Back in March, I disagreed with the notion that the Phillies roster needed detonation, as was then being advocated by Jonah Keri of Grantland.com. I thought there were too many pieces still in place to have that outlook going into 2013… that this veteran group had a legitimate shot at contention if enough went right.
Then the season started. To be fair to myself, the performances of Domonic Brown, Chase Utley (when healthy) and Cliff Lee have proven me partially right – there was some gas left in the tank. But the simultaneous play of Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay and nearly the entire bullpen has made it obvious that this core group needs to be broken up.
Keri hasn’t let up on his assertion that the Phillies are running themselves into the ground, which came to a head last week in his NL East Trade Deadline Preview. He again advocated a fire sale and hurled some vitriol-filled grenades towards the Phils front office. From Keri:
GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and his bosses are either delusional, in denial, terribly misguided, or all of the above. Sure, making drastic changes to a team that’s ascended to elite revenue-generating status thanks to big crowds and a pending TV megascore carries risk. But so too does clinging to a group of fading veterans and watching them limit the Phillies to a string of 75-win seasons.
At this point, I’d have to agree. Three months ago, Howard’s hot March drummed up some confidence that he could still be a legitimate contributor. He was 18 months from tearing his Achilles on that fateful October night… the night that now looks like the official end to this elite era of Phillies baseball. As of Wednesday, he’s (literally) hobbling along with a WAR of 0.3, on pace for 19 home runs and still owed nearly $100 million. Before last night, he hadn’t had a hit since June 23.
His contract is an anchor around this organization’s neck… an anchor that isn’t going anywhere. With him making $25 million a year, it will be awful hard for the Phillies to compete with the rest of their big-time contributors also making eight figure salaries per season. The team will likely be locked into mediocrity – 75-win seasons, if you will – which brings us full circle to Keri.
We are getting slammed with Phils trade rumors every day and that is likely to continue up until the trade deadline. The front office has said plenty of head-scratching things in the last few weeks. But until July 31 passes, it is hard to kill them. Once it does, if the pack of highly paid 30-somethings still inhabits the locker room at Citizen’s Bank Park, it should be open season on the Phillies brass.
Like Keri, I think that if Amaro holds onto most or even some of these guys, he is delusional. He’s said his job is to put a contending team on the field every year and that players like Lee and Papelbon make that easier to do (courtesy of Jayson Stark). Given the make-up of the other 23 roster spots, I couldn’t disagree more. For the past year and a half, we’ve seen what this team is capable of… and it’s not contention.
There’s been talk about how Amaro has to try to sell the fans on this team as a contender in order to keep his job or to protect his image – talk that he has backed up through the content of interviews like the Stark one referenced above. That idea looks a bit counterintuitive from here. Unless he takes action and cashes in the trade chips he has, what is sure to result on the field is what will make him look incompetent enough to lose his job (in theory at least, it sure seems like ownership is loyal to RAJ).
Keri references a Daily News story from a few weeks back that compared the Phillies to the Cubs and their downfall after 2008. Sure, the situations are different, but the theory is sound. If this group continues to decline, and all indications are that they will, it is that spiraling performance that should seal Amaro’s fate… not a well-intentioned attempt to fix what he messed up.
At the very least, Utley, Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon and Michael Young need to go. All four players are approaching the end of their deals and, outside of Young, have significant value. As Keri indicates, a mediocre team carrying $13 million at the closer position is a ridiculous luxury. An argument can be made for dealing Cliff Lee too. If he doesn’t get dealt, the team around him likely won’t be good enough for his still-intact abilities to matter.
For the first time in a while, pitching is easier to find than hitting (which also makes Amaro and his rotation money drop look terrible, but that is for another day). This season should close the book on an era of Phillies baseball in which they created an elite offensive with a cheap, homegrown nucleus, and then filled in the holes around that group. This free agent marketplace – in which nearly no elite hitters become available until after their 30th birthday – should make the Phils eager to do the same thing all over again.
It looks like they have one staple in Brown. They hope they have another in the pipeline in Maikel Franco, who we’ve heard plenty about of late. It’s time to get more, and then build from there. Just to throw a name out there, maybe the Phillies can pry an Avisail Garcia-type (near-ready) from the Tigers for Papelbon in addition to the hauls they get for their other stars. It could turn an aging team that is going nowhere into a solid young nucleus with a ton of money to spend. It seems like a no-brainer, which is why Amaro clinging to this group seems so impetuous. He now has 28 days to show us it was all a ploy.