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May 17, 2012

The Process

Fixing the Phillies

by Bradley Ankrom

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As Ben Lindbergh noted in April, the Phillies have maintained one of baseball’s oldest rosters in recent years, and 2012 has proven to be more of the same. The only everyday players on the roster born in the 1980s are Freddy Galvis, Hunter Pence, and Shane Victorino, and Galvis wouldn’t be playing regularly if 33-year-old second baseman Chase Utley were healthy.

Percentage of Plate Appearances by Age Group

YEAR

<= 28

>= 29

2007

56%

44%

2008

26%

74%

2009

17%

83%

2010

7%

93%

2011

18%

82%

2012

18%

82%

Percentage of WARP by Age Group

YEAR

<= 28

>= 29

2007

74%

26%

2008

36%

64%

2009

25%

75%

2010

13%

87%

2011

22%

78%

2012

15%

85%

Phillies pitchers have maintained superior levels of performance as they’ve aged, but the same can’t be said about their hitters. First baseman Ryan Howard had the worst year of his career in 2011 and has missed all of this season recovering from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Knee troubles have sidelined second baseman Chase Utley for much of the last two seasons, and Jimmy Rollins, at age 33 and in the first season of his new three-year deal, has been below replacement level through his first 160 plate appearances.

Philadelphia has $104 million committed to six players next year, plus buyouts and options on four others that could bring the total commitment as high as $121 million, and that doesn’t include a fourth-year arbitration raise to right fielder Hunter Pence. Starting pitchers Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton, along with center fielder Shane Victorino, are scheduled to become free agents this fall. All three players have been instrumental in the Phillies’ decade of dominance, but there has been no reported movement in talks to bring any of them back to Philadelphia.

The Phillies now find themselves in the basement of the National League East, the only team in the division that has lost more games than it has won. Injuries and aging have neutralized Philadelphia’s once-potent offense, and this year’s Phillies are on pace to average fewer than four runs scored per game for the first time since 1991. Three of the four clubs ahead of them in the standings are younger and, arguably, more talented, which could spell the end of an era in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, their roster is built to win right now. The trouble is that the position players who have signed long-term contracts— and who will consume large chunks of future seasons’ payrolls—are in steep decline. Howard and Utley both experienced year-over-year drops in WARP in 2010 and 2011, and that trend isn’t likely to reverse itself as both players approach their mid-30s and return from significant injuries. Rollins’ skills were deteriorating rapidly before he rebounded in 2011, only to dip again this year.

Philadelphia’s market size (and commensurate revenue) enables the Phillies to sustain one of the league’s highest payrolls, and a new TV deal after 2015 will mean even more money coming into the team’s coffers. But with more than $100 million tied up in aging veterans, is it possible for the club to remain competitive in the near future? More importantly, is the current administration willing to sacrifice a year or two for the chance to be more competitive in 2014 and beyond?

In order to avoid a lengthy period of losing, the Phillies should strongly consider selling off their expiring assets now. However, it’s one thing to move impending free agents when you’re out of contention, and another to receive the right pieces in those deals. The Phillies’ farm system is heavily unbalanced, favoring pitchers, and the Phillies would be wise to target high-ceiling position players in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

The Phillies’ rotation, anchored by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Vance Worley, should continue to rank among the league’s best. Blanton’s vacated turn could be filled next season by top prospect Trevor May, who has made strides with his command and mechanics at Double-A this year. The offense is another story, however. Domonic Brown is the sole potential star currently playing in the upper levels of the Phillies’ farm system, and talent evaluators are hesitant to predict what his future will be as he struggles as a 24-year-old in Triple-A. Catcher Sebastian Valle has taken a step backward at the plate and, even at his best, projects as a solid-average big leaguer.

All three prominent Phillies in their walks years have intimate ties to the organization. Hamels was drafted and developed by the Phillies after they made the San Diego high schooler their first pick of the 2002 draft, capitalizing on other clubs’ hesitation due to Hamels’ health record. Philadelphia selected Victorino from the Dodgers in 2004’s Rule 5 draft, and he became a starter after one season. Blanton was acquired from Oakland in July 2008, and he contributed six wins, including two in the playoffs, en route to Philadelphia’s first championship since 1980.

Hamels and Zack Greinke are the cream of this year’s free agent starting pitcher crop, and both are expected to fetch deals in excess of $100 million. Philadelphia’s efforts to extend Hamels have failed, and it appears likely that the 28-year-old left-hander will test free agency for the first time in his career. Several clubs could see their playoff odds increase substantially with the addition of Hamels to their rotation, most notably the Red Sox and Yankees. The surprising success of Drew Smyly, coupled with Doug Fister’s impending return to the rotation, makes it unlikely that Detroit would be willing to ante up for Hamels, but they may be interested in acquiring Blanton as insurance.

