A Wrench in the Phillies’ Future Plans

Much of the talk lately has focused on present decisions to be made by the Phillies as it pertains to the July 31 trade deadline. Debates over trading or re-signing Chase Utley, trading away Michael Young and giving a regular role to Kevin Frandsen and even Cody Asche, dumping Delmon Young, and even trading away Cliff Lee have taken up just about all of the energy from writers and pundits. And it is completely merited — one wrong decision over the next eight days can severely handicap the Phillies in the years going forward.

Those in favor of a buy-now strategy tend to mitigate future risk by citing the Phillies’ upcoming TV deal, which could potentially be worth billions of dollars. As Jeff Passan pointed out in a column posted on April 28, there may be a bidding war between Comcast and FOX Sports, and the last time there was a bidding war over a TV deal, the Dodgers got $7 billion. Even without knowing what a likely average annual value would be, the Phillies’ payroll could eventually be as limitless as that of the New York Yankees. So, the Phillies don’t have a great Minor League system? Their core is aging and won’t be around when that TV deal is signed? The influx of money will allow the Phillies to literally buy their way out of their problems. Or so you’d think.

In recent years, a trend has emerged among most teams where they lock up their superstar players before they have the opportunity to enter free agency. I wrote about this at HardballTalk in late March, calling contract extensions “the new market inefficiency”. Here’s a look at contract extensions of at least three years signed since the end of the 2011 season (contract info via Cot’s Contracts):

Date Pitcher Age Pos Team Yrs Amount Arb Status End
12/9/11 Matt Moore 23 LHSP Rays 5 $ 14.0 M Pre-Arb 28
12/23/11 John Danks 27 LHSP White Sox 5 $ 65.0 M Arb-3 32
1/9/12 Howie Kendrick 28 2B Angels 4 $ 33.5 M Arb-3 32
1/16/12 Gio Gonzalez 26 LHSP Nationals 5 $ 42.0 M Arb-1 31
1/17/12 Pablo Sandoval 25 3B Giants 3 $ 17.2 M Arb-1 28
1/24/12 Brandon Morrow 27 RHSP Blue Jays 3 $ 21.0 M Arb-2 30
2/26/12 Ryan Zimmerman 27 3B Nationals 6 $ 100.0 M 33
2/27/12 Salvador Perez 22 C Royals 5 $ 7.0 M Pre-Arb 27
3/1/12 Yadier Molina 29 C Cardinals 5 $ 75.0 M 34
3/3/12 Cameron Maybin 26 OF Padres 5 $ 25.0 M Pre-Arb 31
3/6/12 Andrew McCutchen 25 OF Pirates 6 $ 51.5 M Arb-1 31
3/8/12 Glen Perkins 29 LHRP Twins 3 $ 10.3 M Arb-3 32
3/15/12 Alcides Escobar 25 SS Royals 4 $ 10.5 M Pre-Arb 29
3/20/12 Nick Hundley 28 C Padres 3 $ 9.0 M Arb-1 31
3/26/12 Dustin McGowan 30 RHRP Blue Jays 3 $ 4.1 M Arb-3 33
3/26/12 Jonathan Lucroy 26 C Brewers 5 $ 11.0 M Pre-Arb 31
3/30/12 Cory Luebke 26 LHSP Padres 4 $ 12.0 M Pre-Arb 30
3/30/12 Derek Holland 25 LHSP Rangers 5 $ 28.5 M Pre-Arb 30
3/30/12 Alex Gordon 28 OF Royals 4 $ 37.5 M Arb-3 32
4/2/12 Matt Cain 27 RHSP Giants 6 $ 127.5 M 33
4/3/12 Joey Votto 28 1B Reds 10 $ 225.0 M 38
4/4/12 Jonathon Niese 25 LHSP Mets 5 $ 25.5 M Pre-Arb 30
4/10/12 Carlos Santana 26 C Indians 5 $ 21.0 M Pre-Arb 31
4/10/12 Ian Kinsler 30 2B Rangers 5 $ 75.0 M 35
4/10/12 Brandon Phillips 31 2B Reds 6 $ 72.5 M 37
4/17/12 Madison Bumgarner 22 LHSP Giants 5 $ 35.0 M Pre-Arb 27
4/19/12 Erick Aybar 28 SS Angels 4 $ 35.0 M Arb-3 32
5/26/12 Miguel Montero 28 C D-Backs 5 $ 60.0 M 33
5/26/12 Adam Jones 26 OF Orioles 6 $ 85.5 M Arb-3 32
6/12/12 Andre Ethier 30 OF Dodgers 5 $ 85.0 M 35
7/12/12 Edwin Encarnacion 29 3B/1B Blue Jays 3 $ 29.0 M 32
7/22/12 Carlos Quentin 29 OF Padres 3 $ 27.0 M 32
7/25/12 Cole Hamels 28 LHSP Phillies 6 $ 144.0 M 34
8/28/12 Starlin Castro 22 SS Cubs 7 $ 60.0 M Arb-1 29
10/30/12 Brandon League 30 RHRP Dodgers 3 $ 22.5 M 33
11/26/12 Evan Longoria 27 3B Rays 6 $ 100.0 M 33
12/5/12 David Wright 30 3B Mets 8 $ 138.0 M 38
12/17/12 Santiago Casilla 32 RHSP Giants 3 $ 15.0 M Pre-Arb 35
1/16/13 Matt Harrison 27 LHSP Rangers 5 $ 55.0 M Arb-2 32
1/31/13 Martin Prado 29 3B D-Backs 4 $ 40.0 M Arb-3 33
2/7/13 Aaron Hill 31 2B D-Backs 3 $ 35.0 M 34
2/13/13 Felix Hernandez 27 RHSP Mariners 7 $ 175.0 M 34
3/7/13 Chris Sale 24 LHSP White Sox 5 $ 32.5 M Pre-Arb 29
3/8/13 Allen Craig 28 1B Cardinals 5 $ 31.0 M Pre-Arb 33
3/13/13 Carlos Gomez 27 OF Brewers 3 $ 24.0 M Arb-4 30
3/27/13 Adam Wainwright 31 RHSP Cardinals 5 $ 97.5 M 36
3/29/13 Paul Goldschmidt 25 1B D-Backs 5 $ 32.0 M Pre-Arb 30
3/29/13 Buster Posey 26 C Giants 9 $ 167.0 M Arb-1 35
3/29/13 Justin Verlander 30 RHSP Tigers 7 $ 180.0 M 37
4/4/13 Elvis Andrus 24 SS Rangers 8 $ 120.0 M Arb-2 32
5/12/13 Anthony Rizzo 23 1B Cubs 7 $ 41.0 M Pre-Arb 30

