By Ryan Gillman
According to multiple reports, the Philadelphia Phillies have signed outfielder Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal worth a total of $16 million, with an $8 million vesting option for a third year (the option vests if Byrd has either 600 plate appearances in 2015 or 550 plate appearances in 2015 and a total of 1100 plate appearances in 2014 and 2015). Byrd had the best season of his career last year, posting a .291 average, 24 homeruns, and 88 RBI with the Mets and the Pirates. This was a huge comeback from Byrd’s miserable 2012 season, in which he was mired by injury, overall poor play, and a 50-game PED suspension. The Phillies are desperately in need of some outfield help, as their outfielders collectively posted a -1.6 WAR last season, dead last in the MLB. While the Phillies do need to improve their outfield, the Byrd signing makes no sense whatsoever.
The time for the Phillies to spend is most certainly not now. At nearly $160 million, the Phillies payroll was the third largest in the MLB, behind only the Yankees and the Dodgers. Yet, the Phillies were still terrible; they finished 73-89, the 8th worst record in the MLB. The year prior, they finished at exactly .500, which was a huge disappointment given their lofty payroll and high-profile players. Clearly, the Phillies are moving in the wrong direction. Signing a 36-year-old outfielder who’s good, but not exactly a superstar isn’t going to change any of that. With already over $120 million committed to their payroll next year (and that’s not even including arbitration and renewable contracts), it just doesn’t make any sense for the Phillies to commit $8 million to an aging outfielder with an inconsistent track record.
Beyond the payroll, the Phillies roster is not set to compete any time soon. Their best player, Chase Utley, will be 35 next season and has had some injury problems of late, with his 131 games played in 2013 being the most he’s played since 2009. Jimmy Rollins will also be 35 and, quite frankly, is not that good anymore. Their best pitcher, Cliff Lee, is still spectacular, but at age 35, it is unknown how much longer he will be able to keep it up. They have no real group of young talent, save for Domonic Brown and Cole Hamels, who at 27 and 30, respectively, can’t be considered “young” for much longer.
It is clear that the Phillies need to rebuild, but apparently general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. didn’t get the memo. Instead of decreasing the Phillies’ payroll, Amaro is adding to it in the form of a 36-year-old outfielder who is far from a guarantee to repeat his success from last season.
Ryan Gillman is a native Long Islander. He is a long-suffering Mets, Jets, Islanders, and Knicks fan. You can follow him on twitter at @ryangillman
By Dan Lagnado
The Philadelphia Phillies’ time atop the National League East seems to have come to a screeching halt. After 5 consecutive division titles from 2007-2011, the Phillies have struggled to regain the luster that they had achieved during those 5 seasons, which included a World Series title in 2008 and a National League Pennant in 2009. Instead, they have struggled along just attempting to remain relevant. A disappointing 2013 season found them in fourth place in the division, only above the lowly Marlins. Certainly not the result anybody among the team was looking for.
It appears that the old Phillies stalwarts are no longer able of carrying them to victory. The one time stacked lineup of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz, does not provoke the power and fear that it once did. Instead, it may be time for a changing of the guard. This season saw the breakout of Domonic Brown, who in his first full season exploded into national attention with 27 homeruns and 83 RBI. That’s not to say that Rollins or Utley did not produce. Utley hit .284 with 18 homeruns and Rollins provided a .252 average and 22 stolen bases. What is true however is that somewhat diminishing production and increasing age and potential health problems do not spell the best of times for this team. Howard played in only 80 games and Ruiz in only 92. Another bright spot that emerged in the latter stages of the season was Darin Ruf. He slugged 14 homeruns in only 73 games and provided a late season spark and something to look forward to in the future a she seems to be capable of reaching the 30 HR plateau. Cody Asche also impressed for Philadelphia, contributing 5 homeruns in 50 games (for all you math studs out there that is one homerun every 10 games) showing the capability of hitting 15-20 in a full season. This offense has a chance to regain its greatness. The first step is resigning Ruiz. Even at age 35, and surrounded by PED scandals, when he plays, Ruiz is a very solid offensive catcher as well as being able to aid young pitchers. It is also important for the key cogs to stay healthy (looking at you Ryan Howard). With a little fine-tuning this could offense has an opportunity to once again become what it once was during its dynasty years.
The same bug that bit the offense plagues the Phillies pitching staff: aging stars. Cliff Lee will turn 36 next season. Roy Halladay, should the Phillies choose to resign him, will turn 37 and has a history of arm issues. Should the Phillies choose to let Halladay leave, their rotation will be left with the likes of Jonathan Pettibone (5-4, 4.04 ERA), Tyler Cloyd (2-7, 6.56 ERA) and Kyle Kendrick (10-13, 4.70 ERA) behind Lee and Cole Hamels. In addition, the pitching stars that the Phils do have have been able to play consistently at the same time. Last season, it was Hamels who pitched himself into the ace position, but this year he floundered with an 8-14 record while Lee led the team in wins (14), ERA (2.87), and strikeouts (222). The back end of the bullpen is very impressive with Closer Jonathan Papelbon (29 saves) as well as Antonio Bastardo (2.32 ERA, 14 Holds) and Jacob Diekman (2.58 ERA, 11 Holds). The acquisition of some veteran middle relievers as well as a back end starter would do wonders for the outlook of this team moving into next season.
Coming off of one down year is no reason to despair for Phillies fans. A few small free agent signings could set the table for another potential postseason run. However in order for that to happen, the big time players must be able to stay healthy and guide the young prospects. It is always dangerous to count out a team with postseason experience and the weapons of this team. I think it is possible for these Phillies to have another playoff run in them.
Dan Lagnado is studying communications, law economics and government at American University. He’s a fan of both the Mets and Jets and has been writing about sports for four years. You can follow him on twitter at @dlag1995