The Philadelphia Phillies are a team in need of a significant overhaul. Running back the old, oft-injured core of an 89-loss team is rarely a sound game plan, but the Phillies seem committed to doing just that.
Assuming none of these players is moved, the Phillies are going to pay the following six players the following amounts of money in 2014:
- Ryan Howard, $25 million
- Cliff Lee, $25 million
- Cole Hamels, $22.5 million
- Chase Utley, $15 million
- Jonathan Papelbon, $13 million
- Jimmy Rollins, $11 million
Howard will be the Big Platoon Piece at first base—assuming he stays healthy. Rollins just posted one of the worst offensive seasons of his career, and regrettably, it looks like he will be a Phillie for two more seasons at those wages.
Hamels was a darling of the peripheral-numbers crowd in 2013, but the bottom line on his 2013 season is that halfway through it, Hamels was 2-11 with an earned run average over 4.50 and a 1.30 WHIP. By the time he put things (sort of) right, it was too late to do his team much good.
Papelbon is a good but not elite closer who had decent ratios (2.92 earned run average, 1.14 WHIP) but still managed to blow seven saves. That was the highest number of blown saves for any National League closer who kept his job for the entire 2013 season.
Utley bounced back nicely in 2013. It should be no surprise—if you have read me for the past year, you know how I predicted that last October. Now the question is whether he will stay productive or go back to being an 80-game-a-year player now that the ink is dry on his contract extension.
Only Lee, then, is virtually certain to provide a good return on the investment the Phillies made in him.
Even in a sport like baseball that rewards frequent failure (three out of 10 gets you to Cooperstown, etc.), one probable success story out of six enormous contracts should be enough to get a general manager dismissed.
Instead, the Phillies look like they are about to double down yet again on veteran help in an attempt to prop up the rotting foundation of the franchise.
Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly has done an accurate but dispiriting job of laying out the paths the Phillies seem likely to consider meandering down this offseason
After admitting that Giancarlo Stanton is a "pie-in-the-sky target," Salisbury spills a lot of bytes on the likes of Carlos Beltran (36 years of age), Nelson Cruz (33), Ervin Santana (31 on December 12) and Matt Garza (30 on November 26).
Then Justin McGuire of The Sporting News tosses out there how the Phillies are "among teams eyeing Bronson Arroyo." Arroyo is 36 years old with a lifetime earned run average over 4.00, so he fits the profile.
If these are the types of moves the Phillies are going to make this offseason, they are likely to improve the team enough to get back to .500, but they will come nowhere close to getting back to the playoffs.
The big moves the Phillies could actually pull off this offseason are moves that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is not going to make because of the phenomenon Grantland's Jonah Keri identified in 2002 when he was writing for Baseball Prospectus: dissonance between the Phillies' needs and his own.
The Phillies could trade Cliff Lee for either relief from his contract or a haul of prospects, but probably not both. Either way, parting with Lee would be a big move toward a younger, less expensive future.
Similarly, eating the vast majority of Howard's contract to trade him and thereby dissipate the black cloud over the franchise he now represents would signal a real change in the club's direction.
But nothing that has happened in the Phillies' recent past suggests that the club has any intent on a full gut and rebuild.
Instead, expect more painting, caulking and nailing in plywood over cracks that will continue to worsen until the Phillies finally bottom out and finish behind the Miami Marlins in the National League East.
Which could happen as soon as 2014, when you really think about it.