Of the 51 players to have signed extensions since the end of the 2011 season, only seven may become free agents before the age of 30 when their contracts expire, assuming their teams choose not to pick up their options if they are available. Of those seven, only Pablo Sandoval and Alcides Escobar signed deals of four years or fewer, at three and four years respectively. And remember, this doesn’t even count Major League deals signed by draftees (Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper) and international free agents (Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes).

What this means is that the free agent market will have fewer and fewer top-tier players. Those that do reach the market fall into one or more of several categories: old, injury-prone, declining production, and expensive. Where free agency was once the first place teams looked to find talent, it has now become a secondary market for players that didn’t stick with a team for whatever reason. Thus, the TV deal the Phillies will get soon isn’t as big of a windfall as it seems.

This is where neglecting your Minor League system really hurts. The Phillies will have all of that TV money and no one within the system to give it to — they aren’t very active in attracting international talent, and few of their top prospects are expected to stick at the Major League level by the time the deal would be signed, so the only place that TV money can go to is to free agents. This means the Phillies would either follow the Angels’ method of overpaying for the best players, or following a mid-market plan of signing cheap, undervalued veterans in the hope to strike lightning in a bottle.

Replenishing the Minor League system with near-Major-League-ready talent (for example, Mike Olt, acquired by the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade) would not only help the Phillies from the standpoint of future production, but gives them a good chance at locking down a key player in his prime years.

Tonight, the 49-50 Phillies begin a three-game set in St. Louis against arguably baseball’s best team, and then head to Detroit to play the defending American League champion Tigers. These are the only two series left which the Phillies can use to decide their status as buyer or seller. In a perfect world, they would have already decided to sell weeks ago, but perhaps the next week will give them the impetus they need to set themselves up well for the future by selling off soon-to-be free agents such as Michael Young, Carlos Ruiz, and Delmon Young. And, for the right price, they should also be open to trading Chase Utley, Jonathan PapelbonJimmy Rollins, and Cliff Lee.

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128 comments

  1. Larry

    July 24, 2013 08:27 PM

    Do you think I’m trying to say that 32-36 years old will be your best years? No, but it happens. I’m saying you can still be one of the best power hitters when you hit 30 years or older. As I told you, McCovey and JMSr don’t count.

