What's that bad taste in my mouth?
No, it's not left-over Thanksgiving turkey. It is the taste of left-over October Turkey, as in, the bad taste that has been left in my mouth since watching Ryan Howard end the Phillies season with his bat in his hand as he watched a full-count strike three go by him.
Isn't it crazy how quickly we forget that the Phillies finished the 2010 regular season red-hot and with the best record in baseball?
Looking ahead to the 2011 Phillies season, the Phils have a lot of unanswered questions, the most important of which is: can we do it all again next season?
Let's have a look.
They will not.
In short, no, Domonic Brown is not ready for Prime Time.
But guess what: we've been here before.
Let's not pretend that Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth arrived in Philadelphia as fully formed All Star outfielders. Each player spent his first couple of years with the Phils platooning in the outfield and proving that they were ready to take over full time. They each had to bide their time, but eventually, each demonstrated that they were ready when their time came.
And that is what will happen with Brown. As a left-handed hitter in a league full of righties, he'll get plenty of opportunities to prove what he can do, but he'll also get the day off when the Phillies are facing left-handed pitchers or perhaps even on the second half of a back-to-back road date.
Brown will get all the help he needs in 2011, and won't be fully unleashed until he's ready.
In short, yes, the Phillies are an aging team.
Every single everyday player from 2010 will be at least 30 years old in 2011, and pitchers Roy Halladay, Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt are all officially entering their mid-30's. Raul Ibanez will be 39, and of course, Jose Contreras is now entering his 50's.
But let's not go off the deep end. A major leaguer's prime is generally considered to last from the age of 27 to the age of 32, so while our team is certainly reaching the outer limits of its prime, they are still in their prime, as we understand the meaning of that word.
Here are the Phillies' best three options for getting rid of Raul Ibanez:
1) Trade him to a team looking to take advantage of his expiring contract;
2) Move him to first base;
3) Move him to designated hitter.
Unfortunately, this isn't the NBA, the Phillies have an All Star first baseman, and they play in the National League.
Any trade that involved the Phillies getting rid of Raul Ibanez would also involve the Phillies eating his salary for 2011, or at least a substantial portion of it.
Of course, given Raul's offensive and defensive performance last season, it might not be such a bad deal.
You know how some people see the glass as half-full, while other people see the glass as half-empty?
Well, Philadelphia sports fans tend to see the glass as completely empty and shattered into a million pieces.
If the Phillies give Jayson Werth the contract he wants and he subsequently hits below .300 and less than 30 home runs or 100 RBI, Phillies fans will burn Ruben Amaro in effagy for committing so much money to him (see Burrell, Pat).
If the Phillies let Jayson Werth go, and he subsequently lights up Yankees Stadium, Fenway Park, or Chase Field, and Domonic Brown and Raul Ibanez struggle, Phillies fans will provide Amaro daily updates on Werth's performance, care of an already hostile sports talk radio environment whose sole mission to fan the flames.
So yes, this is a no win situation. It's not just a Catch-22; it's a Catch-44.
Fact is, if the Phillies give Jayson Werth everything he wants, then Phillies fans better get used to this team, because it is the one the Phillies will have for the foreseeable future.
At the point where Werth starts under-performing his contract—which anyone who has watched Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano in Chicago, Carlos Lee in Houston, Carlos Beltran in New York, Manny Ramirez in Los Angeles, or Vernon Wells in Toronto knows is inevitable—he becomes simply untradeable.
And since the Phillies aren't the Yankees or Red Sox, they won't be able to just write off his contract and go after the next big fish, especially with huge contracts also committed to Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay.
By the way, here is a list of the highest paid players in baseball this past year:
Alex Rodriguez CC Sabathia Derek Jeter Mark Teixeira Johan Santana Miguel Cabrera Carlos Beltran Ryan Howard Carlos Lee Alfonso Soriano Carlos Zambrano John Lackey Manny Ramirez Torii Hunter Barry Zito Ichiro Suzuki Magglio Ordonez Todd Helton Aramis Ramirez A.J. Burnett
Those players played for the Yankees, Mets, Tigers, Phillies, Astros, Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Mariners, White Sox and Rockies in 2010.
