Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

No. 20 Phillies: Old, expensive and unproductive

Mike Oz
Yahoo Sports
MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins
.

View photo

Chase Utley, 35, believes the Phillies will rebound in 2014. (USA TODAY Sports)

Editor's note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Philadelphia Phillies.

2013 record: 73-89
Finish: Fourth place, NL East
2013 final payroll: $166 million (4th of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $172.8 million (4th of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason rank: 20th
Phillies in six words: Not getting any younger … or cheaper.

OFFSEASON ACTION
Among the players procured in the Philadelphia Phillies' underwhelming offseason haul is a man who used to be known by another name. It's fitting for the Phillies, a team that's not what it used to be.

The familiar names are there: Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins. Problem is, they've seen better days in Philadelphia, 100-win days.

These Phillies, the ones who finished a game behind the Mets in the NL East last season, aren't exactly on the brink of winning anything. So going out and making the moves they did this winter weren't savvy additions to get a fringe team over the hump. In a city where fans have gotten used to winning baseball games in the last decade, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. needed to do a lot more than add Marlon Byrd, Roberto Hernandez, Brad Lincoln and Wil Nieves and re-sign Carlos Ruiz.

[Also: No. 21 Orioles: Refusal to spend hurting a team that's ready to compete ]

Hernandez used to be Fausto Carmona and he's the most interesting add of the bunch, mainly because he used to be somebody else. He also used to be decent. Last season, Hernandez went 6-13 with the Tampa Bay Rays with a 4.89 ERA. And he's probably the Phillies' No. 5 starter behind Lee, Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (he's not exactly an “offseason acquisition,” but we'll get to him shortly).

Name changes aside, Byrd proved with a solid 2013 — 24 homers, 89 RBIs and a .291 batting average — that he's the most helpful addition for the Phillies. But he's 36 and they're paying him $16 million over two seasons, so it's not exactly like they've done anything to get themselves younger. Nor did they aggressively solve one of their biggest problems. They ranked in the bottom third of most offensive categories last season. One Byrd isn't going to make the Phillies fly again.

Neither will Carlos Ruiz. He's a fan favorite, so bringing him back wasn't bad in theory, but the Phillies overpaid again, tossing $26 million at him for three seasons.

Lincoln, acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays, ought to help the Philadelphia bullpen somewhat. He's 28 and had a 3.98 ERA last season in 31.2 innings. Not exactly lights-out, but beggars can't be choosers. The Phillies ranked 27th in bullpen ERA a year ago. The Phillies added Nieves as their backup catcher after trading their previous backup, Erik Kratz, in the Lincoln deal.

Not particularly exciting, the entire list of it. Heck, the most intrigue the Phillies produced this offseason was the brief window in which the rumor machine was pumping out info that Lee, Hamels and last year's breakout offensive performer, Domonic Brown, might be available for trade. Yes, trade Brown, one of the few cheap, young(er) players on the team. Brilliant! For the sake of the Phillies, their fans and their fans' foreheads, which might have smacked against a wall, a Brown trade didn't happen.

The Phillies do have Gonzalez coming aboard as their projected fourth starter. He's the 27-year-old Cuban pitcher the club won the bidding war to sign last summer. Sounds promising? Not so fast. Concerns about Gonzalez' arm knocked down his six-year, $48 million deal to a three-year, $12 million deal. He hasn't pitched much during the last two years after being suspended from Cuban baseball after a failed defection attempt. Last we heard from Amaro at the winter meetings was that Gonzalez isn't a sure thing to make the rotation.

REALITY CHECK

View photo

.

Ryan Howard is 34 and will make $25 million in 2014. (USA TODAY Sports)

Last week, second baseman Chase Utley turned into the Phillies' goodwill ambassador. The club sent him out to talk to the media and paint a picture about the Phillies in which things are looking up.

Everybody's healthy, he said. The team has something to look forward to, he said. Ryan Howard is a player to watch this season, he said. The team is automatically better in 2014, he said.

Maybe he's right. Maybe the Phillies just got struck with the bad-luck bug last season and the one before it when it finished .500 and in third place. Maybe Howard starts clobbering homers again, Brown is even better, Hamels rebounds from a rough season, and Rollins plays like someone resembling a former MVP. Maybe Ryne Sandberg, in his first full season as skipper, brings some more Chip Kelly magic to town. It could happen. It just probably won't.

As much as Utley and the front-office folks who made him give the city a rah-rah speech want us to think otherwise, it's not sunny in Philadelphia these days. They're high-priced underachievers who are looking more and more like the Yankees of the National League, although the Yankees have a better chance of making the playoffs this season. The Phillies are a stalled car, trying not to roll too quickly down a hill they used to sit atop.

Between Howard, Hamels and Lee, the Phillies are spending $72.5 million in 2014. That's more than the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays – two well-run franchises who will finish higher in the standings this season – will likely pay their entire rosters. There's the problem with spending big. When it doesn't work, when the team gets older and a guy like Howard hits .266 with 11 homers and gets paid $25 million, then it's hard not to get depressed.

The fact is, Amaro and the Phillies have brought this on themselves. When you're saddled with three $20 million players (as good as Lee is), you need to complement them with savvy veteran additions and/or cheap young players who balance out Howard's tossing-money-into-a-furnace contract.

The Phillies, unless Amaro has hidden them well, are low on both of those commodities.

SAVIOR
When all else fails, there's always Cliff Lee . Lee is 35 and gets paid $25 million, but he's one of the few guys on this Phillies' roster you can't begrudge for being too old or too expensive. Because without him, how much worse would this team be? Now that Roy Halladay is gone, having retired in the offseason, Lee becomes the heart and soul of the pitching staff. Lee still has great stuff – a stingy 2.87 ERA in 2013 proves it – but now he shoulders a lot more. He's the guy who can keep this team on the track to respectability. Maybe it can't pass the Braves or the Nationals, but maybe it can at least finish ahead of the Mets this year.

HAIKU
This could get ugly
Phillies fans will need a drink
Meet at Paddy's Pub?

Previous teams
No. 21 Orioles
No. 22 Padres
No. 23 Rockies
No. 24 Marlins
No. 25 Brewers
No. 26 White Sox
No. 27 Mets
No. 28 Twins
No. 29 Cubs
No. 30 Astros

View Comments (130)