Ruben Amaro's recent trades and other roster moves still leave the Phillies about $20 million short of the luxury tax threshold for 2013. And there's still a big, difference-making bat still on the market.
Even though the 2012 season humbled the Phillies a good bit, they're still one of baseball's biggest spending franchises, and it's extremely unlikely to change anytime soon. They simply have too much invested in this current core of players.
The Phillies two biggest moves of the offseason -- trading pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May for Twins outfielder Ben Revere, and sending Josh Lindblom and Lisalverto Bonilla to the Rangers for Michael Young and a bunch of cash -- were not the "big splash" moves that we've all grown accustomed to seeing from General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. Rather than cashing in big on free agents like Michael Bourn or Kevin Youkilis to fill needs, Amaro took more creative, cost-effective approaches. The question is: why?
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement imposes onerous penalties who exceed the luxury tax threshold in consecutive seasons. That threshold increases from $178 million in 2013 to $189 million in 2014. That's quite a bit, and for a team that could potentially have Chase Utley (sob) and Roy Halladay (sniffle) coming off the books after 2013, that's a lot of money to work with.
When the Phillies completed the Michael Young trade, more was made of Young's leadership qualities than about his actual production, which is understandable at this point in his career. As fans on the outside, we are really never privy to the state of the locker room, so I really defer judgment there.
Is there another reason to bring Michael Young, specifically, into the fold?
Josh Hamilton is one of the more unusual free agents in baseball history. A tremendously productive hitter with a personal history that could make you lightheaded. But this current Phillies team isn't a bunch of young, hard-charging party bros; rather, the veteran core is composed mostly of older, married family men. In Dickie Noles, the Phillies have one of baseball's best substance abuse specialists already on staff.
The Phillies have two big needs that they really want to fill this season: Another outfielder, and back-end bullpen help. While I think the bullpen thing is slightly overblown, it's going to happen, and the team is going to expend resources and or cash to make that happen (Mike Adams, perhaps?). If the Phillies are willing to take a one-year luxury tax hit, knowing that they won't be so exposed in 2014, a run for Hamilton to play left field just might make sense.
It pays to be prudent and to wait it out, and not to get tied into another very long, expensive contract for a guy with a significant injury history on the wrong side of 30. And Zack Greinke's decision to sign with the Dodgers probably makes the Rangers favorites to re-sign Hamilton. But if the Phillies really are committed to "winning now," Hamilton is the guy.