Hot Stove Daily: Philadelphia Phillies
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series begins with the Philadelphia Phillies.
2008 record: 92-70
Finish: Won World Series after winning National League East.
2008 opening-day payroll: $98.3 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $125 million
On the night the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, Ruben Amaro, the man who less than a week later would be named the team’s new general manager, surveyed the celebrating masses around him. He straightened his championship cap, shook off his celebration perspiration and seemed to remove himself from the moment.
“Now,” he said, “we’ve got to figure out how to do it again.”
Such are the vagaries of success. Which Amaro willingly embraces, of course, for it’s a pennies-on-the-dollar trade compared to what comes with his city’s first championship in 25 years.
Like a pass on his first few maneuvers in free agency – even if they do look slightly ill-advised. The Phillies needed a left fielder to replace Pat Burrell and signed Raul Ibanez, who is four years older and left-handed in a lineup that already includes a heart of lefties in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Amaro also gave Jamie Moyer a two-year deal. Moyer is 46. The last pitcher to throw past his 47th birthday was Phil Niekro, a knuckleballer. And the last non-knuckleballer to throw past his 46th birthday was Satchel Paige, who tossed three novelty innings as a 58-year-old. And the last before that was Jack Quinn. In 1931.
OK, OK. Ibanez’s production has been steady through his mid-30s, and teammates speak glowingly of him. Moyer performed well last season and gets similar high marks for character. Signing Chan Ho Park on the cheap was a slick way to strengthen a bullpen that was the best in baseball last season, and Gary Majewski, a minor-league signing, could be a hidden gem. So who knows? It may turn out a boffo offseason for Amaro, which he could use after succeeding legendary front-office man Pat Gillick.
The Phillies are likely done signing free agents, which makes their next important date Jan. 19. Teams exchange salary figures that day with their arbitration-eligible players. Among those players are Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Ryan Madson and Jayson Werth. Oh, and Ryan Howard.
Last season, the Phillies refused to settle with the power-hitting first baseman. He asked for $10 million. The Phillies offered $7 million. Howard won. Which sets him up for a nice $15 million payday this offseason and sets the Phillies up with plenty of payroll questions going forward.
Like, are they really going to have a $125 million payroll?
It certainly seems inevitable at this point, and that’s before the Cole Hamels contract extension they’d like to complete. Along with Howard, the Phillies will have three other eight-digit players (Brett Myers at $12 million, Brad Lidge at $11.5 million and Chase Utley at $11 million) and five more at $6.5 million-plus.
Whether it’s sustainable long-term depends plenty on how the Phillies handle Howard’s situation. Should they go year to year, his annual salary will grow well past $20 million before he hits free agency. A long-term deal will cost them at least $100 million, and with similar deals for Utley and Hamels, it’s difficult to maintain a manageable payroll with three $15 million-plus players.
And when a sliver of hope reveals itself – Myers, Adam Eaton, Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz come off the payroll after 2009, freeing up $32.25 million – the realization dawns: Madson and Werth become free agents, with Victorino and Blanton approaching.
The Phillies aren’t leveraged so badly that a downturn is guaranteed. Amaro just has his hands full. The makings of an excellent team remain. Anyone with a rotation that includes Hamels, Myers, Blanton and Moyer is in good shape, and to have Park, Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ, top prospect Carlos Carrasco and (fill in the snide remark) Eaton fighting for the fifth spot is quite the luxury.
Utley’s hip surgery, with a recovery that could take until June, does hurt, though potential fill-in Jason Donald had 19 extra-base hits in 91 Arizona Fall League at-bats, and, hey, the Phillies didn’t seem to mind a bad start in 2007.
It’s just the first hurdle in trying to figure out how to do it again.
NEXT: Texas Rangers.