Much has been made recently about the age of the Phillies free agent acquisitions. But a close look at salary commitments and unmoveable contracts may give reason to believe the team is actually rebuilding by getting older.
Humor me for a minute. Most of this is rambling thoughts attempting to be coherent analysis.
It's extremely easy to get frustrated with Ruben Amaro and the Phillies right now. A few weeks into free agency we've seen two deals a year longer and a few bucks more than we'd like for two players over the age of 35. Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers got out from under Prince Fielders contract, Few if any of the big name free agents out there are linked to the Phillies, and it looks like the starting line up might already be set.
But the frustration for most fans doesn't lie in anything other than the reality that they want this team to compete, they want them to win, and they want to feel like they did going into 2011.
You can scream from the rooftops all day long that if they're not going to win, you want them to rebuild and get younger but in reality, how can they do that?
Seriously. Someone lay that scenario out for me. Because I don't see it. And I don't see it for the following reasons:
- The team has approximately $70,000,000 committed to Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, and Mike Adams. Utley and Rollins both have 10/5 rights, Rollins won't accept a trade, and Utley just signed an extension. Ryan Howard is unmovable without eating so much money that moving him would be counterproductive, Papelbon is overpaid, regressing and likely has very little trade value right now due to a dearth of closers on the open market. Mike Adams might not pitch again this season.
- The two high paid players on the roster that DO have some value (Hamels and Lee) also have some trade protection, and would need to command a kings ransom via trade and you still have to replace both of them in the rotation.
- The rest of the trade-able assets, Dom Brown, Ben Revere, Cody Asche, Darin Ruf, etc.. on the expected 25 man roster are all the kinds of young controllable talent you rebuild around, not the kind you trade away.
So take that information, and also realize that with the exception of Mikael Franco, who plays a position that just so happens to be occupied by Cody Asche, another young player, and maybe Jesse Biddle
and Adam Morgan
, the majority of the players in the system who could replace these players aren't ready for a few years.
Who do you rebuild with?
Think about it. You see a team that really has little to offer in terms of trade-able talent, a bunch of salaries that come off the books between 2015 and 2017, and a free agent market where the top end talent is looking for $100,000,000 commitments over 6-7 years. and to go out and buy the guys you really need to buy to guarantee yourself anything in this market, you need to buy guys who'll be 36-40 at the end of their deals in 5-7 years, and commit between 15-25mm per year to each of them, and you need three of those guys minimum between an OF, at least one starting pitcher, and a catcher.
So not only do you have to bump payroll close to $200,000,000 you also have to commit an additional $40,000,000 to $70,000,000 past 2016.
Hmm... Well, maybe we should just lower payroll trade some guys and get younger now.
Aside from Cliff Lee
, who can you trade to get younger?
Even if you move him, you still have to rely on Utley and Howard, and Rollins at least through this season, if not through 2015. And that's the key, It all comes back to them. You're committed to pay them all.
And we need to fill the seats.
So how do you rebuild and still try to compete in a market where the dollars are soaring and the years are flowing like wine?
You find the guys who will commit for three years or less. Guys like Marlon Byrd. Guys who may be able to strike lightning in a bottle. Guys who if you're out of it in June but are still producing you get something for at the deadline. And if you are lucky enough to be in it, You hope that maybe Shane Watson develops over the first half and soars up the boards, you hope that Asche produces and Franco tears it up and one of them is trade-able. You pray that Tommy Joseph
can stick at catcher and rebuilds his value, or Cameron Rupp
exceeds expectations, and Andrew Knapp recovers from Tommy John and gives you enough hope that he can be the guy in a few years, and you put together a strong package to buy yourself a young cost controllable regular player from your area of strength.
And you hope that the core gives you enough to be in it at the deadline. And if they do, you shore up your weaknesses with the money you didn't spend on Shin Soo Choo or Ervin Santana
it's not a perfect plan, but it looks like its the one they're gonna use.
