Here we sit: It’s 2013, and the Phillies just completed their second straight season shut out of the playoffs. Limping to a 73 win season, ownership has the 7th pick in next year’s draft, and one of the oldest major league clubs around (and I don’t just mean in ‘established in’ date).
In addition to all this, while the farm system has improved, it has only moved from the bottom of the list in health in 2013 to somewhere in the late teens-early twenties in 2014.
It’s probably not what was imagined on November 1, 2008, in the wake of the team’s first championship in 28 years.
Everyone likes to look back and play Monday Morning Quarterback about what put us in the current predicament, and I think the attitudes and mindsets in management that caused this can be pretty easily identified.
However, I want to look back and specifically identify the moments during the tenure of Ruben Amaro Jr as GM that put the team in this precarious position.
It’s not totally fair, as hindsight makes this kind of blame assignment easy, so I’m going to be light on judgement in general – this is just an examination of the causes of our present situation, and I’ll make a suggestion of what (in retrospect) could have avoided each problem. In addition, I’ll examine what the roster would look like had these mistakes not been made.
These listed moves are not merely “Ruben gave a 10 year deal to an 85 year old shortstop” or “Ryan Howard“. I’m looking at deals that not only cost money, but really drained the organization of youth, or prevented the addition of youth to the system.
These deals also were all considered relative busts for the Phillies – so trading for Roy Halladay doesn’t count because he’s freaking Roy Halladay. We couldn’t look back and seriously say we shouldn’t have made that deal, regardless of prospects given up.
So, all these disclaimers included, here’s a power ranking from least – most disastrous:
3. OF Raul Ibanez Signs for 3-years/$30 million (2009 offseason)
Ignoring both Ibanez’s age and salary (it clearly didn’t impact the team’s spending in any measurable way) at the time of the deal, the main issue with signing Ibanez was forfeiting our 27th overall pick to the Mariners in the 2009 draft (two heartbreaking picks away from snagging the immortal Sir Michael Trout, Lord of Millville).
With that pick, they selected 2B Nick Franklin, who was twice in Baseball America’s top 100 prospect lists before finally breaking through as a rookie this season. In 102 games, he was worth 2.3 bWAR in 2013, and the Phillies would have either avoided Chase Utley‘s expensive new extension, or had an incredibly tradable commodity, were he here.
Alternative Solution: As ridiculous as it sounds, sign Bobby Abreu to the 1-year, $5 million deal that the Angels did that year. A year younger (somehow) than Ibanez, he was still worth 3.2 bWAR that season, with an .825 OPS. Ibanez that year? 2.9 bWAR.
In fact, over the same length of time as Ibanez’s deal, Abreu was worth 6.4 bWAR, as compared to Ibanez’s …1.3. And he cost $7 million less. And no forfeited pick.
2. RHP Jonathan Papelbon Signs for 4-years/$50 million (2012 offseason)
This one was more of an all-around head scratcher when it happened. In addition to paying one reliever more than many entire major league bullpens, the Phillies forfeited their 2012 31st overall pick to the Red Sox, with which they drafted college LHP Brian Johnson.
How’s he done? In 23 starts, he’s already poised to begin in AA in 2014, and has a collective 2.38 ERA with a 1.081 WHIP in 90.2 IP. In one of the most stacked farm systems in baseball, he’s still a top 15 prospect. In Philadelphia, he’d be certainly in the top 10.
Compare that to our two supplemental round picks from that year, Shane Watson (who was inexplicably picked OVER Lance McCullers Jr – that’s another issue) and Mitch Gueller. Neither have shined as of yet (though to be fair, they still have some time).
Signing Papelbon to this huge deal has the added affect of weighing down payroll, hindering the team’s ability to fill holes in free agency, and makes him an almost un-tradable commodity (especially as his fastball velocity decreases).
Alternative Solution: Outbid the Pirates (would that really have been so hard?) and sign Jason Grilli for slightly more than 2 years/$6.75 million. Or better yet, DON’T RELEASE HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE.
His success wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Or let me rephrase that, it shouldn’t have been - he pitched to a 1.93 ERA for the Phillies’ AAA club in 2011, was released, turned around and dominated for the Pirates THAT SAME YEAR. I know what I said about not assigning too much blame, but c’mon now.
This one is the killer. Not only did we ship out a veritable power ranking of 2014 offseason needs in this trade, we also ended up getting nothing out of Pence (didn’t win a pennant, and traded him for mostly Tommy Joseph, who’s been plagued with injuries) AND he hindered Domonic Brown‘s further development by being sent back down to AAA yet again.
Could you imagine the difference having Cosart in the rotation now would have made? Or Singleton being here while Howard is injured and ineffective? Worst of all might be Santana – he’s blossomed into a real OF prospect. He’s still only 20, and just finished a year in AA where he had an .842 OPS with 25 HR and is right-handed. He’d be a top 5 prospect for us, were he still here.
Alternative solution: Either ride out the season with Brown, or trade for Carlos Quentin, as was rumored to be on the trade block (at a smaller prospect cost).
I hate to sound bitter, but just picture the total swing in organizational outlook if we kept an extra 3 top-100 prospects, and kept two more first round picks (who have both panned out to this date).
The starting rotation would consist of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Cosart, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and Kyle Kendrick (or we might have even been able to trade Kendrick at this point, and sign another free agent).
The line up (assuming Howard was still injured) would include Carlos Ruiz, Singleton, Franklin, Cody Asche, Jimmy Rollins, Brown, Ben Revere, and if we still sign Marlon Byrd, is it even an issue? He’s just keeping the seat warm for Santana.
This isn’t taking enormous leaps of faith – literally all else being equal except these three acquisitions (which all received some criticism at the time), all of this would have panned out differently for the Phillies – Franklin is still picked 27th, Johnson is still picked 31st, and those prospects remain in system.
But again, this is all hindsight. The point is, as with many of my articles, I’m treating this as an era to learn from, and belaboring the point: take care of the farm system, and it will take care of the major league club. I think our (clearly new) GM, Ruben Amaro Jr., gets it.
He put it best recently when he stated:
“Everyone is looking for the same thing, and that’s young, controllable players, so there is no reason for us to be moving any of them.”
Yes, yes indeed.
Why didn’t we hire this guy earlier?