Ruben Amaro Jr.'s aggressive offseason approach landed him an elite but expensive closer and enabled the Phillies to lock Jimmy Rollins up for three more years.
Major League Signings
- Jonathan Papelbon, RP: four years, $50MM.
- Jimmy Rollins, SS: three years, $38MM.
- Laynce Nix, OF: two years, $2.5MM.
- Jim Thome, 1B: one year, $1.25MM.
- Chad Qualls, RP: one year, $1.15MM.
- Dontrelle Willis, RP: one year, $1MM.
- Brian Schneider, C: one year, $800K
- Total spend: $94.7MM.
Notable Minor League Signings
- Scott Podsednik, Pete Orr, Kevin Frandsen, Pat Misch, Scott Elarton, Raul Valdes, David Purcey, Dave Bush, Hector Luna, Joel Pineiro, Juan Pierre, Brent Clevlen.
Trades and Claims
- Acquired Ty Wigginton from the Rockies for a player to be named or cash.
- Acquired RP Jeremy Horst from the Reds for IF Wilson Valdez.
- Acquired RP Frank Gailey from the Blue Jays for OF Ben Francisco.
Draft Picks Gained or Lost
- Lost 31st overall selection to Red Sox for Papelbon.
- Obtained 40th overall selection for losing Madson.
- Obtained 54th overall selection for losing Ibanez.
- Obtained 77th overall selection for losing Madson.
It’s easy and maybe a little hip to criticize the Phillies’ offseason moves, but you’ve got to admit this club does a lot of things right. They have appeared in two of the past four World Series, and they won it all in 2008. They’ve won their division five consecutive times, most recently with an MLB-best 102-60 mark for 2011. Their pitching staff, which allowed just 3.25 runs per game last year, returns for more of the same in 2012.
Admittedly, Jonathan Papelbon’s contract already looks like a mistake. The Phillies signed him for $50MM after engaging longtime reliever Ryan Madson in talks about a similar deal. Piles of sabermetric evidence suggest it’s imprudent to invest heavily in relievers, since their performance is volatile and you’re likely paying a premium for saves. Papelbon’s a tremendous pitcher and he was going to require a multiyear commitment. But he signed for more than Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero, Takashi Saito and Francisco Rodriguez combined. The Phillies overpaid, though they're better off in 2012 because of it.
The Phillies and longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins worked out a three-year, $38MM contract that makes sense for both sides. Rollins’ asking price of five years wouldn’t have worked for the Phillies, but he can still play short while adding value on offense. For a team whose window for contention is now, and not necessarily later, this deal was advisable. Signing a second-tier free agent or starting prospect Freddy Galvis wouldn’t have been enough.
GM Ruben Amaro Jr. didn’t stop tinkering with his bullpen after finalizing the Papelbon signing. He added Dontrelle Willis and Chad Qualls on Major League deals that have promise as long as Willis doesn’t face too many right-handed hitters and Qualls’ 2011 success translates from spacious Petco Park to Philadelphia’s cozy home field.
Amaro bolstered his bench, adding Thome, Nix and Schneider for a total of $4.55MM, and making a few significant trades. Gone are Ben Francisco and Wilson Valdez, both fixtures in Philly for the past couple of seasons. The Phillies reportedly pursued Michael Cuddyer before acquiring an older, less productive version of Cuddyer: his predecessor in Colorado Ty Wigginton.
Given the injuries currently sidelining Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Placido Polanco's recent troubles staying healthy for an entire season and the group of players in left field, the Wigginton trade made sense for the Phillies. For $2MM, nearly $30MM less than Cuddyer’s eventual price tag, the Phillies get a versatile player with a history of success against left-handed pitching. There's no sense acting as though Utley and Howard are the fixtures they once were, which makes infield depth particularly important for the Phillies.
They boast the best rotation in MLB, even after losing Roy Oswalt to free agency. Vance Worley, Joe Blanton and the newly-extended Kyle Kendrick round out a rotation that includes three of the sport’s elite arms, so starting pitching depth likely ranked relatively low on the team’s offseason to-do list. Amaro added Joel Pineiro and Dave Bush on sensible minor league deals that provide the club with some options just in case.
Hamels and Shane Victorino are poised to hit free agency after the 2012 season, so it won’t be a surprise if Amaro looks to lock one or both players up within the next month or so. Retaining Hamels will require a nine-figure commitment, but the expense would be justifiable for a team that spends, draws and wins like a superpower. Victorino sounds willing to consider a discount to remain in Philadelphia, and it would be wise for the Phillies to take advantage of their status as a desirable destination for elite players and strike a deal if a discount's actually within reach.
The National League East is tougher than ever now that the Marlins are spending big and the Nationals have deepened their rotation. Meanwhile, the Phillies are a little older, a little more banged up and, let's face it, far less intimidating on offense than they once were. Don’t let it fool you. The Phillies’ elite run prevention should send them to a sixth consecutive postseason berth in 2012 and no one will want to face this team’s pitching staff in October.