5 Signs the Philadelphia Phillies Are the New New York Yankees
Despite what may be said about the Philadelphia Phillies' performance in the postseason the last few seasons, it is difficult to dispute that the Phillies have been one of baseball's hottest teams over the last five seasons or so. Since they made the playoffs in 2007 for the first time since 1993, they have been to two World Series, winning one in 2008. They've proven that they're a force to be reckoned with in the National League, if not the entire majors, and they continue to make the necessary moves to remain at the top.
On the other hand, one could argue that the Phillies have become successful primarily because they, behind GM Ruben Amaro, Jr., have brought in a slew of All Star-caliber players through trades and free agency, namely Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and most recently, Jonathan Papelbon. Although their infield and bullpen have, for the most part, remained intact with farm-raised players, their outfield and starting rotation are almost solely comprised of acquired players.
The Phillies have, in recent years, traded their top prospects for fantastic players. And while it's helped them maintain a perennially contending team, they have failed to win it all since 2008, when their team mainly consisted of players they drafted.
Because of their recent success due to their high-profile acquisitions, the Phillies have drawn comparisons to the New York Yankees. The Yankees, considered the top American League power, have been able to sign and trade for practically any player they desire throughout their franchise's history. Since the NL has not had a team like that before, the Phillies have been called "the Yankees of the NL" because of their Yankee-like tendencies—signing top-tier free agents to long-term, lucrative contracts, and trading top prospects for top names available on the trade block.
Whether the Phillies are the new Yankees is a debatable topic—one that I heavily disagree with—but it is a topic worth thinking about, and that's exactly what we're going to do in this slideshow.
Signing Top-Tier Free Agents
Since the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, their attendance rates have sailed through the roof. They've sold out over 200 consecutive games over the course of three seasons, and the streak is still hot, now the second most consecutive sellouts in baseball to only the Boston Red Sox, who have incredibly sold out over 700 games since early last decade.
Thanks to the sellouts streak in addition to increased merchandise sales, the Phillies have had more money to spend and have spent it in the form of top free agents.
After the 2008 season, the Phillies signed 36-year-old left fielder Raul Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million deal to replace longtime-Phillie Pat Burrel, whose contract had expired following the season. At the time, Ibanez was still in the midst of his prime, and for the first year or so of the deal, he was on fire, even making his first career All-Star appearance in 2009.
Then, after the 2010 season, the Phillies shocked the baseball world when they nabbed starting pitcher Cliff Lee and signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract. Lee, who had been acquired by the Phillies in a trade deadline deal in the 2009 season, had been the subject of a bidding war between the Texas Rangers, the team with which he had played the second half of the 2010 season, and the Yankees.
As a deal seemed imminent with either team, the Phillies struck at the 11th hour and signed Lee, who had considered the City of Brotherly Love his top choice. One of baseball history's top contract sagas ended with a bang, and a loud one, too.
And then, just over a week ago, the Phillies signed former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50 million contract. Papelbon, who will take the place of fan favorite and first-year closer Ryan Madson, had been signed over Madson due to his veteran experience in the closer role, as well as for his charisma and electrifying presence in the ninth inning. While he tends to be an egomaniac, he does have the pitching necessary to succeed, as has been evidenced by his career regular season and postseason numbers, including a 1.00 ERA in his playoff career.
The Phils, like the Yanks, have become known for signing the best free agents available. Will that trend continue to unfold this offseason and offseasons beyond? We'll have to wait and see.
Trading for All-Star Talent
In addition to their notoriety of signing the best available free agents, the Phillies have also gained publicity for trading for some of baseball's best players.
Following their 2008 World Series victory, the Phillies weren't looking fantastic in 2009. Despite their offensive production, the pitching wasn't getting the job done, and Cole Hamels, who had led the team the last year in style, was not pitching with the same effectiveness that he had the season prior.
As a result, Amaro, in his first season as Phillies GM, decided that it was necessary to make a trade for a starting pitcher. With rumors involving the Phillies and San Diego Padres ace and 2007 NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, Amaro made a splash for a former Cy Young Award-winning ace, just not the one that was expected.
On July 29, 2009, Amaro traded prospects Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson for reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco. Lee helped lead the team to its second consecutive World Series appearance, and he pitched with elegance in the process, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in that year's playoffs.
