David Murphy, Communism, Free Will, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Top-Heavy Roster

Torii Hunter

. Image Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As he often likes to do, Philly.com’s David Murphy wrote a column criticizing Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro. (For whatever reason, Murphy seems to have a real axe to grind with Amaro.) Murphy takes the GM to task for his “top-heavy” roster, saying that Amaro was foolish to build a roster where a handful of players are rewarded handsomely, while the remainder of the roster has been constructed cheaply.  (Murphy writes about this a lot. With each article, I’m more convinced that the man is a closet communist.)

The column doesn’t start off poorly as Murphy first says that people who criticize the Phillies for being too old are off base. He loses me when goes on to say that by signing Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, and others to their massive deals, he has stripped the Phillies of necessary depth, and that is why they have failed.

It is true that there are dangers with the top-heavy approach. When those well-paid players do not perform up to their salaries, the team inevitably fares poorly. The 2012 and 2013 seasons are evidence of that. On the other hand, when those players perform well – as the Phillies’ expensive players did in 2010 and 2011 – you can end up with the best record in the National League.

Murphy suggests that if not for the massive salary being paid to Howard, the team might have been able to afford to sign Torii Hunter before the 2012 season. This might be true, it just seems strange for Murphy to say this since at the time, he didn’t seem to think that signing Hunter was a good move:

"I’d peg Hunter as one-year, $8 or $9 million player, max. Even that is an expensive gamble that he’ll be able to postpone the inevitable career-ending flameout for at least another year."

Regardless of how he once felt, Murphy supposes that without Howard’s salary on the books, not only could the Phillies have signed Hunter as well as a cheaper first base alternative like Nick Swisher. Having both of those players might have given the Phillies the depth necessary to withstand the injuries that they suffered.

I realize that this is a hypothetical situation, and any two players could have been used instead of Hunter and Swisher, but I still have some problems with it.

There are reports that the Phillies aggressively pursued Hunter, but he chose the Tigers instead. Perhaps that’s simply because the Tigers offered more money, but it’s also possible that the offers were similar and Hunter preferred the Tigers. Murphy may have trouble believing this, but free will still exists, and players don’t always just choose the highest offer.

It’s also dangerous to look back and say, “It was obvious that they should have signed this guy!” Hindsight isn’t necessarily 20/20, but it does make us much smarter. Last year at this time, some people were lamenting the fact that the Phillies didn’t sign B.J. Upton or Josh Hamilton.

Let’s say that things did play out the way Murphy suggested. What are the chances that Hunter and Swisher (or whichever players they signed) match the production that a healthy Howard provides? I wonder if he feels the same way about the large contracts given to Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels? Instead of giving so much money to their aces, would the Phillies have been better suited spreading the wealth around to a number of lesser players? Would the team have been better off with say, four Edwin Jacksons, just in case one of the aces gets hurt?

Murphy can talk all he wants about the Phillies not being so dependent on a few expensive players, and maybe that approach would have worked out better for them the past few years. Then again, there are many teams with balanced payrolls who don’t win either.  Their problem is that they don’t have enough top-quality players who fuel playoff teams.

At least at the end, Murphy finally identifies the real problem: The Phillies farm system isn’t developing the type of quality young players who can adequately replace older, more expensive players. But what is the reason for that? Yes, there have been some trades, but none of the players traded away have yet to make much of an impact at the major league level. Is there some reason why the Phillies aren’t developing good players?

You might think this is the type of story that the Daily News’ reporters would want to cover. I think the fans would be better served reading more about that rather than repeating the same criticisms of the general manager over and over again.