5 Things the Media Doesn't Get About the Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies have received much media attention for the past few years due to their win totals, streak of division titles and postseason success.
This season, not so much.
Dating back to spring training, the Phils have been in the news more for injuries and how many games back they are in the standings than they have for somehow staying afloat despite missing key parts of their lineup and pitching staff.
And as this season has proven thus far, a last place team with a payroll in excess of $170 million is bound to receive its share of criticism, with few members escaping blame.
However, there are certain aspects of the Phillies that the media seems to misunderstand.
Yes, the Phillies haven’t won a World Series since Ruben Amaro Jr. took over as general manager, but would they have had the success that they had following the 2008 season without his moves? Yes, Charlie Manuel has made some questionable decisions, but have you seen some of the lineups he’s had to work with this season? And yes, Ryan Howard’s contract pays him a lot of money for a player who strikes out over 150 times a season, but should he still be considered overpaid?
No one besides the front office, coaching staff and players can know for sure what goes on before and after the games, but some attempts by the media make it seem like they don’t quite have the pulse of the team.
Here are five things the media doesn’t get about the Phillies.
Ryan Howard's Contract Isn't That Bad
Howard has yet to appear in a game for the Phillies this season.
But you don’t have to see his name on the DL to realize this. All you have to do is look at the Phils’ ranking of eighth in the National League in RBI total – 13th if it weren’t for Carlos Ruiz’s production – or 12th best RBI total in the NL from the cleanup spot.
Howard’s extension that began this season pays him a lot of money: $125 million over five years for a player who has struck out over 150 times in all but two seasons in his major league career.
But, when compared to recent contracts given to first basemen, is Howard actually overpaid?
Since 2006, Howard has hit 262 home runs, collected 796 RBI and batted .273 while, prior to this season, never playing in less than 143 games.
In comparison, from 2006 (or their first year in the major leagues) to 2011:
Pujols’ current deal is worth $240 million, including eight years of over $20 million per season. Fielder’s deal pays him $214 million total. Votto’s extension, when it begins in 2014, will be worth $225 million. And Gonzalez is currently playing on a $154 million deal.
If Howard’s deal were to be extended an additional five years, it would likely be worth an amount similar to the contracts of these first basemen.
Instead, Howard will either be 36 or 37 years old—depending on whether his 2017 team option is exercised—when his contract is up.
On the free agent market, Howard would likely receive a similar deal to what he has now, if not more.
So, is his lower batting average worth over nearly $100 million less than some of the league’s best first basemen?
Howard’s strikeout totals are frustrating, but his absence has had its effect felt so far this season.
And at five years, $125 million, his contract may not be as bad as what was once thought.
They Don't Have to Provide Constant Injury Updates
When Ruben Amaro Jr. or someone from the Phillies provides a timetable for a player’s return, it’s not always the most accurate estimate.
But the team doesn’t have to provide any constant updates.
Yes, the Phillies have generated a great deal of revenue from fans selling out home games over the last few seasons, so it’s understandable to want consistent updates on injured players.
Especially when those players are crucial to the team’s success.
As an article written by Todd Zolecki that appeared on the Phillies’ website in March provides an example of, Amaro has a tough line to toe when it comes to the injuries of star players, such as Chase Utley.
“We’re not giving you the information to try to deceive or create more speculation,” Amaro said. “We’re trying to be as respectful to some of our players as we can possibly be. And at the same time, we’re trying to give you as much information as we can. We don’t have anything to gain from hiding information from you guys.”
Amaro must try to honor the requests of the players while also providing updates to the media and the fans. This means that giving exact timetables and constant updates becomes a difficult task.
And when the Phillies attempt to remain quiet on a player’s health status, it can still make noise in the media.
In an article by Michael Radano that also appeared on the Phillies’ website, Amaro addressed concerns over how the team managed Howard’s injury, even dating back to last season.
“We’re not trying to hide things. That’s not our job. Our job is to have the best interest of the player in mind, and we want to make sure he gets ready at his own pace. And when you have people getting involved in a rehab such as this, it can, in fact, affect the player. And when it comes to a guy like this, or any rehab, we want to make sure he gets back at the proper pace.”
When it comes to all of the star players currently injured on the team, the Phillies have to balance the preferences of the player, the wishes of the media and the curiosity of the fans.
