I don’t usually like to look too far ahead to the offseason when the September pennant races are still in full swing. There’s plenty of interesting baseball right now, especially with four of the six divisions still up for grabs, to say nothing of wild card spots. We’ll have months to talk about winter moves; if you remember how many words were spilled on Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales by writers desperate to fill space in January and February, too many months.
But you understand how fans and employees of teams long since out of the race will be all too happy to turn the page on 2014 as soon as possible, and earlier this week, that’s exactly what Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. did:
Ruben Amaro Jr. said today there will be more adjustments to the Phillies’ roster in the future, following yesterday’s trade that sent John Mayberry Jr. to Toronto for Minor League third baseman Gustavo Pierre.
“Not that it’s a huge change, but we’re going to have to start churning the roster in a way that it’s going to have to be improved,” Amaro said in the press box at Turner Field.
Does he believe those changes could be significant?
“I do,” he said. “I think we need it. I think we need it because what we have on our roster right now is not working. How much we’ll do will depend on what makes sense for us. We’re still kind of assessing what we have. But I think it would behoove us to make some change because we need to be better.”
You don’t need to come to FanGraphs to know that the Phillies weren’t expected to be a good team this year, aren’t a good team this year and don’t seem to have a bright future. But finally, we’re at least hearing Amaro admit to it. That’s a step in the right direction, probably. So the question, really, is what can he do?
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The Phillies have nine players under contract this season making $8 million or more. Surely, they’ll gain flexibility when one or more of them come off the books, right? Except…
|Name||2015 age||2014 salary||2015 salary|
…oh. Utley’s salary decreases somewhat, but otherwise these guaranteed contracts to (mostly) past-their-prime veterans look to be the gifts that keep on giving. Everyone here will be a year older, and still owed a considerable amount of money. (Rollins will vest his 2015 option this week; Burnett’s exact salary will vary based on his 2014 playing time, and he may yet retire, though as of last week he was undecided.)
While Kyle Kendrick ($7.6m this year) and Mike Adams ($7m in 2014 and a 2015 option that will certainly be declined) will free up some cash, arbitration raises to Ben Revere, Antonio Bastardo and Domonic Brown (if he’s retained) will eat up most of that. Though the Phillies haven’t shown any indication that they’re terribly constrained by salaries, the 2015 Phillies, when you include the arbitration raises, the $3.6m owed to Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and the usual minimum-salary types that float in and out of a roster, will already been about as expensive as the 2014 Phillies. They won’t be younger, or better, or cheaper. That’s the problem Amaro is facing.
It’s a problem of his own making, of course, and although most of the group listed above actually played well this season, it’s indicative of a larger problem. Back in May, I investigated how most of the 32+ players on the Phillies were performing well, but nearly all of the younger players weren’t. That hasn’t changed, really. Revere is the only hitter under 34 to be worth a single win over replacement. Rookie reliever Ken Giles is the only pitcher under 30 who can say the same. The young Phillies have been so bad that the entire group under 31 has combined for -1.5 WAR, the only team in the negatives.
While almost everyone on the “old and expensive” list above has contributed, most of them have little — negative, even — trade value. Good luck convincing anybody that Ryan Howard’s superficial counting stats are worth the $60m he has remaining, obviously. (If he gets to 100 RBI, he’ll almost certainly join the extremely exclusive “100 RBI, negative WAR” club, currently occupied by Ruben Sierra, Dante Bichette, and three Joe Carter seasons.) That’s not to say that Amaro can’t get some AL team to give Howard a crack as a part-time DH; just that he’ll have to swallow an enormous amount of money and accept little in return.
Lee might have brought back considerable talent had he been dealt in the last two years, or the Phillies could have just shed his salary when the Dodgers claimed him on August waivers. Now, he’s attempting to rehab a serious elbow injury and is all but untradeable. Utley and Rollins have shown little indication to accept a move. Papelbon, though he’s having a good season, has had his value decrease both because he wasn’t traded to help a contender this year and because he’s closer to having his 2016 age-35 option vest. Byrd may yet be dealt this winter, though it seems unlikely, and like the others he will be less valuable since he comes with more age and one less pennant race.
The point here isn’t really to lay out the litany of easily-avoidable mistakes the Phillies have made, because you’re familiar with all of that. The point is that if we take Amaro’s comments at face value, that he’s finally ready to make considerable changes to this team, he’s still limited in what he can actually do. With one exception, he can’t really trade any of his productive players, at least not for the kind of return that would actually help build for the future.
The exception there is Hamels, obviously, who has $96m over the next four years, is in the middle of yet another outstanding season, and represents a cheaper alternative, at least financially, to what Max Scherzer, James Shields and Jon Lester are likely to get. Of course, Dave laid out in multiple posts in July why the Phillies should have already traded Hamels. They still can, but they may have missed their best opportunity.
So Amaro can still trade Hamels this winter, and maybe he will, with teams rich with dollars and prospects like the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox or other interested parties. If he does, the Phillies will get several good prospects for him. But the rest of that group in the table above is either unmovable or unlikely to bring back much of interest, which means the Phillies either sell low or stand pat, and that limits their flexibility to add parts. Even if they did manage to dump a ton of salary to jump back into the free agency game, the available talent, especially on offense, is going to make for a disappointing market at best. It’s not like they have much coming up through the system, anyway, not with J.P. Crawford several years away, Jesse Biddle having a lost year, and September call-up Maikel Franco putting up a mere .299 Triple-A OBP this year.
Of course, the change Phillies fans want the most seems unlikely to happen. Pat Gillick, serving as interim team president while David Montgomery tends to his health, said in no uncertain terms that Amaro would be back in 2015. Never trust anything a baseball executive says publicly, of course, but if they wanted Amaro gone, there’s no reason to not have done it already. Amaro will remain, and it’s great that he can say he’s ready for change. It just remains to be seen how he can even make that happen.