The Philadelphia Phillies are off to a slow start in the 2012 season with a 1-3 record against the Pittsburgh Pirates and division rivals Miami Marlins.
As one would guess, the starting rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Vance Worley, and Cole Hamels have been nothing short of spectacular. They have a combined 2.50 FIP, 2.31 xFIP, with an ERA of 1.78 with 23 strikeouts against only 3 walks and 17 hits in 25.1 innings.
As you can see, the rotation is not the problem. The bullpen has not been as good but a 4.09 ERA and only 2 walks allowed in 11 innings will not kill a team. What will kill a team, though, is scoring only a total of eight runs through the first four games of the season.
The offense has hit an unsustainable .198/.254/.244 with a wOBA of .230 and wRC+ of 48. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are just fine and so is Carlos Ruiz but Jimmy Rollins and the rest of the crew are barely hitting their weight and not looking good in the process. Rookie infielder Freddy Galvis, known for his glove and not his bat, is unsurprisingly 1-13 and has grounded into two double-plays.
The offense will get better, though. Ryan Howard will be back in roughly two months and Chase Utley should also be back by then. But this post is not merely about the struggles of a team through its first four game. It is about the closing window of opportunity for a team with one of the highest payrolls in the game and the future is not looking good.
The current payroll is north of $172M and the Phillies have nearly $113M on the books for 2012 and that does not include Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, Joe Blanton, Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, Jose Contreras, Juan Pierre, or Chad Qualls, among others.
Victorino and Hamels are free agents who will command top dollar on the free agent market, with many believing Hamels will fetch north of $120M on the open market. Blanton, Thome, Pierre, and Qualls are also free agents. Pence is a fourth year arbitration eligible player who will likely get at least $13M through the process and Polanco, Ruiz, Contreras, and Wigginton have options that, if picked up, would add $14.5M to the near $113M already owed to players in 2013. Relievers Antonio Bastardo and David Herndon will be arbitration eligible for the first time as well.
If they pick up all options and you include arbitration for the three eligible players that will likely stay the payroll goes to roughly $142M but leaves holes in center field, the starting rotation, the bench, and in the pen.
The team is also not getting any younger. They are tied for the second highest average age in the Majors at 30.5 years and the offense will feature 34 year olds Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz up the middle, a 33 year old Ryan Howard, and 37 year old Polanco if they pick up his option. The Phillies’ farm system features no offensive players who are ready to step in to replace an injured player, let alone a full season of a player lost to free agency with the exception of Domonic Brown, who cannot play center field.
At $142M their team could look like this in 2013 (with age in parenthesis):
C – Carlos Ruiz (34)
1B – Ryan Howard (33)
2B – Chase Utley (34)
SS – Jimmy Rollins (34)
3B – Placido Polanco (37)
LF – Domonic Brown (25)
CF – John Mayberry, Jr. (29)
RF – Hunter Pence (29)
The average age drops to 30.24 which will likely still be in the top five oldest and they get much weaker on offense, defense, and in the rotation while adding the rest of the contracts to the team. If they do happen to re-sign Hamels then the payroll will likely reach the 2011 mark of near $172M while not upgrading the team.
With $20M or more tied up to Halladay, Lee, and Howard next season, and $104.3M tied up to them and Utley, Papelbon, and Rollins, adding Hamels to over $20M would give them more $20M contracts than the New York Yankees. If you think the Phillies looked bad in the first week of the 2012 season I would not hold my breath for better things to happen when the 2013 season starts. The future is starting to look bleak thanks to Ruben Amaro‘s affinity to give lucrative deals to players running well into their thirties.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt
Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis Tagged: | Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Domonic Brown, Hunter Pence, Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Roy Halladay, Ruben Amaro, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Trevor May, Vance Worley