To rebuild, the Philadelphia Phillies must use their money wisely
By Mike Lacy
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Before I start, I will admit that I am talking about spending other people’s money, and it is very easy to be free-spending with other people’s money. But Major League Baseball is not a place for the timid or the cheap; at least not if you want to field a winning team.
Many pundits have painted a bleak picture of the Phillies’ chances in the next few seasons. It is obvious that the current team has glaring holes, and we shouldn’t expect much help from the minor leagues any time soon.
Philly.com’s David Murphy recently added an extra note of pessimism when he pointed out that the Phillies’ big-market status and relatively deep pockets won’t do much to help. He mentioned that the next couple of free agent classes will be uninspiring, so even if the Phillies are willing to spend money, the types of players they can spend money on aren’t going to make a huge difference.
If any of the Phillies owners happens to read this, (and if you are, thanks for the support!) I want to let them know that the situation isn’t as dire as Murphy makes it seem. Their money can help expedite the rebuilding process, but it will take a little bit of creativity.
In modern baseball, it is nice to have deep pockets, but money alone will only get a team so far. It seems that there is a new primary currency in baseball: Young talent. Unfortunately, that’s one area in which the Phillies are deficient.
The good news is, there might be a way to work around that problem. Murphy even hinted at it in his article.
He mentioned that the trend in baseball has been to sign young players to team-friendly long-term contracts. As a result, many of the top players never make it to free agency.
Players like Freddie Freeman are signed long before reaching free agency. Image Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
But not every player signs one of those deals. Some players pass up the immediate security that those deals provide, and choose to take a chance on cashing in on the open market. In many cases, fearing that they’ll lose the player for nothing, that player’s team will look to make a trade before he reaches free agency.
Teams that trade for these impending free agents typically fall into one of two categories:
1. Teams looking to make a playoff push and hope that player will help get them over the top.
2. Teams with the financial resources needed to re-sign the player.
Thanks to all that Comcast TV money, if the Phillies were to pursue a trade of a star, they could likely (and it’s doubtful that they’d make such a trade if they weren’t confident of this) re-sign him. But it isn’t quite that easy.
In addition to the high financial cost of re-signing the player, they’d also need to send away some of their best prospects. And as you may have noticed, the Phillies minor leagues are currently short of tradeable assets.
Fortunately, there is a potential solution: Sacrifice the rest of what appears to be a lost 2014 season – as well as probably 2015 – and trade as many of the team’s veterans as they can.
This is not a groundbreaking idea since most people seem to be on board with trading away players. But if the only purpose is to save money, then it would be a waste.
Remember Hunter Pence? It is consensus that it was a mistake to trade for him, and a mistake to trade him away the following season. The Phillies gave up too much to get Pence and then received too little in return. But I suspect the reason for that goes far beyond any perceived incompetence by the general manager.
So many mistake were made with Hunter Pence. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
When the Phillies traded for Pence, they asked for the Houston Astros to not only send them their best hitter, but also to pay a sizable chunk of his contract. On the surface, this seems like an unreasonable demand, but the Astros agreed. They agreed because they were in the midst of a major rebuilding project, and by picking up money, they could ask the Phillies for a better selection of prospects.
When the Phillies shipped Pence to San Francisco the following year, the Giants did not ask the Phillies to pay for much of Pence’s remaining deal. That is part of the reason why the Phillies couldn’t demand the type of haul that Houston received. And now, if the Phillies want anything to show for Pence, they need to pray that Tommy Joseph can shake off his injuries and develop into a major league catcher.
If the Phillies want to rebuild quickly, they need to be smarter than that. Or at least they need to be less concerned with money.
The Phillies have already wasted a lot of money on losing teams the past two years. They need to accept that they’ll probably continue to spend a lot of money on losing teams in the near future. Pinching pennies at this point isn’t going to make a huge difference, and will probably lose to further losing down the road.
I’ll make a direct plea to Phillies management: If you are able to find takers for the likes of Jonathan Papelbon or Marlon Byrd, and the other team asks you to pick up some of the salary – YOU SAY YES! You say, “Absolutely, we’d love to pay for that player to be on your team. But we’ll need another minor leaguer for our efforts.”
Don’t worry about saving money, as it isn’t going to do you nearly as much good as an extra prospect would. It is tempting to think that any money saved could then be used to pursue free agents, but as Murphy pointed out, free agency is not going to be this team’s salvation.
Here’s hoping that the Phillies learn their lesson from the Pence deals, and will concern themselves more with prospects than money. Otherwise, the rebuilding process could turn out to be even longer and more painful than we suspect.