However, Amaro again surprised Phillies fans in the following offseason, this time for the worse. On December 16, 2009, he traded Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for prospects Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, and traded prospects Kyle Drabek, Travis d'Arnaud and Michael Taylor for Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, who signed a three-year, $60 million extension following the trade.
Both Lee and Halladay were All-Stars in 2010, with Halladay pitching a perfect game and a no-hitter in his postseason debut against the Cincinnati Reds en route to the NL Cy Young Award, the second Cy Young of his career.
Amaro also conducted another trade in the 2010 season, acquiring Houston Astros ace Roy Oswalt in exchange for pitcher J.A. Happ and prospects Anthony Gose and Jonathan Villar at the trade deadline, again on July 29.
Oswalt delivered for the Phillies, going 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA down the stretch, and led the Phillies to their third consecutive NLCS appearance, one which they lost to the eventual-World Series champion Giants. This was initially done by Amaro to fill the void that Lee had left upon his departure, as well as presumably righting the wrong that he had done in trading Lee in the first place.
Amaro's most recent trade occurred at the trade deadline this past season when he acquired Astros right fielder Hunter Pence in exchange for prospects Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana. Having done this deal on July 29 once again, Amaro's reasoning was to fill the void that Jayson Werth had left in right field, both offensively and defensively, when he signed a mega contract with the Washington Nationals.
The Phillies have drawn comparison to the Yankees in this department because the Yankees have traded for high-profile players such as Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson, though the Phils may win this one, since the Yanks have a tendency of signing the big-name free agents rather than making big trades.
Players' Desire to Come to Philadelphia
Like CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira for the Yankees, many players have expressed interest in playing in Philadelphia over the last few seasons.
The Phillies have acquired many players over the last few seasons, and many of them have shown their desire and/or enthusiasm to join the team.
The first player to really set the bar was Jim Thome, who signed a six-year, $85 million contract with the Phils after the 2002 season as a free agent. Thome wanted to play in Philadelphia for the Phillies and wanted to help lead the franchise to another championship. And while he wasn't here for it, he indirectly did just that.
More recently, Roy Halladay was the first of many players who expressed their desire to play for the Phils. Halladay, who had spent his entire career as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, wanted to play for a team that was a yearly contender.
Rather than play out the 2010 season in Toronto and sign a huge contract in the following offseason, Halladay chose instead to waive his no-trade clause and pack his bags for Philly. While the Phils have yet to win a ring with Halladay at the helm, there's still plenty of time for him to get his ring here in Philadelphia.
Another player who showed his eagerness for playing in Philadelphia was Roy Oswalt. Having played for the Houston Astros, who were once a contender, Oswalt was one of the last remaining players in Houston who had played for the team that reached the 2005 World Series.
Oswalt, not wanting to play for a bottom-of-the-division team, demanded a trade, and within a few weeks, a deal with the Phillies was orchestrated, with Oswalt also waiving his no-trade clause to play for a contender and get his chance at winning a ring.
Unfortunately, he did not get his chance to win the World Series in Philadelphia, yet he could still re-sign here if the price is right.
Arguably the most prominent show of passion for the city of Philadelphia was by Cliff Lee. Lee had been traded by the Phillies to the Seattle Mariners and then to the Texas Rangers before hitting free agency after the 2010 season. Although he could have signed for more money in either Texas or in New York as a Yankee, Lee opted instead to sign where he felt most comfortable and enjoyed pitching the most—in Philadelphia.
Lee expressed his desire to return, stating that he "never wanted to leave in the first place." Like Oswalt and Halladay, Lee also signed in Philly because he felt they gave him the best chance to win a World Series ring.
Hunter Pence did not know much about Philly upon his trade to the Phils, except that his teammates told him that he'd enjoy it there. And has he ever—he was the Phillies best player down the stretch, and he also became an instant fan favorite with his response "Good game, let's go eat!"
As for Jonathan Papelbon, he played in a city where he already won a World Series ring, but he decided that the Phillies, having shown interest in him, were a good fit, and that he wanted to play here to, in his own words, "add to his ring collection" as well.
Consistent League Dominance and Playoff Contention
The Phillies have built up their roster in a way that is unlike most other MLB teams. They possess All-Star talent at a majority of their positions, as well as decent ability behind those players. They, like the Yankees, have set up their roster to include some of baseball's best playing exclusively in their ballpark.
