The Big Piece is not going anywhere, but it would be OK if he did.
"Most expendable" here does not mean "worst."
If it did, this would be a slideshow about John Lannan, Laynce Nix, Freddy Galvis, Erik Kratz and one of the many middle relievers who struggled for the Phillies so much in 2012.
Instead, "most expendable" in this context is closer to its dictionary meaning. Per merriam-webster.com, "more easily or economically replaced than rescued, salvaged, or protected."
The Phillies certainly, by that definition, have some expendable players on the roster.
There are too many passable first basemen in MLB to make Howard worth $25 million in 2013.
Until the 2012 season, following a freak Achilles tendon injury on the last play of the 2011 National League Division Series, Howard had played no fewer than 143 games since becoming the Phillies' full-time starter at first base in 2006.
But his numbers have steadily declined in recent seasons:
2009: 45 HR, 141 RBI, .279 BA, .931 OPS
2010: 31 HR, 108 RBI, .276 BA, .859 OPS
2011: 33 HR, 116 RBI, .253 BA, .835 OPS
2012: 14 HR, 56 RBI, .219 BA, .718 OPS
Even if you toss the 2012 season out as lost to injury (Howard only played 71 games), you are stuck with the fact that the numbers he posted in 2010 and 2011 were good, but not great.
Here was LaRoche's statistical output last season:
2012: 33 HR, 100 RBI, .271 BA, .853 OPS
Paul Konerko will make $13.5 million for the Chicago White Sox this season. His 2012 statistics:
2012: 26 HR, 75 RBI, ..298 BA, .857 OPS
And these examples ignore the emergence of younger players (like Freddie Freeman or Mark Trumbo) who have yet to cash in as free agents.
The ugly truth for the Phillies is for $25 million they could replicate Howard's production at first base and have enough money left over for another premium player.
The Phillies are will pay Utley too much money in 2013, too.
It is not just the games Utley has missed (138 in the past two seasons) that trouble the Phillies, it is what he is (not) doing in the half-seasons he actually plays. In each of the past two seasons, Utley has finished with 11 home runs, 44 and 45 RBI and batted .259 and .256 respectively.
Sure, he is consistent now. It has just been consistent mediocrity.
The argument against Utley being expendable is that second base is such a black hole offensively throughout Major League Baseball.
But Utley will make $15 million in 2013, and it is hard to be assured that he will play even 100 games.
Jeff Keppinger (9 HR, 40 RBI, .325 BA, .806 OPS in 115 games) will make $3.5 million for the White Sox this season.
Which of those players would you rather have for that money in 2013?
Papelbon did a fine job in 2013, but he is a luxury the Phillies can ill afford.
The signing of Jonathan Papelbon for $50 million (per ESPN.com) was only marginally defensible when it happened. Now, with three years left on the deal, that decision has turned out to be a serious error in judgment.
Papelbon did more or less what the Phillies expected him to do in 2012. He saved 38 games. His earned run average of 2.44 was sterling, as was his 1.06 WHIP. Striking out 92 batters in 70 games was also in line with what the Phillies expected to get from Papelbon when they gave him all that money.
But the Phillies have so many other needs (another outfielder or two would be nice) that an $11 million closer is a waste of resources.
As of this writing, Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Capps, Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth (all four with significant closing experience) are unrestricted free agents.
Would any of them do as well in 2013 as Papelbon is likely to do?
Any one of them would cost a great deal less than Papelbon does, though, and the shortfall between a bargain closer's production and Papelbon's would not be worth the extra $6 or $7 million Papelbon will get.
The Phillies do need him, but he is replaceable, ultimately.
Ruiz had—by far—his best statistical season in 2012. He was called upon to bat much higher in the order than in past seasons due the injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Ruiz came through, finishing with 16 home runs, 68 RBI and a .325 batting average in only 114 games.
The suspension raises the question of what Ruiz will do if compelled to play "clean" going forward. Ruiz will turn 34 in January; catchers are especially not known to age gracefully given the grueling physical demands of the position they play.
Ruiz will earn $5 million in 2013 minus the money he will lose via the suspension. At most, he will be eligible to play in 137 games; more likely he will play in 115 or so.
It remains to be seen if Ruiz can provide the same kind of value in 2013 while toeing the MLB's PED line.
Phillies fans hope he has something left, but is it worth $20 million to find out?
Halladay is the least expendable of the five players profiled here because he has the greatest upside and because, even given his present level of production, he would be the most difficult of the five to replace.
Fresh off winning the National League Cy Young Award in 2010 and finishing runner-up in that voting in 2011, Doc posted this line in 2012: 11-8, 4.49 ERA, a half-dozen starts missed and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.67, his worst since 2007.
Halladay was not awful, he just was not what he had been before.
The Phillies will pay Halladay $20 million next season when he will be 36 years old.
In truth, $20 million does not buy a lot of starting pitching in today's market. When Jake Peavy is given $29 million over two years by the White Sox as a reward for going 11-12, and Edwin Jackson is given $52 million over four years by the Chicago Cubs for going 10-11, the high price that good pitching costs is evident.
But if Halladay regresses even further, the $20 million the Phillies will pay him in 2013 will be a real gut punch.