    As stated here before:

    Old does not = bad

    Young does not = good

    Good = Good

  2. hk

    July 24, 2013 08:39 PM

    I’m not saying old = bad or that young = good. In your terms, what I am saying is when looking at any one player, young and great is usually > older and great. Put differently, what I’m saying now, which is what (others and) I said then, is that you should not pay a player for the decline phase of his career based on the expectation that he’ll continue to produce like he did in his prime. In Howard’s case, following a great stretch from his age 26 to age 29, they extended him at age 30 for his age 32 to age 36 seasons and paid him as if they were expecting him to stay healthy and produce like he did when he was 26, 27, 28 and 29.

  3. hk

    July 24, 2013 08:49 PM

    Let me re-phrase my second sentence…what I meant is that players who are great when they are young are generally not as great when they get older, especially into their mid-30’s.

    David Ortiz, one of the examples you provided, hit 208 HR’s in his age 27 to age 31 seasons and hit 135 HR’s in his age 32 to age 36 seasons. Old (age 32 to age 36) David Ortiz was good, which supports your point that Old does not = bad, but Ortiz’s production dropped by 1/3, which supports my point that players of that body type decline in their 30’s.

  4. Larry

    July 24, 2013 09:03 PM

    Every player is different in baseball. While your best years may be before 30, there have been so many players to have some of their best years past 30. Just watching the game tonight and this game sucks BTW, Utley and Beltran are playing a lot better than previous years when they were younger. They are more healthy now.

    Players get paid on past performances in their early to mid 30’s. JRoll got a healthy raise in his contract and he’s out of his prime. It’s not just the Phillies, it’s all around the league.

    Raul Ibanez is having the best power year of his career at 41. One thing about baseball, never assume anything. You never know what is going to happen. The terrible Marlins have been the best team in the NL East since June 1st, at least as of a week ago.

  5. Larry

    July 24, 2013 09:24 PM

    Just 1 more example HK, Jaysen Werth at age 34 has hit 5 home runs since Sunday. 5 bombs in 4 games. How many times did he do that in his 20’s?

  6. Scott G

    July 24, 2013 09:26 PM

    How is this spam bot getting past the filter now that clicking a box is mandatory???

  7. hk

    July 24, 2013 09:29 PM

    Of course, every player is different and there are exceptions to every rule. You may have felt that RAJ was justified in 2010 to extend Howard at $25M per year. Others and I, based on the expectation that Howard would decline and become more injury prone as he reached his mid-30’s like the majority – not all – of players before him, thought it was a significant overpay. Believe me when I tell you that I take no pleasure from being right on this one. It bothers me to see what has become of this team under RAJ’s (mis)management and to see Howard struggle as he has the past two seasons. There’s nothing I’d rather have happen than to see Howard hit another 75+ HR’s and earn a small portion of the $125M. I am a very big Ryan Howard fan. Even though I hate his contract, I don’t begrudge him getting it.

    Not all teams overpay players on past performance. Two recent examples are St. Louis beign smart enough to not overpay Pujols and Texas being smart enough not to overpay Hamilton.

    Wat do you mean never assume anything? How would you project or predict whether Howard’s contract would be a good or bad one without making some assumptions? RAJ assumed that Howard would produce in his age 32 to age 36 seasons like he produced in his age 26 to age 29 seasons.

  8. hk

    July 24, 2013 09:33 PM

    Jayson Werth, who is not at all of Howard’s body type, has hit 40 HR’s in 2.6 seasons beginning with his age 32 season. Jayson Werth hit 36 HR’s in his age 30 season. If Werth was of Howard’s body type, you would be further supporting my point, but he’s not. Nor is Ibanez for that matter.

  9. Larry

    July 24, 2013 10:14 PM

    Werth and Ibanez obviously are not those body type examples. I just brought them up, because what they are doing at their ages. Also those were some of my favorite players. It’s funny how our old 2008 outfield is way out producing our new outfield in 2013.

    I never predicted anything about Howard’s contract. I just felt like I had to stand up for the guy, because so many people on this site were trashing him. He had an awesome run for 7-8 seasons. He had a fluke injury which actually caused his new injury. I really feel Howard can come back and be one of the best power hitters in this league still at his tender old age. lol ….. If he can play 145 games next season, he’s gonna hit over 30 home runs. If he can play 150 games, 40 or close to 40 is not out of the question.

    If you want predictions, I’ll give you predictions.

    1.Cole Hamels contract will be an absolute bust.