San Francisco, always in search of offense, could be interested in Victorino as an upgrade over Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco in center field. The Red Sox have been without MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury since the start of April, and a timetable for his return hasn’t been established. Boston acquired Marlon Byrd from the Cubs to hold them over, but he’s struggled to perform above replacement level. With the American League East in tumult, Toronto may sense an opportunity to seize a playoff spot and look to replace the disappointing Colby Rasmus in center field.

Boston could offer a package for Hamels built around third baseman Will Middlebrooks or center fielder Jackie Bradley. Since taking over for an injured Kevin Youkilis, Middlebrooks has hit .300/.340/.640 as the Red Sox’ every day third baseman, but he could be headed back to Triple-A when Youkilis returns. Bradley has torn through the Carolina League in his full-season debut and could be ready for the major leagues by next summer.

The Yankees have less upper-level position player talent to offer, but Mason Williams and Gary Sanchez, currently playing in the Class-A South Atlantic League, could prove enticing. Third baseman/outfielder Brandon Laird won the Eastern League’s MVP award last year but has struggled to adjust to Triple-A pitching. At 24, he offers limited upside and is a stretch to stick at the hot corner.

During Dave Dombrowski’s reign in the Motor City, Detroit has not shied away from dealing blue-chip prospects in exchange for proven major-league talent. Pairing Hamels with Justin Verlander atop the Tigers’ rotation would fit with the organization’s “all-in” approach to the current era, but it’s more likely that they would pursue a depth piece like Blanton. Alex Avila has established himself as the club’s long-term solution behind the plate, but the Tigers have a pair of catching prospects in Rob Brantly and James McCann who could be on the cusp of the big leagues by the end of 2013. Brantly is currently hitting .347/.395/.534 at Double-A while McCann, last year’s top draft pick, has struggled with consistency at the plate for the Advanced Class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers. Nick Castellanos leads all of professional baseball with a .405 batting average and is the crown jewel of the Tigers’ farm system, but he wouldn’t be in the discussion for a Blanton deal.

The Blue Jays could be dark-horse contenders for Victorino’s services, though they can’t match what Boston has in terms of upper-minors positional talent. Colby Rasmus is currently patrolling center field in Toronto, but he’s been a massive disappointment (-1.2 WARP) since coming over from St. Louis at last year’s trading deadline. Behind Rasmus on the center field depth chart, the Blue Jays have an unrefined Anthony Gose figuring things out at Triple-A and Jake Marisnick settling in after a slow start at Advanced Class A. Toronto also possesses depth behind the plate, including second-year catcher J.P Arencibia in the major leagues, former Phillies prospect Travis d’Arnaud at Triple-A, and 22-year-old A.J. Jimenez at Double-A. Travis Snider, the American League equivalent of the Phillies’ Domonic Brown, has been exiled to Triple-A in favor of Eric Thames and could be worth a gamble.

None of the scenarios outlined above are obvious wins for Philadelphia, and the team may take its chances with the roster it has, with the hope that Halladay, Lee, and Hamels could lead it to a sixth-consecutive postseason appearance. The addition of a second wild card this year makes it less likely that Ruben Amaro & Co. will consider cashing in their chips before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, even if it means settling for the compensatory draft picks when Hamels, Victorino, and Blanton depart as free agents. However, deciding to sell sooner rather than later would put Amaro in a position to dictate the market before other potential free agents like B.J. Upton, Ryan Dempster, Brandon McCarthy, and Anibal Sanchez become available. 

49 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

eyleraaron

"Boston could offer a package for Hamels built around third baseman Will Middlebrooks or center fielder Jackie Bradley."

I'm hoping that if this scenario were presented, the Phillies would push for Bradley over Middlebrooks. If they can acquire Bradley, I'd imagine that would give them some better options getting rid of Victorino rather than Polanco [if they got Middlebrooks].

May 17, 2012 05:00 AM
rating: 0
 
ttt

Boston wouldn't do it - they're going to rebuild. I see no reason they would deal for a pitcher who is going to go wherever offers him the most money after the season.

May 17, 2012 07:28 AM
rating: 0
 
MichavdB

Boston won't be rebuilding. Their situation (as far as aging veterans is concerned) isn't nearly as dire at the Phillies'. They'll let Youkilis go this year and maybe Ellsbury if he becomes too expensive as a free agent and will have the cash to pursue whomever they please.

