Not too long ago, the Philadelphia Phillies were baseball’s model organization. They were the perfect blend of homegrown talent, key free agent acquisitions, and trades as the toast of the National League East after winning the division five consecutive years with two trips to the World Series, one being victorious. As we have seen, Philadelphia has shown us how quickly fortunes can change as they have gone through one of the more spectacular windfalls in recent memory.
That windfall is the cause, in large part, of the contradictory moves the Phillies have made the past few seasons. While most teams are winning with younger players combined with just the right veteran presence, all Philadelphia seems to do is get older. They will go into the 2014 season with six of their most prominent players at least age 32 or above, and their catcher, first baseman, second baseman and shortstop all at least 33 or older. In fact, the Phillies just re-signed Carlos Ruiz, 34, to a three year deal with an option for a fourth year. And their first baseman, Ryan Howard, is in year three of a huge contract extension where in the first two years Howard has only played in 151 games combined.
With that in mind, the Phillies also extended Chase Utley a two-year contract. But if Utley reaches 500 plate appearances, the contract vests for a third, fourth and fifth year in each season Utley reaches that milestone. Extending all of these older players combined with signing Cliff Lee to a five-year deal at age 32, as well as extending the contract of Cole Hamels, begs the question: What is Philadelphia doing?
There is no doubt that the Phillies have a core with Utley, Howard, Ruiz and Jimmy Rollins. The problem with that core is it would have been a great core four or five years ago. Now, with all of them in their mid 30s, it is pretty safe to say they are all closer to the twilight of their careers than their primes, and it just doesn’t seem to make any sense to extend the players they have aside from a “keeping up with the Jones’” mindset.
GM Ruben Amaro is at the core of this problem and the dysfunction in the city of brotherly love. It’s starting to become more and more evident that Amaro may not be cut out to be a GM after riding out what former GM Pat Gillick built for him. All Amaro seems to have done in his tenure as GM is make aggressive trades, but then strip down the team just enough not to indicate a full scale rebuild. Amaro was able to get some decent returns when he traded away Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. That was, many believed, just the tip of the iceberg in what was believed to be a major overhaul of the Phillies roster. Sadly, this was not the case as Amaro has shown time and time again that he is able to pull the trigger on moves while simultaneously remaining gun shy enough to stop the momentum in its tracks.
The Phillies need to make a decision that is very hard to make but needs to be made. Are they rebuilding or are they trying to put a team together for one last run? Up to now every move seems to contradict the other. The Phillies need to rebuild, and it is painfully obvious. They can get some solid returns for their players if they agree to eat salary and bite the bullet for a few seasons. All it takes is for Amaro to put his foot down on one side of the fence. When he will do that, however, is anyone’s guess.