Dave Cameron previously laid out the methodology behind the rankings here. Remember that the grading scale for each category is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
2012 Organizational Rankings
#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York NL
#19 – Los Angeles NL
#18 – Colorado
#17 — Miami
#16 — Diamondbacks
#15 — Cincinnati
#14 — Chicago NL
#13 — Milwaukee
#12 — San Francisco
#11 — Washington
#10 — Tampa Bay
#9 – Toronto
#8 – Atlanta
#7 – Detroit
#6 – St. Louis
Philadelphia’s 2011 Ranking: #3
2012 Outlook: 63 (T-4th)
Much like they were in 2011, the 2012 Phillies are a contender built on pitching. With three of the top fifteen starting pitchers in the sport in their starting rotation, arguably the second-best closer in the game, and a combination of solid back-end starters and versatile non-closers, the pitching staff is one of baseball’s best.
While the dynamic duo of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee is getting to the age of declining skills, it’s hard to imagine either being less than an elite 6.5-WAR pitcher this season. Assuming Cole Hamels continues to develop now that he has a firmer grasp on how and when to use his cutter, the Phillies may well get more out of three starters than most rotations get out of a full quintet.
The Phillies will go as far as their pitching takes them, because this incarnation of their offense isn’t anything to write home about. Ryan Howard will miss at least the first month and a half of the season. Chase Utley won’t be back until at least the end of May, if not later in the season, given the uncertainties surrounding his chondromalacia. Placido Polanco is, at this stage of his career, a ticking injury time bomb, and one has to wonder if regression will rear its ugly head with respect to Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and John Mayberry.
While he is overpaid relative to his production, Howard is still a fine power hitter whose absence leaves a hole in the lineup. In his place, the Phillies will turn to some combination of Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton and John Mayberry. And while Chase Utley ain’t what he used to be, this watered down version has still tallied 9.5 WAR over the last two seasons. Prospect Freddy Galvis will get dibs on taking over while Utley rehabs, but the fanbase is holding its collective breath that Utley returns around the midway point of the season.
The Phillies have very solid players at important positions in Victorino, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz, but a number of players whose playing time at other positions is up in the air. In addition to the aforementioned first base timeshare, there is also a potential three-way platoon in left field with Mayberry, Laynce Nix and Juan Pierre.
If the team can play Thome more often without risking injury and use Mayberry and Nix more often than Pierre and Wigginton, they can make do with the lineup until Howard and/or Utley returns.
But it’s more likely that the team thinks of Pierre as the 2002-05 version of himself and Wigginton as the decent power hitter from several years ago. The Phillies have pieces to perform adequately on offense without Howard and Utley, but could be their own worst enemy in terms of maximizing the utility of their rostered players.
With this pitching staff, all they need is adequate offense and defense to contend, and if Howard and Utley return on time, the offense gets that much better. The Phillies might not have as sunny a long-term outlook as other contenders, but for 2012 they are still favorites to win the NL East Division, and are still considered the class of the National League in our organizational rankings.
2013+ Outlook: 47 (T-19th)
As strong as the Phillies may look this season, the long-term outlook isn’t as positive. The farm system has been depleted over the last few seasons through trades for top-notch major league talent, and the organization doesn’t really boast any polished hitting prospects. The Phillies are strong on minor league pitching — of both the starting and relief variety — and raw, toolsy athletes at the lower levels, but very weak in the more important area of bats and gloves capable of contributing as soon as next season.
In 2009, the team traded Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald and Lou Marson to the Indians for Cliff Lee. They then traded Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Travis d’Arnaud to the Blue Jays. Last season, the Phils dealt Jarrod Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana to the Astros for Hunter Pence. These were potential impact prospects dealt for impact major league talent, and while the Phillies have a decent development system in place, it’s very tough to replace that much close-to-major-league-ready talent in a short time span.
To that end, Marc Hulet ranked the farm system 20th in his pre-season rankings. Keith Law ranked the farm system 25th in his own rankings. Most prospect mavens agree that the Phils system ranks in the game’s bottom third. Their top prospects are pitchers Trevor May, Brody Colvin and Jesse Biddle, and catcher Sebastian Valle.
The baby aces and Valle are still a couple of years away from the majors, while the toolsy prospects drafted early over the last few years are still finding their way in the lower levels of the minors.
