Remember when the cost-conscious Phillies were largely invisible during the offseason? Those days are almost as forgotten as the lost seasons when the Phillies were playing out the string by August. These Phillies have a $140 million budget, and are very active participants in free agency. Whether they should be a little less active is up for debate, but you can't argue with their recent results: three consecutive NL East titles, two World Series appearances, and one WFC(!).
Before moving on to our regular blog business here at Philliebuster, we'll briefly review the Phillies' offseason activity: their major additions, their major deletions, contract extensions, and their more "under-the-radar" moves. We'll kick things off with the biggest Phillies pitching acquisition since (Steve Carlton? Ken Howell?), the Phils' new ace northpaw: Roy Halladay!
Roy Halladay ('10 salary: $15.75M, 11: $20M, 12: $20M, 13:$20M, 14:$20M option)The cost to acquire Halladay was high: top prospects Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis D'Arnaud were sent to Toronto for one season of Halladay, plus $6M. Halladay quickly agreed to a (likely below-market value) extension, for an additional three years, plus an option.
Halladay has been one of MLB's premier pitchers over the past four seasons, posting WARs of 5.7, 5.6, 7.4, and 7.3. With the cost per WAR on the free agent market approximating $4M, if Halladay keeps his WARs above a very manageable (manageable for him, not manageable for most hurlers) 5.0 per season, the Phillies have done well here.
It remains to be seen how the players dealt to Toronto will perform, and if Halladay (930 IP since 2006) will be able stay healthy throughout his Phillies career. But the prospect of having Halladay (HALLADAY!) fronting the Phils' rotation for the next five seasons is rather thrilling.
Placido Polanco ($18M guaranteed over three seasons, plus '13 option for $5.5M)
The biggest names among free agent 3Bs were Adrian Beltre and Chone Figgins. The Phillies signed...2B Placido Polanco to play 3B. Polanco has been a strong defender at 2B, but it is questionable as to how well his arm will play at 3B. Polanco has seen his wOBA drop from .371 in 2007, to only .321 in 2009. Poor luck may have been a factor in 2009, as Polanco's BABIP of .295 was well below his career average of .314. Polanco will be thirty-five in October, and his offensive abilities may be on the decline.
Polanco posted a 3.1 WAR in 2009, largely due to his defensive prowess. But Polanco's UZR of 11.4 in 2009 may be overstating his fielding abilities. Over his previous three seasons, Polanco's UZR averaged 7.5. Adjusting slightly for position change/age, an UZR between 5 and 6 seems more likely.
The Phillies will pay Polanco the (approximate) free agent market price for a 1.5 WAR player. Polanco will likely prove to be a good value in '10 and (possibly) '11, but the Phils may regret including that third year.
Brian Schneider ($2.75M guaranteed over two seasons)
The days of Paul Bako as the MLB backup are over. This is certainly a good thing. Schneider struggled offensively in '09, but part of that was due to a miniscule BABIP of .233 (career average BABIP: .281). His LD% dropped from 25.7% to 13.2%, so his difficulties with the bat might not have been all BABIP's fault.
Schneider, a capable defensive catcher, should provide the Phils with sufficient WAR value.
However, this is another case where the Phils may have been better off with a one-year deal. Instead of rushing to sign Schneider, the Phils may have been able to wait out the market a bit, and gotten a more favorable deal.
Danys Baez ($5.25M guaranteed over the next two seasons)
On the plus side, Baez is neither Brandon Lyon nor Fernando Rodney, both of whom got much more many, and may post similar results. On the minus side, two guaranteed years seems a year too much. Perhaps a one-year $1.5M deal would have been more appropriate, considering Baez' WAR of .3 in 2009.
Baez' K/9 has decreased every season since 2004, and his 4.02 ERA last season was aided by an unsustainable .239 BABIP. If Baez can repeat last seasons GB% of 60.9%, he has a chance for some success in middle relief. Retaining Clay Condrey, at approx. one-third of Baez' salary, may have been a more prudent option.
Jose Contreras (reportedly, a one-year agreement for approx. $1 M)
With Chan Ho Park looking to find a spot in another MLB team's rotation, the Phils needed a veteran bullpen arm/occasional spot starter. Contreras could fit this role quite nicely. Contreras posted some ugly conventional numbers as a starter in 2009, but a .325 BABIP and a 62.7 LOB% were factors. His FIP of 4.11 last season was not nearly as unsightly as his 5.42 ERA as a starter with the White Sox.
Contreras posted a K/BB of 2.00, with a K/9 of 7.25. He can still dial up his velocity to the low-90s, and should be an asset as a reliever, provided his workload is kept manageable.
Ross Gload ($2.6M guaranteed over two seasons)
Gload was signed to take the place of Matt Stairs as one of the Phils' primary bench options. Stairs posted a WAR of 0.0 in an ugly 2009, which was eerily similar to Gload's -.1 WAR. Gload has little power and little defensive value. He is a below average offensive player, and it is questionable as to why the Phils felt the need to give him a second guaranteed year.
The Phils likely could have filled this role more cheaply with a AAAA player (Andy Tracy?), and then upgraded with a cheap salary dump for the stretch run, if desired.
Juan Castro ('10 salary: $.70M, 11: $.75M option/$50K buyout)
Castro, who will be 38 years of age in June, had a career year in 2009, posting a .277 BA. Castro's sudden offensive surge was likely the byproduct of an aberrant .349 BABIP (career BABIP: .267). Only five of Castro's thirty-one hits in 2009 were for extra bases (four doubles, one homer).
Castro will be the backup SS. He will go 0 for 3, with a strikeout, in a spot start every few weeks. He will also be used as a pinch-hitter more frequently than he merits, and will replace Jimmy Rollins late in blowouts less frequently than he probably should.
Hopefully, Chase Utley's days off will be covered by moving Polanco to 2B, and starting Greg Dobbs at 3B. Getting Dobbs more playing time should make him a more effective player, and getting Castro less playing time should make Phillies fans less disconcerted about his presence on the active roster.
The Phils probably should have just saved .30M, and utilized Wilson Valdez as the backup middle infielder.
The Phillies have made some good moves for 2010, but may have overpaid a bit in term and salary. Last offseason, the Phillies rushed into the market, signing Raul Ibanez for three years, and Jamie Moyer for two. This offseason the Phillies rushed to give Placido Polanco three years, and Danys Baez (and Ross Gload and Brian Schneider) two. These extra years given to declining veterans may combine to exact a price in future fiscal flexibility.
General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has been quick and decisive in his forays into the free agent market. With Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard approaching free agency, in the next two offseasons, respectively, the cumulative weight of contracts of ill-advised term/salary may come back to haunt the Phillies. But we'll worry about that after the Phillies' third consecutive World Series appearance, this October.