Everyone in this picture will be gone by 2016. Probably the kid, too. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies' 2016 Contract Cliff

Cliff Lee. Chase Utley. Jimmy Rollins. Jonathan Papelbon. Antonio Bastardo.

Assuming Carlos Ruiz comes back on a two-year deal (which is becoming the prevailing logic), throw him in there too.

Together, they form the 2016 contract cliff that the Phillies are barreling towards.

Unless these players are traded, retire, or (PLEASE God no) extended, there’s a very good chance that ALL six of them will depart Philadelphia after the 2015 season. You can argue about Chase Utley, but given his contract is only guaranteed for two seasons, if he realizes his knees aren’t hurting anymore because they disintegrated, he could retire as well. There aren’t great chances that the Phillies will pick up a $27.5 million option for a 37-year old Cliff Lee, and there’s a very high chance Rollins’ option will vest, taking him into that season.

Ryan Howard will still be there though, as he always will be. He will be turned into a stone obelisk that permanently resides over first base  the dugout the trainer’s room. In Clearwater.

I know a lot of you probably aren’t worried about this at all, in fact, and welcome the opportunity to get rid of all these bloated contracts. And it IS a good thing! If your GM is John Mozeliak, that is, and molds impact prospects at AAA out of mud, like orcs in the heart of Mount Doom, THEN it’s a good thing.

However, we’ve got Ruben Amaro. He doesn’t have a history of being able to competently provide prospects to fill the roles of departing free agents. Frankly, he hasn’t been able to fill some holes at all (look at RF). He provided a smart solution to CF last year by bringing in Ben Revere, but it would be nice to develop prospects in-house that could fill those roles (as in to say, I’d rather have Trevor May, Vance Worley, AND Revere).

There is, finally, some help on the way. In AAA this season, we have both 3B Maikel Franco and OF Kelly Dugan (someone I’m more excited about than others), who if they can repeat their numbers from last year at this higher level, should be able to contribute on the major league roster for years to come. Neither of these two replace one of the above free agents, but they would fill holes that HAVE been issues on this team for years (AKA, no more bloated contracts in the offseason at those spots).

Jesse Biddle should start the year at AAA too – he’s a MLB top 100 prospect who could help fill the left-handed starter role vacated by Cliff Lee. In two years, depending on his development, JP Crawford could have completed AA, only requiring a 1 year stop-gap solution at SS. There are a variety of potential closers and high leverage relievers in Ethan Martin, Jake Diekman, Severino Gonzalez (look him up if you still don’t know him by now), Kyle Simon, et al. Future catcher and 2B (as I don’t see Cesar Hernandez as an ideal everyday solution) are still kind of up for debate.

The point of this, really, is to plea to Ruben to think about this coming cleansing of the payroll in the next two seasons. Trading for a David Price (also a free agent in 2016), or a Giancarlo Stanton (2017) are again “going all in” for the third straight year, and will drain the system of those invaluable prospects.

And it’s not as if the Phillies can just  fill those holes in free agency – acquiring a 2B or SS while Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins are still here will not happen – so they would have to sign 5-6 impact free agents in one offseason (also not gonna happen).

If Ruben doesn’t take heed of this looming deadline, we can pinpoint the time where we’ll have a hole at the GM position – the end of the 2016 season. This is because no matter if the Phillies manage to scrap together a wild card spot in the next two seasons, the level of crash that will occur in 2016 will be large; top 5 draft pick sort of stuff.

So, if I were Ruben, I’d start worrying more about a long term plan, rather than making a splash in the short-sighted trade market.

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Tags: Antonio Bastardo Carlos Ruiz Chase Utley Cliff Lee Jimmy Rollins Jonathan Papelbon Philadelphia Phillies Ruben Amaro Ryan Howard

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