J-Roll and the Most Fraught Contract Sagas in Phillies History
The Philadelphia Phillies are one of baseball's oldest franchises, and with age comes more and more experience. For the Fightins, this involves many things: lore and milestones during the season, and contract talks/disputes following the season's conclusion.
There have been many instances in Phillies history of botched, problematic contracts. Some have come to pass, others are still in effect, and others are just getting started. These contracts have often led to moderate to high success, often at a discount rate. But in other cases, these deals have failed miserably, causing fan hatred and/or a premature cut from the team for the player involved.
Because in Philly, you don't get off easy. You play to win, or you go home.
Jimmy Rollins most recently signed a new contract with the Phillies. Many, including myself, believe that it's a steal for the Phillies—at least on paper. But what if it turns out to be a total bust, and Jimmy's hurt all three (or four) years? Or what if he hits below the Mendoza line each season of the contract?
These are all risks the Phillies have had to take, and since contracts have escalated in monetary amounts in recent years, the risk has never been higher. Since contract data is difficult to find before the mid-to-late 1980s, we'll take a look at the last 20 to 25 years or so of fraught, terrible contracts that the Phillies have signed. In fact, many, of these contracts have come in the 2000s, mainly because the Phillies were never aggressive spenders until Ed Wade became the Phillies' new general manager in 1998.
Please note that not all of these contracts were poorly signed deals, but they interfered with the Phillies' plans, whether in terms of payroll flexibility, an inability to trade the player, or that the player was an obstacle to bringing another player into the major leagues.
Let's get to it.
Jimmy Rollins is no-doubt the face of the Phillies franchise over the last ten years. Since he became a staple to the team in 2001, J-Roll has been fantastic, both in on-the-field production, and in the clubhouse as a leadership presence. Fans adore him, too, whether for his stellar defense or his gap-toothed smile.
Ostensibly, many Phillies fans were in fear when Rollins was set to hit the free agent market. Being the best available shortstop behind Jose Reyes, J-Roll's market was set to be huge, given that good shortstops are so rare in baseball anymore. However, with his market eventually fading, Rollins re-signed with the Phillies on a three-year, $33 million contract.
It's great to have Jimmy back, and this deal is economically smart for the Phillies. Rollins relented from his five-year demands, and the team didn't overpay him. But there's still one issue: Rollins has a vesting option worth $11 million for a fourth year. Not so bad, right? As long as J-Roll doesn't get hurt, he's still worth the money, no?
Wrong. If the option doesn't vest, the Phillies hold an $8 million team option on Rollins, which they'd almost surely decline in such an instance. But get this: Rollins has a $5 million team option as well for 2015. It's basically as if the Phillies signed Rollins to a four-year pact rather than one foe three, and if Rollins spends every year of the first three in the deal injured, not hitting, not defending, or a combination of the three, then he's basically worth nothing more to the team than a bag of baseballs.
I'm not trying to trash Jimmy here because I love watching him play. He's determined to win, and I highly respect his ability. I also respect that the Phils signed their team leader for $11 million a season. But if the deal becomes a problem due to injury or lack of production, it could signal a problem.
No, I'm not referring to his new deal...
However, when the 2002 offseason came around, Thome was a free agent. As much as Cleveland still had its appeal, Thome wanted money and to play for a team close to contention. He signed a six-year, $85 million contract with the Phillies, the most expensive in franchise history at the time. It also signaled the fact that a major free agent was willing to come to Philadelphia, a city that, at the time, was thought not to care about winning it all.
And boy, did Thome live up to the hype. In the first season of the deal, he hit 47 home runs, one shy of Phillies legend Mike Schmidt for the franchise record for home runs in a season. He also hit .266 and posted an OPS of .958, as well as batting in 131 runs and placing fourth in the NL MVP voting.
While Thome didn't play as great in 2004, he was still doing very well for the team, and along with Bobby Abreu, the combination of power and speed that the two provided to the lineup was difficult to find elsewhere in the majors. Unfortunately, Thome's body began to break down a bit in the 2005 season, and at the same time, Ryan Howard was making a name for himself in the minor leagues. Following the 2005 season, Thome agreed to waive his no-trade clause and he was shipped off to the Chicago White Sox for a package that included center fielder Aaron Rowand and pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez.
Since the trade, Howard's won an MVP and Rookie of the Year award, and has (or had) become one of the premier first baseman in baseball. Thome's done well, too, having hit his 600th career home run last season, only the eighth player in history to accomplish the feat.
