CHICAGO, September 21, 2013 — The Better Luck Next Year series has been examining team that are mathematically out of playoff contention. Today moves to the Philadelphia Phillies and wishes them better luck next year.
What Went Right: It was a tough year in Philadelphia and the highlight may be John McDonald setting a MLB record with a K/9 of 27.00. Looking at things that the team can build on though, one of the highlights was Chase Utley. Utley has battled injuries throughout his career and has never gotten the recognition he really deserves as he’s seen two teammates win NL MVP while he’s never finished higher than seventh in the voting. Utley posted a .279/.345/.482 line while producing 4.1 WAR. The Phillies discussed trading him at the deadline, but ended up giving him an extension through 2015, which could prove to be a bargain if he can stay healthy.
Charlie Manuel finally gave Dominic Brown regular playing time and the Phillies benefitted. Brown has a .272/.321/.510 slash line with a 125 OPS+ with 27 HR’s. Brown still needs to work on his defense and much of his production came in June when he hit 12 of his HR’s he certainly has the potential for 35-40 HR’s next year.
Cliff Lee was Cliff Lee again this year as he posted a 128 ERA+, struck out 24.5% of batters faced and walked just 3.9% of batters faced. Lee will be 35 next year and unless the Phillies can improve the rest of their team through free agency they may need to consider trading Lee in the offseason or at next years trade deadline if they are out of contention, as he may not ever have more trade value. The Phillies extended Cole Hamels in the offseason last year and he pitched well with a 109 ERA+ while both his strike out ratio, 22.2%, and walk ratio, 5.7%, were both in line with his career numbers.
What Went Wrong: Time. The Phillies are an old team and getting older. The Phillies average age is 28.6 years old but much of their core is older. Dominic Brown is the only player below the average team age to have appeared in an All Star game. Jimmy Rollins may be showing his age the most posting a .252/.322/..345 line while providing .8 WAR according to baseball reference. Rollins’ defense has started to slip as well which provided a lot of his value in the past. The Phillies owe Rollins $11 million next year, and with 475 plate appearances combined in the remainder of this year and next year will owe him $11 million more in 2015.
Ryan Howard has not appeared in a game since July 5 after having surgery on his left knee. The Phillies have Howard signed for three more years and $75 million, but he does not appear to be the hitter that he used to be. Howard has a career average OPS= of 134 but has not produced at that level since 2009.
It is hard to believe that just under three years ago Roy Halladay threw a perfect game against Cincinnati in the playoffs. Halladay has battled injuries the last couple years and this year in 12 starts has posted an ERA+ of 57, his worst since 2000 when the Blue Jays sent him to the minor leagues. The Phillies may use their financial clout and try to bring him back on an incentive laden deal, but should also have a backup plan in place.
What to Expect in 2014: The Phillies are one of baseball’s financial super powers and need to try to improve their team this offseason. The team could shoot for outfielders and pitching. With their resources Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin Soo Choo could make sense for the Phillies, although in free agency you are locking up older players to big money by the very nature, which compiles the Phillies problems. The team will need to decide if they are going to contend or rebuild and then act accordingly.
Free Agents/Options: Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz
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