Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Ruiz -- those are the remaining key Phillies from a team that won five straight division titles, consecutive pennants and the 2008 World Series. They're winners. They're champions.
And, now, Chooch is a free agent. The Phillies have locked up Hamels and Utley for several years to come. Rollins is under contract to be here through next season and perhaps the season after that. Howard will be here for the next three seasons.
But the Phillies can let go of Ruiz, a soon-to-be 35-year-old catcher who has few peers in Major League Baseball in terms of managing a pitching staff. He's a guy who has become a clutch hitter the last two seasons and through the years has become a beloved figure in Philadelphia. The Phillies are talking to him about coming back, but at what price? Reports indicate he's looking for multiple years at $10 million per. Other reports indicate other teams, namely the Colorado Rockies and Boston Red Sox, are taking a look as well. Will he get a better offer?
What do the Phillies do?
For the entirety of the 21st century, Roy Halladay has very likely been the best starting pitcher in baseball. He came to Philadelphia in 2010 and pitched a regular-season perfect game and a postseason no-hitter. He won the Cy Young Award that year and was runner-up the next year. In the last two years, he's been beset by shoulder problems and looked pretty terrible trying to pitch with them. He's now a free agent with a lot of doubters about his ever being an effective pitcher again.
That said, he's Roy Halladay, a man as dedicated to his special craft as anyone who has ever thrown a baseball. He'll turn 37 in May, but he remains a top physical specimen. The big question is whether he'll be able to find enough velocity to be Roy Halladay again, or at least be a wise, veteran pitcher who can win by throwing the ball in spots where batters can't do much with it.
The Phillies don't know. Roy Halladay doesn't know. The Phillies would like to offer him a contract filled with maybes -- you get this much money if you can do that much on the field. Now, will another team -- say a pitching-starved club like the New York Yankees or a team poised to make a serious run at the pennant like the Cleveland Indians -- be willing to take more of a chance on commitment?
What do the Phillies do?
When players do great things for your franchise in professional sports, when they are embraced by the community, it becomes difficult to tell them goodbye. It was hard to say goodbye to the 2008 championship outfield -- Pat Burrell, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino -- but it was clear they would all be priced beyond what the Phillies would pay. Burrell and Victorino would win championship rings elsewhere, and Werth would become a star and the team leader for the Washington Nationals. But, in retrospect, the Phillies made the right choices in terms of their budget at the time, their future and what each brought to the table.
Ruiz and Halladay are in a bit different situations in that they've battled injuries and clearly are in the waning stages of their careers. They also have special talents that, if healthy and near peak effectiveness, aren't easily found elsewhere. Being that the Phillies are hoping for one or two more banner years from Howard, Utley and Rollins, is it really much of a risk to take on Chooch and Doc at a reasonable price for the same thing?
It could turn into a bargain. You could even say it's the right thing to do considering what they've meant to Philadelphia.
But the Phillies just can't do that.
This is a team that desperately needs to get younger and move in a new direction. They started to do so last season and need to continue in that mode. Retaining Ruiz and Halladay presents the perception of holding on to the past. If they fail or get hurt yet again, the second-guessers will be out in full force about holding on to long to past glory. It would be hard to argue.
Maybe next year, Roy Halladay will pitch the Yankees to another World Series title and Carlos Ruiz will be catching at Fenway Park and driving balls off the Green Monster. But they've had their moments in Philadelphia. The Phillies must develop players for tomorrow. What happened at the end of last season must continue. One more run with their veterans would be great. Considering what's gone on since 2011, it just seems unlikely the stars would align that perfectly.
The time is right to say goodbye to Chooch and Doc and see what the future brings. We'll see them again sometime, just not in Phillies uniforms.
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.
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