The fast-approaching end to the Philadelphia Phillies' television rights contract with Comcast is the team's best hope for a quick reversal of fortune.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports analyzed the unique position the Phillies can exploit given Comcast's desire to keep them and Fox Sports 1's perceived need to add another East Coast team since the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox are out of play.
Then just recently, Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News put round numbers to the heretofore rank speculation of just what this deal might mean to the Phillies.
According to data from sportsbusinessjournal.com, the Phillies' current deal yielded them an average annual rights fee from Comcast of $35 million. It's not out of the realm of possibility that a new deal could be six times as large.
And it's highly probable that a deal would be in the neighborhood north of $150 million annually.
In the immortal words of Phil Rizzuto, "Holy cow."
That sort of money could buy the Phillies out of a lot of problems. Here is how they should spend at least some of it.
Howard's presence is the elephant in the room for Phillies fans now.
You probably already know all the numbers, but in case you are new here, let me remind you that Ryan Howard is guaranteed $25 million in each of the next three seasons plus a $10 million buyout in 2017.
Howard has produced reasonably well in his last 151 games. Not $25 million worth, no, but not wholly insufficient either. In those last 151 games, Howard hit 25 home runs, drove in 99 runs, hit 31 doubles and slugged in the mid-.700s.
Sadly, those games played and those numbers were compiled over two seasons.
Howard hit .173 with three home runs and an OPS of .539 in 87 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in 2013. His performance in these situations is so awful, the Phillies may need to platoon him in 2014.
The Phillies had very high hopes that Howard would be their franchise cornerstone slugger when they gave him all that money in 2010.
Not even four years later, it is pretty clear that Howard's future as a productive player—if he has one—is in the American League as a designated hitter against right-handed pitching.
That is probably not worth $5 million a year, much less $25 million. But the Phillies cannot stagger through another season of Howard's limp (and limping) performances.
So they should trade Howard for whatever they can get and eat as much of the money as they need to. Having Howard around is just no fun anymore.
Papelbon's acquisition made sense (sort of) for a team like the 2011 Phillies that felt like it was one or two pieces away from winning another World Series.
But a 73-89 baseball team needs a $13 million closer like the Obamacare rollout needs more information technology snags.
Papelbon can still close out games. He saved 29 in 2013, no small feat for a team that finished so far under .500. His K/9 ratio was down, but his ERA (2.92) and WHIP (1.14) were still more than adequate.
As for who will close games in 2014, well, the St. Louis Cardinals are current proof that you do not need to enter the season with an established closer to win a lot of games.
And maybe the Phillies will have to eat some of Papelbon's money to make a deal happen. They should.
It is not like he is dying to stay or anything.
The thought of the Phillies landing a television rights windfall from Comcast or Fox Sports 1 and handing it to Ruben Amaro Jr. to spend is enough to make a Phillies fan sick.
The Phillies general manager was given absurd check-writing authority from the Phillies ownership in the past few years, and the results have been more or less disastrous.
Look at this 2011 post from Aaron Gleeman of HardballTalk. "Amaro has built the Phillies into a powerhouse capable of extending their streak of four straight playoff appearances for years to come," Gleeman wrote.
Sometimes you wish the Internet did not have such a good memory.
As discussed in an earlier slide, the Ryan Howard contract has been a disaster from day one. The Jonathan Papelbon signing did not work out much better.
Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels have pitched well enough to earn their money, but the fact remains that even with Lee and Hamels making an aggregate of $81 million in 2012-13, the Phillies missed the playoffs twice and do not look to be contenders in 2014 either.
It is exciting to think that the Phillies might be able to buy their way out of their current predicament with a huge infusion of television cash.
But they cannot give that money to Amaro Jr. again. Phillies fans already know how that would turn out.
And yes, Amaro Jr. is under contract until 2015. That can be fixed quickly.
Whatever the St. Louis Cardinals are paying their scouts and player development personnel, it is not nearly enough.
While the Phillies pay eight-figure salaries to Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon, the Cardinals pay these players the following salaries per ESPN.com:
- Lance Lynn, $513,000
- Trevor Rosenthal, $490,000
- Matt Adams, $490,000
- Matt Carpenter, $504,000
- Allen Craig, $1,750,000
And this list does not even include Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez, who joined the team midseason or later.
Call what the Cardinals are doing anything you want, but do not call it luck. You can land one or two young players through luck (think Cole Hamels and Domonic Brown). You cannot get handfuls of them that way.
The Phillies need to take some of the new television contract cash, study the Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Rays carefully and do what they do.
The Phillies' history of getting burned on big free-agent contracts (think Lance Parrish, Gregg Jefferies, Andy Ashby, Adam Eaton and others) kept them from pulling the trigger on bigger deals for a long time.
Then they started inking those deals again. A couple of them worked out (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee) and a couple of them didn't (Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon).
What the Phillies have never done, though, is really gamble money on unknown quantities.
Asked about Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was recently quoted thus per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com: "We saw him and we liked him. … It's a huge risk. It's paid off, so far (for the Dodgers)."
Again per Zolecki's piece, look at what else the Phillies have missed out on in the past few seasons:
Amaro said the Phillies also looked into other recent Cuban defectors like A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who signed a four-year, $36 million deal, and Cubs prospect Jorge Soler, who signed a nine-year, $30 million contract.
Teams with money can afford to take big chances on unknown players. If the Phillies have a chance to sign the next Yasiel Puig, they need to step up and do it.