Other than the Yankees, the only team that can really afford to pay a premium for bad players, only the Phillies and Giants made the playoffs in 2010, and while the Giants won the World Series, they did it in spite of Barry Zito, not because of him.
Does it seem like giving huge contracts to veteran players is the way most teams build playoff teams?
The short answer: We don't know.
There is a chance that Jayson Werth has been an indispensable cog in the Phillies run, the key to success of the front of the order and the back of the order.
But there is also a possibility that he is a product of the system.
Remember, Ryan Howard won the NL MVP, hit 58 home runs and led the NL in home runs RBI and total bases while batting .313 in 2006, before Jayson Werth came to town. The fifth spot hitter for the Phils in 2006 (in games in which Howard himself wasn't hitting fifth) was a combination of Jeff Conine and Pat Burrell.
And remember, when Jimmy Rollins won his NL MVP in 2007, leading the league in games, plate appearances, at-bats, runs, and triples while becoming the fourth player with 20-plus doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases in a single season in baseball history, he did it on a team for which Werth only played 94 games. The Phillies fifth-spot hitter that year was a combination of Aaron Rowand (yikes) and Burrell.
Ask yourself this: How did the Phils do after opting to not re-sign Burrell and Rowand when they became free agents?
On the one hand, there is not one single Phillies hitter who didn't endure a prolonged slump at some point in the 2010 season. At their best, the Phillies could consistently score enough runs to win, but at their worst, the Phillies couldn't score enough runs to cover shutout performances by their own pitchers.
At the same time, there was also not one single Phillies hitter who did not suffer some sort of injury in 2010, and the toll that was taken on the team was obvious. If the roster can stay healthy in 2011, and establish a rhythm and a chemistry early, there is no telling what they might still be able to accomplish.
Of course, that doesn't answer one simple question: why is it that it seemed like the Phillies finally got on a roll in the second half with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Shane Victorino all out with injuries?
I love J-Roll as much as the next guy, and his intangible impact on the Phillies has been undeniable.
For every first-pitch-swinging rally-killing pop-up, there is a game-winning two run double in the playoffs. The Rollins-to-Utley-to-Howard is already one of the top 20 double play trios of all time, and all three of these guys are going to be only 32 years old next year.
At the same time, J-Roll has been in the league for 10 full seasons, having emerged as a full time player years before either Utley and Howard. And while he hasn't been threatening Cal Ripken Jr.'s endurance records, he's been impressive, having led the league in plate appearances three times and at-bats four times.
All of that adds up to a lot of miles on a small, hard-working frame. And in the last two years, he's played a full season and finished with an on-base percentage under .300, and then missed half the season with nagging injuries.
Phillies fans would certainly hope J-Roll is only at the halfway point of his career, especially since he is on the cusp of his 1,000th run scored, 400th double, 100th triple, and 350th stolen base, which means he's about to start climbing some leaderboards.
Unfortunately, it just seems like he's closer to the end than he is to the beginning.
It has been an amazing run. Indeed, it has been an historical one as well: the Philadelphia Phillies have made the playoffs four years in a row, which is a franchise record and puts them in rather select company.
At some point, though, one has to wonder whether the ride is coming to an end. There is a reason no Phillies team has ever made the playoffs four years in a row: it is incredibly difficult to do. At some point, bad luck alone catches up to a team, let alone injuries, age, and contracts.
Nevertheless, while this ride is going to come to an end, there is no legitimate basis for supposing that 2011 will be the year. The Phillies will ostensibly feature the top pitching trio in baseball, one of the elite offenses in the league, and a stellar defensive club.
Remember, this is a team that struggled at times in 2010, and came out at the end with the best record in baseball. While it might be a bit much to ask for the majors' best record again in 2011, it would be a surprise indeed if the Phils weren't in the playoffs again.
This ride will come to an end, but not in 2011.
Unequivocally, the answer is yes, the Phillies are the favorite in the National League heading into 2011.
Obviously, this isn't really a question we can answer until we know how the offseason is going to shake out.
But when you consider the injuries, the inconsistency, and the adversity the 2010 Phillies overcame to finish the season with the most wins in baseball, there can be no doubt that this team, if healthy, should once again be favored to be the best team in the National League.