Phillies fans hope to see less of Howard walking forlornly back to the dugout in 2013.
Candidly, it is tough to conceive of a metaphor more expletive-d out than the poker-based conceit of going all-in.
Ever since Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 World Series of Poker, and Texas Hold'em became a game that everyone and his wife thought they could play, "I'm all in!" has become something of an all-purpose American tag line.
Now everyone says it. Church bake sale? "We're all in—our brownies are going to be the best we have ever made!" Johnny is failing in his seventh-grade math class? The teacher says he has not committed himself to the material and needs to go "all-in."
The real trouble with all this, of course, is that these ham-handed allusions to the concept of going all-in, of really gambling everything in front of you with no guarantee that it will work out, cheapen the significant gravitas of the expression.
Of all the teams in Major League Baseball looking at 2013, the Philadelphia Phillies are definitely the team that has no choice but to go "all-in."
And that is not hyperbole or exaggeration.
The Phillies are hoping The Big Piece will stay healthy in 2013.
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.
After that, the Phillies will 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.
The Phillies need to win, now, to justify the investment they made in Ryan Howard.
What is Chase Utley walking toward, or away from?
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, per baseball-reference.com) 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?
Those are concerns for Utley, but they also favor the Phillies' chances to win in 2013. No player on the Phillies' roster, with the possible exception of Roy Halladay (more on him in a moment), will be as motivated to play well every day as Utley will be.
Utley is playing for his baseball future in 2013, be it in Philadelphia or somewhere else. As this contract ends, the Phillies will probably not coddle Utley's injuries as they have in past seasons.
They want whatever he has left to give, and all of it, in 2013.
Lee is still bringing it; he just is not getting much help from the other eight.
Lee is still owed a ton of money (per Forbes) 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 at the trade deadline last summer.
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.
Lee is 34 years old now. There may not be many Cy Young-caliber seasons remaining in his left arm.
The Phillies must win in 2013 if they hope to be able to say when Lee's contract runs out that it was a good decision to sign him for all that money.
The Phillies hope Halladay can find his form again in 2013.
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.
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. Halladay is 35; power pitchers do not generally improve with age. Roger Clemens was an exception, but then no one is exactly sure how that happened.
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.
Which is another reason why the 2013 Phillies are all-in.
Since it is not your money, it was more than worth keeping #35 in the fold.
The Hamels signing this past July, 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 the Phillies are so pot-committed to the 2013 season. Assuming Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Utley and Howard all break camp with the 2013 Phillies, that is over $100 million going to five players.
A franchise whose payroll can reasonably be assumed to top $150 million again this season has no choice but to press every bet.
"I don't know why we lost so many games, either."
Uncle Cholly is signed through 2013 for something in the neighborhood of $3.5 million according to the Delaware County Times. "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.
If it was always as easy as handing out enormous free agent deals, everyone would do it.
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.
There will be no holding Strasburg back next season.
The idea of rebuilding the Phillies and hedging bets 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 middling year 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. 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.
Ticket sales are great and all, but television makes the world go around. Ask the Dodgers if you are unsure.
The Phillies' contract with Comcast, granting the cable company rights to broadcast the overwhelming majority of the team's games, ends in 2015, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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.
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.
How patient are you willing to be?
Recent returns (the end of the sellout streak, per the Washington Post, being the most telling) suggest that Phillies fans want the team to make another playoff run, now, rather than sitting through a rebuilding year, or two, or five.
That might be said of every fan base, yes, but given the Phillies' recent run of success and the financial resources at their disposal, an extended period of malaise like that suffered in places like Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Toronto is unnecessary.
At the end of last season, fans were not just failing to buy tickets in the outer reaches of Citizens' Bank Park. They were refusing to attend games for which they had already purchased tickets.
The Phillies, then, must be all-in in 2013 to ensure that their supporters stay engaged.