With the Eagles season over not too long after it began, the Flyers in the middle of a bitter NHL lockout, and the 76ers still finding their way on the court, much of the Delaware Valley’s attention has been fixed upon the Phillies. It’s rare for this town to be musing about an upcoming baseball season in December, with football season gradually (and mercifully) winding down. However, a rut in the sports world has left us fans no choice but to watch our Fightin Phils offseason transactions, and gripe about them via the internet and talk radio. Many complain of the lackluster moves being made by Ruben Amaro Jr. and the front office. The Phillies seem to be shying away from the big move this time around, something unusual for a RAJ offseason. While many seem downtrodden, I am optimistic. Here’s why:
-In December 2008, the World Series Champion Phillies made one big offseason move to improve the team. They signed veteran left fielder Raul Ibanez to a 3 year, $31.5 million dollar contract. In his time here, Ibanez compiled a .264/.362/.469 with 70 HR and 260 RBI. Not bad numbers, however consideration must be taken into the 2009 season, where he went .272/.347/.552 with 34 HR and 93 RBI. Fans complained in the 2010-11 seasons about Raul’s hefty contract and declining numbers.
-The following year, the Phillies made the big trade, getting baseball’s best pitcher at the time, Roy Halladay, in exchange for prospects the team was unwilling to move during the regular season. They then signed Halladay to a 3 year, $60 million dollar extension which is set to run through the 2013 season (with a $20 million vesting option for 2014). Trading of World Series hero Cliff Lee aside, Halladay has performed admirably in his time here thus far, compiling a 51-24 record with a 3.09 ERA, 571 K and 101 BB. While these numbers also look attractive, Halladay is coming off his arguably his worst season in the majors, with his highest ERA of any season in which he pitched over 100 innings.
-December 2010 saw the return of Lee, a surprising blockbuster where the Phils came out of nowhere to sign the southpaw to a monster 5 year, $120 million dollar deal (also with a sixth year vesting option). In two seasons, Lee has pitched to the tune of a 23-17 record with a 3.26 ERA, 445 K and 70 BB. Lee still seems to be pitching at a high level, and time will tell how this deal turns out.
-November 2011, enter Jonathan Papelbon. Pap signed a 4 year $50 million dollar contract, making him the highest paid closer in baseball history at the time. He followed that up with a 5-6 record, 2.44 ERA with 92 K and only 18 BB, saving 38 of 42 games. Papelbon was a rare bright spot in the Phillies .500 season in 2012.
What do all of these deals have in common? At some point or another, they’ve all sparked the ire of Phillies fans. Whether its the value or length of the contracts, or just the overall performance on the field, fans have had something to grumble about each of the last four seasons. Four big ticket signings, lots of complaints, zero World Series titles. RAJ has seemingly learned his lesson this year. He’s acquired a speedy center fielder who can play defense and get on base, a grizzled veteran who’s been a doubles machine during his career, and provides great clubhouse leadership, one of the best set-up men in baseball over the last three seasons, and a middling starting pitcher. What’s more? he gathered all of these pieces for a combined cost of around $15.1 million dollars this season. Wanted Michael Bourn? We got MBLite, at about $19.5 million less annually, and much younger. Michael Young‘s washed up? He still hit .277 last year, which would’ve given him the highest average of any Phillies regular last season. He can’t play third base? They’ll make due. No Josh Hamilton? why overpay a guy for 5 years when we’ve already seen what happens to these high ticket players after a few years. Reuben has built this team to be able to compete for years to come, without sacrificing the now. This may become known as his greatest offseason yet. Are the Phillies front runners in the NL East once again? No. Will they be the juggernaut they were in year’s past? Absolutely not. However, they are relevant, and if the big names produce, they will be in the mix. They still have a phighting chance.Tags: Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Michael Young, MLB, Philadelphia Phillies, Raul Ibanez, Roy Halladay, Ruben Amaro Jr.