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The Phillies won it all in 2008 and returned to the World Series in 2009, but times haven’t been as wonderful since. Age has caught up to the Phillies, and with it has come injuries. Ryan Howard has only had 609 plate appearances in the last two seasons and has seen his power numbers drop in that time. Chase Utley has had only two season of more than 500 plate appearances in the last four seasons while battling injuries, and former MVP Jimmy Rollins put in a replacement level season in 2013.
General manager Ruben Amaro has tried to keep the band together for as long as he could, but it’s finally time to admit that they aren’t as good as they used to be. This Phillies team was about as healthy as it gets these days, and they only managed to win 73 games (which was well above their Pythagorean [aka expected] record of 66 wins). The Phillies won’t be able to move Howard, seem unwilling to move Utley, and likely won’t trade Rollins, Hamels, or Lee, so there’s not a lot this team can do. The Phillies these days are more like a daily reunion of the 2008 and 2009 World Series teams than they are a contender to get there in 2014.
The Phillies didn’t lose too much this season, aside from Roy Halladay’s enormous $20 million contract, but all signs point to them bringing him back, probably for something like a one year, $10 million deal. Ruiz was only signed for $5 million, and he’ll probably be back, too. Michael Young made $16 million last season, but most of that was paid for by the Rangers, so it’s not like the Phillies are going to have a ton of money to spend should they re-sign all of their players. They’re also not losing any impact players, but their core just isn’t good enough any more to keep them afloat.
Look at that 2014 guaranteed money! $119 million on the books before arbitration and free agency! This team won 73 games last year, lost $37.5 million worth of payroll, and owes it’s team almost $120 million in guaranteed money alone! To make things even worse, it’s not like they have a bunch of money that’s coming off of the books. Only Rollins and Adams will see their contracts expire after next season. Lee, Utley, and Papelbon are owed a ton as well and expire after 2015, and Lee has a gigantic option year. This team’s a mess. It’s so much worse than I thought it was. It’s a total disaster. 73 wins!
The Phillies lineup looks pretty good until you realize Utley, Rollins, and Howard are all either 34 or 35 years old and Revere has to hit .300 in order to be a decent lead off hitter. Brown and Asche inject some youth on a team that is severely lacking it and have some upside to them. Brown managed to hit 27 home runs last year and became a verifiable asset for the first time since he was the top prospect in all of baseball in 2010. They have a manageable hole in right that they can fill with Mayberry and Ruf, and a need at catcher that may be filled by Ruiz.
The top of the Phillies’ rotation looks really good. The bottom looks awful. Gonzalez and Kendrick are fourth and fifth starters if Gonzalez continues to build on his workload from last season, and Ethan Martin wasn’t good enough to crack the Phillies’ top five prospects last year (he was sixth). The rotation is probably a starter away from being legitimate, but given the small amount they’ll pay for Gonzalez, it’s better than I thought. It’s just very, very top heavy. The bullpen is a mess, though. Papelbon is clearly their best reliever while Adams can be a legitimate set up man if he’s healthy and Bastardo struggled. His name literally means bastard, by the way. It’s his last name! How can that be a last name?!
Biddle dealt with some pretty serious command issues after walking over 5 batters per nine innings, but was young for Double A and posted a good strikeout rate. Franco looks like a legitimate impact player after reaching Double A as a 20-year-old. While he was there he posted a .339/.363/.563 line, so he could be on the fast track to the majors given the team’s hole at third. Morgan will be looking to have a bounce back year after pitching just over 70 innings with very bleh results in Triple A. If he gets it together, he could be the addition this rotation needs. Quinn struggled to make contact at Low A and Joseph only had 131 plate appearances in 2013, so both of them have some work to do. Crawford was drafted as a solid defensive shortstop with power (not a ton, but it’s there) and started off his professional career hitting .300. The hit tool is the big question with him, so his performance in that area will be something to keep an eye on.
It was harder to find a home for Cliff Lee than I thought it would be. He’s owed a lot of money, is an older player, and will probably require a nice haul of prospects to bring in. The Yankees aren’t a great fit for Lee, but it does make sense. They have the financial muscle to make this move and also should be willing to part with Ramirez and Campos. For the Phillies, they clear most, if not all, of the money owed to Lee and get some good upside prospects in return. Ramirez could impact their rotation within a year and Campos within about three. They would also hope Mason Williams regains his 2012 luster.
C Dioner Navarro – 1/$3 million
Navarro just finished a very nice season with the Cubs and hit a career high in home runs. He’s five years younger than Ruiz, and should be a better offensive player than him as well. He won’t require a ton of money to sign and should be easily re-signed the following year if they want him back. It may take a two year deal to get Navarro, but it shouldn’t be much for a team that has flexed its financial muscle lately.
I’m not saying the Phillies need to release everyone and start over, I just wonder how long it will be until this team is willing to let youth overtake it. When young players become the focus instead of the old ones, this team will start to move back on track to relevancy. Howard, Utley, and Rollins can still be on this team, but they need to see them as veterans that will influence the youth in the organization, not as cornerstones of the franchise that will lead them to the playoffs.
The Phillies will resign Halladay and Ruiz, and won’t trade Hamels or Lee.
Ruber Amaro’s track record is clear: he doesn’t take age into effect all that much, and he is willing to bring back his veteran players. They need to get younger, but I don’t see it happening under Amaro. Ok, ok, so let me give a second prediction then: Ryan Sandberg will be fired within three years. Why? Because Amaro is going to be fired sooner than later, and when a new GM comes in, they usually want a new manager that they hired. We see it happen all the time, and I expect no different in Philly.
Sum it Up with a GIF (from Philly Mag)
I almost picked a more meaningful GIF, but I just can’t justify making the Phillies’ gif anything but Jimmy Rollins giving the “suck it” sign to whoever it is who just hit a walk off home run. I’d imagine this mystery hitter must have been confused, wondering why Rollins was taunting him. Therapy must have been ordered and an apology later issued.
Unfortunately, the Phillies are a puzzling team. Their farm system has some impact in it, but how they get to the playoffs again is a mystery. They have so much money guaranteed over the next two seasons that it will be hard for them to do anything to make themselves relevant again.
I know I really pounded away on the direction of this franchise and how they need to move on from Lee, Hamels, Rollins, Howard, Utley, Ruiz, and Halladay, but that’s the biggest issue this organization has, and it’s not clear they’re going to make the right choice. They recently added Marlon Byrd to their team, a 36-year-old outfielder, which just continues to prove to me that this team is trying to win now and has learned nothing from their other contracts to older players. If Amaro trades Cliff Lee in the next few months, it will be a step in the right direction for a team that needs a serious reboot. I just don’t think that’s where Amaro is right now, so I fully expect Halladay and Ruiz to come back and make one last(?) half-hearted playoff push. If that’s where this team is headed, it’s not going to be pretty.