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Why can't the Phillies do what Chip Kelly just did?

What the Eagles are doing this off-season is eminently fascinating. Why can't the Phillies do the same?

Why not be more like me?
Why not be more like me?
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Anyone who pays attention to Philadelphia sports has been mesmerized this week by what the Eagles are doing.  Just when you think they've done the most shocking thing imaginable, they go ahead and top it.

Trade their all-time rusher for a top young linebacker who didn't play last year because of an injury? Wow.  But that's nothing compared to trading their young quarterback with a lopsided winning record for a #1 draft pick who has had two ACL repairs.  Then while you were sleeping, the team signed two top young corner backs while letting their top wide receiver go.  You walked away from your computer in shock only to come back and find out they signed the league's leading rusher last year (taking him away from the Cowboys) and another potential top running back as well.

Who knows what's next?  Will they somehow pry Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants to fill their gaping hole at wide received?  Trade a few seventh round picks in 2019 for the #1 pick this year?  Convince Joe Namath and Jerry Rice to come out of retirement?  At this point, I wouldn't put any of it past Chip Kelly.  The man is a mad genius.

Of course, we don't know if it will work, but it's damn entertaining to watch what's going on and ponder what it means for the team's future.  And it's thrilling to know that the team is run by someone who is creative, aggressive, and has a plan (even if we in the public aren't privy to exactly what that plan is).

So while we sit in awe of what our pals over at Bleeding Green Nation are doing this week (do they ever sleep?), here at The Good Phight, after watching the Phillies have a pretty boring off-season, we have to ask - why can't the Phillies do what Chip Kelly just did?  Why can't they be aggressive, get creative, and have a plan?

As much as I'm usually the first one in line to criticize the Phillies front office, there are actually some really good reasons they can't be like Chip Kelly.  This isn't to say that they shouldn't be more aggressive, more creative, and have a more forward-thinking modern plan.  They should.

But, there are several structural reasons that the Phillies can't do anything like what Chip Kelly has done this week. Here are three of those reasons. I'm sure you can come up with more in the comments, and I welcome hearing those.

1) Contracts. Probably the most important difference here is that in the NFL, only specific parts of contracts are guaranteed, whereas in MLB, everything in the player's contract is guaranteed.  In other words, when an NFL player is no longer useful to the team, the team just cuts him and usually suffers very little consequence.  They may owe some of the signing bonus still or some of the small amount of guaranteed money, but they're often off the hook for the big dollars that are back-loaded into the contract.

For instance, that $114 million contract that Ndamukong Suh just signed?  Only $60 million is guaranteed.  The  Dolphins will probably never pay the rest of the money.  On the other hand, the $210 million contract that Max Scherzer signed with the Nationals this off-season?  He'll see every single penny of that contract.

Why?  Because in baseball, contracts are guaranteed money.  There can be player or team options and there can be extra years that kick in based on performance (Ruben Amaro's beloved vesting clause!), but the team cannot cut the player and get out from under the contract provisions.

This is essential to understanding the difference between the Phillies and the Eagles.  Ryan Howard is due every penny he signed for back in 2010, regardless of how bad or injured he is.  If any of the new Eagles are injured again or don't play well, while it will certainly hurt the team's immediate chances, it will not devastate the team long-term.  This means the Eagles can make riskier, more aggressive moves.  It also means they have more flexibility, now and in the future.

2) Trading draft picks. In the NFL, teams can trade draft picks.  In Major League Baseball, draft picks cannot be traded.  It's that simple.

And this makes a world of difference.  An NFL team looking to win now can can include future draft picks to sweeten the pot to get a player they need immediately.  A team looking to rebuild can trade valuable current players for draft picks this year or in the future to stockpile new talent.  Adding draft picks to the trading calculus immensely increases the possibilities for teams looking to win, rebuild, and anywhere in between.

In baseball, there's none of it.  Teams can trade players and a little bit of cash, but nothing else.  This drastically limits the way that baseball general managers can deal with each other.

Put another way, Ruben Amaro's trade chips are the players he currently has in his organization with their guaranteed contracts.  Chip Kelly's trade chips are the players he currently has in his organization, their mostly-not-guaranteed contracts, and every single future draft pick.

3) Minor leagues. In the NFL, there are no minor leagues and players come out of the draft directly into the professional big league spotlight.  In MLB, there are three official levels of minor leagues with seemingly endless variation at the lowest level.  On top of that, there are independent minor leagues as well.  When a player is drafted, almost all go into the minor leagues, often for years.  In fact, since 1965, only 20 players have gone straight to the majors from the amateur draft.

This difference is key.  A rebuilding football team knows that it can get players to help almost immediately in future drafts.  A rebuilding baseball team knows that it has to wait years before it sees the fruits of its labor, as it watches its prized draftees work their way through the system.

Moreover, because it takes so long to get through the baseball minor league system, the team often has contractual control over the player through his most productive years.  In football, players start in the pros younger, reach free agency closer to their peak, and can be free to move around accordingly.


There are, of course, other differences that matter here - brutality of the sport, season length, number of playoff teams, playoff structure, etc.  But I think these three differences are the most important for answering the question why the Phillies can't just do what the Eagles are doing.

Nothing here is to say that the Phillies wouldn't benefit from the open-minded experimentation and aggressive plan-based forward thinking of the Eagles.  The Phillies need these things desperately.

It's just not as easy, because of the differences in the sports, as saying "Do what the Eagles are doing."