10 Reasons Why the Phillies Must Reload, Not Rebuild, in the Offseason
This is generally the province of the middle-market team, with payrolls south of $100 million and often records south of .500.
But the Phillies spent over $173 million this season only to see all of their careful plans laid to waste by the upstart Washington Nationals, the stalwart Atlanta Braves and, at various times, the rest of the National League.
With 45 games left to play, the Phillies still have 10.5 games to make up and five teams to pass just to secure the second wild card. Even if you are not good at math, you know the numbers say it is not going to happen.
Here are 10 reasons why Ruben Amaro Jr.'s answer to the question at hand has to be "reload."
Ryan Howard's contract runs through 2016. He will make $20 million in 2013, then $25 million per year for the 2014 through 2016 seasons. At that point, he will have made $95 million for those four seasons, and the Phillies will then have the choice of paying him $23 million more for 2017 or (more likely it seems) buying that year out for another $10 million. So Howard is guaranteed $105 million through 2016.
The Phillies did not guarantee Ryan Howard all of that money to preside as the elder statesman over a season or two of recovery. They are paying him that money to win, as soon and as often as possible. And his skills are only going to erode as the deal plays out.
When you have $105 million tied up in one player for four years, rebuilding is not the move.
Chase Utley is all of a sudden a player who needs to start thinking about his future.
He is signed through 2013 (another $15 million next season) and then, well, who knows? Will his knees allow him to play in the National League anymore? Is he better served being a designated hitter somewhere in the Junior Circuit?
Utley has always seemed like a player who valued his place as a Phillie. If he really wants to stay, he has 2013 to prove that he can play every day.
The Phillies do not owe it to Utley to give him that opportunity; they do, however, owe it to themselves to see if he has one more top-flight season left in him.
Regardless, Utley is not a player to build around. You reload around him, and if next season does not pan out you trade him at the deadline.
Lee is still owed a ton of money and the Phillies have shown scant enthusiasm about eating much of it in order to trade him. They were given the opportunity to rid themselves of his contract outright when the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed Lee on waivers. Lee, though, is still here, and if you believe the Phillies, he is here to stay.
Much as with Howard, the Phillies did not invest eight figures in Cliff Lee in the 2010 offseason to have him pitch in only one meaningful season for the length of that deal. You rebuild, or the money committed to Lee is essentially wasted.
Like Utley, Halladay is now a short-timer—his deal is guaranteed for $20 million in 2013, but the option for 2014, which called for him to pitch an aggregate of 415 innings from 2012 through 2013, is not going to vest. Not with Halladay on pace for 154 innings in 2012, it won't.
Still, if Halladay has one last dominant year in his right arm, it would figure to be in 2013 as opposed to any other future year. All of the Phillies' various financial commitments were theoretically pieces of a puzzle. Getting rid of Halladay, or failing to surround him with enough talent during a rebuild, would be a clear admission that the plan failed.
The Hamels signing, while an expensive one, was probably the right decision for the franchise. After splashing cash at so many other players to sign them, retain them or extend them, and watching those players age and decline precipitously this season, letting a 28-year-old ace walk away was never going to fly.
This is yet another reason why a rebuild would make no sense. Assuming Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Utley and Howard all break camp with the 2013 Phillies, that's over $100 million going to five players.
Have you ever heard of a franchise with a payroll of, conservatively, over $150 million "rebuilding?" Me neither.
Uncle Cholly is signed through 2013 for something in the neighborhood of $3.5 million. "So what," you say, "they spend $3.5 million on players who don't pan out, so eating Manuel's contract is no big deal."
But there are problems with the idea of firing Manuel. Short memories lose track of things like one losing season coming after five division titles and the team's first World Series championship since 1980—and the city's first since 1983—but front offices don't.
Given the choice between canning Manuel and deciding to give him a re-do on a season that was cursed with injury and misfortune, the logical choice is keeping him.
This is particularly so since the new manager, whoever he would be, would likely not take the job for substantially less money than Manuel was making.
So if Manuel does in fact return, asking him to spend his final guaranteed season trying to squeeze a playoff spot out of a roster full of prospects and place-holders is probably a waste of time.
Ruben Amaro Jr.
RAJ has had the success he has had—remember, the 2008 team was Pat Gillick's and not his—with big budget productions.
Could the Phillies' GM surprise everyone with a "Moneyball 2.0" approach in a rebuild? Maybe. But why take a chance?
Besides, this is the team Ruben Amaro, Jr., with the blessings of ownership, splurged to put together. If the team flops again next season, his job would likely be in significant jeopardy. It makes sense to provide him with the financial wherewithal to fill short-term needs for 2013.
Perhaps, just one last time.
The Washington Nationals
The idea of rebuilding the Phillies would be attractive if it seemed like the National League East was stagnant and moribund enough to allow the Phillies to make a quick turn back into prominence after another year in the cellar in 2013.
But that is not going to happen.
The Nationals have two of the best young players in the game in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Their rotation is so deep and so young (Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann) that the Nationals are still seriously considering shelving Strasburg before the playoffs even start.
Bottom line: a Phillies rebuild, even if successful, might not be enough to catch the Nationals in 2014 and beyond. The Phillies' best hope to win is most likely in 2013.
The Television Rights
The Phillies' contract with Comcast, granting the cable company rights to broadcast the overwhelming majority of the team's games, ends in 2015. The Phillies probably cannot sustain their own network the way the New York Yankees can, as Philadelphia will probably always be a town that cares about the Eagles more than the rest of its professional sports teams combined.
Still, the Phillies' ability to spend money with teams like the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and others is largely tied to television money. A rebuild will not keep eyes on sets, and it is the viewer data from these next three seasons that will most likely drive negotiations in 2015.
If you have read this far, you are probably a Phillies fan.
Simply put: What would you rather see, a rebuild or a reload?
Recent returns (the end of the sellout streak being the most telling) suggest you want the team to make another playoff run.
The sooner the better.