[Note by FuquaManuel, 01/03/12 2:00 PM EST: Interesting read. Frontpaged.]
As we approach the end of the free agent period (apologies to Ryan Madson and Prince Fielder), it seems like a good time to take a glance at the Phillies' future contract obligations. We all know that a few of the bigger contracts are guaranteed, but how much room do the Phillies really have for the 2013 and 2014 season?
In the chart below, I’ve placed all the guaranteed contracts for the 2013 season, and thrown in a few of the guys that are relatively certain to be on the team.
On the offensive side, Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Nix are guaranteed, and Ruiz is almost certain to have his 5MM team option picked up. Polanco has a mutual option at 5.5M and a buyout of 1MM, which seems like good value but is a bit less certain at this point. If he is bought out, there will be little available help on the FA market, except for Kevin Youkilis (no no no no no no) and David Wright. Honestly, 3B is so thin right now that picking up the option for 4.5MM more seems like the best option by far, unless Polanco gets injured.
The outfield situation is far less certain, however. At least three out of group of Mayberry, Brown, Pence, and Victorino will be manning the outfield for the Phillies in 2013. It could possibly be all four if Pence and Victorino are extended, especially if Mayberry doesn’t match his 2011 performance or Brown fails to improve significantly, and in that case Brown and Mayberry could platoon in LF. Still, it’s highly variable at this point and either of Victorino or Pence could be gone in 2013. As such, I think slotting about 15MM for the 2013 for either a Victorino or Pence extension seems fair.
As for pitching, the Phillies will need two more starters for 2013, as Blanton will be gone and Kendrick will almost certainly be too expensive. A Hamels extension seems like the best route, and 20MM for 2013 is what I would expect. If Hamels isn’t extended, which really seems like an obvious choice here, then other options include grabbing Ervin Santana or Zack Greinke. Santana has a $13MM team option, but with the trio of Haren, Wilson, and Weaver, it’s possible that he’ll be let go. Greinke remains a solid option, but he’ll be fairly expensive as well. Regardless, between Hamels or one of the top free agents, the Phillies will invest around 15-20MM in 2013 on a SP. For the 5th starter, the possibilities are either to look to the minor leagues with either of Austin Hyatt or J.C. Ramirez or to sign a mediocre FA to a 1-yr deal. Signing a longer deal than that seems unwise, given that by 2014 the Clearwater trio will be age appropriate to advance to the majors. Regardless, the fifth starter will be paid either league minimum or a couple million at most.
Finally, the pen looks relatively set and will require some tough decisions. Papelbon and Bastardo will be the 8th/9th inning guys. Beyond that, the Pig Pen will likely hold down the middle relief. Aumont and De Fratus are pretty much guaranteed. Then between Stutes, Herndon, and Schwimer, there's room for two. Herndon won’t be at the league minimum, but Schwimer is less likely to stick than either of the others, so he may be a trade piece. If the Phillies forego a 2nd LOOGY, then Schwimer could stick around, but a 7-man pen with 6 righties seems excessive, especially with this rotation.
Other than that, it’s likely that Ty Wigginton and Jose Contreras will be bought out of their contracts for $500,000 each. The pen will be too full for the Big Truck, if he’s even healthy, and Wigginton at 4MM seems excessive.
Overall, the Phillies have about 123MM set in stone for the 2013 season, as long as Polanco returns. Slotting in another outfielder and starting pitcher will take anywhere from 25-35MM. Assuming another 4-5MM to fill in the bench and fifth starter position, this leaves the Phillies between 150-160MM total. With the luxury cap extending to 189MM in 2013, this leaves the team will a lot of room. Due to the new CBA, there’s little freedom to spend in the draft. International signings are an option, but investing in 16-year olds is always a risk. To me, the Phillies would be best suited to extend a few players and front-load their contracts for the 2013 season. They have the freedom to resign both Pence and Victorino. If they choose to let Polanco go, they’ll be able to pay for any of the FA 3B they want. Otherwise, the Phillies could position themselves to pay extra to a few players in 2013 to have more freedom later on. Utley could be extended and have his contract pay him say, 20MM in 2013 and then 13MM for 2014-2015. A similar approach could be done for Halladay, but his contract runs through 2014 and is less urgent. Regardless of what they choose to do, they’ll have money to spare in 2013.