    2. Chase Utley makes more than 11-13 mil next year.

    3. The cardinals will win their division by at least 7 games.

    4. Jaysen Werth will haunt us for many years.

    5. The show “Under The Dome” will make it past the 1st season.

    6. I will tick the box to confirm I am not a spammer before I post this.

  10. jauer

    July 24, 2013 10:51 PM

    JoeCatz was skeptical initially about the hunter pence trade (he claims this as an attribute rather than a given), yet he ignores that he also advocated demoting Dom Brown after the Pence acquisition in favor of Raul ibanez’s rotting corpse.Catz will defend this perspective by spuriously claiming that his 2011 demotion magically helped him become a good hitter, and i will say, “that’s correct. The1-0 game 5 loss could never have been helped by a young lefty power hitter”

  11. Joe Schuetz

    July 24, 2013 11:30 PM

    The following is a list of pitchers who signed with, and started their careers with, the Phils since 1963. It reflects the number of wins for each man while pitching for the Phils. This is the “top ten” in this category over the past 50 years.

    Cole Hamels 95
    Larry Christenson 83
    Dick Ruthven 78
    Rick Wise 75
    Brett Myers 73
    Randy Wolf 69
    Kyle Kendrick 63
    Ryan Madson 47
    Ray Culp 43
    Bruce Ruffin 42

    Not one ace identified and developed through the player “development” system in half a century. If you want bang for your new-found buck, blow up your sytem and start from scratch; make the first move by stealing the 3 best scouts from every other team. Go find some talent; other teams seem to know where it is!

  12. Phillie697

    July 24, 2013 11:48 PM

    I do not understand the Hamels hate. I really don’t. This guy won the MVP of the one WS that we actually did win, and has been nothing by sensational as a Phillie. Yet we have people who will die defending Ryan Howard’s contract. Phillies fans absolutely baffles me.

  13. Phillie697

    July 24, 2013 11:52 PM

    For a guy who has defended Howard’s contract like his life depends on it, curious he didn’t make a Ryan Howard prediction. Hmmm….

  14. Larry

    July 25, 2013 12:43 AM

    “I do not understand the Hamels hate. I really don’t. This guy won the MVP of the one WS that we actually did win, and has been nothing by sensational as a Phillie. Yet we have people who will die defending Ryan Howard’s contract. Phillies fans absolutely baffles me.”

    Since you always say the Hamels contract was bad, are you now defending his contract or just defending the player?

    Am I defending Howard’s contract or just the player? Didn’t Howard win an MVP? Has he not had a sensational career himself? Is he not one of the best power guys in Phillies history? I say, why all the Howard hate? If you want a prediction on Howard, all you have to do is look at a previous post.

    “If he can play 145 games next season, he’s gonna hit over 30 home runs. If he can play 150 games, 40 or close to 40 is not out of the question.”

    If Howard can play close to a full season, doesn’t have to be all 162 games, I’ll take 145-150. Just watch the baseball’s fly out of CBP.

  15. Phillie697

    July 25, 2013 01:53 AM

    Depends on what you mean by defending. I don’t defend anybody. I’m saying I don’t understand the Hamels hate. Ryan Howard hasn’t been good for a few years now. You can blame it on injury all you want, but it is fact he just hasn’t been good, period. Cole Hamels had a bad two months, and is now back to the same pitcher he’s always been, yet I hear these things:

    “Not one ace identified and developed through the player “development” system in half a century.”

    “The problem now is that [Hamels has] declined for 3 straight years.”

    It would make sense if Hamels isn’t performing anymore, but he still is. Maybe it’s because he’s gotten a Lee-like contract but isn’t pitching like Lee? I have no clue. But sorry Larry, those comments above? They aren’t hating on his contract. Those are comments hating on the player.

    And YOU are the only one who continues, no matter what people here have repeatedly claimed (myself included), that bashing on Howard’s contract does NOT mean we’re bashing on Howard. We are really kinda saddened by the fact that Howard is a shell of his former self, if you want to talk about the player. But when we repeatedly bring up Howard’s contract, it’s not about Howard. It’s about RAJ. I really don’t understand why people think attacking Howard’s contract is somehow the same as attacking Howard’s manhood or something.

    If you want my real honest assessment of Howard himself, my first reaction really is, “Gotta handed to ya… You got that idiot RAJ to give you $125M. Teach me how to do that.”

    Here is a prediction for ya. Ryan Howard will never hit 40 HRs again. EVER. You can take that to the bank. Unfortunately, you won’t be around in 3 years to realize we’ve been right all this time, except it takes you 3 years to see it.

  16. Phillie697

    July 25, 2013 02:01 AM

    “Am I defending Howard’s contract or just the player? Didn’t Howard win an MVP? Has he not had a sensational career himself? Is he not one of the best power guys in Phillies history? I say, why all the Howard hate?”

    So if someone say the Phillies aren’t making the playoffs this year (they aren’t), is that hating on our favorite team? Didn’t the Phillies win a World Series? Have they not had a great decade? Is this team not one of the best, if not THE best, team in Phillies’ history? Why all the Phillies hate?

