Twenty-four hours removed from the Ryan Howard deal, and there’s one easy determination: The Phillies are a lock-stock elite-market franchise. Look at the last six world champions. Sometimes, winning a title might be a curse for the payroll:
- 2003 Marlins: $45M; 2004 Marlins: $42M
- 2004 Red Sox: $127M; 2005 Red Sox: $123M
- 2005 White Sox: $75M; 2006 White Sox: $102M
- 2006 Cardinals: $88M; 2007 Cardinals: $90M
- 2007 Red Sox: $143M; 2008 Red Sox: $133M
- 2008 Phillies: $98M; 2009 Phillies: $130M*
Of the last six champions, only one besides the Phillies (2005 White Sox) substantially raised their payroll the next season. Those White Sox made the following moves to raise their payroll:
- Signed Jon Garland to 3Y/$29M extension, avoiding final arbitration year.
- Traded Aaron Rowand to Phillies for Jim Thome, adding approx. $30M over four seasons.
- Signed Paul Konerko to 5Y/$60M deal; Konerko was free agent.
- Traded for Javier Vazquez, adding approx. $19M over two seasons.
- Signed AJ Pierzynski to 3Y/$15M deal, avoiding final two arbitration years.
- Signed Joe Crede to 1Y/$2.675M deal, avoiding arbitration.
- Traded for and signed Alex Cintron to $1.6M deal, avoiding arbitration.
Meanwhile, the Phillies patched up 11 arbitration cases and signed free agents amounting to approximately $10M in 2009. The White Sox had some internal moves to make, but they mainly figured to improve the team, it was better to look outside and make deals.
The Phillies were in a position unlike any team in the past. With the influx of arbitration cases at hand, the Phils had a seemingly impossible goal: Lock each case down. Somehow, they did it. Somehow, Ruben Amaro Jr. and Co. were able to satisfy their young stars, keep the window for contention open exactly three years and work the payroll to allow for flexible spending in 2010 and beyond. Those 2005 White Sox, meanwhile, went too deep on Konerko, took on a Thome contract that spread over a long period and took most of their arbitration cases into and through free agency. The Phillies? They merely handed out raises for good work.
The White Sox contended in 2006, winning 90 games, but finished in third place in the AL Central. 2007 was not kind to the Sox, as injuries (and the length of some of those contracts) started to eat at the franchise. Luckily enough, the farm system kicked in and a few good deals for cheap talent made the Sox contenders again in 2008. But their window is almost closed. This writer can’t see the Sox taking the Central in 2009.
The Phillies will contend until 2012. And it’s very possible they’ll contend beyond 2012. They’ve left room for signing the foundation players into their twilight years, while leaving plenty of space for the farm system talent to take over. For now, however, the Phillies are solidly an elite-market team. No longer can we cite the Yankees and Red Sox without mentioning the Phillies. No longer can we complain about being “small.” No. The Phillies are at the top shelf of baseball, now, and are surely acting like they belong.