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The 2012 Phillies: What Is To Be Done?

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The Phillies would be well-served by approaching the offseason with the same calmness reflected here in LeSean McCoy's placid demeanor.
The Phillies would be well-served by approaching the offseason with the same calmness reflected here in LeSean McCoy's placid demeanor.

So yeah, last week sucked. But it's in the past. On that topic, I have nothing to add to David S. Cohen's and FuquaManuel's fine work from the past few days. Once you're done reading that, it's time to move on.

Let's take a look at what the Phillies ought to do this offseason. Here are the facts on the ground.

Almost definitely returning next year:
- $113 in payroll obligations (Halladay, Howard, Utley, Lee, Blanton, Vic, Polanco, Ruiz, Contreras)
- Plus two arbitration-eligible players who will definitely return (Hamels, Pence)
- Plus minimum salary guys (Mayberry, Brown, Worley, Bastardo, Stutes, Herndon, several other relievers)

If the payroll level stays constant, the Phillies will have about $20 million more to spend. Obviously, if the payroll grows, then they will have more than $20 million.

The only position they will definitely need to fill is shortstop. But they may or may not also want to add guys at:
- 1B? (unless they're comfortable with Mayberry filling in until Howard returns)
- 3B? (unless they're comfortable staying with Polanco plus perhaps a cheap backup)
- LF? (unless they're comfortable with Brown and Mayberry covering the position)
- SP? (they have five guys under contract, but do they need a sixth?)
- RP? (there is no established "closer" currently under contract)

Finally, several important players will be at their peak or older next season. Their ages on 6/30/2012 will be:
- 36: Polanco
- 35: Halladay
- 33: Lee, Ruiz, Utley
- 32: Howard
- 31: Blanton, Victorino
- 29: Pence
- 28: Hamels

Taking those facts into account, I think the broad outlines of what the Phillies ought to do this offseason are pretty clear. Three points after the jump.

1. Don't overreact to what just happened.
Again, read David's and FM's articles. There was nothing "wrong" with the 2011 Phillies. Yes, they had flaws, but guess what: whichever team ends up winning the 2011 World Series will have even bigger flaws. Comparatively speaking (which is the only thing matters in sports), this team had everything it needed to win it all. They didn't win it all, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have.

Now I'm not saying the Phillies shouldn't get better if they can. But generally speaking, the only transactions that systematically "improve" an organization are drafting and signing amateurs. Most other transactions just involve rearranging assets. That is to say, most trades aren't ripoffs. If you're getting something in a trade, then you're probably giving up something else of roughly equal value. Likewise, if you're signing a free agent, then you're expending resources that would otherwise be allocated somewhere else. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If the Phillies are improving their 2012 squad, that means they're probably weakening some future squad.

It might make sense to do that if the Phillies had some gaping hole in 2012 that absolutely needed to be fixed for them to win. But they don't. This team may not be perfect, but there's no such thing as perfection, and straining for present-day perfection at the cost of the future would be an unwise allocation of resources. The Phillies' baseline assumption this offseason should be to stand pat. Improve at the margins, be open to deals if you get blown away, but otherwise, do nothing at all.

2. Don't get older.
This is a corollary to Point 1. The Phillies aren't young anymore. They shouldn't be looking to exacerbate that problem any more than they have to.

This doesn't mean they're likely to drop off a cliff anytime soon. Most of their starters are a little past their peaks, but aside from Polanco and perhaps Halladay (who is kind of special, if you hadn't noticed), none of them are old either. We can expect most of the current starters to get a little worse next year, and if they stand pat they probably shouldn't be projected to win 102 games again in 2012. But they should still be projected to remain a very good team.

It's in 2013 and 2014 that the problems are going to start bubbling to the surface. Will Halladay still be worth $20 million at age 37? Will Cliff Lee still be worth $25 million at age 35? I'm not even going to mention Ryan Howard.

What's even worse is that even if those guys are still worth their salaries in 2014, that won't be enough to keep this team in contention. Unless your budget is as big as the Yankees' (and the Phillies' budget isn't), you cannot pay full market value for all your key players and still hope to contend. You need significant sub-market contributions. In 2011, the Phillies got those sub-market contributions from Hamels ($9.5), Rollins ($8.5), Halladay ($20), Lee ($11), Ruiz ($2.75), Victorino ($7.5), and a few others. Who are they going to get those contributions from in 2014?

