Why Joe Savery is Responsible for the Philadelphia Phillies’ High Payroll


Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies have a large payroll. At approximately $174 million, their 2014 payroll will likely be the highest in team history. For some illumination on just why the payroll is so high, all you have to do is look at a transaction from this past weekend:

The Phillies sign RHP A.J. Burnett to 1-year, $16 million contract with an option for 2015; designate LHP Joe Savery for assignment.

The Phillies replaced a pitcher who was making approximately half a million dollars with one who will earn 16 million. That’s a healthy bump, and one of the reasons for that bump is because Savery – since claimed on waivers by the Oakland Athletics – didn’t live up to expectations.

Savery was a college star for Rice University. Not only was he an ace pitcher, but he was also a strong hitter, often serving as designated hitter on the days when he wasn’t on the mound. Due to undergoing a couple of surgeries, he was considered somewhat of an injury risk, but that didn’t stop the Phillies from taking him with the 19th pick in the draft.

Savery progressed through the Phillies’ system, although he didn’t dominate the way that the team had hoped.  The biggest problem was that as he advanced, his control seemed to worsen. This became a huge issue upon reaching AAA in 2010 when he went 1-12 with a 4.66 ERA.

Fearing that Savery might never be a capable major league pitcher, the team hoped he could recapture his college success as a hitter. They moved him back down to Clearwater and had him focus on hitting. Despite some success with the bat, the team decided that if he was going to make the majors, it would have to be as a pitcher. He was once again converted, this time into a lefty relief specialist.

He performed better in this role, and eventually made it to the majors. He spent parts of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons with the Phillies. His performance was rather pedestrian, as he was often shuffled back and forth between the majors and the minors. Finally, when given a lengthier look in 2013, he showed signs of becoming a useful major league reliever. Obviously, the Phillies weren’t that optimistic about his chances though as they allowed him to leave without compensation.

It’s tough to call Savery a complete bust, as he did make the major league team. But you have to think that when they spent a first round pick on a starting pitcher in 2007, they envisioned him being a key part of the major league rotation in 2014.

Teams can avoid overly large payrolls by allowing veterans to leave and replacing them with younger, cheaper players from their minor league system. The main reason the Cardinals were able to withstand the loss of Albert Pujols was because they had a capable replacement like Allen Craig in their system.

For a variety of reasons, there haven’t been many quality replacements arriving from the Phillies’ system in recent years. As a result, they’ve had to give out expensive contracts to veterans like Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, and now Burnett. Unless the system begins producing some quality replacements, I don’t see this trend ending any time soon.

Obviously, it is unfair to place all of the blame on Savery, as many of the Phillies’ prospects have failed to produce much for the major league team. But the fact that they just replaced a former first round pick with a player making over 15 million dollars more really illustrates the reason why the Phillies payroll has gotten so large.