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A Wrench in the Phillies’ Future Plans
Posted By Bill Baer On July 23, 2013 @ 7:15 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 128 Comments
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 $7 billion. Even without knowing what a likely average annual value would be, the Phillies’ payroll could eventually be as limitless as that of the New York Yankees. So, the Phillies don’t have a great Minor League system? Their core is aging and won’t be around when that TV deal is signed? The influx of money will allow the Phillies to literally buy their way out of their problems. Or so you’d think.
In recent years, a trend has emerged among most teams where they lock up their superstar players before they have the opportunity to enter free agency. I wrote about this at HardballTalk in late March, calling contract extensions “the new market inefficiency”. Here’s a look at contract extensions of at least three years signed since the end of the 2011 season (contract info via Cot’s Contracts):
|12/9/11||Matt Moore||23||LHSP||Rays||5||$ 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 Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins, and Cliff Lee.
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