This 2008 season is a year of Phillies firsts. It’s the first time two Japanese players have been on the Phillies roster at the same time, the first time a Phillies player has recorded more than 20 pinch hits, and the first time a Phillies closer has recorded 40 consecutive saves. It is also the first time the team payroll has eclipsed the $100 million mark.
The month of April began with the payroll at a club record $103 million. With a significant chunk of that waving goodbye behind Pat Burrell, Tom Gordon and Jamie Moyer after this season, next year’s payroll is still set to rise, regardless of any future signings.
But everybody knows how frugal the ownership has been with money in the past. Aaron Rowand? Forget about it. Alfonso Soriano? Didn’t happen. Aramis Ramirez? Not even pursued.
The players want a championship. The fans need a championship. With the core group of players growing one year older and one year richer, the window of opportunity is closing. It’s time for ownership to really open their wallets and make a run at the title.
The Phillies will always be able to hold their heads high when looking back on the triumphant 2007 season. But last year’s team was a rarity — one that fit the definition of the word ragtag.
Relying on a new hero every night, that squad was a group of fighters left for dead as nearly every star player, bound together with bandages and ice packs, plummeted from grace to leave another gaping depression in the growing crater field that became the 2007 disabled list.
But as those stars fell, a group of unknowns stepped out from beyond the bleary curtain of obscurity to make their own lasting marks on the fabled season if just in one spot, in one game.
Who could forget Kyle Kendrick’s 10-win rookie campaign, Russell Branyan’s late go-ahead homerun in a tight August contest in Washington, or Tadahito Iguchi sliding into home to send the Mets limping back to Shea after a four-game sweep?
The stars have been aligned for the Phillies this year and disabled list stints are rare, so the team has been relying more heavily on the higher-salaried regulars. But players like Chase Utley, Brett Myers and Cole Hamels won’t be bargains for much longer.
Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Brett Myers and Brad Lidge will earn a combined $42 million in 2009, with Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels likely to combine for just under another $20 million in arbitration. For those counting, that’s well more than half the payroll locked up between six players.
But we need more, even with Pat Burrell nearing the final days of the six-year, $50 million contract he signed under Fast Eddie Wade prior to the 2003 season. Jamie Moyer insists that he will pitch next season, but it is yet to be told whether or not he will don a Phillies cap anytime past this September or October. Tom Gordon’s club option is almost certain to be declined. Rudy Seanez, So Taguchi, Scott Eyre and Tadahito Iguchi will also be on their way out the door.
That leaves next year’s squad down a power-hitting corner outfielder, middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, eighth inning setup man and a smorgasbord of utility players and aging relievers.
Imagine Pat Burrell being completely out of the equation for 2009. That would leave Victorino in center, Werth in right and an everyday lefty platoon of Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs in left. Sure, prospect Greg Golson could provide great defense and comes at a low cost, but his offense is not yet primed for the major leagues. It’s clear that the best bet is to re-sign Pat Burrell. He wants to play here. The organization wants him to play here. Although he’s nearly 32 and not getting any younger, $15 million a year for three years should suffice.
The rotation is shaping up to be very cost-efficient with Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton heading for fairly modest arbitration raises. Brett Myers’ salary will jump just $3.5 million while the organization will set Kyle Kendrick’s salary well below $1 million.
Wherever Moyer ends up, he will receive a pay hike from this year’s mark of $5.5 million. With J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco waiting in the wings, it’s a tough call to say whether or not the Phillies will attempt to re-sign him. While Happ and Carrasco seem ready for the majors, their lack of experience could worry the front office since Kendrick has struggled mightily this season. It might be too risky to throw two question marks into the starting five. Happ and Carrasco could be dangled as trade bait to acquire a proven starter, or maybe even as bounty to revisit the fabled Matt Holliday swap that fell apart just before July’s trade deadline.
There are in-house options for nearly every hole next season, but this year’s free agent class is one of the most impressive in recent memory. The added revenue this season’s record 47 sellouts (and counting) needs to be invested back into the organization.
Phillies brass: stop saving your money for a rainy day. Philadelphia has been locked in an unremitting dry season since 1980. The time to spend is now. Open your wallets and spend the fan’s money on what the fans want to see. Bring back Pat the Bat. If Moyer wants to stay here, give him a contract. Make some off-season splashes. Make a run at Sabathia. We don’t expect him to come, but it’s worth a shot.
You can contact Zach Patten at email@example.com.