When the Phillies and Yankees arrive for full-squad workouts in Clearwater and Tampa, Fla., respectively, a fountain of youth will be as necessary as cleats, gloves and bats.
Heading into the 2014 season, both the Phillies and Yankees are really, really old. The 2009 World Series combatants are five years removed from a date in late October, but it feels like an eternity since the two heavy-spending franchises had prime-aged stars to deliver postseason success.
In reality, both teams should be concerned with age, injuries and ineffectiveness in 2014. Yet, of the two, the Phillies' issues and risks stands out.
According to MLB Depth Charts' projected rosters, Philadelphia is poised to field an everyday lineup with an average age of 31.1. In New York, that number is 33.5. Those numbers, taken on the surface, give an edge to Philadelphia and place an aura of youth around one of these two aging teams. Yet, as we'll get to below, the numbers can be deceiving.
The respective starting rotations both skew over age 30 for an average number, but this time, Philadelphia projects as the more grizzled group. In fact, if the Yankees award their fifth-starter role to 25-year-old Michael Pineda, a former top rookie with the Seattle Mariners, the group would project to an average age of 29.6.
Yankees have just 2 pitchers over the age of 33, Kuroda and Thornton, on projected staff. 3 of 5 projected starters are 27 and under.— Yankeesource (@YankeeSource) January 23, 2014
While that's far from young, it represents progress for an aging team.
Before spending the rest of this column underscoring why the Phillies are in so much trouble in 2014, let's acknowledge the issues in New York.
After spending over $500 million on talent this winter, the Yankees aren't a finished product, the best team in their own division or a lock for the postseason. If that isn't eye-opening enough, consider this: Despite losing both 44-year-old Mariano Rivera and 41-year-old Andy Pettitte to retirement, the Yankees head into 2014 as an older baseball team.
As Joel Sherman of the New York Post pointed out, not one member of New York's starting lineup will be under age 30 when the season begins.
In a division that includes the defending champion Red Sox, the young, smart, evolving Rays, talent-rich Orioles and bounce-back candidate in the Blue Jays, the recipe for disappointment is prevalent in the Bronx.
The Yankees have issues, but the Phillies are in crisis mode.
Abreu signing gives #Phillies 8 players age 35 or older coming to spring training & 17 in their 30s— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) January 21, 2014
Here's why: New York, despite its age, restocked the franchise with prime-age stars, hoping their star-level can elevate the rest of an over-the-hill roster.
By acquiring Jacoby Ellsbury (30), Brian McCann (29) and Masahiro Tanaka (25), the Yankees committed roughly $60.1 million, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, to three potential All-Stars in 2014. Those players, unlike supplementary pieces added in Philadelphia, are expected to carry older Yankees through transition years.
If Derek Jeter stumbles in his age-40 season or Mark Teixeira can't rebound from wrist surgery in his mid-30s, the new Yankees are in tow to pick up the slack.
Yes, the Phillies can boast three projected starters—Cody Asche, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere—under age 30, something the Yankees can only dream of with the roster construction. As Jerry Crasnick of ESPN put it, Asche, Brown and Revere are the only three Phillies starters born after the 1970s.
Outside of Brown's All-Star appearance serving as the potential for bigger things in 2014, the Phillies are still relying on a core that has seen its time come and go.
The following chart illustrates the problem in Philadelphia. A franchise once built upon a relentless, bludgeoning offensive attack has been rendered meek.
|Year||Team OPS||NL Rank||Record|
Instead of retooling with new, late-20s or early-30s stars to refuel the attack, Philadelphia has added age and banked on returns to health from aging former stars like Ryan Howard.
Marlon Byrd, one of general manager Ruben Amaro's major moves this winter, will be a 36-year-old outfielder in 2014. For most teams, handing a player like that a multiyear deal would be foolhardy. For the Phillies, it was a priority.
Showing how seamlessly he'll fit into the culture at Citizens Bank Park, Byrd spoke about the misconception around age with Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.
"All of us do. You keep hearing old, old, old ... we're not an old team," Byrd said. "We can still play. Once you can't play, then you're old. We still have a lot in the tank, we just to have to show that and stay healthy."
Judging by the chart above, Byrd's assertion is wrong. While he had an excellent bounce-back season last year at age 35, the core of the Phillies still can't play. Or, at the very least, can't play at the level it once did.
Of course, not all of Philadelphia's successful teams led the league in OPS. In 2011, the franchise won 102 games on the strength of pitching and a mediocre offensive attack. Led by Cliff Lee (35) and Cole Hamels (30), the front of the rotation is still outstanding, but the back—Kyle Kendrick, Miguel Gonzalez, Roberto Hernandez—leaves something to be desired.
According to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, the Phillies rotation pitched to a 5.31 ERA in 66 games after the All-Star break last summer.
In order for an above-average staff to emerge, Lee and Hamels will have to pitch like they are each in their 20s. During a primer on the Phillies' season for CSN, Jim Salisbury raised the following point, likely sending chills down the spine of Phillies fans:
"Want to feel old? Hamels turned 30 last month. And though he’s still younger than many of his teammates, he knows his baseball clock is ticking."
If Hamels' clock is ticking, the franchise is running out of time to compete.
Which aging team is in more trouble?
When Jesse Spector of Sporting News made his picks for 2014, he picked the Phillies to finish dead last in the NL East. That sentiment, while extreme, could be echoed by other voices that cover the sport on a national level.
In New York, despite the aforementioned issues, expect more postseason predictions than last-place proclamations from the media.
While it wouldn't be a shock to see both New York and Philadelphia on the outside of the postseason picture, the more dire situation is emerging within the Phillies organization. The team is old, added players with little left in the tank and could be worse than the 73-win outfit of last season.
It's too early to raise the white flag, but dark clouds are hanging over a Phillies team that still believes it can compete.