May 17, 2012 08:02 AM
rating: 1
 
jrbdmb

With Youk likely moving on after this year, I would expect the Red Sox to hang onto Middlebrooks. While I wouldn't call it "rebuilding" per se, this appears to be a good time for the Sox to transition to younger talent.

May 17, 2012 13:32 PM
rating: 2
 
DetroitDale

The Tigers have been struggling more with offense than pitching lately, so I expect they'd be more interested in Victorino than Hammels or Blanton, espectially now that Austin Jackson has pulled something and is day to day.

May 17, 2012 06:08 AM
rating: 0
 
phuturephillies

There is absolutely no chance the Phillies are sellers unless

1.) They suffer injuries to two of Halladay, Hamels, and Lee in the next 6 weeks
2.) They determine Utley and Howard have had setbacks and aren't coming back before August

Why is this?

A.) The Phillies have already sold more than 3M tickets this year, but walk-up attendance has not been as strong. If they sell early, they will start to lose the goodwill they have been building up over the last 5+ years. Ticket sales help fuel their massive payroll, which will be required to push this team on for the next two or three years while they transition from the current core to the next group of players

B.) Despite relatively poor seasons from Rollins (.232/.282/.291) and Pence (.248/.298/.488) they are at .500 in the toughest division in baseball.

They sit 4.5 games out of first place and its only May 17th. In years past, they've come back from bigger deficits. Yes, "the offense isn't what it was", certainly true, but their pitching is still absolutely elite. They've lost 5 games this season where they've had leads late in games and couldn't get the ball to Papelbon. However, Bastardo looks like he's regained his form, and they may have a Bastardo-like arm in Diekman. They still need a reliable 7th inning reliever who throws with his right arm.

On March 31 if you had said that Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay would be a combined 3-4 in 13 starts and the Phillies would be .500, most people would have taken that. There is simply no way the Phillies, with their payroll and older core of players, will be sellers unless the season absolutely falls apart. And considering all that has gone wrong so far, I'm not even sure how that is possible. All of the NL East teams have flaws. The Phillies know that at some point in the next 2 months they will get Howard and Utley back, and while Howard and Utley are not the players they were 3 years ago, both are still much better options now than Ty Wigginton and Freddy Galvis.

Its unlikely Cliff Lee will go winless for 2012, and he's pitched well. The back of the bullpen has been the worst in baseball, but Papelbon has certainly been one of the most effective closers in baseball. I think every sabermagician would agree that a bullpen is the easiest thing to fix in season. Last year, the Cardinals bullpen sucked to high heaven for the first 3 months of the season, but they found the right guys to plug in over the last 2 months, many of them youngsters and a few journeymen, and they turned in to a solid unit by the time the playoffs came around. The Phillies have a bunch of young arms to plug in, and if they need a veteran, they can get one for relative peanuts in July, as they did in 2008 when they picked up Scott Eyre.

Teams with $170M payrolls don't go in to sell mode. In 2008, the Yankees had the highest payroll in baseball and finished a disappointing 89-73, missing the playoffs. They were 28-27 at the end of May, and just 44-39 entering July. Instead of selling, they traded a bunch of young players away (including Jose Tabata) for the X Man and Damaso Marte. It didn't cripple the franchise, as they went on to win the World Series in 2009.

I think with the Phillies, its just a lot of hysterics right now because of how good the team has been the last 5 years. They are 19-19. The Yankees are 20-17 and in 3rd place in the AL East. They have an old, aging roster. Should they look at being sellers too? Tigers, everyone's preseason darling, are 18-19. Should they consider being sellers? Another preseason darling, the Diamondbacks, are 16-22 and 8.5 games behind the Dodgers. I'd like to see an article on how to fix their franchise.

Its become quite trendy to pile on the Phillies. Considering how much has gone wrong this season and where they've managed to get themselves, I think I'd hold off on the obituaries and "should they sell now" articles. They do need to try and get younger if possible, but its not going to happen by selling off their best players on the 25 man roster. Ruben Amaro has fleeced multiple GMs in the last few seasons, grabbing above average big leaguers for prospects that no one cared about 6 months prior. I wouldn't be surprised if he does it again in 2 months.

May 17, 2012 06:48 AM
rating: 5
 
Bradley Ankrom

This article is more about the future than the present. It can't be argued that the Phillies' next five years would be better if they held on to Hamels, Victorino, and Blanton.

