especially true when one takes into account how scarce offensive production is on the team. This will probably not be a significant transaction in the long run, but that does not mean that I have to like it today.

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6 Responses to “Release of Phelps is perplexing”

  1. Cory Humes Says:

    I’m hoping we see Phelps again down the line; by designating him, we obviously run the risk of losing him — but at the same time, we’re the Pirates. Hopefully 29 other teams say “well, if they don’t want him, …”
    I think Phelps is the kind of guy who could help the 2008 Pirates “overachieve” like the 2007 Nats. In my perfect world, the team is torn down and rebuilt this off-season. I wouldn’t mind throwing someone like Phelps 400 at-bats and seeing if we could get Dmitri Young-like performance.

  2. Tony Ferrante Says:

    Amen Matt…
    New management doesn’t matter I guess, this joke of a team just rolls on….

  3. Drew Says:

    Phelps is a filler.. Are you really that upset over losing a roster filler that had 100 good AB’s? Phelps is a 28 year old journyman for a reason, he’s not that good. Yes, he had a great year and could have provided depth in the OF.. But what about Nate McLouth another guy you failed to mention. Chances are he sticks in LF/RF? Right? Given that you have a great amount of depth in CF with Duffy / Morgan/ McCutchen eventually.
    OPS+ is not a very good metric for kids with small sample sizes. Look at Daryle Ward of the Cubs ( the team I root for). He had an OPS+ of like 176 , which means he had a season in which he was 76 % better than the average player. ( in either SLG or OBP or some combo thereof). I doubt anyone claims Phelps, and if someone does, the Pirates could always draft Josh Kroeger from the Cubs in the Rule V draft.. He could give you 100 good AB’s

  4. Travis Says:

    I think this move shows that NH is not worried about squeezing a few more wins out of this season. He must feel that there is no way this team can get to .500 as currently constructed.

  5. Matt Bandi Says:

    No, I am not too concerned with losing Phelps. I have not lost a moment of sleep since we let him go. He was never going to be a part of a winning team in Pittsburgh. But, as Cory mentioned, he would be nice to have around if we gut the team within the next year. And I hope we do.
    Nate McLouth? He should get every chance to start in center in 2008. There is no way Duffy or Morgan should be out there before him.

  6. Travis Says:

    I concur on Nate. 20 HR power is a rare commodity among CFs. He also has plate discipline. An extremely rare commodity on the PBC.


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