As a result of their efforts in the front office, the Phillies have been able to remain consistent contenders. Over the past five seasons, their win totals have gradually increased as their dominance and power in the NL has done the same.
In 2007, the Phils mustered only 89 wins, which was enough to get them into the postseason on the last day of the regular season, and the Phillies made the playoffs for the first time since they lost the World Series back in 1993.
Things did get better regular season-wise in 2008, when the Phillies won 92 games, but the highlight of the season was winning the World Series.
The Phillies changed things a bit in 2009, when they won 93 games, including 48 on the road.
But 2010 was the big transition year, when the Phillies won an MLB-high 97 games, asserting themselves as the best team in baseball throughout the regular season. Even though they lost in the NLCS and failed to make the World Series for a third straight year, the Phillies showed that they were getting better and better as the years went by.
Then came 2011, which was a year to remember for the Phils. They had brought Cliff Lee back, forming their star-studded "Four Aces" rotation consisting of Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and (at the start of the season) Joe Blanton. Blanton was later replaced by rookie Vance Worley due to injury, and Worley filled in nicely, placing third in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting. The team won a franchise-record 102 games, once again the most in the major leagues.
Yet in spite of their regular season success, their offense shut down in the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that the Phillies allowed to win the NL Wild Card due to the Atlanta Braves September collapse, which was finished off by a Phillies sweep at Turner Field. The Phillies lost in five games to the Cards, who ended up winning the World Series.
The Phillies did not meet expectations in the slightest this past season, a World Series-or-bust year. Yet even without a World Series ring to show for their valiant regular season efforts, the Phillies have still broken out as the alpha team in the NL, if not the majors, over the last five years and remain a perennial playoff contender to win it all.
High Likelihood of Winning It All Every Year
Even with the team's playoff woes over the last three seasons or so, the Phils have still remained dominant in the NL and the majors. They have amassed an MLB-high amount of wins each of the last two seasons, and it doesn't stop there. The team has shown that they have been able to contend for the last five seasons, and they will continue to do so for at least the next five as well.
The Yankees have been a force to be reckoned with in the majors for decades. From their prowess in the 1920s to their 1950s winning ways to their dynasty in the 1990s, the Yankees have always shown that they are among the best in the business. With 27 World Series championships to show for it, the Yanks have always been a team that has had extremely high chances of winning the World Series almost every season.
Even this past season, expectations were down because the Yankees did not make a big free-agent signing in the offseason before, yet they still won the AL East and made the postseason.
The Phillies are like the Yankees in many ways. They have gone out and signed the players they have coveted, sometimes for outrageous amounts of money. In the end, though, the Phillies have still made it to the playoffs regardless.
This past season, the Phillies clinched the NL East with roughly 12 games to go in the regular season, second only to the Detroit Tigers in that category despite having more wins. The Phils have also been able to trade for the biggest names available, often surrendering their top prospects in the farm system to get who they want. While it's worked for the moment, one has to wonder what could occur in the future with the Phillies.
Although they have their many similarities, the Phillies and Yankees are not the same. The Yankees are constantly in a winning mentality, and it has done them wonders throughout their history.
The Phillies, on the other hand, are in a win-now mode. They have gone out and made all these trades and free-agent signings in order to reign supreme for a few more years. They're well aware that stretches of success like the one they're in the midst of don't last forever, which is why the Phillies have been trying to keep their success going by making big moves. Whether it's worked for them or not is another story, and that itself is debatable.
Could the Phillies become a team like the Yankees, a team that always goes after the best players in the league in order to soup up their team? Potentially; in many ways, they already have.
What remains to be seen, though, is whether the Phillies will continue to do this after a few more years. They have some stars locked up through 2015 and 2016, but when their contracts expire, who will the Phillies have to take their veterans' places? Will they have anyone at all in their system, or will they sink to the bottom of the NL East, just like they did after their 1993 World Series loss?
Right now, the Phillies and Yankees both enter every season with a very high likelihood of winning the World Series, as was evidenced in the 2009 Fall Classic when the two teams faced off. But will the constant success that these two teams have had, especially the Phillies, last longer than a few more seasons?
There is only one answer to that: Only time will tell. It will be interesting to see how the dominoes fall over the next five years or so. But until then, Phillies fans, enjoy the success we have now, because once it all ends—and it will—it may not happen again for a long time.