There are exactly two guys who played for the Phils in 2011 and have a chance to be quality sub-market under-30 starters in 2014: Domonic Brown and Vance Worley. There are exactly zero blue chip prospects in the farm system who played above the A-ball level in 2011. That's a very dangerous situation, and bringing in players through trades or free agency is unlikely to help matters (every once in a while, you might find a Jayson Werth, but it's rare). As it stands now, the Phils need to hope they get lucky with their player development efforts in order to avoid descending into mediocrity. Maybe some of their non-blue-chip upper-level prospects (Cloyd, Galvis, Gillies, Hyatt, Ramirez) will turn out better than expected, or maybe some of their more talented A-ball prospects (May, Biddle, etc.) will advance faster than expected. It's not impossible. But if you're going to rely on longshots, then you need to play as many shots as you can. The more of these guys you trade away, the more likely it will become that this team will not be good enough to contend circa 2014, big budget or no big budget.

Maybe that would be a price worth paying if was absolutely necessary for the Phils to win in 2012. But it isn't. The Phillies are already perfectly capable of winning in 2012. We've already doubled and tripled down on trading away prospects for present-day gain. The only thing that quadrupling down will accomplish is sabotaging any chance of being good in the future.

3. Re-sign Jimmy Rollins.
The one place where the Phillies should be willing to throw around some money and bring in an old guy this offseason is at shortstop. And the obvious solution is the guy they've had for the last eleven seasons. Here's why.

First, somebody has to play shortstop in 2012.

Second, there are no good sub-market options available. I was very happy to see Freddy Galvis' success this season, but there just isn't enough data yet to throw our eggs into that basket. All prospects are risks, of course, but some have a good enough risk/reward profile to merit taking a leap of faith with them - Domonic Brown is a good example of this. But Galvis does not have that kind of profile. He isn't a blue-chip prospect. The probability of him turning into an all-star is very low. He has a much greater likelihood of going bust than someone like Brown does. It's okay for the Phillies to have high hopes for him, but they cannot count on him.

Third, there are no good shortstops who are likely to be available in trades.

So this means that the Phillies need to pay a full-market-price free-agent salary to fill the position - they really have no choice in the matter. The only question is: which full-market-price free agent should they go after? Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, or Yuniesky Betancourt?

Obviously, it depends on what the market turns out to be for each guy. But let's assume we're dealing with an efficient market. In that case, Rollins makes the most sense. Reyes is a better player than Rollins, but he'll also cost more. Signing him would probably put the Phils over budget, which could have a negative impact on their negotiations with Ryan Madson and Cole Hamels. Betancourt, meanwhile, just plain sucks. In an efficient market, he'd probably make about $3 million per year for not much more production than you could get just by going to arbitration with Wilson Freaking Valdez. Rollins is the only guy in the budgetary "sweet spot": good enough to be worth a market-price contract, but not so expensive as to hurt other budgetary priorities for 2012.

This article is already too long and I'm not going to go into a whole analysis of what an efficient market-price contract for Rollins would be. But keep this in mind. According to Fangraphs, Rollins has never been overpaid in his entire career. Even in his awful 2009 season, he was worth $5.8 million more to the team than he was paid. Even when he missed 45% of the 2010 season, he was worth $2.5 million more to the team than he was paid. And even if he repeats his career-worst 2009 performance level and misses 20% of the games throughout the life of his next contract, he'll still be worth about $11.2 million per season, and that's without factoring in inflation. It will be possible to overpay Rollins in his next contract, but it will be almost impossible to overpay him by a lot. Even if he gets everything he wants, he'll probably be only slightly overpaid at worst.

And Jimmy won't get everything he wants anyway. People should not get overly worked up about Jimmy's opening demands. Jimmy isn't stupid. He knows how negotiations work. You don't ask for your bottom line when you make an opening offer. The only way the two sides won't be able to come to an agreement is if Ruben is an idiot, and that's all there is to it.