2010 MLB Playoff Race: Are the Philadelphia Phillies the New Yankees?
Everyone knows what it means: your team is flush with money and run by talentless slobs, who can make up for an inability to develop high quality talent within the farm system by simply buying other team's high quality talent.
You are the evil empire, pricing every other team in baseball out of the market for the best players in the game.
You represent everything that is wrong with baseball and, what's worse, your fans are front-runners, having forged artificial lifelong allegiances to the best players money can buy, acting as though they are somehow special for having taken part in a travesty.
We all know what is meant by the phrase "the new Yankees." The only question is: are the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies it?
If you ask a group of bitter Washington Nationals fans—because hey, who wouldn't be bitter after five whole years of losing—then the answer is yes.
If you ask any reasonable baseball fan, the answer is: pah-lease.
Don't forget, the core of the New York Yankees dynasty from 1995 to 2010 has been the Big Four–Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte—who all came up through the Yankees system and have led the team to five championships in 15 years.
Throw in recent Yankees legend Bernie Williams and new Yankees star Robinson Cano, and that makes six Yankees homegrowns who have been absolutely essential to the team's success.
The Phillies have also grown their own, with the All-Star double play combination Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard all having come up with the Phillies. So, too, did catcher and fan favorite Carlos Ruiz come up with the Phils, as well as 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP Cole Hamels, starter Kyle Kendrick, and reliever Ryan Madson.
But that is pretty much where the similarities between these two franchises end.
The Yankees, of course, have spent the last 15 seasons buying up all of the most high priced talent in baseball, making big runs at the biggest free agents and pricing all other comers out of the market.
So it is that the Yankees, over the years, ended up with Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, and Hideki Matsui.
Whenever the Yanks have had a chance, they've snagged the best player available.
More importantly, and herein lies the rub, the Yankees have been able to absorb the big contracts gone bad (Pavano, Wright, Brown, Giambi) and continue to acquire top-flight talent, where other teams would be absolutely crippled by the devastating effects that a big-contract player not contributing on the field can have.
And then you have the Philadelphia Phillies.
First of all, it is worth pointing out that the 2008 Phils won a championship without big-money players, almost to a man. The Rollins ($8 million), Utley ($7.785 million), and Howard ($10 million) combo were not yet making elite money, while Hamels ($500,000) was still making peanuts.
The biggest contract on the team belonged to Pat Burrell, who was making $14 million, and only Geoff Jenkins, Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton, and Brett Myers were making between $5 million and $8.5 million.
Meanwhile, the starting lineup was filled with guys like Pedro Feliz, who'd been run out of town in San Francisco; Shane Victorino, a Rule Five draft pick from four years earlier; and Jayson Werth, who signed for cheap with the Phillies in 2007 after missing all of the 2006 season.
And one of the biggest keys to the Phils' 2008 World Series run, Brad Lidge, was picked up off the scrap-heap in a trade with Houston after an up-and-down season at a point in his career when he was hardly considered elite. He made $6.3 million to pitch for the Phils in '08.
At the end of the day, the team's payroll in 2008 was about $80 million.
But this isn't about 2008. This is about 2010.
You can't blame Washingtonians for looking at the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies and seeing the New York Yankees. After all, so few Nationals fans actually go to the ballpark—indeed, it took the help of about 30,000 Phillies fans to sell out Opening Day in D.C. this year—that they probably don't even know what a quality baseball team looks like.
Thus, for a Nationals fan to look at the Phillies and see an Evil Empire isn't surprising. But the differences between the Phils and the Yanks aren't subtle.
It would be easy, for example, to accuse the Phils of ruthlessly snatching up free agent talent on any whim. The Phils are selling out every game (100 in a row and counting) and Phillies merchandise is flying off the shelves. Certainly there is more money to be spent in Philadelphia on the hometown team than ever before.
But most of that money, thus far, has been spent just in keeping the players the Phillies already have. As noted above, in 2008 the Rollins-Utley-Howard combo made just under $26 million combined. Just two years later, that number is about $43 million and climbing.
Hamels, Werth, Victorino, and Madson all make real money now as well.
Ostensibly, a considerable amount of balleyhoo could be made over certain pitching acquisitions the Phillies have made over the last two seasons, but it would ring hollow.
Since the beginning of the 2009 season, the Phillies have acquired Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt; that's three Cy Young Awards and one of the National League's best pitchers from the last decade.
Surely this reeks of New York Yankee style player acquisition.
But unlike the Yankees, the Phillies have had to pay a price.
For one thing, it isn't like the Phillies bought Lee, Halladay, and Oswalt, the way the Yankees would have.
Instead, the Phillies have given up a veritable baseball team worth of players to acquire these guys–including Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Travis d'Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Jonathan Villar, and J.A. Happ.
And, for that matter, the Phillies have given up all of those players and have only two pitchers to show for it; the Phillies had to get rid of Lee, knowing they wouldn't be able to afford him once he became a free agent, in order to acquire Halladay. Throw in the fact that Oswalt cost them a very promising Happ, and one almost begins to wonder if the Phils even came out ahead in the deal.
Does this sound like the New York Yankees? Is there any doubt that if they'd wanted to, the Yankees would have acquired Lee, Halladay, and Oswalt and signed them all to long, big money contracts?
There shouldn't be any doubt, since that is exactly what they did with C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Javier Vazquez over the same period of time.
And consider this: after coming incredibly close to acquiring Lee from the Seattle Mariners this summer, the Yankees dropped out of the chase for him. Why? It is thought that the Yankees don't want to give up talent now when they know they can get Lee this offseason for free.
Is that an option the Phillies had?
In truth, the only "big-name" free agents the Phillies have acquired during their current reign of terror have been Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco. An Evil Empire those two do not make.
At the end of the day, from the perspective of the Washington Nationals—20 games back and 20 games under .500—it could certainly appear as though the Phillies have taken on the identity of the greatest monolithic force the sports world has ever known.
However, from closer up, the distinguishing factors between the Phillies and the Yankees are as obvious as can be.
To compare the tortured and convoluted front office moves that the Phillies have made to the whimsical and careless free-spending way of the New York Yankees is to speak from a position of ignorance.
But the Washingtonians, in only their sixth year as a baseball fan-base after over 30 years without baseball, are still in their baseball infancy, so we'll just consider it the ignorance of youth.
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