Robinson Cano is one reason to wait until 2014. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
As the Phillies continue to wade into the abyss of the remaining free agent outfield pool and the less-than-ideal trade options, the rationale for Ruben Amaro Jr. to hold pat seems to be growing with momentum.
Unless a miracle happens, or some team makes some player available that none of us has thought about yet, it might be best for all concerned if Amaro waits until after the 2013 season to spend money on his team.
It’s clear, as the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb wrote last week, that 2013 is a year of transition for the Phillies. Based on Ruben Amaro’s newfound restraint and Gillick-like refusal not to overpay for players that could potentially be useful bats for a lineup that struggled to score runs at times over the last few years, the Phils seem to be willing to rely on their injured $20 million-a-year players to lead them back to the playoffs.
And honestly, is Cody Ross really going to be the difference between an NL East title or Wild Card berth? Probably not.
The Phillies are obviously looking to make one last run with their core group in 2013. And with anywhere from $7-9 million left to spend, there is still room to make another addition. Acquiring Ross to play a corner outfield position would be within their budget, and it appears as though the Phils are still players for his services.
But as has been discussed before, Ross is not really much of an upgrade over what the Phillies already have in-house, and Amaro appears unwilling to spend big bucks on him anyway.
It’s been a few years since the Phillies entered the regular season with any payroll flexibility. That flexibility could come in quite handy at the trade deadline, should the Phils decide to make a move then. It’s possible a whole new batch of players could be made available at that time, players much more productive than Alfonso Soriano or Vernon Wells.
But there are perhaps four big reasons to wait until after the 2013 season to reload for another World Series or Bust, full court press.
First, the Phils are going to potentially lose three big salaries after next season. Roy Halladay (who makes $20 million this year), Chase Utley (earning $15 million) and Carlos Ruiz (making $5 million) will all be free agents. And while the Phils will certainly explore extensions with all three players, provided they are healthy and productive, not signing all three players would free up $40 million. It’s the first opportunity Amaro will have to get out from under some of the big money contracts for players who either appear to be on the decline or are advancing in age.
Second, the luxury tax is going to increase in 2014, up from $178 million to $189 million, giving the Phils even more room to spend without incurring a penalty for being over the benchmark. Hey, it’s not our money, but the Phils certainly don’t seem willing to burn millions of dollars with nothing to show for it.
Is Cody Ross really much of an upgrade? Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Third, the marketplace this winter is flat-out ridiculous. Joe Blanton just got a 2-year, $15 million contract. Shane Victorino got 3 years and $39 million. Marco Scutaro landed a 3-year, $20 million deal. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Teams are spending wildly on marginal players. There’s nothing wrong with overpaying for a player, provided that player is a perennial All-Star and will markedly upgrade your roster.
But aside from Nick Swisher, who would definitely help this team but would also cost them the #16 pick in the MLB Draft, there’s no one like that left in this market.
Fourth, there are some terrific free agent possibilities in 2014, provided their teams don’t sign them to contract extensions during this season.
If the Phillies were to lose Chase Utley, Amaro could go sign Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler or Asdrubal Cabrera. If the Phillies still need a corner outfielder, they could pursue Michael Morse, Nelson Cruz, Alex Gordon, Shin Soo Choo or Corey Hart. If they need a starting pitcher to replace Halladay, they could go after Tim Lincecum (provided he bounces back in ’13), Dan Haren, Adam Wainwright, Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson or Ervin Santana.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Adam Jones are all center fielders that could be available if the Phils decide they want to either slide Revere to a corner outfield spot, or just put one of those guys in an outfield corner.
Can the Phillies afford to wait and be serious World Series contenders in 2013? Much of it depends on how the outfielders already on the roster perform in a platoon role.
In 1993, the Phillies got crazy production from a platoon of Pete Incaviglia and Milt Thompson in left field (.786 OPS, 27 HRs, 121 RBIs, 28 2Bs) and Wes Chamberlain and Jim Eisenreich in right field (.847 OPS, 21 HRs, 104 RBIs, 37 2Bs).
The Phillies better hope so, or else hope Utley and Howard return to some semblance of their former selves.
As mentioned before, there are no real good options for Amaro here. He can either overpay for a marginal upgrade, or go with what he has, perhaps add an additional platoon piece, and hope his star core gets it done one last time in 2013. He’ll rely on the Big 3 of Halladay, Lee and Hamels, and a stronger bullpen to lead the way, mainly because there is no difference-maker left that will add four or five wins to this team.
Which is why it may make more sense to just stand pat, hope for the best in 2013, and gear up for a major re-tooling in 2014.
Of course, that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun right now, does it?