The Kansas City Royals snapped a 29-year streak of regular season futility by making the playoffs this fall. After a Wild Card game for the ages, the Royals went on to sweep the Angels and Orioles to advance to the World Series. The Royals forced a seventh game against the Giants but ultimately lost the series, stranding Alex Gordon, the tying run, on third.
Between 2002 and 2013, ten franchises have made it to the World Series only to come up empty. Each installment of this column will look at one of those franchises to see what has happened in the seasons following their World Series loss. Today’s column features the Philadelphia Phillies.
Remember when the Phillies were dominating the NL East, their fans plummeting from lamp posts in celebration? Seems it was all the rage in Philadelphia when the home-town squad took the 2008 World Series in five games against the Tampa Bay Rays. Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick would retire following the championship, handing the reigns to Ruben Amaro Jr.
The next year, the Phillies improved their regular season win total by a game, going 93-69. Chase Utley led the team in WAR (8.2) for the fifth consecutive season and they returned to the World Series, only to fall in six games to “Alex Rodriguez’s” New York Yankees.
That offseason, Amaro Jr. tinkered with his rotation, giving up Cliff Lee as part of a multi-team blockbuster that landed him Toronto Blue Jays’ ace Roy Halladay in December of 2009. He then returned Lee a year later, singing him to a five-year, $120 million deal. The two veterans would combine with young lefty Cole Hamels to lead one of the most formidable rotations in the majors. In 2011, each of the three starters went at least 215 innings while exceeding 8.0 K/9. That season, they would also combine for 17 complete games. On the back of these additions, the Phillies continued to improve in the regular season, winning 97 games in 2010 and 102 games in 2011; although, they would not enjoy similar postseason achievement
The wheels fell off in 2012, when the Phillies finished the season at .500. They would go on to lose 89 games in each of the 2013 and 2014 season.
So, what went wrong? Well, for starters, in addition to adding Halladay, Amaro Jr. chased the World Series loss by needlessly inking first baseman Ryan Howard to a $125 million five-year contract extension during the first month of the 2010 season despite having nearly two full years of team control. Although he posted gaudy HR and RBI statistics which earned him NL MVP honors in 2006, Howard had topped 5 WAR only once in his career. The deal was widely panned at the time, with good reason. Since signing the extension, the first baseman has accumulated a paltry 0.9 WAR and has been below replacement level (-1.5 WAR) since tearing his Achilles on the final play of the 2011 post season. Fate would have it the extension kicked in the season following that catastrophic injury.
Over the past six seasons, Amaro Jr. kept most of the 2008 World Series championship infield intact. Along with the Howard extension, he re-signed shortstop Jimmy Rollins to what would wind up being a four-year, $44 million contract prior to 2012. The following offseason, he extended second baseman Chase Utley through 2015 for $25 million.
Amaro Jr. also made waves in the 2012 offseason by spurning Ryan Madson, who had taken over for Brad Lidge as closer in 2011, saving 32 games. The two sides had reportedly agreed to a four-year, $44 million deal through it would not be formalized. The dispute ended well for the Phillies as Madson would tear his UCL that spring training after signing a $8.5 million, one-year deal with the Reds. He’s yet to pitch again in the major leagues. Amaro Jr. would instead sign Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to $50 million dollar deal at the same term.
The Howard deal aside, the preceding signings have been defensible. Although he has declined through his 30’s, Rollins has posted 6.1 WAR since his re-signing in 2012, averaging $5.4 million per win (they likely cost between $5 and $7 million). After missing significant time in 2010-12, season (when he was still very productive on a per-game basis) Utley returned as an everyday player the last two seasons and posted a 3.6 WAR season in 2014, more than justifying his $15 million salary. Papelbon, while uncouth, has also fared well since joining the Phillies. Despite losing nearly a strikeout per nine innings (Boston: 10.7 K/9; Philly: 9.6) he has logged an impressive 2.82 FIP while saving 109 games over three seasons.
Rather, Amaro’s Phillies has suffered death by a thousand veterans, a class of player he clearly loves. While the 2013 signing of Marlon Byrd (36 years old at the time) seemingly paid off, he’s also brought in:
- Juan Pierre (34)
- Placido Polanco (34 – three year deal!)
- Michael Young (36)
- Raul Ibanez (37)
- Jim Thome (41!)
In order to thrive early this decade Amaro Jr. has traded away a harem of prospects that included Travis d’Arnaud, Jon Singleton, and Trevor May which contributed to the 2014 Phillies ranking as the second oldest team in baseball with a weighted average age of 30.9 (MLB average was 28.9).
This offseason, the Phillies have already parted with Rollins and Byrd, with more trades likely to follow. However, many think Amaro held on to the core of the team for too long. Ruin Tomorrow Jr.? Maybe, but the Phillies were a hell of a team for four seasons after he took over from Gillick. Did he inherit many of the key contributors? Sure, but so did his HOF predecessor.
All statistics from baseball-reference.com unless otherwise stated.
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