Thursday, March 8, 2012

Offseason Review: Philadelphia Phillies

Injured MVP Ryan Howard
Last year the Phillies were perceived to be a lock to win the World Series. Their path to the ring was going to be forged by an amazing pitching staff, recalling memories from the 90s Braves staff headed up by the likes of Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz. The result was a dominating, best record in baseball 102 win season, followed by first round elimination at the hands of the wild card Cardinals. The window for the aging Phillies is still pretty wide open, but after their regular season mastery was proven futile, the path to victory could seem a little murky.


In case I haven't made it obvious enough yet, I hate big spending on closers. I know closer mentality is a real thing and they are a key component to any team. I get that the ability to keep cool under pressure is a specialized trait and that not everyone has it, but the Papelbon contract is just bonkers. The Phils let legitimate closer Ryan Madson go and replaced him with a more expensive pitcher who had worse numbers last season. I realize Papelbon's been closing a long time and on the biggest stage imaginable, but closing pitching isn't why the Phillies failed in the postseason.

Philadelphia is a pretty well rounded team. They have one of the best, if not the very best rotations in baseball. They also have an offense that, when healthy, is incredibly potent... therein lies their glaring flaw. All due respect to well-roundedness, the 5x consecutive division champs are growing older and losing their durability. Jimmy Rollins is five years removed from his MVP and was banged up last season. Ryan Howard (and his enormous contract) tore his left Achilles tendon on the very last at bat of the Phillies season last year and isn't set to come back until May at the earliest. Other than that they have an older (and still really fantastic, love to have him on my team) ace in Roy Halladay, an older guy at third in Placido Polanco, an apparently constantly banged up second basemen in Chase Utley and a not old but not young center fielder in Shane Victorino, who incidentally hit a two run home run off of the Pirates in a spring training game as I was writing that sentence.
Auspicious young outfielder Dominic Brown
There is a decent amount of young promise on the team and in their system, so I don't think some major free agent enhanced overhaul was necessary to make this team as good as they were the past couple of years. The beginning of the season absence of Howard is being alleviated by the signing of the still deadly Jim Thome and they were given some depth with outfielder Juan Pierre and former closer Chad Qualls. All of these are pretty reasonable/affordable moves, so why the big commotion about Papelbon?
Bold prediction: Hunter Pence for team MVP 2012
The biggest reason I have an issue with that contract rests on the teetering foundation Philadelphia's older core. Locking up a huge contract for a closing pitcher is going to seem awfully irrelevant if Philadelphia can't suddenly acquire talent necessary to replace a Chase Utley or a Jimmy Rollins once they become ineffective. I'm not saying there was some substantially better set of free agents out there, re-signing Oswalt or Madson and saving the money for next season both seem way more practical then an unprecedented $50MM contract for a closer. An electric closer mentality becomes a lot less pertinent when you have your foot on the throat of the opposition in the ninth, and the Phillies are capable of that. That money is going to be pretty desirable as Cole Hamels free agency approaches.
Smirking hunk Cole Hamels pondering his next contract.
I'm not going to shit all over the Phillies front office though, other than Howard and Papelbon these dudes seem pretty flawless. Last year they let the tremendously overrated and horribly spelled Jayson Werth go to the Nationals to make room for upcoming prospect Dominic Brown. When he didn't pan out they acquired Hunter effing Pence who is going to be really good for a really long time. The Phillies are good and they are likely to stick around in the competitive conversation for a long time. First place in the AL East easily.

No comments:

Post a Comment