When asked to assess the Philadelphia Phillies chances of contending in 2014, Ruben Amaro Jr. responded by saying “We are built to contend. That’s our job, to try and win. We’re built to win.” I understand he can’t come out and say “We don’t have a very good team and it looks to be a long, ugly season”, but built to win? Really? Does anyone honestly believe that? Does Ruben Amaro himself believe that?
Amaro is spot on when he says “We should be contending with this kind of payroll.” Here at Philly Sports Rant we agree with that statement. The 2013 Phillies had the third highest payroll in baseball last year. The only teams who spent more were the Evil Empire New York Yankees and Magic Johnson’s go for the gold LA Dodgers. The Phils expect the 2014 payroll to be roughly the same as the 2013 payroll.
The 2013 Phils finished in 4th place in the NL East with a record of 73-89, 23 games behind the division winning Atlanta Braves. I don’t know if Amaro is trying to convince the fans or himself when he says “I think we can win. It’s just a matter of getting the guys on the field. If they’re on the field they will produce. Unless something drastic happens over the next several months, I fully expect these guys to be on the field and performing.”
Barring anything unforeseen it sounds like Amaro expects his 25 man roster to be ready on opening day. He didn’t speak about any players specifically, but we doubt Mike Adams will be ready come April. Last year Adams was coming back from surgery due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). There’s very little history with baseball players coming back from TOS, but Amaro rolled the dice on the one-time stud setup man and crapped out.
Adams struggled most of the year before being shut down after his June 19th appearance against the Nats. He finished the season 1-4 with a 3.96 ERA. The 2.1 innings pitched in 2006 notwithstanding, last year was the worst season of Adams career. Not exactly what Amaro had in mind when he signed Adams to a two-year, 12 million dollar deal to lock down the 8th inning. Before being shut down with two tears in his rotator cuff and one in his labrum, the then 34 year-old Adams also experienced hip soreness, a back strain and biceps irritation.
We’re not exactly going out on a limb predicting Adams won’t be ready to start the season, but what about the rest of the team? Amaro says if they’re on the field they will produce, but how often will they be on the field? Let’s take a look at the five position players who will start the season at age 34 years and up to see how well they’ve held up this decade.
Marlon Byrd was Amaro’s prized free agent acquisition this winter. The 36 year-old Byrd is coming off the best season of his 12 year career. His slash line of .291/.336/.511 with 24 HR’s, 88 RBI’s and 64 XBH’s would look great if he could replicate it in Phillies pinstripes this year. However, with the exception of last year, Byrd’s had a tough time staying on the field. Injuries aside, he also served a 50-game suspension for PED use in 2012. In the last four seasons Byrd’s played in 465 games, an average of 116.25 per year.
The Phils extended fan favorite Chase Utley after the trade deadline to a two-five year contract extension. Utley will be 35 when the season begins and has two degenerative knees that he managed quite well last year. After two offseasons off resting his knees Utley went with a new program where he works out regularly, crediting this regiment for keeping his knees healthy in 2013. Even still, Utley missed 31 games last year, and with two chronically bad knees even the best program might not prevent a flare up. In the last four years Utley has played in 432 games, an average of 108 games per season.
Another fan favorite, Carlos Ruiz, was resigned to a three-year contract to keep from bolting in free agency this offseason. Many baseball analysts were surprised that Ruiz’s agent secured a three-year deal for his client, but I’m not sure why they were so surprised. Overpaying and giving out too many years has become an Amaro hallmark since taking over as GM.
Chooch plays the most demanding position on the diamond and will be 35 when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Ruiz has also had problems staying on the field in his career, visiting the DL at least once in each of the last five seasons. Last year he also served a 25-game suspension for using Adderral, a banned substance without a prescription. In the last four seasons Ruiz has played in 459 games, an average of 114.75 games per year.
Ryan Howard, age 34 is entering the third year of his now infamous five-year contract extension signed in April, 2010. Keeping Howard on the field and productive is a huge concern for the Phils, as they have no one else capable of providing the power a healthy Howard can. Ryne Sandberg says Howard looks great and said he expected Howard to lose 25 pounds between the end of last season and the start of spring training. The thought process here is if Howard is in better shape and at a lower playing weight, that he will not tax his surgically repaired left achilles and right knee as much, enabling him to play more games. Howard has played in 446 games the past four years, an average of 111.5 games per season.
One time team leader Jimmy Rollins is chasing down as many Phillie records as he can, per the 35 year-old shortstop. Rollins is still an above average defensive shortstop, but his offensive numbers have waned since hitting his 30’s. Rollins has been a staple in the Phils lineup since 2001 when he placed 3rd in Rookie of the Year balloting. Since then he’s also won an MVP, four Gold Gloves and is on the cusp of becoming the Phils all-time hits leader, soon to surpass the great Mike Schmidt. But even the once durable Rollins is starting to show signs of wear and tear. In his last four years Rollins has played in 546 games, an average of 136.5 games per season.
Since 1900 only four teams have had five players age 34 and up play in at least 125 games each. Of the five players listed above only Rollins has averaged more than that the past 4 years. The combined average of these five players over the last four years is 117.4 games per year. I don’t think we’re looking at the 5th team to have five players all play 125 games.
Ruben Amaro tells us if they’re on the field they’ll produce. That may be so, but none of the four core players left from the 2008 team are playing like they did back then and Byrd is coming off a career year he’s unlikely to duplicate. Also, none of these guys are playing near as many games as they did when they were younger. In 2008 Ryan Howard played in all 162 games and Chase Utley played in 159 games. The days of these veteran core players running out on the field every day is but a distant memory now.
Even the younger players on the roster have had trouble staying on the field in their short careers. Though Ben Revere’s broken foot was labeled a fluke injury, in his three major league seasons Revere has appeared in only 329 games, an average of 109.7 games a year. Take out last year’s “fluke” injury and Revere still only appeared in 241 games for Minnesota his two full seasons playing for the Twins.
Then there’s 26 year-old Dominic Brown who had trouble staying on the field last year. In his first full season Brown appeared in only 139 games. Some of them were as a pinch hitter after coming back from his strained achilles injury suffered in late August. He was also on the 7-Day DL for a concussion he got diving for a ball in July. In 2012 Brown missed time with a strained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and hamstring. Earlier that year he had issues with his left knee that caused him to miss time.
When Ruben Amaro tells us the Phils are built to win, and unless something drastic happens over the next several months he fully expects these guys to be on the field and performing, is that just wishful thinking? History tells us they’re not likely to get full seasons out of at least several, if not most of the core players. Despite Amaro’s protests that because they’re older doesn’t mean they’re not as good…well that’s overlooking history too. His exact quote regarding the team’s age as it relates to their performance was “Is it older? Yes, it is. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worse just because it’s older.” The numbers and major league baseball history tell a different tale.