Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees Share Troubling Similarities
Watching the disintegration of the 2012 New York Yankees in this postseason, aside from being sort of a joyful exercise for many, has brought back a lot of ugly recent postseason memories for Phillies fans.
The Yankees are down 0-3 to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series primarily because the offense that was second in the major leagues in runs scored during the regular season has scored one run in the past two games. That run came in the ninth inning of Game 3 on a solo home run from Derek Jeter's backup.
It is not as though the Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles up in the Division Series, either. But for unexpected heroics from Raul Ibanez, the Yankees would not have reached the ALCS at all. The Yankees are hitting an even .200 as a team through eight playoff games. More shockingly, they are slugging an absurdly low .317.
To Phillies fans, this smacks of getting shut out at home in Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals. And it is not far removed from scoring a scant two runs at home in a Game 6 loss in the 2010 National League Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants.
Big payroll teams failing to hit in the playoffs.
That is not all the Yankees and the Phillies have in common these days.
Both the Phillies and the Yankees are stuck with expensive players on long-term contracts and in steep decline.
Ryan Howard's contract with the Philadelphia Phillies runs through 2016. He will make $20 million in 2013, then $25M per year for the 2014-2016 seasons. At that point, he will have made $95M for those four seasons, and the Phillies will then have the choice of paying him $23M more for 2017 or (more likely it seems) buying that year out for another $10M. So Howard is guaranteed $105M through 2016.
Howard suffers from the plague that most one-dimensional sluggers carry: For his career, he has more strikeouts (1,306) than hits of any type (1,100). Watching Howard every day means seeing a lot of futile waves at sliders from left-handed relief specialists.
And where the Yankees at least have the option of hiding Rodriguez at DH, no one who has watched Howard play the field believes he can do anything in the National League but play first base—a pretty mediocre first base at that.
Alex Rodriguez's contract with the New York Yankees runs through 2017. His salaries for the next five seasons: $28M, $25M, $21M, $20M, $20M. He will also receive a $1M bonus in 2013 and a $3M bonus in 2014. By the end of the 2017 season, Rodriguez will have made $118M for those five seasons and the contract will be over.
There is a kicker: Rodriguez will receive $6M for each of the following home runs he hits, if he ever does: No. 660 (ties Willie Mays), No. 714 (ties Babe Ruth), No. 755 (ties Hank Aaron) and Nos. 762 and 763 (ties and breaks Barry Bonds's record).
Rodriguez has 643 home runs now, so the Mays mark is definitely within reach. Ruth's total is also in play, even if his skills continue to erode. Rodriguez has five-and-a-half seasons from now to hit 71 more home runs. That's less than 14 per year. That's doable.
As such, Rodriguez is likely into the Yankees for $130M by the time his deal expires.
No wonder the Yankees are exploring the possibility of trading Rodriguez at a severe loss.
Fresh off winning the National League Cy Young Award in 2010 and finishing runner-up in that voting last season, Roy Halladay posted this line for the 2012 Phillies: 11-8, 4.49 ERA, a half-dozen starts missed and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.67, his worst since 2007.
By the end of the season, Phillies fans and those around the team were wondering aloud whether the strength in Halladay's right shoulder ever came back after the disabled list stint that cost him a month and a half from late May through mid-July.
The Phillies do bring back Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee in good health. But given the difficulties the Phillies had scoring runs this season (19th in MLB), deep starting pitching is going to be required.
The Yankees' starting rotation has pitched well in the 2012 postseason.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, only one of the four pitchers to take the ball during these playoffs is under contract for 2013 (CC Sabathia.)
Hiroki Kuroda will be a free agent again once the Yankees' playoff run ends. Phil Hughes will be arbitration-eligible at season's end.
And it remains to be seen whether Andy Pettitte can be convinced to come back for one more season or whether he will re-retire, this time for good.
Holes Around the Diamond
The Phillies enter the upcoming free agent signing period with needs at the following positions: third base, two outfield positions (assuming Domonic Brown can play; if not, it's the whole outfield) and middle/late relief to get the ball to Jonathan Papelbon.
The Yankees are likely to lose Nick Swisher to free agency. If A-Rod leaves, they need a third baseman. Derek Jeter's ankle injury, serious enough to require surgery and a four- or five-month recovery period, means his status is in question for Opening Day. Plus, Jeter will turn 39 next June.
One must wonder how long he can play a position as physically demanding as shortstop at that age, particularly if he must do so on an unsound ankle.
The Yankees outfield could also stand some reinforcements, unless they believe that Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki can play on into their respective twilights.
And as per the previous slide, the Yankees need at least two starting pitchers, assuming they keep Phil Hughes. Re-signing Kuroda would certainly help.
Troubled Fan Bases
Yankees fans, undoubtedly spoiled by the franchise's successful recent (and distant) history, have shown varying degrees of disinterest in buying playoff tickets in 2012.
When the team is sending fans emails reminding them that tickets are on sale for Games 6 and 7 of the American League Championship Series as that series is underway, well, that is not a great sign.
As for Phillies fans, the end of the sellout streak suggests that the locals' appetite for early crash-and-burns in the playoffs (and now no playoffs at all) is lukewarm.
The Phillies led Major League Baseball in attendance in 2012, yes, because most of those tickets were sold before Opening Day. The team's attendance in 2013 is unlikely to be so large, particularly in the iffy weather of April and May as fans "wait and see" whether the team can rebound from a .500 season.
Wolves at the Door
The Phillies are in the unenviable position of being in decline as other teams in their division are surging.
Recent epic playoff collapse aside, the Washington 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 sat Strasburg for the playoffs to protect his arm for the future.
The Phillies are also looking up at the Atlanta Braves, who lost in the 2012 Wild Card Playoff game to the Cardinals. The Braves also have a significant nucleus of young talent (Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons).
The Yankees won another division title this year, but despite a disastrous effort from their normal nemesis, the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees had to sweat this division crown out.
The Baltimore Orioles came within two games of the Yankees, and the Tampa Bay Rays somehow missed the playoffs altogether despite winning 90 games themselves.
As such, the Yankees can afford no regression going forward if they hope to repeat as American League East Champions.