Now that Thome's back and reunited with manager Charlie Manuel, maybe the Phillies can win him a ring this time around.
Ryan Howard is arguably the Phillies' best first baseman of all-time. Now second on the franchise's all-time home runs list with 286 dingers, he's become the record-holder for reaching 200 and 250 home runs in the fewest games, surpassing Ralph Kiner at each milestone.
Since his emergence in 2005 when he won Rookie of the Year filling in for slugger Jim Thome, Ryan Howard quickly became one of the best hitters in baseball. In addition to winning the Home Run Derby the next season, The Big Piece also won the NL MVP in 2006, blasting a Phillies season-record 58 home runs and hitting .313 and beating out the likes of Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman to win the title.
Howard was appropriately given his due after placing second in the 2008 NL MVP voting when he signed a three-year, $54 million extension with the team. What was the biggest surprise, though, was that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. was so impressed with the slugger that he decided to extend him once more just over a year through his current one. On April 26, 2010, Howard signed a record-breaking five-year, $125 million extension with the Phillies that will run through the 2016 season, giving him the record at the time for having the highest average annual value for a first baseman at $25 million a season, as well as making him the most expensive first baseman in the National League.
It seems already, though, as if this deal is one that will haunt the Phillies. Howard tore his Achilles tendon last year in the final at-bat in the NLDS against the eventual-World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. With his extension kicking in next season, Howard will start it out sitting on the bench, recovering from his injury. If Howard, who hasn't hit over 40 home runs since the 2009 season, isn't even a 30-home run force, then will he be valuable to this team at all?
We'll have to wait and see on that one.
Whether you know him as the Phillies' first-overall pick in the 1998 draft, as a slow outfielder, or simply as "Pat the Bat," Pat Burrell was one of the great Phillies during the 2000s.
Burrell quickly rose to becoming one of the Phillies' best power hitters, hitting 18 home runs in his rookie year of 2000 and as many as 37 in 2002. Never much of a hitter for average, Burrell did get on base and hit extra base hits often, posting an .852 OPS as a Phillie.
As a result of his increased production for the Phils, Burrell was rewarded with a six-year, $50 million contract extension before the 2003 season. While Burrell was good for the team, he didn't hit enough and was a lousy defender. Although a fan favorite, he sure wasn't worth the money.
Nonetheless, Burrell played, but in his first year of the new contract, he was anything but good, hitting .209 and just 21 home runs in 146 games. He did pick things up in 2004, but in 2005, he had his best season since 2002, one that was arguably the best in his career. He hit 32 home runs, 117 RBI, and had a batting average of .281 and an OPS of .892, placing seventh in the NL MVP voting.
Despite his average dropping to the .250 to .260 range for 2006 onward, Burrell retained his power hitting abilities as a Philllie, never hitting fewer than 29 in a season from 2006 to 2008. However, Burrell had yet to win a ring in his career, and in the last year of his deal, it was what he wanted most. And while it did happen, Burrell didn't record a hit through the first four games of the 2008 World Series, but in his final World Series (and Phillies) at-bat, he hit a double, which led to Eric Bruntlett pinch running for him and eventually scoring the winning run of the game and Fall Classic.
Burrell was not re-signed after the 2008 season, with the team instead opting to sign...
Phillies general manager Pat Gillick retired from his position after the 2008 season, choosing to end his Hall of Fame GM career on a high note. His replacement? Assistant GM Ruben Amaro, Jr.
Amaro's first move as Phillies GM came with the signing of Pat Burrell's replacement, left fielder Raul Ibanez. Ibanez was signed to a three-year, $31.5 million contract, and with few Phillies fans knowing much about him, many were wondering why the team would replace Pat the Bat with an outfielder even older than he was.
Ibanez silenced the critics in the first half of his 2009 season, hitting 22 home runs with a .309 average and 1.015 OPS. He was named to his first All-Star team that year and was quickly becoming a possible NL MVP candidate.
Unfortunately, things quickly took a turn for the worst when Ibanez suffered a groin injury and was out for a few weeks. Upon his return from said injury, he hit just .232 with a .774 OPS and hit just 12 home runs.
In 2010, Ibanez was looking to bounce back after losing his great season, yet he plummeted even more, hitting just 16 home runs and 83 RBI, though his average remained just above the .272 he hit the year prior, coming in at .275. But things got ugly for him last season in 2011, when he hit just .245, though he did hit 20 homers and batted in 84 runs.
