What is the real problem with the Philadelphia Phillies as a baseball organization? Is it the players? Is it Pat Gillick, Ruben Amaro, both? Is the scouting department to blame? The developmental personnel?
There is a narrative that many have kicked around, including the Phillies ball club itself. The team is too old, makes too much money, and can’t win as constituted. So the team must dump high-priced, older players in order to set itself up to contend again in the future.
But is this true?
Frankly, I haven’t heard anyone ask the question. Most just assume that the evidence on its face is correct. The Phillies have gone from a perennial winner to a loser the last 2-3 seasons. The core of the 2008 championship is indeed aging. The simplest answer is usually the correct answer.
But is it in this case?
In examining the case quickly, because no one wants a lengthy diatribe on finances and actuarial tables, I believe that you need to keep a few key thoughts in mind.
First, the Philadelphia Phillies are a business. Their owners are not in the business to lose money. One of the oldest business truisms is that you don’t throw good money after bad. Once you recognize that something simply isn’t working, you should probably move on.
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But are the Phillies owners losing money? That would be fairly hard to believe. Ever since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, the ballpark has been full. In 8 of the 11 seasons in the gorgeous South Philly baseball-only ballpark, they have drawn more than 3 million fans.
In March of 2014, Forbes ranked the Phillies as the 6th-most valuable team in Major League Baseball with a market value of $975 million. That figure was up 9% from just the previous year. They were estimated to have revenues of $265 million.
Even with a big payroll over the last handful of seasons, there is no doubt that a tremendous profit has flooded in to ownership. Phillies owners cannot cry poor. And those owners will only get richer off the team, and team value only continue to rise, as the new broadcasting rights contract with Comcast kicks in come 2016.
Let’s forget emotion and deal with the current reality. Jimmy Rollins and Antonio Bastardo, and their $14 million salaries for 2015, are gone, off the books. So what does that leave the Phillies holding for 2015, contract-wise?
The players left on the roster who will make any significant money, and their salary in millions, are as follows: Howard ($25), Lee ($25), Hamels ($23.5), Papelbon ($13), Utley ($10), Ruiz ($8.5), and Byrd ($8) total 7 players due to earn $113 million.
The rest of the expected roster is going to make less than $20-25 million combined. That includes maybe $4 for Ben Revere, and the $3.7 for Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, $2.5 for Jerome Williams, and $2 for Grady Sizemore.
Asche one of a number of inexpensive, but limited-talent, young Phillies
The Phillies will be paying next-to-nothing and expecting key contributions from guys like Cody Asche, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, David Buchanan, Justin DeFratus, Jake Diekman, Ken Giles, and even Domonic Brown.
Major League Baseball has what it calls a ‘Competitive Balance Tax’, known to many as a ‘Luxury Tax’, and the Phillies have pushed up against that threshold in a few recent seasons. But even with that handful of big contracts, they won’t come anywhere near the $189 million CBT limit in 2015.
So the question begs to be answered: if Phillies ownership is making money by the wheelbarrow-full, is guaranteed to be making even more for the next quarter-century thanks to Comcast, and is $50 million below the CBT limit, why are they dumping?
The Phillies are dumping because they have failed inside the organization to develop homegrown talent during that same decade of excellence that was providing continuous excitement inside the ballpark. Thus, as the core of previous winners does indeed age naturally, the 3-4 homegrown nucleus players that every club needs to build around has not stepped forward.
If the Phillies organizational people had been able to develop 3-4 players over the last half-dozen years or so to match the homegrown core of Rollins, Utley, Howard, Hamels, and Ruiz they would be fine right now. If they had been able to unearth inexpensive gems in trades like Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino, they would be fine right now.
Because the Phillies drafts and prospects have been flops, and their minor league system has thus become barren, they are now faced with having to try to raid other organizations of those clubs prospects, using the Phillies aging players as bait.
The hope of course is that those other clubs will feel they are so close to winning a title that squeezing 1-2 more solid seasons out of a guy like Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley or Jonathan Papelbon will make a difference, enough to make it worth giving up a couple of decent kids.
None of this had to happen. Right now, the Phillies should have 3-4 new star players emerging from their minor league system. Players that they control with low salaries. Those players would make the high salaries of the old core palatable, and make those old core players valuable, experienced role players, rather than depending on them for the bulk of the lineup production.
The problem with the Phillies is Greg Golson, Jason Jaramillo, J.A. Happ, Mike Costanzo, Matt Maloney, Michael Durant, Kyle Drabek, Adrian Cardenas, Andrew Carpenter, Joe Savery, Travis d’Arnaud, Travis Mattair, Anthony Hewitt, Zach Collier, Anthony Gose, Kelly Dugan, Kyrell Hudson, Adam Buschini, Jesse Biddle, Perci Garner and Cameron Rupp.
Those are the top 3 picks in the Draft by the Phillies from 2004 on forward. Those are the selections that the Phillies “brain trust” has made in the Citizens Bank Park era, the players counted on the most to become the next generation of homegrown stars. There are very few in that group who ever saw the lineup for any significant time.
So because they failed to develop anything to help them, because even the younger players on the current team, guys like Darin Ruf and Cody Asche and Dom Brown are all limited in one way or another, none an All-Star caliber player, they need to dump the high-priced and aging players in order to hopefully find young impact talent elsewhere.
Rob Neyer ~ “My guess…is that the Phillies won’t start drafting well again until they’re run by different people”
Let me back-pedal for a quick moment. I said that the problem was a list of about 30 failed top draft picks to help the Phillies in any reasonable measure. That’s actually only partially true. The bigger problem lies with the people making those selections, doing that talent evaluation.
In a recent article for Fox Sports, Rob Neyer addressed the Phillies fall from grace, framed around the question: is Ryan Howard (and his contract) the reason for that fall? In the excellent piece, Neyer pointed out that the Phillies have not grasped the importance of detailed analytics, and still may not fully do so, stating: “My guess, and I would absolutely love to be wrong about this, is that the Phillies won’t start drafting well again until they’re run by different people.”
The Philadelphia Phillies organization can turn the page from the ‘Era of Excellence’, the wonderful, winning period from arguably around 2001 through 2012. But if many of the same people who helped get them into this current mess continue to make the vital baseball personnel decisions for the future, there is no reason to expect any better results.
The Phillies do indeed need to dump. At this point, they probably do need to dump 2-3 more aging, high-salaried players. However, the Phillies also need to dump some in their management team. Unless that happens, there will be no quick turnaround.
Phillies fans deserve better than what they have been getting, and someone in ownership needs to step up, demand, and then make management change, directional change, at the very top of the baseball decision-making group. That is where the most concerted “dumping” effort should be taking place.