May 17, 2012 06:58 AM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

**held on to them through 2012 and let them walk as free agents.

May 17, 2012 06:59 AM
rating: 0
 
phuturephillies

There have been no indications that Hamels is leaving. That is just a bunch of rumor mill stirring by the likes of Buster Olney, who desperately wants to see Hamels join the Dodgers. He has said he wants to stay. His agent is saying "7 years"...which is what a good agent should be saying. The only limit to the Phillies spending appears to be the luxury tax, and they've said in the past they have the money to keep their players. They can afford to keep Hamels.

Victorino, likewise, said he really wanted to stay in Philly. Then a few days later, presumably after his agent gave him a stern lecture, he said he wanted market rate. I wouldn't get worked up here.

Blanton? Well just a few months ago, everyone was talking about the Phillies trying to dump Blanton and pay half his salary so they could sign Oswalt. Now letting Blanton walk would be a step back for the franchise...

Again, I think a lot of this is just trying to fill time and space. This team isn't selling.

May 17, 2012 07:06 AM
rating: -3
 
Bradley Ankrom

Do you really want them to lock up Victorino for his >= age-32 seasons? Do you want them to sign Hamels for his ages-29-through-35 seasons? Long-term deals for pitchers RARELY (if ever) work out, and committing a bunch of money to a pitcher, albeit a good one, is foolish given the Phillies' current organizational strengths.

May 17, 2012 07:24 AM
rating: 0
 
phuturephillies

These questions are "yes/no" but its not that simple. Do I want them to lock up Victorino? It depends on what it will cost. What are the alternatives? I'm looking at potential 2013 FA centerfielders. Michael Bourn and Josh Hamilton are available, pending extensions signed now. Hamilton is a guy I'd love the Phillies to sign, but no one has any idea what kind of deal he'll get, and he is one of the riskiest players in baseball for a number of reasons. Angel Pagan, Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera don't really inspire me. So if Victorino is going to get 5 years and 60 million as a free agent, no, that wouldn't be ideal. But will Bourn be cheaper? The Phillies don't have a guy ready to take over, unless Tyson Gillies springs forward in his development in the next 2 months and compensates for the almost 2 full seasons he's missed in 2010 and 2011.

For a team with a $100M payroll, investing $60M in 3 pitchers probably isn't ideal. But for the Phillies, investing $60M per year in Halladay, Lee and Hamels isn't quite as outrageous. The Phillies payroll in 2013 will again be approximately $170M. If they don't pay Hamels, they are going to spend that money elsewhere. And looking at the list of potential free agents at positions of need (3B, CF, LF) I don't see who they would give that money to.

May 17, 2012 07:57 AM
rating: 4
 
Bradley Ankrom

That's why I advocated dealing for young, controllable offensive pieces. Philly could be the worst place for Hamilton, given his injury history. He needs to be in the AL where he can DH from time to time. Bourn is working on his fourth-consecutive excellent season, and I don't see him coming cheaply. Acquiring older talent via free agency is the opposite of what this team needs to do. They need to get younger. Signing free agents may increase their chances for 2013-14, but they'll be in an even deeper hole in 2015 and beyond.

May 17, 2012 08:04 AM
rating: 0
 
phuturephillies

"young, controllable pieces" also come with substantial risk. see Rasmus, Colby and Snider, Travis. At this time last year, every Phillies fan assumed Domonic Brown would be the Phillies starting LF in 2012. And now his stock has dropped even lower than it was a year ago.

All potential trades are just theoretical. Many teams have begun to hold on to their 0-2 players. Could the Phillies really get a difference maker for Victorino now or in July? I'm not sure that's possible.

May 17, 2012 08:18 AM
rating: -1
 
Bradley Ankrom

Agreed, but I think it would behoove them to get ahead of the market by listening to offers for Victorino before other teams decide to become sellers.

May 17, 2012 08:19 AM
rating: 0
 
ttt

I pray that the Phillies keep all of the players and then sign them to huge contracts. I would enjoy watching that.

May 17, 2012 07:29 AM
rating: 8
 
skarski10

I agree. I hope phuturephilliesis right and we see them stay old for a long time. The NL East is only getting better with young teams like the Nats and Braves continuing to mature and get better. The Phillies are getting only and declining with no help from their farm system (where they need it). I don't expect them to be sellers which is fine by me.

May 17, 2012 11:57 AM
rating: 1
 
One Flap Down

"Despite relatively poor seasons from Rollins (.232/.282/.291) and Pence (.248/.298/.488) they are at .500 in the toughest division in baseball."

Toughest division in baseball? The AL East and all 5 of their teams with a positive run differential say "hi".

"On March 31 if you had said that Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay would be a combined 3-4 in 13 starts and the Phillies would be .500, most people would have taken that."

The reason why Lee & Halladay are a combined 3-4 isn't because they've pitched terribly, it's because the Phillies don't score runs with this lineup.

