Keri: “Blow up the Phillies”
In a controversial column for Grantland, Jonah Keri argues that the Phillies should enter rebuilding mode, as soon as this summer if things don’t go their way. Keri cites a number of teams that enjoyed prolonged success, as the Phillies did from 2007-11, but did not recognize the ticking clock counting down to midnight. The Phillies’ carriage will, inevitably, turn back into a pumpkin and a good GM will get a good return on his dwindling assets before they become albatrosses.
Quite a few notable players can become free agents after the season: starter Roy Halladay (whose option for 2014 almost certainly will not vest), second baseman Chase Utley, and catcher Carlos Ruiz. Note that each of the three plays at a premium position, which means two things: one, that the Phillies can get better value due to positional scarcity; and two, that the players will be harder to replace adequately in the future outside of a trade. Michael Young will also be a free agent and the outfield situation will still need to be addressed depending on what happens this season with the development of Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf.
The Phillies have about $105 million committed for the 2014 season, and $73.5 million of that is going to three players: Cliff Lee ($25 million), Ryan Howard ($25 million), and Cole Hamels ($23.5 million). The other three with guaranteed salaries are Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million), Jimmy Rollins ($11 million), and Mike Adams ($7 million). Seven players will be eligible for arbitration including Kyle Kendrick (earning $4.5 million in 2013) and John Lannan ($2.5 million), meaning pay raises. So not only do the Phillies need that current list of players to perform well, defying their age and prior injury histories, they have a limited amount of payroll space to address 19 roster spots. The Minor League system, a source of cheap, high-quality talent for many teams, will not be able to help the Phillies much, if at all as it ranks among baseball’s worst.
The Phillies’ flexibility gets worse as the years go on as players, like Howard and Lee, age and become less attractive to other teams looking to bolster their own rosters, meaning the Phillies will be stuck paying their salaries for very little, if any, gain.
Yes, the Phillies have the potential to challenge the Nationals and Braves in the NL East this year, and maybe even next year. Howard could return to his 2010-11 levels of production. The trio of Halladay-Lee-Hamels could rank as baseball’s best 1-2-3 again. Papelbon and Adams could be a lights-out combination at the back of the bullpen. Brown could become the star everyone envisioned him being three years ago. Is it worth the gamble, at the cost of guaranteeing yourself a full stable of MLB-ready players and projectable prospects for years down the road?
Remember, the Nationals and Braves aren’t going away as their rosters are young and talented. The Phillies have to consider that, if they fail to restock after 2013-14, it might be a while before they have the means to challenge NL East supremacy again. And that’s why, objectively speaking, it makes a lot of sense for the Phillies to enter a rebuilding mode sooner rather than later.