When the Phillies’ 2014 season reached its dispiriting close, six players—nearly a quarter of the roster—remained from the team that had won the World Series just six years earlier. That number thinned to four over the winter months with the bittersweet departure of franchise icon Jimmy Rollins and the, um, somewhat less mourned exit of Kyle Kendrick. As the Phils stagger through a grim (if evidently well lubricated) present to a hopefully brighter future, it’s an open question which of those final four champions—Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley—will be the last to hang up the red pinstripes.
Probably needless to say, the answer will be determined by injuries, trade market dynamics and maybe--hopefully--front-office changes following a 2015 season that seems likely to obliterate whatever goodwill still remains among a fan base that got used to better times. In terms of fan sentiment, all four of these guys are much closer to Rollins than Kendrick: so far as I can tell, even Howard draws far more sadness than ire. Like Rollins, each has a case as a signature player of the team's greatest era, the best in franchise history at his position, or both. None has a clear, ready or near-ready successor up from the minors and pushing for playing time. (The team surely hopes Maikel Franco pushes the issue at some point, but he showed little this spring.) Yet it's fair to argue that as the team tries to move forward, there's downside to hanging onto any pieces of the past, however glorious.
Here’s our handicap:
Contract: signed through 2018 for $94 million, plus 2019 option for $20 million
Why he’ll go: Now in his sixth month as a human trade rumor, Hamels is certainly the most likely of the four to be next out the door; hell, it’s not impossible he could be dealt by the time you finish this article. He’s the Phillies’ one unquestionably appealing trade asset, still in his prime and signed to a contract that seemed reasonable from the moment ink hit paper and is starting to resemble real value for his employer. Any contender or pretender willing to meet the Phils’ appropriately high price can add Hamels today. While it’s true that he’s also the one guy among the four who plausibly could contribute for the next relevant Phillies team, and that between the player’s age and contract status and the organization’s ample financial resources, in no sense do they "have" to trade him, it would be very surprising to see a healthy Cole Hamels finish 2015 with the Phillies.
Why he’ll stay: You probably spotted the key word: "healthy." Hamels has been remarkably durable through his first nine big league seasons, but no more so than Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were… until they weren’t. Yes, Cole is a few years younger and has less mileage on that golden left arm. But pitcher injury is much more a question of "when," not "if." It would be awful, but not surprising, to see Hamels land on the shelf for an extended stretch, and this would wipe out his trade value for some period of time.
Last-man Odds: 10-1
Contract: signed through 2016 for $50 million plus a 2017 option or $10 million buyout
Why he’ll go: In a weird way, the market is coming back toward Howard. With power at such a premium in 2015 and the American League chock-a-block with teams styling themselves contenders, it’s entirely plausible that one team could make a move for a guy with 334 career homers who was an above-average hitter as recently as 2013 (115 OPS+). Given the right confluence of injuries, sufficiently close races, and a good first couple months for Howard, it’s even conceivable that a modest bidding war could emerge, with the Phillies seeing an actual prospect and/or having to chow down less than the reported $50 million they’re reportedly willing to absorb.
Why he’ll stay: Real belief in Howard having value--to the Phillies or any other team--requires discounting not only his miserable 2014 and general pronounced decline over the last half-decade, but pretty much everything we know about how big-bodied sluggers age. Baseball-Reference has Howard’s best two comps as Cecil Fielder, who was retired by age 35, and Mo Vaughn, who struggled through a miserable final season at that age.
Last-man Odds: 4-1
Contract: Signed through 2016 for $17 million, with an option for 2017 at $4.5 million
Why he’ll go: Chooch is in decline, but it’s a fairly gentle one: his 3.2 bWAR last season was actually the third-best total of his career, and he remains average or better on both sides of the ball. Catchers tend to get banged up, and if a contender loses their regular backstop—which at least one will—Ruiz’s remaining talents, more or less reasonable contract and big-game experience should render him a desirable commodity.
Why he’ll stay: Ruiz gets hurt too. Only once has he played more than 121 games in a season, and the odometer is rising; in fact, his 445 plate appearances last season were the second-most of his career. There’s also the fact that as the Phillies start to break in a wave of somewhat promising young pitchers, the first of which should show up this summer, they might well want the guy Halladay loved enough to make a videogame commercial about helping to acclimate them to the big leagues.
Last-man Odds: 7-2
Contract: signed through 2015 for $15 million; vesting options for 2016, 2017 and 2018 for $15 million per season with 500 plate appearances in previous season
Why he’ll go: Utley’s evident lack of interest in being traded has always puzzled me. A legendarily competitive player still solidly above-average at his position, with a plausible but far from airtight Hall of Fame case that could benefit from some October heroics, in some sense he should be clawing at the door to get off a team whose stretch-drive aspiration most likely will be to avoid 100 losses. Add in the rumblings of interest from multiple teams in his native California, and it’s entirely possible he’s traded at some point this summer.
Why he’ll stay: Of all the sentiment-driven contracts the Phillies have signed in the last few years, the Utley deal arguably made the most sense in both financial and baseball terms. In terms of WAR, he’s "out-earned" his contract pretty much every year he’s been in the majors, and he remains the one Philly athlete all but impervious to media or fan criticism. He’s also pretty much the embodiment of those less tangible qualities the Phillies as an organization tend to value so highly. With no plausible keystone successor on the horizon, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team try to keep Utley around as long as he wants to be here, whether or not his options vest.
Last-man Odds: 3-1
As the odds--informed by nothing but my own sense of the dynamics--suggest, f I actually had to put money on this, I'd bet on Utley staying around the longest. Maybe this is narrative: there's certainly something appealing to the idea of an aged Chase coming off the bench to deliver the big pinch-hit that lifts the Young Gun Phillies of J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola, Roman Quinn and three trade acquisitions to be named later into the 2018 postseason. Sadly, I think it's at least as plausible that the marketing department cops a plea to keep around the one unimpeachable star of the fading glory era. Even at that scenario, though, he'd still be around. So that's something.