COMMENTARY | Picture Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel hoisting the 2013 World Series trophy after the season's final out at Citizens Bank Park. National League batting champion Chase Utley is all smiles nearby, embracing 20-game winner Roy Halladay. Carlos Ruiz, whose game-winning home run earned him World Series Most Valuable Player honors, waves while a delirious crowd chants, "Chooooooch!!!"
While Phillies fans fervently hope that scenario plays out this fall, it may wind up being general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s worst nightmare, at least in terms of the franchise's future. All of the aforementioned are in the final years of their contracts. Should such a scenario unfold, it would stand to reason the Phillies would make a serious effort to retain them all for 2014 and beyond.
It also stands to reason that Amaro and the Phillies would rather not do that. And here's why:
Let's start with the affable, homespun manager who has morphed into a Philadelphia folk hero since leading his team to the 2008 world championship, ending a quarter-century professional title drought in the city. He's closing in on 100 wins more than any of the previous 50 Phillies managers, and he's fewer than 60 wins away from 1,000 for his career. For a guy whom was looked upon by many as a stopgap when he took the job in 2005, it's reached the point where another world championship might land Charlie in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But Charlie Manuel turns 70 in January. Only one current manager is older, and the Nationals' Davey Johnson, who turns 71 in January, is in his final season. The Phillies also have an apparent manager-in-waiting in Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, 53, coaching third base this season. Sandberg has had a very successful minor-league managing run and is likely to top a lot of teams' manager candidate lists should the Phillies not promote him in 2014.
Manuel has said he wants to manage beyond this year. But would the Phils extend his contract and possibly risk losing Sandberg? That question may be moot if the Phillies disappoint early enough in 2013. The prevailing wisdom is Sandberg would have the job before season's end anyway.
Chase Utley has been one of the best offensive infielders in the sport over his 10-year career with the Phillies. Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins have won National League Most Valuable Player awards, but many see Utley's quiet leadership as the key to the team's division titles from 2007-11. But injuries, particularly chronic tendonitis in his right knee, have precipitated a steady decline since 2010. This year, he's reportedly the healthiest he's been since the 2009 World Series when he tied Reggie Jackson's all-time mark with 5 homers in one Fall Classic.
But Utley makes $15 million this season and will turn 35 in December. The Phillies also have a second baseman-in-waiting in Freddie Galvis, who already has shown to be an excellent defender and appears to have real offensive potential. Plus, Galvis is only 23. The questions for Amaro are obvious: How much does Utley have left? What price would satisfy such a team legend? What level of Utley performance would it take to hold back Galvis even longer?
Roy Halladay has won 51 games and a Cy Young Award in his three seasons with the Phillies. He's thrown a perfect game and the National League's first postseason no-hitter. But, in 2013, he's coming back from a season of shoulder problems and spring training reports indicate a definitive drop in his velocity. He has insisted he feels great entering the season and he is Roy Halladay, arguably baseball's best pitcher of this century's first decade. His first victory of 2013 will be the 200th of his career. If anyone can bounce back and be brilliant again, it should be Doc Halladay.
But Halladay turns 36 on May 14. He makes $20 million and has a vesting option for the same amount in 2014 if he pitches 259 innings this season, which would be more than he's pitched in one year since 2003. So the Phillies will likely have the option of letting him go or trying to sign him for less money. Since starters Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee will make more than $20 million each in 2014, what can they offer Doc? How many teams out there would be willing to roll the dice on Halladay for more than that offer? It will take an extraordinary season from Halladay for this discussion to reach a serious level.
Carlos Ruiz had a breakout offensive season in 2012, despite being limited to 114 games by foot problems. He's a .275 hitter in his seven years with the Phillies but his greatest value is the way he handles pitchers and manages games behind the plate, where he arguably exceeds every other catcher in baseball. He's clearly underpaid at $5 million and has evolved into yet another beloved Philadelphia figure.
But Ruiz turns 35 in January. The Phillies have a catcher-in-waiting in Tommy Joseph, who will turn 22 in July. They also have a capable backup in Eric Kratz, who performed well in Ruiz's absence last year. How much is Chooch worth at this point? Would he be valuable enough to other teams to be too pricey for the Phillies? Much depends on whether Ruiz can duplicate last season when he returns from a 25-game suspension for using a banned substance (Adderall). Those factors coupled with Joseph's development at Class AAA will make the difference to Amaro.
The Philadelphia Phillies are a team of aging stars. If those stars align perfectly, this could be a magical season. But that glory could wind up being costly if the Phillies are forced to hang on to those stars for much longer.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
- Sports & Recreation
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Roy Halladay
- Chase Utley
- Charlie Manuel