"All of the NL East teams have flaws."

That they do, which is why it's not the toughest division in baseball.

Citing examples of how other teams turned it around has about a 0% relevancy to how things will go this year for the Phillies.

"Ruben Amaro has fleeced multiple GMs in the last few seasons, grabbing above average big leaguers for prospects that no one cared about 6 months prior."

Unfortunately for Amaro, Ed Wade is no longer the Astros' GM, so Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez aren't walking through that door in exchange for Anthony Hewitt and a bucket of balls.

May 17, 2012 08:13 AM
rating: 13
 
Josh Shepardson

Please elaborate on the deals in which Amaro fleeced other GMs with non-prospects. Just because certain prospects didn't fulfill their expectations, that doesn't mean they were non-prospects 6 months prior to being dealt. They gave up legitimate prospects to acquire Lee from the Indians, Doc from the Blue Jays, and Pence from the Astros. In fact, it's hard to argue that Amaro wasn't the one that got fleeced most recently when he sent Lee to Seattle for Aumont, Gillies and Ramirez.

To compare the situation of the Phillies to that of any of the other teams you mention is apples to oranges. While some of the contracts the Yankees have signed veterans to are significant overpays, those veterans aren't on the disabled list with serious injuries like Howard and Utley. That's not to mention that the Yankees are on their own financial level. Their payroll is $37 million more than the Phillies this year. Furthermore, their farm system is superior.

The Tigers are another poor comp. For starters, they play in a much more winnable division, and that isn't likely to change in the near future. If the season were to fall apart completely for them, they'd likely still go into 2013 as the favorite to win the division, the same can't be said for the Phillies.

The worst comparison you make is that of the Phillies to the Diamondbacks. The Snakes were a surprise division winner last season, they don't have any albatross contracts that they need to sneak out from underneath, and the farm system is loaded with high ceiling pitching prospects.

The questions being raised in this article about the Phillies and what is best for their future are reasonable.

May 18, 2012 00:23 AM
rating: 3
 
rcrary

I think phuturephillies is generally right on target in his remarks in this thread, but you're right to highlight the "fleeced other GMs" bit as overblown. Amaro has made a number of high profile deals, trading prospects for established veterans. The first Lee deal was excellent; the Halladay deal a decent trade, though possibly an overpay given Toronto's position; the second Lee deal was questionable; the Oswalt deal was ok; the Pence deal was probably a case where *he* got fleeced, in that its necessity was doubtful and he gave up so much for him. The question is less whether those guys all end up amounting to something or nothing, but that none of them are available for future desired trades.

May 18, 2012 11:12 AM
rating: 1
 
OonBoon

They need to blow up the entire roster: those guys you say plus Halladay and Lee.

May 17, 2012 07:34 AM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

Lee's making $25M/year through 2015 with a $27.5M vesting option for 2016. With offense down, I can't help to think of that contract as something akin to an adjustable-rate mortgage signed in 2003.

May 17, 2012 07:37 AM
rating: 0
 
philly

Really? At the end of the year you wouldn't want your team to sign an elite pitcher like Cliff Lee to a 3 yr/75M deal? You don't mention the conditions for the option to vest, but even if it's an easy vest and it's 4yrs/102M that's a perfectly fine market rate deal.

No, it's not a huge bargain and they wouldn't have any excess value to trade, but it's nowhere near an adjustable rate mortgage. That's really simplistic - expensive = bad thinking.

May 17, 2012 08:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

Going into his age-34 season and with lingering abdominal injuries? No thanks.

May 17, 2012 08:13 AM
rating: 0
 
philly

I bet you play in a dynasty fantasy league and have always had a great farm system and yet somehow the team never comes together. As someone posted above it's not like Colby Rasmus and Travis Snider types are without risk either. Or are we still lionizing Anthopolous for stealing Rasmus from Mozeliak who has nothing but his WS ring for comfort?

The sum total of an analyst's opinion can't be "younger and cheaper is better than older and expensive". Not only does it get old fast, it's too frequently wrong.

May 17, 2012 08:24 AM
rating: -2
 
Bradley Ankrom

I don't play in a dynasty fantasy league and I mentioned that Rasmus has been terrible for Toronto. Younger and cheaper is not always better than older and more expensive, but when you're dealing at the extremes, as Philadelphia is right now, it's a different story.

May 17, 2012 08:30 AM
rating: 0
 
russel58

As a Phillies fan, I appreciate the the thoughout responses by phuturephillies.

May 17, 2012 07:48 AM
rating: 1
 
antoine6

"Going into his age-34 season and with lingering abdominal injuries? No thanks."

