That was quite a smile Carlos Ruiz was sporting during the celebratory press conference that announced his re-signing with the Phillies. He should have been grinning. Any time a soon-to-be 35-year-old catcher can get $26 million for three years, especially after sporting a pedestrian .268 average, a mediocre .320 on base percentage and an uninspiring .688 OPS, it’s reason for big happiness.
Phillies fans, at least those who pay attention to performance over sentiment, were not lapping up the bubbly. Committing to Chooch for three more years, particularly at his advanced age, is hardly good news for supporters of a team that seems to think 35 is the new 25.
After the team’s second announcement of the off-season that it had purchased the services of another player in his mid-30s, The Mole checked in to wonder whether the Phillies’ senior citizens would be looking to secure the reverse mortgages hawked on old-timey TV programs by Fred Thompson and Henry Winkler, and if the clubhouse whirlpool was going to be replaced by one of those walk-in tubs that Pat Boone promotes.
Good stuff but hardly salve for those who are repulsed by the latest installment of the Phillies’ off-season-on-the-fly, which features GM Ruben Amaro pursuing stopgap measures rather than adhering to a set plan that will lead to success. There is no way Amaro and the rest of the Phillies brass couldn’t have known back in 2010 and ’11 that this off-season was going to require upgrades at several positions. Why, then, didn’t the team come up with a strategy that would have produced solid answers at second base, catcher and the outfield positions? Instead of stockpiling young talent that would be ready for 2014 and beyond, the Phils went into emergency mode — again — and came up with 37-year-old former P.E.D. user Marlon Byrd and a catcher whose 2013 season was torpedoed by suspension for Adderall usage. That doesn’t even include the $27 million committed to Chase Utley, who turns 35 next month, for the next two seasons.
It is apparent that the Phillies management is counting on fans’ affections for the Old Timers Game roster to drive ticket sales. It figures nostalgia and familiarity will trump baseball knowledge. It will be interesting to see whether local fans, who are forever being praised for their intelligence and savvy, fall for this one and purchase three million or so tickets. If they do, Amaro might as well sign Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Greg Luzinski next season, because fans would really love to see them in uniform.
Okay, so what’s done is done. The big challenge for Amaro now is what this team looks like in 2017, when all of the bad contracts, including Ryan Howard’s worst-ever deal, are off the ledger. Will Amaro continue to make impulse buys, grabbing players early and overpaying?
The alternative is to build a strong farm system that supplies talent capable of taking over the many openings that will exist in three years. Right now, the only players of note on the roster who will be around in 2017 are Cole Hamels, Domonic Brown, Ben Revere (oh, boy!) Cody Asche and Darrin Ruf. That’s hardly the guts of a championship team. Amaro’s charge, should he last the next three seasons, is to fill the bulk of the roster with rising players who have bright futures, rather than continuing the practice of treating each off-season as a fire drill and stocking the dugout with older pieces.
Amaro will have to pardon the Phillies’ fans for lacking confidence in him, since he botched the transition from the glory days of last decade to this season. Creating a lineup filled with players whose best years are well behind them, simply because they have recognizable names, demonstrates an inability to assess accurately the needs of the future and make moves that will ensure a competitive team.
Amaro still needs to find a fifth pitcher for the rotation, and it’s likely he’ll go trolling in the warm waters of the pool at the senior center, because no pitcher in the farm ranks is ready to come in and throw every fifth day. Nobody could handle that job last year, either. Amaro must become avaricious when it comes to young talent, even if it means sacrificing some of the beloved brand names he has accumulated for an oldies tour. Maybe Jerry Blavat should be managing this club, rather than Ryne Sandberg.
Last year, Amaro was able to blame the Phillies’ problems on Charlie Manuel. He has no such out this season. His “strategy” of re-signing old players in the hopes of enticing fans to watch their heroes wheeze through another season isn’t a sound one. Let’s hope his vision for 2017 and beyond features a lineup filled with rising stars and free-agent acquisitions with potential for long-term success. Until then, Phillies fans should remember the good times, because the next couple years don’t figure to be so much fun.
Especially if a bunch of Phillies decide to buy insurance from Alex Trebek to handle their final expenses.
• You have to be impressed by the Flyers, who have shaken off their garish 1-7 start and are actually playing entertaining hockey. The biggest improvement is at the offensive end, where the club has actually been scoring some goals. The Flyers still have a long way to go, and simply making the playoffs can’t be considered a success, even the if the season started dismally. Still, the arrow is pointing up, and the present looks good. Whether the team sustains its success will determine if the move to install Craig Berube behind the bench was a sound one.
• Yes, this is a recurring theme with the Sixers, but mediocrity is not an option in the NBA. If the season ended right now, the Sixers would have the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs and the privilege of being pounded by Miami in the first round. That’s not going to yield the kind of player in the draft the team needs to contend. Winning 30-35 games this year might boost ticket sales a bit, but it won’t do anything in the long run. GM Sam Hinkie had better get on the phone and start dealing, or Sixers fans can look forward to several seasons of middle-of-the-road malaise.
• All of a sudden, a season-ending Eagles schedule that seemed daunting a few weeks ago appears quite tame. The Vikings, Bears and Lions all look pretty ordinary, and the Cowboys have the league’s worst defense. The scariest remaining game comes Sunday when the resurgent 7-4 Cardinals come to the Linc. Clear that hurdle, and big things could await. Then again, it’s best for Eagles fans to work one week at a time, since this team is still very much a work in progress.