It will likely be at least a couple of days before the Phillies announce they’ve come to terms with Yoshinobu Yamamoto, so the hot stove seems rather cold at the moment. To fill the time until the next big move is announced, I will look back at the Phillies’ last ten offseasons, and judge how well they did to build the team in both the short and long-term.
We’ll start off with a year that is not fondly remembered by most Phillies fans, although probably not as unfondly remembered as some of the other years to come.
Heading into the 2013 season, the Phillies had (publicly, at least) hoped that a return to good health from Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley would propel them back to the postseason. Unfortunately, Halladay was basically done, Utley mostly stayed healthy, but was diminished from his prime, and Howard suffered another injury that limited him to 80 games. The 2013 Phillies won their first game after the All-Star break to improve to one game over .500, but would collapse the rest of the way, going 24-41 to finish in fourth place.
The Phillies found themselves in an odd position. With veterans like Utley, Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels still around, they thought they might have an outside chance at the playoffs if everything broke right. There are also suspicions that with the team engaged in negotiations for a new television contract, a full-scale rebuild was not an option.
Considering the Phillies current tv contract expires after next season, anyone that thinks they're going to go into rebuild mode is nuts.— Pa. Con. (@Con_Metal_Fan) July 20, 2013
Unfortunately, it appeared to all but the most optimistic of fans that a full rebuild was what the team actually needed. The roster was full of expensive, past-their-prime veterans, and years of bad drafting, poor development, and trades had left the farm system barren. Trading away more prospects wasn’t really an option, and they didn’t want to sign any free agent who would cost them a pick in the following year’s draft.
Team ownership also seemed disinclined to spend even more money on an expensive team that was unlikely to make the playoffs, so they were not going to be vying for the top free agents on the market. Instead, they tried to find a few “bargain” veterans.
The big moves
- Signed A.J. Burnett as a free agent (One year deal with mutual option for 2015)
- Signed Marlon Byrd as a free agent (Two-years)
- Signed Roberto Hernandez as a free agent (one year)
- Signed Wil Nieves as a free agent (one year).
- Re-signed Carlos Ruiz (Three years)
How did it go?
At the time, it was considered somewhat of a coup to get Burnett. He was still considered a good pitcher, and with no qualifying offer attached, he wouldn’t cost them a draft pick. Theoretically, along with Lee and Hamels, he would give the Phillies one of the better rotations in the league.
But we do not live in a theoretical world. Hamels missed some time at the start of the season, and Cliff Lee suffered an injury in May that would basically end his career. Apparently not wanting to feel left out, Burnett suffered a sports injury early in the season. To his credit, he pitched through it, but his effectiveness was clearly hampered. He led the league in walks, earned runs, and losses, and after the season, he opted out of the second year of his deal.
Burnett was diagnosed with a hernia, but had injection and it's said to be "manageable."— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) April 14, 2014
The other moves were more successful if not terribly impactful. Byrd was an above average hitter in right field and hit 25 home runs. He would be traded after the season for pitching prospect Ben Lively.
The Hernandez signing received some mockery at first due to his previous existence as Fausto Carmona, but he had a 3.87 ERA in 20 starts before being traded for relief prospect Victor Arano at the deadline.
The Phillies won another series. They did it behind Roberto Hernandez, who channeled Fausto Carmona: http://t.co/i4PoI6r4Af— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) May 5, 2014
Ruiz and Nieves were fine as far as catching tandems do. Ruiz was clearly on the decline, but he held his own, and it was worthwhile to have a well-liked veteran behind the plate. He would begin to cede time to Cameron Rupp in the following years, while Nieves moved on after one year of adequate backup catching.
Analysis and grade
In hindsight - and as many people were clamoring for at the time - the Phillies would have probably been better off engaging in a full-scale rebuild. However, even if the team was inclined to go full rebuild, it would have been harder than it seemed. While teams are always looking for good pitching, Hamels and Lee were also signed to long-term expensive deals, which limits how many teams would be in the running. Meanwhile, other veterans like Utley and Rollins had no-trade clauses, and for different reasons, weren’t inclined to leave town.
None of the moves helped the Phillies move up in the standings (they finished with the same record as in 2013), but they didn’t hinder the long-term outlook either, and the Phillies were able to flip a couple of them for prospects. Given the difficult position the team was in, it might have been the best they could have hoped for.