I'm sorry, but any model or person that says "no thanks" to having Cliff Lee for the next three years is one that simply isn't concerned with winning right now.

That's fine--I'm sure the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros wouldn't take him, as they are long-term rebuilding. But the idea that any team close to contention wouldn't want Cliff Lee for the next 3 years, even at $75 million, is absurd and is either divorced from reality or reflects the fact that teams/owners are cheap and refuse to spend money to win.

May 17, 2012 08:23 AM
rating: 2
 
Bradley Ankrom

Given what the starting pitcher free agent market is scheduled to offer this winter, no, I wouldn't want my team to offer a 34-year-old Cliff Lee $75 million if they could get Anibal Sanchez for similar money and more years.

May 17, 2012 08:31 AM
rating: 0
 
phuturephillies

There are a number of issues I have with articles like this though.

1. Not all 30 MLB teams operate under the same set of expectations and parameters. There is a huge disparity in payroll from the top 3 teams (Phillies, Red Sox, Yankees) to the bottom teams. For a team like the Phillies, giving Cliff Lee a 5/120 deal made sense. They had the money to spend, and at the time the deal was given, they had no other major weaknesses to address. He gave them a formidable front 4 in 2011, and he gave them an elite ace type pitcher for 5 years, possibly 6. For a team like the Rays or Pirates, you'd have never advised them to sign a guy like Cliff Lee for those dollars. But the Rays and Pirates are completely different clubs. They operate in different markets, with different fanbases and different levels of revenue, both present and projected.

2. Baseball Prospectus, and other sabermetrically inclined sites, have become obsessed with dollars per win and other "efficiency" metrics. This makes sense on some levels. For a team with limited resources, squeezing as many wins out of as few dollars as possible is important. However, for teams that spend a ton of money, this is not as important. Its hard to find anyone who thought the Pujols contract would be a value win for the Angels. But the Angels weren't concerned if Pujols would be worth $150M or $200M or $250M in wins over the life of his contract. He was the best hitter available, he filled a hole on their team, and they were determined to keep up with the Rangers, who are establishing themselves as an AL powerhouse.

Teams generally spend what they feel they have to spend to prevent their rivals from gaining distance on them, and this often leads to them giving out contracts that seem overvalued or overpriced. This is a version of the winner's curse. The big spending teams all engage in this practice. The Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies (and now the Rangers, also the Angels, maybe the Dodgers again) are competing for the same set of players. The Red Sox obviously overpaid for Carl Crawford. But he was a player they targeted, and they knew he had a highly competitive offer from the Angels. The Phillies had to compete with the Yankees and Rangers for Cliff Lee. At the top end of the free agent market, there are no bargains. But the top teams are competing for the top talent. A lot of the analysis centered around "wins per dollar" just do not apply to huge spending teams.

3. Teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Angels and other huge spending teams don't need a "plan" to fix them. Teams with $170M payrolls don't usually endure "long stretches of losing", and the most likely "worst case scenario" for this Phillies team is 90-93 wins and a shot at a wildcard. Given how good the Phillies have been over the last 3 seasons, some fans might be disappointed with that, and it may be a "down" season. But they will spend to the max (whether that is the luxury tax ceiling or a higher number has yet to be determined) and they won't go about selling off their assets. There was talk that the Phillies would deal Jayson Werth 2 years ago at the deadline, when the team wasn't sure what they were doing. They traded FOR Oswalt, they kept Werth, and they made it to the LCS. Werth left, they collected a pick, they replaced him mid year the next year with Pence, and Werth signed one of the worst contracts in the game today. The Phillies have generally figured out who to keep and who to let go and haven't made many missteps.

The more interesting articles are how to fix crappy teams like the Astros, the Padres, or the Twins. Those are teams that do not have massive payrolls, they don't have huge revenue streams to exploit, and they are far more fatally flawed than the Phillies. The way to "fix" the Phillies is for their two best position players to get back on the field in the next 6 weeks, for their bullpen to settle down, and for them to assess what complimentary piece they can find in July to make the team better around the margins. The Phillies will win between 90 and 100 games this year. That might be good enough for the wildcard. This winter, they'll decide whether it is wise to give Hamels a 6 year deal, and whether they can find a better option to replace Victorino.

On opening day next year, the Phillies will again have a $170M payroll, they'll have new faces, and a lot of the old faces will still be there. And they'll still have one of the best rotations in the league, with or without Hamels, as Lee and Halladay are still 2 of the 15 best pitchers in all of baseball. Theres no need for Phillies fans to panic, and theres no need to find a "plan" to fix the Phillies. Work on a plan to fix the true bottom dwellers. Or a plan to help the Rays draw more than 11,000 fans per game.