    Living in the past is just that, living in the past. Facing reality isn’t hate. It’s just facing reality.

  17. Larry

    July 25, 2013 10:57 AM

    2009?

  18. Phillie697

    July 25, 2013 12:19 PM

    “Ryan Howard will never hit 40 HRs again. EVER.”

    2009 is now in the future? Wow, when I said “living in the past,” I didn’t mean literally.

  19. Larry

    July 25, 2013 12:51 PM

    Was referring to Cole not Howard.

    ” Cole Hamels had a bad two months,”

    It’s more like he had a good 3 games in a row. Besides that nothing consistent that you can count on with an “ACE” contract just signed.

    As far as what Joe Schuetz said, you are gonna have to take that up with him. I do agree with what he said though.

  20. Larry

    July 25, 2013 12:59 PM

    On Ryan Howard, 40 homers is a lot and not many players can do that. How far will you go? Will he ever hit 30 again??

  21. Phillie697

    July 25, 2013 03:20 PM

    He MAY hit 30 HRs by fluke one of these years (and by 30 I mean on the dot, not much more than that, if any), but I will guarantee you it’s one of them “empty” 30-HR seasons. By that I mean Mark Reynolds, circa 2010. That would not be a “good” Ryan Howard I’m afraid.

  22. Phillie697

    July 25, 2013 03:29 PM

    As far as Hamels go, here is his xFIP each season:

    3.73 (2006), 3.40, 3.58, 3.63 (2009), 3.28, 3.02, 3.23, 3.65 (2013).

    I don’t know about you, but going from 3.58 (his magical 2008 season in which we won the WS and he won the WS MVP) to 3.63 in 2009 is not a decline; it’s pretty much the same player. After 2009, he morphed into an elite pitcher, especially 2011 (his xFIP was lower than Justin Verlander, the guy that won the freaking AL Cy Young award that year). This year, for any number of reasons, he’s back to just being merely very good, but the thing is, we still have 1/3 of the season to go, and his overall 2013 numbers do have those bad two months in it.

    My point is, there is no reason to think Hamels is in decline, and his 2013 data is far from being conclusive due to SSS. Cliff Lee, the pitcher for some reason everyone loves 10 times over than Hamels (I love them both equally, but if I had to pick one to have on my team, it’d be Hamels), didn’t get good until his age-30 season. Cole Hamels is ALREADY good. Oh, and Lee’s “good” seasons of 2008 and 2009? xFIP of 3.52 and 3.64, i.e. about the same as Hamels 2013.

    Again, I do NOT understand the Hamels hate.

  23. Larry

    July 25, 2013 08:32 PM

    Does ERA or WHIP tell you anything about a pitcher for you? I’m not going to crucify you if it doesn’t. I just want to know what stats are important or have any meaning to you. WE may think differently about certain players, but that’s OK.

  24. Phillie697

    July 26, 2013 12:16 AM

    Most of us here stick with xFIP or SIERA or the like because lots of advanced studies have shown that ERA and WHIP include too many things that pitchers have no control over. Like, you know, if you fielded an entire team of Delmon Youngs to play defense at every position. I don’t think Cy Young himself can have a good ERA/WHIP if that was the case.

  25. Pencilfish

    July 26, 2013 01:24 PM

    hk, Phillie697,

    No one knows if the Rangers contacted RAJ about Lee, and the Rangers refused to trade Profar for Lee. If Lee stays, it *may* imply no one overwhelmed RAJ with an offer he couldn’t refuse, no?

    The king’s ransom you held out for was not available. Hence, Lee stays. That’s the most logical conclusion.

  26. Phillie697

    July 26, 2013 01:37 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    For you maybe. I don’t know that’s the “most logical conclusion” if you take a look at RAJ’s track record. A track record even you have come to begrudgingly admit is shoddy. That’s only the most logical conclusion if you choose to put blinders on and look ONLY at the limited set of facts on this particular issue, in which case I would argue NO conclusion can be drawn whatsoever since we have hardly ANY information.

  27. hk

    July 26, 2013 02:35 PM

    What Phillie697 wrote….it may not be the most logical conclusion, but it is surely one possibility. Another possibility is that Ruben is too blind by what he thinks he’s built or too concerned for his job in 2015 to make a trade that projects to hurt the team in 2014 and help them in 2015 and beyond. This is the conundrum that many GM’s face when their teams fail to meet expectations. If there are moves to be made that are in the GM’s best short-term interests but not necessarilty the team’s best interests, what’s the GM to do?

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