In part one of this series, I introduced the importance of a business model for the Phillies and examined yesterday how the Phillies core has become a curse. Today we look at what should have happened with the core players.
The Phillies core which was young, cheap, and under team control in 2008 is now old, expensive, and less productive. That same group that averaged 28 years/8 months in age, made $27 million total, and had an OPS of .861 in 2008 is now 33 years/8 months, making a total of $80 million, with an OPS of .741.
The way to survive this simultaneous aging is simple: trade one of your stars. More specifically, Ruben Amaro should have traded Howard, Utley, or Rollins.
I know how crazy it sounds: trade one of your superstars in the prime of his career on a team that is contending for a World Series. It takes a lot of guts, would have pissed a lot of people off, and might have cost them a chance of winning at least one more title. But it would be the responsible thing to do. It should have been part of their plan.
Unlike many fire sale trades with a package of prospects who need several years to develop, the Phillies would look for a deal returning just one or two prospects to hopefully step up to the bigs in one or two years. They might take a big hit in that first year as the Astros did when they acquired Michael Bourn who hit .226 in his first season, but they could also get lucky and land a player like Carlos Gonzalez who hit .284 with 13 homers in 89 games in his first season.
It is obviously also possible to end up with a total bust, but when you are only looking for one or two prospects in return for a player of the caliber of Howard or Utley, your risk is much less than most fire sale trades.
As dangerous as such a trade might sound, is it any less dangerous than having an injury riddled player like Utley on your roster or a hideous contract like Howard’s? At least in this scenario you get something back and might have a player who is still producing now while Utley and Howard are withering away in front of us.
Trading a player early also eliminates the risk of losing that player in free agency. Amaro would have been crucified if he traded Jayson Werth before the 2010 season, but when Werth walked in free agency, all they received was a late round compensatory pick. The Phillies avoided free agency with Howard, but had to sign him to an outrageous contract in order to do so.
The key to all of this is that Howard WILL bring you less value when he reaches free agency, he WILL begin to decline, and he WILL become a greater injury risk as he ages. Many players coincidentally begin their decline at the exact moment they become free agents (like Hamilton and Pujols) and significantly damage the team in the process. So while it might sting to trade a superstar, it might hurt more if you keep that player. And at least you stand a much greater chance of succeeding down the road.
I’m not advocating trading every player before free agency, but too many aging players with big contracts can be toxic.
In the next article, we will look at how the Phillies lack of a business plan and irresponsible trades severely damaged the future of the franchise.
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