Philadelphia Phillies: Moneyball Transition Must Be Made

By Sean O'Brien
Philadelphia Phillies Ruben Amaro, Jr.
Howard Smith–USA TODAY Sports

Based on current attendance trends, between 250,000-500,000 less fans will attend games at Citizens Bank Park this season. This developing factor will likely lead to less money being made available for next season’s payroll.

The Philadelphia Phillies‘ current payroll is approximately $160 million, which a sub .500 team can’t justify. The 2012 payroll was $172 million.

General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. knows that his old-fashion approach of attempting to buy a trophy through high-profile acquisitions hasn’t worked. But, sabermetric evidence shows that a blend of old school smarts and modern analytics can win.

A World Series championship can’t simply be created through farm system promotions and patience. It also can’t be easily bought by flashing coin at the biggest stars on the open market.

In order to move toward a roster than has a much stronger statistical base, Amaro needs to jettison a number of heavy contracts.

The Phillies’ 2013  personnel expenditures are topped by: Cliff Lee ($25 million), Cole Hamels ($20.5 million), Roy Halladay ($20 million), Ryan Howard ($20 million), Chase Utley ($15.285 million), Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million) and Jimmy Rollins ($11 million).

I would attempt to extend Utley for up to three years, if he’s willing to accept whatever numbers and contract length fits future team needs. If an agreement can’t be reached by this season’s trade deadline, dealing him will become a painfully real consideration because his contract ends after this season.

Trading Papelbon and Rollins this summer makes sense. Papelbon is scheduled to make $13 per season through 2015, while ‘J-Roll’ is scheduled to make another $11 million in the last guaranteed year of his deal next year. A high-priced closer is a luxury on a non-playoff team and Rollins’ best days have passed.

Keep Lee and Howard for at least one more year, even though they are both scheduled to make $25 million next season. Starting pitchers like Lee are rare and Howard’s power-punch is still likely to prove valuable. However, strong offers for both men must be taken under serious consideration if they are received this year.

It’s smart to keep Hamels through the remainder of his guaranteed contract that ends in 2018 (or potentially 2019) and to wish Halladay the best moving forward after his deal ends this fall.

Marketing considerations are the main reason why I wouldn’t remove every name, except Hamels, from the payroll this season. Between 35,000-40,000 fans per game are still showing up to see a mediocre team.

Unless a drastically revamped squad became an instant winner, dumping almost every favorite would surely hurt attendance. That, in turn, would impact the money that’s available for the next few seasons.

Amaro must readjust his payroll by obtaining a new mix of players if he wants his team to be consistently competitive again. This will hardly be an easy task and could take a number of seasons to fully accomplish. However if the Phillies’ top front office boss doesn’t make a number of big moves heading into next season, the short- and long-term future of baseball in Philadelphia could be grim.

Follow Sean on Twitter @SeanyOB, Facebook, Google+ and read his blog Insight.

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