However, the 2013+ category isn’t solely based on farm systems, and moving forward the Phillies still have valuable pieces under contract. Then again, at least two very valuable pieces remain unsigned past the 2012 season: Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino. The Phils are in talks with both players but it’s tough to evaluate the long-term outlook of the organization without knowing whether or not Hamels and/or Victorino will be retained.
It’s also unclear how the Phillies will handle Domonic Brown, who could bolster their standing in this category if given the opportunity. He is somewhere in between a prospect and a major leaguer at this point, and much of that falls on the Phillies poor handling of an important piece moving forward. The current plan is to let him spend the whole season in Triple A but the team needs to develop a formal plan for handling him and stick to it. Otherwise, they’ll end up wasting some very valuable years of a top-tier prospect.
Based on farm systems alone, the Phillies are fairly close to the bottom, but their core members are strong enough to keep them hovering around the league average in this category.
Financial Resources: 64 (T-4th)
Forbes has the Phillies ranked as the fifth most valuable franchise at $723 million, and third in the senior circuit behind the Dodgers and Cubs. The Phillies aren’t as highly leveraged as their National League counterparts, but are the only top-five team currently operating in the black.
Management has acknowledged this fact as payroll began to increase over the last half-decade. The change was based on a conscious decision to spend a lot more in order to improve the on-field product and thereby sustain high revenues over the long haul.
Here are the Phillies payroll figures since 2006:
2006: $88.273 million
2007: $89.428 million
2008: $98.269 million
2009: $113.004 million
2010: $141.928 million
2011: $172.976 million
Over the last six years, the Phillies have gone middle of the pack in payroll to a team whose roster decisions are partly based on the luxury tax. Attendance figures have helped spur the payroll increase as the Phillies have actually posted attendance figures over capacity since 2010. That season, they finished second to the Yankees in average attendance per home game, but posted the highest attendance percentage at 103.5 percent. Last season, they led the sport in average attendance per home game, with a percentage capacity of 104.1 percent.
The Phillies also bring in money from their current television deal, which dates back to a contract with the defunct channel PRISM from 1977. Their television contract expires in 2015, and if the Phillies are as popular then as they are now, they shouldn’t have any trouble obtaining a lucrative deal to increase revenues. By then, they may need the boost if attendance suffers as a byproduct of the on-field product worsening.
For the time being, however, the Phillies have money and are very willing to spend, even if it means operating at a profit. They don’t have a strong outlook in terms of talent already in-house, but they have shown themselves to be buyers and aggressive traders and should have no trouble prolonging this window of contention via external means.
Baseball Operations: 44 (23rd)
The Phillies are not a very progressive organization. That doesn’t render the baseball operations department ineffective, but it does potentially keep the team from making smarter decisions with regards to its personnel. The Phillies were one of the only teams in baseball, if not the only team, not to employ a statistical analyst until last season, and while the front office is high on its baseball people and ability to scout and develop, they aren’t exactly cutting edge when it comes personnel decisions.
Their development team took a hit last season when Chuck LaMar resigned, and the Phils imported Joe Jordan from the Orioles to replace him. Both were trying to fill the void left by Mike Arbuckle when he was passed over for the GM job.
Since taking over, Amaro has made moves both terrific and abysmal, getting Roy Halladay to agree to a three-year, $60 million contract extension yet handing out a five-year, $125 million deal to Howard two years before he was set to hit free agency. He traded for Cliff Lee in 2009 in a steal for the Phils yet dealt him a year later, in quite the unnecessary fashion, and for a subpar return. This is also the same front office that has essentially deflated the value of its top prospect — Brown — through very poor handling.
His front office has a certain flair for the dramatic, and it’s hard to argue with the on-field results. But plenty of those results are attributable to players acquired or drafted by his predecessors, who had significantly less money to work with. Amaro’s true test will be keeping the Phillies competitive beyond the current window.
Right now, the Phillies are a contender because prior front offices drafted well and the current ownership team gave a maverick type of general manager plenty of money to spend. But the front office hasn’t exactly shown a knack for spending that money wisely, and that likely led to the lower ranking here.
Overall: 58 (5th)
The Phillies are still favorites to win the NL East but the division has grown more competitive. Their rotation is the best in the National League and they have enough talent on offense to support the pitching staff. They have money to spend but may see their ability to acquire talent mid-season hampered by their proximity to the luxury tax.
The season won’t entirely hinge on the returns of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, but those two, even in injury-recovering form, are better options than their current replacements and will greatly improve the Phillies’ odds of winning their sixth straight division title.