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Time to Pay the Piper
Posted By Christopher Rowe On Jun 11 2011 @ 12:08 pm In Philadelphia,Philadelphia Phillies | 4 Comments
Let’s review some facts. 65 games into the season (97 remaining) and the Phillies are 39-26 (best record in baseball). Philadelphia holds a 2-game lead over Atlanta, 6 over Florida and remains the prohibitive favorite to win the National League East. Ergo, if the focus is detracted from trying to beat their divisional rivals, the Phillies brass should start to do what they have done very well in the past – build a postseason roster. Six weeks remain before the trading deadline and it is high time this Phillies team determines who they will be and what they will do – both for the short term and long term.
Over their run of four straight NL East flags, two National League pennants and one 2008 World Championship, the Phillies have displayed a knack for using the trading deadline and waiver wire to their collective advantage. Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, Brad Lidge, Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins, JC Romero and Mike Sweeney all arrived via Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro’s shrewd dealings. The biggest deal was during the summer of 2009, when the Phillies coveted Roy Halladay. Despite their efforts, Phillies wound up “settling” for Cliff Lee (also garnered Ben Francisco in exchange for Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp and Lou Marson). Lee (who still needed to negotiate his contract beyond the 2010 season) went 7-4 with 3.39 ERA and became the ace of the World Series despite the Phillies losing to the Yankees.
 Before the 2010 season Ruben Amaro would finally land his proverbial white whale, sending essentially the same group of prospects to Toronto (Kyle Drabek, Travis D’Anard, Michael Taylor) for the promise to extend Halladay’s contract at $20M (through 2013). Testament to the limits of modern day baseball salary structure, Roy Halladay’s signing came within days of the Phillies deciding they had no hope of negotiating a long-term deal with Lee (who was said to be seeking $10M per year). Amaro packed Lee’s contract off to Seattle, bringing back three minor league prospects in order to “restock the farm system.” Fans and the media rightfully lambasted the Phillies brass as they’d forfeited a rotation that might have included Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee.
Six months later, Amaro attempted to make up for the Lee deal by sending JA Happ, Anthony Gose and other prospects to Houston where Ed “Whitewash” Wade kindly offered us Roy Oswalt (signed to a 5-year, $73M contract through 2011) because his Astros were hemorrhaging money and floundering in the standings. Amaro and Wade have always been able to swing sweetheart deals in the past and this was one that seemed to benefit the Phillies. By Thanksgiving the Phillies had sat out the World Series where they watched Cliff Lee (now a Texas Ranger) once again lay waste to the competition only to lose a World Series (to the SF Giants who had ousted the Phillies from the NLCS). On December 16 the Phillies announced that they had landed free agent pitcher Cliff Lee (5 years, $120M) and thus began the legend of the Four Aces (a.k.a. “Phantastic Phour”). Now the time has come to begin paying the piper…
Phillies payroll has swelled above $165 million and they have the second-oldest roster in the major leagues (Yankees). Those same Yankees ($200 million) are the only other MLB team with a payroll above $170 million. The Phillies like to think that they are like the Yankees with their merchandise sales, hordes of loyal troubadour fans in every visiting ballpark and perennial postseason appearances. I know the New York Yankees. You sir, Ruben Amaro & Staff, are not the New York Yankees.
Brad Lidge ($10M) has not thrown a pitch in 2011 and has been sporadically effective (7.21 ERA in 2009, back down under 3.00 in 2010) since his perfect 2008 season (41 saves in 41 chances). Phillies fans will always forgive “Lights Out” Lidge because of 2008 and may even place him on the same pedestal as Tug McGraw – but how often did you see Tug McGraw save a game after his 1980 celebration of the Phillies first World Championship? JC Romero was released and re-signed saving the Phillies $2.5 million in the process – but for what? An ineffective “relief” specialist (15 IP, 4.11 ERA) who if he threw right-handed would be either pitching batting practice for the Berwing High School team in Puerto Rico or rolling cigars in a South Florida sweatshop. Romero has been supplanted by Antonio Bastardo and is proof that 2008 (59 IP over 81 G, 41 hits, 52K/38BB, 2.75 ERA) was more of an aberration than expectation. Roy Oswalt (10 wins since his July 30 acquisition) may only be 34 years old, but between his back issues and his contract options (mutual option between team and player for 2012 at about $15M per season) is very likely to retire following the 2011 season. Jose Conteras has gone from reclamation project to 5th starter to bullpen longman to setup reliever extraordinaire to closer and now plays the role of Ryan Madsen’s caddy. Ironically, Madsen was the setup man that Contreras leapfrogged over to assume the closer’s role when Lidge wasn’t ready to start the 2011 season. While Contreras ($5.5M through 2012) has been very effective (3.50 ERA, 9 SV, 82 games, 68K/23BB, 1.25 WHIP) over 2 seasons in Philadelphia, he is 39 years old. Speaking of 39-year-olds… Raul Ibanez is playing out the final few months of his $31M contract while hitting .250/8HR/30 RBI masquerading as the Phillies number five hitter. Ibanez is a class act, a respected veteran and a tried and true ballplayer in every sense of the word, but he couldn’t protect Ryan Howard in this Phillies lineup if you spotted him the US National Guard. Ibanez and Contreras, despite their combined age of 78, could play a role with a contending team. Oh… and I’m legally and morally required to include Joe Blanton as a member of the Phillies roster who has both a pulse (1-2, 5.50 ERA, 1.57 WHIP) and a contract ($24M deal through 2012). Question is should these players contribute to the Phillies postseason or someone else?
