Whatever negative things you want to say about the Phillies right now, there is one group of folks who deserve some praise, a group that has been historically maligned in this town, for good reason.
Whatever you think of the team's roster construction and personnel decisions, one thing you can't say anymore about the Phillies is that they are cheap.
AP figures have Phillies opening 2014 with MLB's third-highest payroll at $180 millon. (It's more when calculated for luxury tax.)— Matt Gelb (@magelb) March 26, 2014
For better or worse, the Phillies are spending money. Only the Dodgers and Yankees have spent more money on their ballclub in 2014. Of course, how the money is used is as important as the amount being spent, but that's the concern of the general manager and members of the front office.
In most cases, it is the job of the owners to allocate the resources that Ruben Amaro and Co. ask for, within reason. Very few people objected to ownership balking at the idea of giving Jacoby Ellsbury a monster contract this off-season, given the money already being spent on high-priced veterans and the general direction of the team.
When fans talk about ownership being "cheap," what intelligent fans are referring to is the refusal to spend money that is well in hand, when that money could make the difference between winning and losing.
In 1994, Phillies general partner Bill Giles referred to the team as "small market," infuriating the fan base of a team that, at the time, played in the largest market in the country that supported just one baseball team.
One of the main reasons Scott Rolen talked his way out of town in 2002 was because he wanted a clause in his contract that stipulated the team maintain a certain payroll (which the team was right to refuse, by the way) based on league numbers. When the trade finally came that July, after Rolen had turned down a 10-year, $140 million deal, the Phillies had the seventh-lowest payroll in baseball.
They were a winning team, close to being a true playoff contender, but ownership refused to spend the money necessary to acquire players that could help put them over the top. And it helped doom them to numerous near misses during the first part of the 2000s.
Certainly, playing in Veterans Stadium hamstrung the ownership and was the main reason payroll ranked near the bottom of the league. But one would think there was enough cash on hand to aggressively go after the occasional higher-priced talent to help out a young, winning team that was just a couple pieces away from being a true playoff contender.
That is the definition of being cheap.
However, the construction of Citizens Bank Park flipped a switch for this ownership group. They allowed Ed Wade to sign Jim Thome to a six-year, $85 million deal and the Phillies have been solid and prolific spenders ever since. In fact, the Phils currently have the only two players in baseball making $25 million or more this year (Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee), and a third making at least $20 million (Cole Hamels at $23.5 million).
Can you imagine this team employing so many players at that kind of salary before CBP opened?
During the off-season, with the Phillies coming off a 73-89 season and heading in the wrong direction, the ownership group was still committed enough to make a late addition, signing starting pitcher A.J. Burnett to a two-year, $22.5 million deal that will pay him $11.25 million this year and next.
That scenario would have been unimaginable 15 years ago.
The Phillies have gone out of their way in recent years to acquire big-time talent at sky-high prices. Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay were both big-ticket items, and they have paid top dollar to re-sign their own as well, giving lucrative deals to Hamels, Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley.
The wisdom of some of those contracts is certainly an issue. What is not an issue, however, is that when asked, Phillies ownership has ponied up the dough.
Phillies owners are spending $180 million to field an Opening Day roster that is more likely to finish near the bottom of the division than the top. If ever there was a time they would penny-pinch, this is it. But as they Burnett contract proved, they're still spending.
The quest for another World Series, and the increase in revenue that came from Citizens Bank Park and the new cable TV deal, has morphed the Phils from thinking like a small-market team into one of the biggest spenders in baseball.
That ain't no felony fraud, friends. That is a commitment to winning.
It could be a very long year for the Phillies in 2014. It's been a brutal spring, and hopes among the fanbase are not terribly high. But whatever happens on the field, one group of folks should not incur your wrath.
Phillies ownership is doing their job.