CLEARWATER, Fla. - It all started with Raul Ibanez.
After winning the 2008 World Series, the Phillies decided to let their 31-year-old leftfielder, Pat Burrell, walk as a free agent. With his nagging injuries, Burrell seemed to be beyond his best years. That perception turned out to be accurate. Burrell hit .235 with 41 homers over the last three years and retired.
But who did the Phillies sign to replace their fading outfielder? Ibanez, who was 36 at the time. It was a sound baseball move - Ibanez hit .264 with 70 homers for three division winning teams - but it also made the Phillies five years older at that position. When the team decided to move on from 34-year-old Pedro Feliz at third base, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Placido Polanco, who is all of six months younger than Feliz.
No, the Phillies did not get older when Jamie Moyer left. But then, that would have been impossible.
The perception is that the Phillies have become one of baseball's older teams because their core of star players is creeping into athletic middle age. Of course, they are getting older. Everyone is. But the Phillies' average age has really spiked because of the players added to that core group during this six-year run of success.
It may not seem like much of a distinction, but it's important. It changes the calculation on how long the current window remains open to win another World Series. Ryan Howard (32), Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley (both 33) are in the prime years, age-wise. They are all younger today than Ibanez or Polanco were when they got here. They are all younger than Ty Wigginton (34).
Catcher Carlos Ruiz, at 33, is younger than backup Brian Schneider, who is 35. Shane Victorino is 31, same as newly added Laynce Nix.
Besides, old isn't what it used to be. It's the new young. With improved training methods, and with the vast amounts of money at stake, players are able and motivated to play as long as possible.
Health is another matter. Utley's knees are a threat to shorten his career. Howard's Achilles tendon tear was a catastrophic injury that could cost him a big chunk of this season and affect his play beyond that. That certainly adds to the worry the window is closing.
After last season, Amaro named two priorities for his club: changing its approach at the plate and finding a way to infuse some youth. Here's hoping the Phillies have more success with plate discipline, because Amaro added Jim Thome (41) to replace Ross Gload (35) and Wigginton to replace Wilson Valdez (33).
Jonathan Papelbon is the same age as Ryan Madson (31). Chad Qualls is 33, a couple years younger than Brad Lidge (35), but not exactly a kid.
As with Moyer, the departure of the now 39-year-old Ibanez made it almost impossible to get much older. Nix and John Mayberry Jr. (28) lower the team's average age, but Juan Pierre (34) or Scott Podsednik (35) would nudge it right back up a bit.
There are very good explanations for Amaro's un-youth movement. With a team expected to contend every year, it's more important to get better than simply younger. And with the enormous amount of payroll ($141.5 million) committed to 10 players this season, Amaro has to make cost-conscious, low-risk decisions. That translates to solid pros such as Thome, Wigginton and Qualls.
There was an opportunity to let Rollins walk, invest money in a young third baseman and get very young at shortstop with Freddy Galvis. But Rollins is an integral part of this team and its success and signing him was the right thing to do - especially with so much uncertainty around Utley and Howard.
The other issue is injuries. They don't just happen to the veterans. The Phillies wanted Domonic Brown to blossom as their everyday rightfielder last year. Coming off a broken bone in his wrist, Brown hit .245 with five home runs. His biggest contribution was inspiring Amaro to acquire Hunter Pence at the trade deadline.
Those win-now deals have depleted the farm system of other young talent. A non-contending team would have let Brown play through the season and get more experience. Here, he was exiled to triple A.
Or take Tyson Gillies, the speedy outfielder acquired in the Cliff Lee trade. He has looked terrific this spring. If injuries hadn't cost him most of the last two seasons, Gillies might be in line for a roster spot instead of Nix, Pierre or Podsednik.
"He has better tools than a lot of the guys we've got," Amaro said. "He just needs to play. The poor guy hasn't gotten a chance to play. He's still young."
Amaro can't say that about most of his team, but as long as the Phillies are reeling off division titles, no one will mind. Winning never gets old.