Ibanez became a fan favorite in Philadelphia thanks to his incredible performance in the first half of the 2009 season, but he was never worth the contract he was paid. Being a sloppy defender in the latter half of the deal as well, Ibanez didn't prevent the Phillies from making any other moves, though he did come close to it.
Mike Lieberthal was a great catcher for the Phillies, and as a kid, he was my idol. If you asked me why, I'm not sure I could give you an answer. But I just loved watching the guy behind the plate.
Lieberthal was selected third-overall in the 1990 draft by the Phillies. However, Lieberthal didn't become an everyday player for the Phillies until 1996, and even then he was consistently getting injured. However, Lieberthal began playing a majority of the Phillies' games in 1997, and he fared decently well, hitting .246 with 20 home runs and 77 RBI. Not a huge offensive force, Lieberthal's defense was superb, and he could gun out baserunners like there was no tomorrow.
Struggling again in 1998, Lieberthal was dominant offensively in 1999, hitting 31 home runs, 96 RBI, and having a .300 average and .914 OPS. He also earned the first of two All-Star nods and his only career Gold Glove award.
After 1999, Lieberthal went back to his ways of hitting closer to what he did in 1997, except a bit worse than that. With 2003 being an exception when he hit .313, Lieby never hit over .280 again and never again topped 20 home runs. And his OPS, again excepting 2003, failed to exceed .800.
In the middle of the 2002 season, Lieberthal signed a three-year, $23.5 million extension with the Phillies. Having passed his prime, the extension made little sense at the time and blocked the way for other catchers to fill his role. Not that the Phillies had anyone in house to use, but they couldn't make a signing for the position should they have needed to do so.
Lieberthal was a fan favorite in Philadelphia, but with his best years behind him when he signed his extension, the contract didn't do much good for the Phillies. Then again, it could have been worse...
Aside from Tug McGraw, Brad Lidge very well could be the Phillies' most storied closer.
Lidge was acquired by the Phillies from the Houston Astros before the 2008 season for Michael Bourn and two other prospects. Widely considered washed up in Houston, the trade wasn't initially embraced by Phillies fans, but that would quickly change.
In 2008, as all Phillies fans remember, Lidge saved 41 games in 41 opportunities, posting an ERA of 1.95 and 92 strikeouts in 69.1 innings, earning an invitation to the All-Star game, placing fourth in the NL Cy Young Award voting, and placing eighth in the NL MVP voting. He also went a perfect seven for seven in the postseason, striking out Eric Hinske of the Tampa Bay Rays for the final out of the 2008 World Series, with the Phillies winning it all for the first time since the aforementioned McGraw struck out Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals in 1980 to win the Fall Classic.
During the season, Lidge was extended for three additional years for a contract worth $37.5 million. It didn't go as well as planned, though. In 2009, Lidge saved his first five opportunities before blowing one for the first time in three years. He was hurt, and despite earning 31 saves, he ended up blowing six other opportunities, going 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA on the season.
The start of 2010 wasn't good to Lidge, either, and he was once again hurt for a good portion of the season. After returning in late August, though, Lidge was one of the hottest closers in baseball, and he lowered his ERA on the season to 2.96.
Lidge was all set to go in 2011 when he hurt his shoulder and elbow in spring training. Jose Contreras was originally called on to close, and when he got hurt for the remainder of the season, Ryan Madson closed, and he closed well. Lidge did return for a bit, pitching 19.1 innings on the year and earning one save against the Colorado Rockies, his 100th in a Phillies uniform.
Lights-Out Lidge was the Phillies MVP in 2008 and they wouldn't have won it all without him. But was he worth what he was paid? Not a chance, and he was immovable as a result. Hopefully, the Phillies won't make the mistake of overpaying a closer again. Oh, wait...
Finally, the Phillies have an All-Star closer.
Jonathan Papelbon has been one of baseball's best closers over the last six years. He's the fastest to reach 200 career saves and has been one of the most effective closers in the postseason, holding a 1.00 lifetime ERA in October baseball to his name.