All of these players mentioned are well-paid veterans who are either in the sunset years of their careers or their final time with the Phillies – and we haven’t even talked about the most important players yet. Cole Hamels (since 2002) and Jimmy Rollins (since 1996) have been lifelong Phillies but their futures beyond 2011 in red pinstripes remain unclear because of contract concerns. Rollins (32 years old) will be a free agent after 2011 and is likely to seek a 3-year deal worth about $10M ($3M more per season than his current contract) per season. While Phillies may see a lifelong veteran team leader who will never duplicate his MVP season (.296, 30 HR, 94 RBI, 41 SB, 139 runs) or regain his once blazing speed (2001-2008 totaled 292 SB for an average of 36.5 and 80% success rate), most MLB GMs have eyed Rollins as a solid veteran who would be a huge upgrade to the inferior crop of shortstops across the league. Ryan Howard has become the face of this franchise to the tune of $25M. Meanwhile, Hamels (8-2, 2.58 ERA, 91K/18BB in 90 IP) is only 27 years old. Hamels, Lee and Halladay could pitch together for the next 5 years with Hamels anchoring the Phillies rotation for another decade (reminding older fans of another tall lefty who used to rule the roost). Imagine Hamels as a crafty veteran mentoring Jarred Cosart, Jesse Biddle and Brody Colvin. All it would take is another $20M contract to go along with Halladay, Lee and Ryan Howard which would keep the $100M Club together through at least 2014.
 Prior to 2010, the Phillies had never offered a starting pitcher longer than a 3-year contract but in order to sign Hamels (compared on the potential free agent market to Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee) they will need to cough up their fourth long-term deal with more than $20M per annum. Loosely placed into perspective, Howard, Lee, Hamels and Halladay would collectively cost $100 million dollars (current “max payroll” is around $165M) – leaving $65 million for the rest of the Phillies organization!
As the immortal Duke Brothers (see Trading Places) were known to scream from their palatial suite overlooking the NY Stock Exchange, “SELL!!!!” Sell Kyle “Kobyashi” Kendrick, Joe “Chicken –N-Ribs” Blanton and Raul Ibanez as though they were orange futures during glacier season in Florida. Sell Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras or Ross Gload and Brian Schnieder and throw in Danys Baez or David Herndon to anyone who makes a purchase! There is also an abundance of veterans playing in AAA Lehigh Valley who had been minor league free agent signees this offseason. This list includes added trade fodder the likes of Josh Barfield, Delwyn Young, Jeff Larish, Brandon Moss, Pete Orr, Scott Podsednik, Eddie Bonine, Ryan Fierabend and Scott Mathieson. Any or all of these players could augment trade packages or replace more expensive players like Ross Gload, Schnieder or Ben Francisco.
 No one is suggesting going after Vladimir Guererro, Carlos Lee or Alfonso Soriano- although Jose Bautista or even Nelson Cruz (.243, 15 HR, 34 RBI with Texas) sound very appealing. Maybe just maybe if you clear out some of the dead weight salary (we’re talking about you Joe “Bloaton”) there would be the possibility of grabbing another offensive weapon like Jason Kubel, Ryan Ludwick or Hunter Pence. Thankfully Jayson Werth took his $127M and absconded to Washington. How good would Carlos Quentin (.270, 17 HR, 46 RBI with White Sox) or Ryan Ludwick (.266, 8 HR, 38 RBI with San Diego) look batting fifth and playing left field?
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