The Rookie(s) of the Year were announced Monday, going unsurprisingly to Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Sadly, no Phillies were up for the award this year, or have been for quite some time. The last player to win the ROY for the Phils was Ryan Howard back in 2006. Since then, he along with the rest of the core, have aged significantly with no signs of turning back the clock on father time. There are advantages to having a veteran ball club, but Ruben Amaro Jr. has taken it to the extreme.
Of the Phillies starting nine last year, the youngest was Hunter Pence at age 29. His youth was rewarded by a trade to San Francisco, and a World Series title. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley will all be 32 or older entering 2013, along with Chooch (35), Cliff Lee (34), Roy Halladay (35) all past their prime years. The Phillies will rely on this aged core again for better or worse, but why does Ruben insist on shunning a youth injection?
The main reason for the Phillies age problem is due to the blockbuster trades of the past four years. Lee, Halladay, Pence, and Lidge did not come cheap. Young prospects like Travis D’Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Kyle Drabek, Jonothan Singleton, and Jared Cosart will be making a name for themselves with other clubs. While success in the big leagues isn’t guaranteed for even the highest rated prospects, the Phillies cupboard of young talent is sparce.
Trading away prospects is partly to blame, but the recent streak of signing type A free agents has handcuffed the Phillies from replenishing their system. Signing players like Jonathan Papelbon not only came at a financial cost, but cost the team first round draft picks. The Phillies have their highest pick in years in 2013 after finishing at .500, but if they go after another high priced free agent like B.J. Upton or Michael Bourn you can kiss that pick good bye.
The Phils brain trust would argue that these risky moves haven’t completely depleted the young talent they have in their system. It’s not a deep group, and it’s success is all predicated on one player — Dominic Brown. Amaro bet it all on Brown, hoping he would usher in a new era of Phillies baseball while it’s aging core still remains productive. So far Brown has been a dud. His ceiling is still high, and he has never had more than 300 at bats in a season. But, as the only top prospect to survive Ruben Amaro’s win now approach all the pressure has fallen on his shoulders. If Brown doesn’t succeed, who will take over the roles filled by Utley, Howard, and Rollins when their gone?
The Phillies made all of these decisions because they saw a window of opportunity to win. Some teams never get that window, so you can’t fault management for taking the win now approach. The players they acquired have helped the Phillies win multiple division crowns, and become a perpetually relevant team. Where Ruben and the rest of the Brass went wrong was ignoring the cost of only focusing on today. Hopefully he learns the lessons of recent history, and sees the impact that young players have had on other clubs. Dominic Brown, Freddy Galvis, and Phillipe Aumont may not be locks to have all-star careers, but the Phillies need to trust in their young talent. Otherwise, their downward trend will only continue, and with no prospects to dig themselves out.