Sam Donnellon: Are Phillies owners tying Amaro's hands?
YOU HEAR IT a lot these days, everywhere you go: The Phillies are cheap. On the surface, it seems absurd calling an ownership with a $139 million payroll misers, a group that has brought this town two consecutive World Series appearances and its second-ever world title.
YOU HEAR IT a lot these days, everywhere you go: The Phillies are cheap.
On the surface, it seems absurd calling an ownership with a $139 million payroll misers, a group that has brought this town two consecutive World Series appearances and its second-ever world title.
The Phillies aren't cheap. But they might be more cost-conscious than in recent seasons. And that has led directly to their current dilemma in the standings, and the current discontent. Comparisons of the roster this season to the rosters of the last two are not flattering, and they are feeding that old notion, once so tried and true, that the Phillies are squeezing those revenue streams a little too tight.
The point came to a head Wednesday when Charlie Manuel chose to let Joe Blanton bat with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game rather than use Wilson Valdez. Blanton's earned run average balloons after six innings, but Manuel's bullpen was taxed from back-to-back starts by Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick. Still, you have to believe if Charlie had the 2008 bench at his disposal, Blanton's night would have been done.
The Phillies' payroll this season is about $139 million. Just over $5 million of that has been spent on the following six players: Ben Francisco, Brian Schneider, Ross Gload, Juan Castro, Greg Dobbs and Valdez.
In 2008, the team payroll was about $98 million. About $6 million was spent on these six players: Matt Stairs, So Taguchi, Tadahito Iguchi, Dobbs, Chris Coste and Eric Bruntlett. They also gambled on much-injured Jayson Werth at $1.7 million. But even without him, or Geoff Jenkins' $5 million contract, the percentage of total salary spent on those six role players (6 percent) was still double that spent on this year's.
In 2008, the top three bench players - Dobbs, Coste and Jenkins - combined for 27 home runs, 47 doubles and 105 runs batted in.
It's hard to figure who the Phillies' top three bench players are in 2010. The player with the second most at-bats, Castro, was waived earlier this week. Right now, Valdez is your everyday second baseman. But it really doesn't matter. Include Valdez with Francisco and Dobbs and you get this: 10 home runs, 47 runs batted in, with 67 games left.
Replace Valdez and Francisco, who are semi-regulars these days, with Gload and Schneider and you get this: 10 home runs and 32 RBI.
That doesn't make them any different than most of the regular lineup, of course. But that's the point about a strong bench. It can pick up the regulars from time to time. When Jimmy Rollins was injured early in 2008, Bruntlett batted .300 in his place. When Pedro Feliz got a bad back, Dobbs caught on fire. Stairs pinch-hit and . . .
Which begs the question: Did ownership tie Ruben Amaro's hands on more than the Lee/Halladay conundrum? Did it say no to pricier options than Castro, Valdez, Cody Ransom, et al? Or did the GM overvalue them?
It also begs this one: Where have you gone, Pat Gillick? When is the last time his name was mentioned? You wonder if he got out because he saw this coming with Phillies ownership, if he hadn't been down this road before with other teams that let him spend freely, then didn't.
Gillick got to keep trying after Adam Eaton. There was no talk of restocking the farm when he traded Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez for Freddy Garcia and his $10 million contract. He took a shot on the unproven Werth, traded the fast-footed, centerfielder-of-the-future Michael Bourn for the high-priced and highly suspect Brad Lidge.
He built that 2008 bench, too.
Can't wait to read Amaro's book someday. Love to hear what was said in those post-Series organizational meetings last December. Amaro got Lee here in the first place, got Halladay at a discount, too.
What I think happened is that ownership was persuaded to spend more money on its farm system a decade ago under the premise it would actually keep costs down, which for a while it did. But Lee cost three of the Phillies' more publicized prospects. Floyd and Gonzalez have become solid starters elsewhere. When Amaro said the price for Halladay was three more prized farmhands and a 3-year contract extension at $18 million per, the owners might have mentioned that a strong farm system was supposed to cost them less, not more, money to win. So he placated them by trading Lee and his $9 million salary for three Seattle minor leaguers.
There was also the Cole Hamels factor. He was 26, coming off a season in which he pitched poorly and lost fan support. If both he and Lee performed well, the pressure to re-sign Lee would be humongous. If Hamels performed poorly, the pressure to trade their younger, cheaper, home-grown arm and keep Lee would be humongous, too.
Rather than sorting it all out after another intense run, or possibly be looking to trade J.A. Happ, Kendrick or even Blanton to a contender, they are once again trying to decide how much another shot at a pennant is worth to them.
Roy Oswalt is asking for his 2012 option year to be picked up at $16 million. That's less than it would have cost to extend Lee, and with the Mets, Yankees and Red Sox likely to be competing for Lee in the offseason, the Phillies could easily flip Oswalt for prospects to the loser of that bidding war. Just as they did with Lee.
Sounds like a plan.
For a team that plays for today, and for tomorrow.
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