2012: Not Just for Apocalypses

For those who care enough to let their thoughts linger to a time that is still a grand two-plus years away from being relevant, it appears that the proverbial “window” is closing on this particular era of the Phillies faster than many realize.

It seems just last week that Brett Myers struck out Wily Mo Pena to cap off the Phils’ historic divisional comeback and send us all to the postseason for the first time in a decade and a half. It seems just yesterday we were all sweating through three layers of clothing during October cold as we waited a gruesome 48 hours for Game 5 to resume.

It’s rare enough that a team keeps its entire championship squad basically intact from one year to the next, only really adding two free agents and two more through a July trade. Perhaps that’s why it seems only fitting that the winter of 2011-2012 may bring about some great tidal shifts for the Phillies.

Taylor tore his labrum in a fistfight. Poof.

Taylor tore his labrum in a fistfight. Poof.

This is something Mike and I have discussed a few times over the previous weeks. We’re basically in agreement that, outside of Chase Utley and Cole Hamels – who incidentally, are two of the few players under team control that winter – are locks to stay. Stone cold, get a tattoo, leave it in your will. Barring cataclysmic injury and Brien Taylor-esque collapse, those two will be wearing red pinstripes on Opening Day 2012.

That hardly constitutes a team. Who else will be where? Will any of the current Phillies be the home team on that day? More importantly, why am I thinking of 2012 and not 2010 or even 2011?

To answer the last question first: it is because 2012 poses a major crossroads for this organization. Many – in fact nearly all – of the core players of this team are locked up again for 2010. Cliff Lee even has an option that’s sure to be exercised. Jimmy Rollins has a 2011 option that will also probably be exercised, unless his bat has fallen into the realm of the irreparable, and Ryan Howard will be in the final year of his deal.

Who’s Staying?

This is the current situation the Phillies are in for 2012, excepting minor league talent still within the six years of draft control:

  • Chase Utley is under contract for $15M
  • Cole Hamels has his fourth and final year of arbitration following the expiration of his current deal
  • Brad Lidge has a $12M club option (dear God) with a $2.5M buyout; the option increases to $13M based on games finished in 2010-11, so we’ll keep an eye on that
  • Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Ruiz, and Jack Taschner will all be eligible for arbitration for the second, third and fourth times, respectively. I have a hard time believing Kendrick and Taschner will still be around, especially for more than one raise.
Could Chase be a rare Philly For Life?

Could Chase be a rare Philly For Life?

And that’s it. No one else is eligible for arbitration, no one else is under contract and no one else has an option. That is one bare cupboard. That’s not to slight Utley and Hamels and Co., obviously, but one can’t field a four-to-six-player team and hope to get away with it. Of course, you can expect J.A. Happ to be eligible for arbitration by then, assuming he stays at the Major League level for the majority of the next two seasons, but no one else will be even eligible for arbitration by then, given that no one else has enough service time to qualify for Super Two status even if they stay at the ML level every day in 2010 and 2011.

My wandering thoughts lead me, then, to this question: is it feasible, or even prudent, to expect a Phillies team almost completely different from the one we see on the field before us this season?

Yes and, to an extent, yes.

I do not foresee any Phillies player currently on the team and not listed above being a lock to be on the club when they take the field in 2012. This includes Ryan Howard to go with Rollins, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth. It’s sort of hard to fathom such a shift, but considering the financial implications and minor league talent, it may not only be a necessity, it may be beneficial.

Who’s Going?

Raul Ibanez will almost certainly not be back after his contract expires. He’s having a nice year, but he’ll be 40 at the end of his deal and his second half here in 2009 is not the kind of production you want to pay $23M over two years for.

Domonic Brown could be Werths replacement by 2012, or sooner.

Domonic Brown could be Werth's replacement by 2012, or sooner.

Jayson Werth, if 2009 is not a career year and is actually the sort of production he will have for the next two years, will become too expensive, especially if Michael Taylor and Domonic Brown are both still around. More than that, I find it hard to believe that those two won’t crack the lineup before 2011 somehow, especially given Taylor’s hot hitting at AAA after his promotion this season. Taylor and Brown will be far cheaper and may prove to be just as valuable with a bat and glove. Remember, this is a business to consider, not a game of playing fan favorites. I love most of these guys, but it’s best to keep an open mind when considering dollars and cents.

Victorino stands the best chance of staying around in the outfield. He’s the best fit for center field out of any current Philly or Phils prospect, and he’s also the youngest by about 16 months, ahead of Jayson Werth. He’s got a real nice glove, and a great contact bat despite his recent struggles. Plus, again, he’ll almost certainly be cheaper than Werth to lock up past his final arbitration year in 2011. Uncertainty leads me to file him here, however, as Anthony Gose may prove his readiness for CF by then.

Pedro Feliz’s bat is once again failing him, and though he’ll be kept around affordably in 2010, it’ll be mostly for his glove. He won’t be back after next year.

Jimmy Rollins is an interesting case. As I pondered before, a lot depends on whether Rollins’s bat has gone to pasture. We all know his glove is superb, and good defense at shortstop can never be overrated. He also stands a good chance to still be around.

Ryan Howard is an even more interesting case. He’ll be 32 at the end of the 2011 season, having made $20M during that campaign. Anecdotally speaking, he’ll be starting to leave his prime, if a universally accepting “prime” could be considered the age 26-31 seasons, give or take a year or two on each end depending on the player. I argued last winter that Howard should have been considered a prime trade candidate that offseason, but improved defensive play and a slightly improved contact rate, though that comes with an increase in swinging in general, have me thinking this current contract might be worth it. Believe it. Howard still can’t find his lost ability to draw walks at a prolific rate, and will almost certainly see a fourth straight year with fewer walks than the last. (As a side note, now that I think of it, did he ever really have a prolific eye? Intentional walks may have played a bigger part than we think)

Will Howard be worth his likely enormous payday after 2011?

Will Howard be worth his likely enormous payday after 2011?

This certainly qualifies as a “bounce back” from 2008, but a .040 rise in BABIP to go with the 20 or so pounds Howard says he lost last winter are probably having their say in the matter, too. He’s set a career high in doubles and steals. He’s improved his fielding in nearly every relevant statistical category. It certainly looks like he’ll be worth the money he’ll receive over the next two years. One can’t help but see a bit of similarity between Howard and David Ortiz – mostly in terms of body type – and think of Ortiz’s struggles this year in his age 34 season. Last year’s slight decline could probably be attributed to his wrist injury more than anything. This year?

Will Howard face the same steep decline once he enters his mid-30s? Will the Phillies then have a broken slugger firmly in the middle of a massive deal, making him near untradeable? It’s a delicate issue. Howard is a fan favorite, to be sure, but that does not mean he can not be replaceable in two years, especially at a position that is, aside from pitcher, I suppose, the least demanding defensively. Will he be able to stay in shape long enough to keep his knees and back healthy into his 30s? With these question marks, it seems difficult to justify awarding him a $100M deal for four or five years and he rolls into his 30s. He may get that sort of money elsewhere, from another big market team.

I don’t like to fashion myself as a Howard Hater. I like the guy. I like that he can pop one out at the drop of a hat. I like how he’s shown an increase in commitment and drive this year by working on his defense. I just wonder if the sort of money he’ll command will make sense to the Phillies in 2012.

Oh, who am I kidding? The world’s ending that year, anyway. Worrying is for chumps.

You can see future financial commitments here.

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