Feb 13, 2010

Off-Season Perspective Part I: Cost Certainty at What Cost?: The Phillies Perspective

The reason for these moves is pictured above.

For those Phillies fans out there, as you know, three members of the 2009 pennant-winning team signed three-year extensions this past month.

Joe Blanton: 3 year- $21 million
Shane Victorino: 3 year- $22.5 million
Carlos Ruiz: 3 year- $9 million

This is in addition to the extension that Roy Halladay signed this offseason (3 year, $60 million).

At what cost does this cost certainty come?

The Phillies have locked the majority of their core (Halladay, Hamels, Utley, Howard, Rollins, Victorino, Lidge (2008 version only), Ibanez, Polanco) in place through at least the 2011 season. This season is an interesting turning point because Utley, Howard, and Rollins, probably three of the most important Phillies in terms of team contribution, will all begin to be on "the wrong side" of 30. At this point, a statistical decline from their peak is expected. This does not mean that they won't be good players in the upcoming years, necessarily. It's just that the level of production compared to their salary will not always be on the same level (see Todd Helton, Carlos Delgado, Vladimir Guerrero contracts for reference).

But that's looking too far ahead. Let's focus on 2010. They have a team built to compete for this year. The only unsettled pieces are left-handed reliever from the bullpen (Sergio Escalona and Antonio Bastardo are the top contenders) and 5th starter (the immortal Jaime Moyer and Kyle Kendrick are the top contenders). All other position player starters are essentially in their mid to late prime years (29-31 years old). The starting pitching staff is anchored by an ace (Halladay), a probable ace who needs luck and a 3rd pitch (Hamels), and a workhorse (Blanton).

The payroll is set at around $140 million for 2010. The farm system has immediate impact prospects expected to make an impact this year. The MLB ETAs for Dominic Brown, Phillippe Aumont, JC Ramirez, Tyson Gillies, Trevor May, and Anthony Gose are all 2011 and later. Therefore, they have less flexibility than last year for making a mid-year acquisition. The bright side of all this is that if everyone stays healthy, this will not have to happen.

The other bright side is that, outside of Lidge, all of the bullpen's salaries are small and fungible. The pickups this offseason, Danys Baez and Jose Contreras, are veterans who will join the bullpen and be at least as productive as Brandon Lyon or Kevin Gregg for a fraction of the cost. Why chase someone with an ex-closer label when all you need is to get people out? Contreras could be this year's Chan Ho Park, a starter turned reliever whose performance is significantly better from the bullpen.

Therefore, the Phillies for 2010 are depending on continued production from their core players plus improvement from the back end of the bullpen to springboard themselves to a hopeful 4th straight playoff appearance. They haven't hamstrung themselves completely, but if one of the principal players on the roster gets injured (Halladay, Howard, Utley), they will most likely have to rely on internal help to replace their output. That is unless they can persuade one of the unsigned veterans on the market (see Pedro Martinez or Jermaine Dye for example) to sign for a reduced price guaranteed MLB contract.

2010 can be bright, barring any significant declines or injuries. I think all the moves this winter, except for the still baffling Cliff Lee trade, were a net positive in terms of projected performance.

And that is my Phillies off-season perspective.

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