Whether you realize it or not, the common theme for the past two off-seasons has not been age its been commitment. It's been the unwillingness to trade marquee talent or high ceiling prospects. It's been the unwillingness to give up a draft pick, for a 31 year old outfielder in decline, or to commit large sums of money to players who are more likely to bust than boom (see BJ Upton).
When it comes to free agents, you have four brackets.
- Younger high end players, or high end players between 29-33 years old who command high dollars and longer deals
- Players coming off injuries or down seasons, looking for one year deals to reestablish value
- Older players who have had good seasons, who are willing to take shorter deals.
- Mid tier free agents who make market value.
The Phillies are shopping in the last three categories and so far they've paid a premium for both Byrd and Ruiz.
But who cares?
Here me out on this. Who cares if they went an extra year for Ruiz or Byrd, or gave them an extra few bucks if the plan is really to try and catch lightning in a bottle for the next two years while the dead money is still on the books?
Here's a question for you, and it's a serious one.
If your choices are:
Sign Elsbury or Choo or trade for Kemp and watch the Phillies miss the playoffs by a game or two the next two years while everything falls right for them, then be saddled with their contracts right as they get rid of the other deals
Sign Byrd for two years and hope they can compete, see him traded or fizzle out and the Phillies miss the postseason in 14 and 15 by a boatload of games, end up with higher draft picks, and have the money and payroll free to trade for Mike Trout
in 2016 when he becomes too expensive for the Angels
, or Giancarlo Stanton
Maybe they get lucky and draft THEIR OWN Giancarlo Stanton or Mike Trout between now and then, and watch the farm system blossom again? Think about this guys. last year this time Biddle was the only top 100 prospect in the organization. In a few weeks, you're likely to see Biddle and Franco in the top 50 and Crawford crack the top 100....
The reality is the only way for this team to REALLY get younger, is to continue to get older first.
But last time I checked, the season hadn't started yet. Stranger things have happened. Hell, Ruben might be doing all this to save money to trade for David Price
, or he might still be thinking about reeling in a big fish, or perhaps he just hasn't convinced Monty to open the checkbook yet. Maybe they're waiting for the meetings to pounce.
If I was a betting man, though, I'd bet that this is pretty close to what they're thinking in terms of a long term strategy. (If they even have one). And it's a strategy I believe is coming from ownership.
Ruben sounds defeated already, he doesn't have that fire in his eyes at the press conferences, and he's increasingly reminding me of what I like to call a lame duck boss. A guy who's taking orders, working within set parameters.
When I was a kid, My parents ran into some rough times for a few years. I was used to always asking for the hot new toy for Christmas, and getting it. The year I stopped believing, was the year I asked for a new video game system (intellivision maybe?) and I got this second hand coleco gaming system or something and my old man kept trying to tell me how great it was. But I knew. Times were different.
We're getting older. But in a way, we're getting younger too. We might not like it, but it's looking like this is the reality of the next few years.
A few years later, things were better at Christmas, Money was better, but my father also always was smarter about how he spent his money.
I'm convinced that's whats happening now. Ownership is gun-shy. They got talked into, or talked themselves into carefree spending before and they're being careful, maybe too careful, now. They're overextended, and until they pay off some of these bills, they're jut not gonna keep opening up new lines of credit.
Let me be clear here before I go. I'm not advocating this approach here, If I was running this team, I'd be spending on the big guys, and I'd be running payroll up over the luxury tax. I think I've written enough on that subject for people to know that. I believe that there's a new market inefficiency happening where a Shin Soo Choo is trade-able in two years.
But I'm a gambler, I always have been. I'm aggressive, and I want to win at all costs. I've been that way my whole life. The one thing my personal philosophy doesn't want to concede is that even if you spend that money, you still have a limited amount of places on the field to spend it. You still HAVE TO COUNT ON THE CORE TO PRODUCE.
I'm not sure any of us have the right to fault ownership for not gambling $50,000,000 more on Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley in 2014 and 2015. If it was your money, would you?
The lack of spending is telling in that regard. They obviously don't want to commit huge dollars to add to an aging core, and by not doing it, they literally have no choice but to commit to more age to have a shot.
The sins of the fathers I guess.
I might be wrong.