How Not to Build a Winner: Welcome to Philadelphia

The $16 million contract that A.J. Burnett is said to be signing with the Phillies may include a player option for 2015, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. Burnett will be 38 in 2015. If he falls apart at the tender age of 37, the Phillies will be on the hook for whatever amount they have chosen to option themselves out of.

This is nothing new for the second-best team in Pennsylvania.

The Phillies currently owe 34-year-old first-baseman Ryan Howard $85 million. That is not a typographical error. The Phillies owe Ryan Howard Eighty-Five Million Dollars. He hit 11 home runs last year with a .784 OPS and 0.4 WAR. For $25 million per year, that is not quite good enough, but it was a 1.5 win improvement over the 14 home runs and .718 OPS that he posted in 2012. Say it again; Howard is 34 and the Phillies owe him eighty-five million dollars over the next three seasons.

It doesn’t stop there.

The Phillies owe 35-year-old SS Jimmy Rollins $11 million for 2014 and, if he he makes 434 plate appearances this season, they will owe him another $11 million in 2015. He had 666 plate appearances last year and posted a .667 OPS with a 1.6 WAR.

35-year-old Phillie second-baseman Chase Utley had a very good year in 2013. He had an .823 OPS. But it was the first time since his age-30 season that he was able to play in more than 115 games. Over the past three seasons, he has missed 226 days to injury. The Phillies owe him at least $25 million for his age-35 and age-36 seasons. And if he is able to limp to the plate 500 times per season, they will owe him another $45 million through his age-39 season.

Then, we come to Marlon Byrd. He had a nice year in 2013 – at the age of 35. So, the Phillies decided to pay him $16 million for his age-36 and age-37 seasons. Byrd is one season removed from a .210 batting average and .488 OPS.

The Phillies 2014 payroll is now approximately $189 million. Their record, last year, was 73-89. If A.J. Burnett had his for 4.0 WAR season for the Phillies, instead of the Pirates, in 2013, they would have finished just eight games under .500!

Welcome to Philadelphia.


143 thoughts on “How Not to Build a Winner: Welcome to Philadelphia

  1. This is all true, but you could also look at it as the Phillies were bad in 2013, identified RF & SP as needs, and then signed two of the best FA options to short-term deals. Obviously, the Phillies could be bad again in 2014, but that will more likely be due to the bad deals they did previous to this off-season and their inability to develop young players. If I were a Phillies fan, I would be excited about adding AJ on a 1 year deal, regardless of team payroll, because it’s not my money (some of my fellow Pirates’ fans seem to have a hard time differentiating between Nutting’s wallet & their own).

    From a Pirates perspective, they had a great 2013 season, identified 1B, RF, and SP as needs and did nothing, despite an influx of cash. NH’s quote that giving AJ the qualifying offer would have impacted how they handled the needs at the other positions is somewhat laughable, in that they didn’t spend any money on RF, 1B, or RP.

  2. Let’s be fair. The Phillies haven’t been trying to build a winner. They already did that. They are trying to sustain a winner. They’ve made mistakes. I don’t think The Burnett and Byrd signings were mistakes though. Overpaying Ryan Howard was a big mistake. Giving 50 million to a closer was a big mistake. They probably should have turned the page on Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz, that is way too much to spend on a 35 year old catcher. But they got value for Burnett and Byrd.

  3. I would rather start Andrew Lambo in right field than Byrd in 2014. My money is on Lambo posting a higher OPS than Byrd.

    I am not predicting that Lambo will be a star. I am predicting that Byrd will be a $16 million failure.

  4. The overpay on Howard when he was clearly in decline was astounding, as was offering 13 million a year on a closer. I don’t fault them nearly as much for Utley and Rollins. Utley can still produce at a high level. Rollins, while an overpay, should at least be able to hold down ss and produce a 2+ WAR for a few more years. The Phils could contend for a playoff spot IF (big big if) Rollins can produce a 2+ WAR again and Howard can at least be a league average 1B. This would also require continued above-average production from one year wonders such as Byrd and Brown along with improvements from young guys like Revere, Asche, and Ruf. It’s a lot to ask, but it’s really their last shot. If they implode, I’d expect to see a major fire sale involving all trade-able players. Unfortunately I think they are stuck with Howard, Papelbon, Rollins, and Amaro Jr. (worst GM in mlb).

    • I can’t really fault them for Utley. He has been very good. Injuries have been a problem, but he was one of the most productive 2B in the NL last year. They could still flip him for quality prospects.

  5. My Philly phriends out here in Harrisburg call their GM, Ruben “Who Gives a $hit about T’Amaro”.

    They fear that, after this year, with their farm system bereft of stars, they are gonna be worse than the Marlins….for years.

    • You are probably right. Their best hope for the future is to start poorly, fire Amaro, and trade their best trade able talent (Lee, Hamels, Utley, Burnett, etc…) and pick up a boatload of near mlb ready talent. They will probably have to eat a significant portion of those salaries in order to make the trades worthwhile. Strictly dumping salary won’t work as their farm system is devoid of much potential. This is sad to see as they could have maintained their success for years it come if Gillick was still running the show.

      • They could still re-build. If they are out of contention at the trade deadline, they could get good young players for Burnett, Utley, and, possibly, Byrd.

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