Philadelphia Phillies: Why They Had Major League Baseball’s Worst Offseason

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Fan News

The window is closing fast on the aging Philadelphia Phillies after they finished 81-81 last season, 17 games behind the upstart Washington Nationals in the NL East.

The Phillies’ streak of five straight division titles came to an end last year due in part to injuries suffered by staff ace Roy Halladay, Vance Worley, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard. Better health would help the club this season, but as the roster continues to age, there’s no guarantee the team will suddenly get healthier.

A lot hinges on the right shoulder of Halladay. He put up his worst ERA in 12 years last season at 4.49 while failing to crack 200 innings for the first time in seven years. Howard will also need to bounce back after struggling to battle back from an Achilles injury that limited him to 71 games and a tepid .718 OPS.

In order to overtake Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the young guns in Washington, as well as the Wild Card winning Atlanta Braves, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. needed to bring in reinforcements to supplant his aging core this winter.

Unfortunately, the additions of CF Ben Revere, RF Delmon Young, third baseman Michael Young, starting pitcher John Lannan and reliever Mike Adams aren’t going to be enough for the Phillies to overtake the Braves or the Nationals.

The Phillies needed to have a bold winter to make a run at a third NL pennant in the last seven years, but they appear to have fallen short. In that sense, they had Major League Baseball’s worst offseason.

The Rockies and Astros were the most inactive teams in acquiring talent this winter, but a series of shrewd moves wasn’t likely to push either team into contention. The Rangers had a quiet winter, but their farm system and young big league talent should allow them to stay in contention. The Marlins tore it all down again by implementing another rebuilding plan, but they were 69-93 last year even after being declared the winners of last offseason.

It’s hard to understand which direction the Phillies are headed in. Last year at the trading deadline, Amaro sent out outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence despite having dealt his two best prospects for Pence exactly one year prior. With an expensive, veteran roster and a weak farm system, the decision to reverse course and begin reloading was puzzling.

Flipping Pence for fifty cents on the dollar was an odd flip-flop so soon after swinging the deal to get him. To compound the error, Amaro then non-tendered Nate Schierholtz this winter. Schierholtz was initially acquired to take over right field in the deal that sent Pence to the Giants.

The Phillies enter this season with an expensive, aging team and a fairly weak farm system. Their farm system was ranked 20th overall by John Sickels of the SB Nation site Minor League Ball and 27th by ESPN Insider Keith Law.

On the big league club, the Phillies have some significant long term obligations to players that are on the wrong side of 30 years old.

34-year-old lefty Cliff Lee is still one of the game’s best pitchers, but he’s owed $75 million over the next three years—plus a $27.5 million club option or $12.5 million buyout in 2016. Cole Hamels is still in his prime at age 29, but he’s owed $144 million over the next six years.

Halladay, 36, is owed $20 million in the final year of his deal—though a $20 million option for next year would vest if he throws 259 innings and doesn’t end the season on the disabled list. Closer Jonathan Papelbon is due $39 million over the next three years, covering his age 32-34 seasons.

Howard, 33, is owed $95 million over the next four years—plus a $10 million buyout in 2017. Jimmie Rollins, 34, is owed $22 million over the next two years with an easily attainable $11 million option in 2015.

Chase Utley, the 34-year old second baseman who has averaged just 100 games played over the last three years, is due $15 million in the final year of his contract this year. Carlos Ruiz, 34, and Michael Young, 36, are also in the last year of their deals.

The combination of that expensive core and weakened farm system should have made Amaro’s task to build a winner in 2013 more urgent. The time to win is now, but his offseason moves haven’t made success any more likely this year than last.

Revere, 25, gives the Phillies more youth and speed. However, he’s never hit a home run in 989 career at-bats and his .319 on-base percentage won’t cut it for a top of the order hitter. He also cost the Phillies an excellent starter in Vance Worley, who went to the Twins in the deal for Revere.

Delmon Young was once the first pick of the draft, and at 27, he still has a chance to recapture his former glory. He hit .298/.333/.493 two years ago, but has slashed just .267/.299/.403 in the two seasons since.

Michael Young was excellent in 2011 for the pennant-winning Rangers, but he hit just .277/.312/.370 last season. The Rangers were so eager to get him out of town that they agreed to pay $10 million of the 36-year-old’s salary in 2013.

Lannan is a fine option for the back of the rotation, but he’s likely to be a downgrade from Worley. Lannan’s 4.01 career ERA is half of a run higher than Worley’s (3.50), and he wasn’t good enough to crack the Nationals rotation last year. He spent most of the year in Triple-A where he went 9-11 with a 4.30 ERA.

Mike Adams is one of the best relievers in the business when he’s healthy, but the health of his right shoulder has dogged him throughout his career. At 34, his recovery from the same thoracic outlet syndrome surgery that derailed Chris Carpenter’s career bears watching—though he is said to be throwing the ball early in spring training.

Revere, the two Youngs, Lannan and Adams don’t combine to move the needle enough for the Phillies. The projected standings at Baseball Prospectus peg the Phillies for a third place tie with the Mets at 80-82. The projected standings at the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog have the Phillies repeating last year’s 81-81 record and third place finish.

Projections don’t mean much because games aren’t played on paper and the teams who are anointed the winners of the winter don’t always play well in the summer. Yet no matter how meaningless computer projections may seem, they do point to the reality that Amaro didn’t do enough this winter to get the Phillies back to the promised land.

With so much of this team getting further past their primes, it’s now or never for the Phillies in 2013.

(All contractual data in this article is from Baseball Prospectus’ Cot’s Contracts. All statistics and ages cited are from Baseball-Reference. All ages are for the 2013 season).

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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