May 17, 2012 09:32 AM
rating: 0
 
rcrary

very solid comments, many good points; my only objection would be that a "most likely 'worst case scenario'" for the Phillies is more in the 85-88 wins range, in a scramble for that second WC... after all, the Red Sox missed the playoffs the last two years, and your analysis applies to them, too.

May 17, 2012 10:04 AM
rating: 4
 
SaberTJ

Not to mention that the AL east is growing tougher as a whole. Their competition is becoming like the AL East.

May 17, 2012 12:16 PM
rating: 0
 
Nickus

'Teams with $170M payrolls don't usually endure "long stretches of losing"'

From what I can tell, only three franchises have ever topped this mark in the history of MLB - the Yankees since 2004, the Red Sox in 2010 and 2012, and the Phillies this year.

Now, change that statement to "teams in the top 5-6 in payroll don't usually endure 'long stretches of losing'" and see if Mets and to a lesser extent Cubs fans agree with you.

May 17, 2012 10:14 AM
rating: 10
 
SaberTJ

Please explain to me what hole Pujols filled on the Angels' roster? Trumbo and Morales wasn't good enough?

Also, you mentioned the Phillies have been good at knowing whom to keep? Are you ignoring Ryan Howard?

Howard is far from one of their two best position players, and there is no guarantee Utley will ever be the same. You are talking up their brand instead focusing on their expected performance.

There is no doubt that the Phillies income stream is tremendous and allows them to spend more than most teams in baseball. However, never does that mean they should operate their franchise inefficiently. They are still a business and should still try to operate like one.

There top three starters are amazing, but banking on them to carry their offense over the next few seasons is inherently risky due to the possibility of injuries and declining performance.

May 17, 2012 12:14 PM
rating: 6
 
bflaff1

Trumbo and Morales walked up to Pujols in spring training and recreated this bit from the Simpsons:

T&M: You're Albert Pujols!
Pujols: Yes.
T&M: You play first base.
Pujols: Yes.
T&M: We play first base too.
Pujols: So?
T&M: Well, are you better than us?
Pujols: Well, I've never met you, but... yes.

May 17, 2012 17:29 PM
rating: 2
 
skarski10
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I love all the butt hurt Phillies fans.

May 17, 2012 12:03 PM
rating: -5
 
rcrary

No one in this thread is acting butt hurt.

May 17, 2012 12:39 PM
rating: 3
 
smitty

No kidding. Jeezus skarski10 grow up.

May 17, 2012 13:45 PM
rating: 0
 
skarski10

Mr. Ankrom writes a good article expressing his opinion and how he thinks the Phillies build for the future soon to avoid a long drought period and you all get upset.

I personally believe that Phillies have proven that even if they don't go young they are willing to make the moves and/or FA signing to compete from year to year. They, like the Yankees, can remain older because they are willing to spend the money necessary to compete. I could see the Phillies moving Brown to get help this season before moving any of the players Ankrom mentioned.

May 17, 2012 21:05 PM
rating: 1
 
rcrary

expressing disagreement is not the same as "getting upset"

May 18, 2012 11:02 AM
rating: 3
 
smitty

Indeed.

May 19, 2012 12:42 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Kory
BP staff

Missed punctuation is all. Either the period should be

1) after "all" as in "I love all. The butt hurt Phillies fans."

or

2) after "hurt" as in "I love all the butt hurt. Phillies fans."

Thoughts?

May 17, 2012 13:49 PM
 
Brock Dahlke

I'm with you skarski, all i hear are philly fans not accepting that the NL east is running away from them for years to come

May 18, 2012 00:38 AM
rating: -2
 
bflaff1

With 75% of the season left, the highest payroll team in the NL is 4.5 games out. And the advice is punt the season?

phuturephillies makes a good contextual argument about why this is unnecessary, but even without the context, it's just way too premature to put this amount of effort into trying to think through what should happen if somehow the Phillies stayed in last place.

May 17, 2012 17:17 PM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

Again, the focus of this article is not necessarily 2012, but 2013 and beyond.

May 17, 2012 18:35 PM
rating: 0
 
bflaff1

I don't think you can dispute that the article is based on a presumption that this season is (already) a bust, and it's only going to get worse. A team that expects to compete deep into the postseason does not decide to give up in favor of a chance (not a certainty) that they'll be better in the long run, unless they no longer think they can win in the current year. The point I was making is that the Phillies are a long way off from needing to contemplate that. This team, with these starters, could feasibly play .600 ball between now and the ASG. Would you still want them to sell off assets and roll the dice on prospects? I get that selling now and setting the market has some value, but it's dwarfed by the gains that would accrue if the team hit its stride and was in position to go to the playoffs again. Giving up too soon would be a mistake far more damaging than not selling at the optimum time, and no GM could reasonably be expected to take that gamble at this point in the season.

