It’s hard to argue with sustained success, and the Phillies have experienced just that. They have won the NL East in each of the last four seasons and have turned that into two World Series appearances and one title. It’s also arguable that they were the best team in the NL in 2010. The FanGraphs staff thinks they’re the best NL club in 2011 and beyond.
Present Talent – 92.50 (2nd)
Future Talent – 90.00 (t-3rd)
Financial Resources – 88.08 (3rd)
Baseball Operations – 84.17 (t-7th)
Overall Rating – 88.71
The cost of success for the Phillies has been considerable. Each year they’ve spent more and more money to field a winning team. In 2008, after making the playoffs for the first time since 1993, the Phillies upped payroll by $9 million. Then, following a World Series victory that same year, they increased it by another $15 million. A World Series loss in 2009 prompted a $25 million payroll increase for 2010. Even as Jayson Werth departed as a free agent this past offseason, it left the Phillies with little wiggle room for 2011. Or so we thought.
For the second straight year the Phillies have increased payroll by more than $20 million. Their 2011 payroll will sit somewhere around $165 million, which means they’re neck-and-neck with the Red Sox for the second highest payroll in the game. Not only that, but they have nearly $113 committed to nine players in 2012, and $82 million committed to four players in 2013. Only teams with the most robust financial situations can make such future outlays. As the Phillies showed us this offseason, they’ll continue spending for the right players.
As with most teams, the Phillies’ financial resources and baseball operations are closely linked. For instance, if a smaller market team signed Ryan Howard to such a mammoth extension, they might have crippled the franchise for years to come. But the Phillies have shown that they can absorb some of the difference between Howard’s production and his salary. The same goes for Cliff Lee. In 2015 Lee will be 36 and Howard will be 35, and each will make $25 million. Chances are their performances won’t justify that, but with deep pockets the Phillies can still field quality players around them.
The current Phillies regime does have its share of blunders, but so far they have, for the most part, avoided ones that will cost them in the long-term. In his two-plus years at the helm, Ruben Amaro has done a fine job of acquiring and maintaining talent. Since taking over after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, he has:
- Signed Raul Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million contract. Even with a disappointing start to 2010, Ibanez has already produced almost $25 million worth of value in the first two years of that deal. The only downside to this deal is that a little patience might have meant a better deal for the Phils. But it’s still working out quite fine;
- Signed Jayson Werth to a two-year, $10 million extension, buying out one year of free agency. Werth produced 9.9 WAR in those years, valued at $42 million on the open market. This includes the $20 million in value he produced in 2010, when he could have reached free agency, in which he was paid $7 million;
- Signed Cole Hamels to a three-year, $20.5 million extension, which still leaves him one year of arbitration eligibility before free agency, and opens the door for a longer-term extension;
- Traded four low-impact players for not only Cliff Lee, but also Ben Francisco, who has produced 1.3 WAR in just 301 PA in the past year and a half;
- Not only traded for Roy Halladay, but signed him to a below-market extension. Had Halladay hit free agency he might have doubled the $60 million commitment the Phillies made to him;
- It might not seem like a great deal at first glance, but in year one of his three-year, $19 million contract, Placido Polanco has already produced $14.8 million worth of value — or 82.2 percent of the overall contract;
- Signed Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million deal — when he had more guaranteed money on the table from other teams.
These moves don’t include other arbitration signings, such as Carlos Ruiz and Joe Blanton, that will save the team in the long run. It would take a laundry list of poor moves to offset the good Amaro has done. Yes, there’s the head-scratching move to trade Lee as he acquired Halladay. But that might not be as straight forward as we first thought. A year later they have Lee, anyway. If they had kept Lee, would they have traded for Roy Oswalt last season? Perhaps that specific series of events was the only way that the Phillies could have assembled its powerhouse 2011 rotation.
(As an aside, the part that stings most about trading Lee last winter was the poor return. If they had spent more time shopping Lee, perhaps they could have added better pieces to their system. And yet, they have a top system despite this.)
The other stand-out blunder is the Ryan Howard contract. It’s not that the team should have let Ryan Howard walk when he reached free agency following the 2011 season. It’s that they put the contract together while Howard still had two more years on his previous contract. It also guarantees him $25 million per year in his age-36 season, and the $10 million buyout makes the Phillies more likely to exercise the $23 million option for his age-37 season. But, as noted above, the Phillies have the resources to work around this contract if it comes down to it. That doesn’t make it any better a deal on its own, but it doesn’t figure to hinder the Phillies in the long-term.
(Though it’s tough to ignore that through his age-30 season, Howard has yet to produce a $25 million season.)
For some reason it feels as though Amaro’s reputation is under frequent fire, but once you lay out his track record it’s hard to argue with what he’s done during his short time as GM. He inherited plenty from Pat Gillick, but he got right to work enhancing that core and building a long-term winner. As our own Eric Seidman, noted Phillies fan, put it, “He makes some strange moves, but clearly has a knack for big moves. I trust him now even if I disagree sometimes.”
In some ways it might seem as though the Phillies have extended themselves a bit too far. We’ve heard all winter that the team has little to no money for mid-season improvements, which is an important factor for a contender. The Phillies know this well, as they’ve added important chips at the last two trade deadlines. But even with their injuries they’re still the favorites in the NL East, and perhaps in the entire NL. Their commitments going forward are great, but so is their revenue potential. With a capable man at the helm, the Phillies are deserving of their title as No. 1 National League organization.