And as these quotes, one being from spring training and the other from earlier in the regular season, display, one misstep can create a backlash that turns into another matter that needs handling.
Although the team doesn’t have to provide a constant update on injured players, the Phils try their best.
Unfortunately, not everyone is satisfied.
Their Biggest Success Came Without Opening Their Wallet
The Phillies have dug deep into their wallet for players such as Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon in recent seasons, which has led to criticism in more ways than one.
However, their biggest success came without the major spending.
Prior to the 2008 season, the eventual World Series champions had a payroll that hovered near the $100 million mark.
And their best players—Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell—were brought to the team through drafts rather than free agent spending.
The rest of the lineup, including players such as Pedro Feliz, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz, combined to make less than $6 million that season.
The team also featured midseason acquisitions, whether from the 2008 season or prior, in Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, Scott Eyre and Matt Stairs. The Phils also had acquired closer Brad Lidge during the offseason.
Since then, midseason acquisitions featuring Blanton and Moyer have been replaced with trades for Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence, while offseason additions such as Lidge have been replaced with acquisitions of Roy Halladay and Papelbon.
Yes, the Phillies have spent more money recently then they have during previous years in the franchise’s history. And yes, they have sacrificed draft picks and prospects in the process.
But their biggest success came when the team was full of homegrown talent and strategic midseason additions.
The Phils may dig deep into their wallet to maintain success, but the success began with the drafting of talent rather than major spending. The maintenance of success was purchased, but the foundation was not.
This Season's Struggles Are Not All Amaro's Fault
It’s easy to place the blame for this season’s early struggles on Amaro.
And it can make you feel better.
But Amaro could not have anticipated the injuries that have struck the Phils this season.
60 percent of the starting rotation has spent time, or is currently on, the DL, while the Phillies’ three and four hitters in Utley and Howard have yet to play. Meanwhile, relief pitchers such as Michael Stutes and David Herndon have missed considerable time, while Laynce Nix and Freddy Galvis are also currently on the DL.
Yes, Amaro could have focused more on the lack of depth at various positions during the offseason. And yes, an infield featuring Hector Luna, Mike Fontenot and Michael Martinez may not be the best way to return to the World Series.
But Amaro shouldn’t shoulder the entire blame for this season’s struggles.
Amaro has received his share of criticism for the number of prospects that he’s traded in recent seasons. Although these prospects could have provided more depth in the team’s farm system, it was no guarantee that they would even pan out. Some have already struggled at the major league level, or have yet to climb out of the minor leagues.
Without trades for Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Pence, the Phillies may not have had the level of success that they’ve had in recent years.
Meanwhile, the prospects that were traded were not guaranteed to develop into major league stars.
So what if the Phillies had held on to their prospects rather than acquiring Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Pence? The possibility exists that not only would the team have had much less success, but their future would also not have been enhanced, due to the prospects they held onto not panning out.
It’s a difficult balancing act that Amaro has had to do, but just because it’s easy to point the blame at him, doesn’t mean it should all fall his way.
The Season Does Not Depend on the Sellout Streak
The Phillies’ consecutive home sellout streak has stretched to over 230 games.
However, as the team currently has the lowest home win total in the National League, that streak could soon be in jeopardy.
Fortunately, the season does not depend on the sellout streak continuing.
In a recent article by Mark Kram on philly.com, John Weber, the Phillies’ vice president of sales and ticket operations, explained the difference between this season and last season.
“Last season, on the heels of signing Cliff Lee and while winning a club-record 102 games, Weber said the Phillies were at “103 or 104 percent” capacity – an average of more than 45,400. This year, Weber says, the team is still over capacity, but is selling “600 or 700 seats less than last year.””
Only 600 or 700 fewer seats although the team has won just 12 games at home, and is currently 9.5 games back in the National League East.
But if the sellout streak does end, the media may make it out to be a sign that the fans have spoken and the season is finished.
Instead, it would just be a way for fans to voice their displeasure at the way the team has played recently.
And once Howard, Utley and Halladay are back in the swing of things, either the current sellout streak can continue or a new one can be started.
Either way, the season does not end if the sellout streak ends.
Kram’s article goes on to feature Weber explaining how some games later in the season are not sold out yet. This means that the Phillies still have time to improve their current play, while also waiting for injured players to return so the team can be at full strength for the first time all season.
If that happens, the sellout streak may not be the only streak that continues.