May 17, 2012 19:13 PM
rating: 1
 
lionstar1964

Exactly this. Contrary to the article, the Phillies team as currently constructed has a far better chance of winning the WS this year than a team which sold off Hamels, Victorino and Blanton this summer would in 2013-2015 combined. That they are less than 5 games back given the loss of Howard and Utley for the season to date, and how poorly the bullpen has performed, means they have to think their playoff chances are still there.

And this is a team which would survive being the wildcard far better than most. If they have to use Halladay in the wildcard play-in, and he's only available for 1 game in the following best of 5, that just mean Lee and Hamels start games 1 and 2. Teams without such starting pitchign depth would be far more affected.

May 18, 2012 07:51 AM
rating: 0
 
phuturephillies

In lieu of going point by point for above comments, I will just address this.

Teams with massive payrolls normally do not have "rebuilding" plans, they have "reloading plans" and do it on the fly. You don't take a team with a $170M payroll and 3 of the 15 best pitchers in baseball and dismantle it in the middle of May. The Phillies will try to re-sign both Hamels and Victorino, and given the estimated $170M they will spend on 2013 payroll, I can outline for you how that is possible. I won't do it here because it will take too long, but they can afford to sign both of them. Whether they should or not is another question.

However, big market teams with big payrolls do not go through rebuilds. The Phillies aren't the Pirates. They aren't thinking about 2013. They are thinking about winning the World Series in 2012, and they will ponder the 2013 season in November. If the point of the article is "well, player X on the Phillies will be older in 2013 and might not be as good", then I just don't see the point.

The average baseball fan is much more cognizant of prospects now, and its tempting to say "the Phillies should trade Victorino for a young, controllable piece instead of losing him to free agency"...but the reality is, most prospects don't pan out, and most teams aren't going to trade their young, above average cost controlled players. I spent more than 5 years running a Phillies-centric prospect blog, but spent a lot of that time looking at the minors and the draft as a whole. I've reviewed lots of prospect lists and rankings over the last 10 years, and if you go back through the archives, you'll find lots of highly doubted prospects who never amounted to anything.

The Phillies are a better team in 2012 with Victorino in CF, especially since they have no ready-made replacement should they trade him. I think it is unrealistic to think that the Phillies could acquire a top 25-30 prospect (in all of baseball) from another team for even 4 months of Victorino, let alone 2 months of him, as the Phillies won't be selling until July 31, even if they do decide to go down that road.

There are options for the Phillies after 2012. Hamels has never said he wanted out of Philly, or that he was dying to play for the Dodgers or anyone else. In fact, hes said how much he likes Philadelphia and how he wants to stay. The Phillies know it will require a lot of money and years to keep him, and I suspect they know the exact number, which is why there haven't been any recent discussions. Why sit down and keep discussing the things you already know?

The 2012 Phillies, with Howard at 1B, Utley at 2B, three ace starting pitchers and an elite closer will be as dangerous as any NL team in the playoffs. The Cardinals proved last year you don't need to have the most talented roster 1-25 to win the World Series, you need a few good breaks, a few timely hits, and a good bullpen in October. The first 2 are maybe not controllable, the third is easily fixable. The Phillies aren't sellers, and they shouldn't be. And the Phillies aren't on the cusp of falling apart as a franchise, even if Hamels and Victorino both leave as free agents. That money will be re-invested, and they will remain competitive.

Lots of words and worrying over nothing, to be honest.

May 18, 2012 09:02 AM
rating: 3
 
phuturephillies

*touted, not doubted.

May 18, 2012 09:05 AM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

PHUTURE - Excellent points, sure, super-power teams such as the Yanks, Sox, Phils, Angels, Tigers--Rangers?-play by a different set of rules. The problem is that there are limited positions, and once a team commits $20 mil plus to a position the team is not inclined to make a change when a change is needed. Howard is in decline. Lee and Halladay are not ascendant. Look at the Yanks. They've got A Rod and Tex soaking up dollars and clogging up vital corner infield spots with their anemic bats.

Teams that spend $20 mil plus on multiple positions are more given to over-rate their own talent based on past success than are teams that can't afford to over-pay. Ironically this has become something of an equalizing force in MLB.

May 23, 2012 08:42 AM
rating: 1
 
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