Next up are the 2014 season contract obligations.
The offense is very much in flux for the 2014 season. Only first base and shortstop are guaranteed on the infield, and only Brown and Mayberry remain in the outfield. Third base is a complete unknown at this point. The Phillies 2011 draft class was infield heavy, and if Harold Martinez, Mitchell Walding or Tyler Greene set the world on fire at third base they could slot in here. Far more likely is a free agent, either one grabbed in 2013 to replace Polanco or a 2014 free agent. Of the 2014 group, Ryan Zimmerman looks like the biggest star by far, but the Nationals will certainly try to keep him and may lock him up before he reaches the market. The Phillies may just be forced to sign a mediocre player to a short deal if no good option reaches the market. Given this, it may honestly be wise to overspend on any of the 2013 FA class at 3B, as it looks like third base will remain thin for a few years.
For second base, Utley seems like an obvious extension candidate, health allowing. As with third base, the 2011 draft class is unlikely to be ready at this point. Guys like Harold Garcia may be around, but the drop down from Utley to a mediocre second baseman is too steep to be worth it. Ian Kinsler will be available for the 2014 season, but will be 31. Several other second basemen could conceivably be on the market, such as Ben Zobrist (really unlikely), Brandon Phillips, or Howie Kendrick. However, none of these options are guaranteed to be available, and if not, Utley is the best option.
At catcher, Carlos Ruiz will be 35 and could sign for a couple more years at 5-6MM. Sebastian Valle might be ready at this point, in which case Ruiz would likely be retained for a year at most. Other positions will require a good deal of money to fill, so keeping a cheaper option at catcher is preferable, and a combination of Ruiz and Valle fits the bill.
As for the outfield, it depends on the Phillies actions in the 2013 season. If both Victorino and Pence are back, the outfield will be set. If not, Jacoby Ellsbury will be the best free agent available. He’ll be 30, and had a career year in 2011, so he’s a good, but not exceptional option. With this in mind, it seems like the Phillies would be best off extending both Victorino and Pence until 2016 or so at around 14MM a year each. Both will be good bets to play at a high level, and if both Brown and Mayberry play well then one of them could be a trade piece or all four could play about 120 games each to keep the group well-rested and healthy. If either Brown or Mayberry falter, then they’d slot in as a 4th OF.
Looking at pitching, it bears a lot of similarities to the 2013 situation. Lee, Halladay, and Worley are all locks (Halladay has a team option at 20MM). Hamels or a 2013 FA slots in as the 3rd starter for 15-20MM. As for the 5th starter, by this point any of Trevor May, Brody Colvin, or Julio Rodriguez could be ready to start. In the worst case scenario, none of the three pans out and then a lower-end FA will be slotted in for cheap.
The bullpen will be nearly identical to the 2013 edition. Papelbon and Bastardo will return, and some combination of De Fratus, Aumont, Stutes, Herndon, and Schwimer will cover middle relief. By this point, another relief prospect may be ready as well, and would replace one of the more expensive players like Herndon, who would be on his 2nd arbitration. Another LOOGY would be preferable, and could come from the minors as well.
Overall, the 2014 Phillies team is locked in for 108MM. Resolving the OF will cost about 25-30MM, second base will take another 15MM, catcher another 6MM, and a starting pitcher will slot in at 15-20MM. Overall, this leaves the Phillies approaching 180MM with around 10MM to fill in the bench and fifth starter slots if minor league options aren’t available. This is definitely precarious, especially with several positions filled with players in their mid-30’s. Between Utley, Howard, Ruiz, Victorino, and Rollins, injuries will be a near-certainty. It’ll take some good development by the 2011 draft class to fill in the gap cheaply and be able to step in if injuries take out several players.
Given the disparity between the financial freedom of the 2013 Phillies and the 2014 Phillies, the best option for this team going forward is to extend players like Utley, Victorino, Pence and frontload their contracts, or to sign 2013 FA’s and do the same. Third base is certainly a question going forward, and by 2014 it will have to be a free agent or a prospect. The Phillies won’t be in danger of hitting the luxury cap and as long as they don’t shoot themselves in the foot and massively overpay a player, they’ll be able to field very good teams in both 2013 and 2014.
Here are my final projected rosters with what I think are the best overall options.
Total Budget around $182,000,000
Total Budget around $184,000,000