When the Phillies lured him away from the Boston Red Sox and inked him to a four-year, $50 million contract, it sent shockwaves across the baseball world. For starters, the rumors that the Phillies and Ryan Madson were close to a four-year, $44 million deal were immediately proven to be false. Not only was the four years surprising, this was also a record deal for a relief pitcher—never before had a reliever received $50 million in a contract. The deal also has a vesting option for a fifth year that comes with 55 games finished in 2015 or 100 games finished from 2014-2015.
It was thought that the Phillies would learn from Lidge's contract not to overpay for a closer. And in many ways, the Phillies didn't. Last season, in Papelbon's final year of arbitration, he earned $12.5 million, a record for a reliever as well. Papelbon has actually been signed to an average annual value of what he had earned last year, so he's not making anything more than he had last season.
Nevertheless, it is still an extreme deal for a closer, and if Papelbon, who's had a relatively minor injury history, somehow blows up, this deal could get ugly fast. Papelbon's got the potential to succeed in Philadelphia...but at what price? Will it be at $50 million, or could a downturn in the midst of the deal make it worse?
Only time will tell on this one.
Ah, good ol' Jamie Moyer. Or should I say good old...(sorry about the puns.)
Acquired by the Phillies midway through the 2006 season, Jamie Moyer was the staple of the Phillies' rotation in 2008 when they won the World Series. He led the rotation in wins with 16, and he posted a moderate ERA of 3.71 along with 123 strikeouts. He was 45 years old, and many thought that he'd end his career on the highest note possible in the majors.
However, Moyer wasn't ready to call it a career just yet. And while that's not a problem, the contract the Phillies inked him to was: a two-year, $13 million deal with more incentives that eventually brought up his second year from $6.5 million to $8 million.
Moyer struggled in the years of his new contract, going 12-10 and 9-9 in 2009 and 2010, respectively. His ERAs in those respective years were 4.94 and 4.84, and he didn't make more than 25 starts in either year, with him going down and ultimately needing Tommy John surgery partway through the 2010 season.
Moyer has since recovered, and scouts are saying that his stuff looks excellent. He could very well sign a contract with a team this year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him pitch in the majors once again. But will he pitch in Philadelphia again? No.
I loved Moyer. He's a classy guy who's always giving back to the community. But he needs to learn when to ride off into the sunset and call it a day. He's 49 years old, and while I imagine he's still striving for 300 wins, he's 33 away, and that'll take him quite some time to reach, should he ever. Watching Moyer become the oldest pitcher to throw a complete game shutout was incredible. But leave it at that.
We end this slideshow with Joe Blanton, Heavy B, Fat Joe, whatever you want to call him...
Blanton was acquired by the Phillies at the 2008 trade deadline from the Oakland Athletics. He ended up going 4-0 for the Phils after the trade with a 4.20 ERA and hitting his first career home run off Edwin Jackson in the 2008 World Series, a memory that I believe was the best moment in that championship run...aside from Matt Stairs and the final out...okay, maybe not.
Either way, Blanton helped bolster the pitching staff and gave the Phillies more depth in the rotation. And in 2009, Blanton still did well, going 12-8 despite an ERA of 4.05. Having never pitched to an ERA under 3.50 in a season, though, Blanton wasn't exactly a great pitcher, yet he came at a decent price...
...That is, until the Phillies extended him before the 2010 season. Blanton earned a three-year, $24 million contract extension, avoiding arbitration with the team and being under team control through 2012. At the time, it looked like a decent move, considering that the Phillies were not one of baseball's best teams starting-pitching wise.
Then the Phillies, who had already traded for Roy Halladay, acquired Roy Oswalt and later re-signed Cliff Lee. Along with Cole Hamels, Blanton was the odd man out. The Four Aces did not include Joe—Fat Joe and the Terror Squad was the closest he got to becoming part of the ace group.
With Blanton as a fifth starter, the rotation looked fantastic to start last season off, and while rumors circulated that Blanton was a handshake away from being shipped to the Boston Red Sox, a deal never occurred. Blanton ended up getting hurt in May for most of the season, going 1-2 with a 5.01 ERA despite making a brief return at the season's end in the bullpen. But Blanton, who's set to make either $8.5 or $10.5 million (depending on the source) next year, sure isn't worth anything close to that kind of money.
The contract isn't as bad as the one we signed Adam Eaton to, though it was for the same amount and years. At least Blanton's a bit better, though I almost included Eaton on this list. But man, is it terrible, and the Phillies need to know their future plans before inking mediocre pitchers to lucrative, insane deals. I'm just hoping he'll regain some value and will be traded at the deadline this year.