When I heard the Phillies signed a left-hander who played 19 years in the majors, I was about to go ballistic about the team signing another past-his-prime older player.
Then I found out the 19-year veteran was Bob McClure, who is the new pitching coach.
McClure is 61 years old, which puts him beyond the Phillies’ age range for signing players … but only by a little bit.
The Phillies opened their offseason by signing former Phillies outfielder Marlon Byrd. The last time Byrd was with the Phillies was 2005. He was 28. Now he’s 36.
The Phillies’ next big move was to re-sign catcher Carlos Ruiz. They signed him to a three-year contract for $26 million, with a club option for a fourth year. Why not add a fifth year so Ruiz will be around for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Phillies’ most recent World Series title?
To put it mildly, it’s unlikely there will be another World Series celebration in Philadelphia between today and 2018.
Ruiz will turn 35 in January. Jimmy Rollins turns 35 next Wednesday. Chase Utley turns 35 in December. Ryan Howard turned 34 this past Tuesday.
Perhaps general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is trying to resurrect the mostly forgotten show “Thirtysomething.”
Let’s shift to the pitching staff. Cliff Lee is 35. Cole Hamels turns 30 in December. Jonathan Papelbon turns 33 on Saturday. (The Phillies certainly have a lot of birthdays coming up!)
I’m not cherry-picking off the roster. These are the Phillies’ prime players. With the exception of third baseman Cody Asche (23 years old) and outfielders Domonic Brown (26) and Ben Revere (25), the other projected starting position players are at least 34 years old.
I have nothing against players in their mid-30s. I wouldn’t mind being in my mid-30s again.
The problem is that players in their mid-30s tend to get injured. And, when they get injured, it takes them longer to recover.
Let’s look at the Phillies’ starters. Ruiz spent 29 days on the disabled list this past season, and that was after missing the first 25 games due to a suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy by testing positive for Adderall. Utley spent 31 days on the DL. Howard spent 85 days on the DL.
Would anyone be surprised if Howard, Utley or Ruiz spent a month or more on the disabled list in 2014?
If we go to the bench, catcher Erik Kratz (33), pressed into a starting role due to Ruiz’s absence, spent 35 days on the DL last season.
Let’s go to the bullpen. Setup man Mike Adams (35) topped all Phillies by spending 116 days on the DL. Adams may miss the beginning of next season, assuming he’s healthy enough to pitch at all next season.
Byrd doesn’t quite have the injury history of Adams, the prime free agent signed during the previous offseason. At 36, though, one wonders if Byrd is just an injury waiting to happen, not to mention worrying that last season was an aberration and that Byrd won’t come close to reaching that level of production.
Rollins and Lee have avoided long stints on the DL. Whether that streak will continue, perhaps due to Lee’s smooth, seemingly effortless delivery, or whether the law of averages will catch up to these players at age 35 remains to be seen.
Why is the Phillies’ lineup stocked with so many older players? The obvious reason is the farm system hasn’t produced enough good young players to push out the older players, or at least enable Amaro to trade them without creating a void. That’s at least part of the reason Amaro re-signed Utley and Ruiz, two solid citizens and exemplary teammates, during the past year.
Another reason for the older lineup is some of these players, notably Howard, have contracts that make it extremely difficult to trade them. Rollins, of course, said he would invoke his no-trade clause to block any deal when his name surfaced in trade rumors this past season.
An additional factor is that, after five straight seasons in which the Phillies have achieved less than the previous season, Amaro is feeling pressure to win. Perhaps Amaro thinks he doesn’t have time to fill the lineup with young players and wait a few years for them to develop together. With his job possibly on the line, the GM may feel the pressure to win now.
That means filling the lineup with established players and hoping they avoid injury. That means delaying the necessary transition to the future by counting on the heroes of the 2008 championship team to recapture their glory days one more time.
It’s unlikely the Thirtysomething Phillies will go out in a blaze of glory reminiscent of 2008.
It’s more likely they will limp on and off the disabled list.
And when those injuries inevitably occur, don’t bemoan the Phillies’ bad luck or direct your anger at the injured player. Direct your disgust at Amaro for the way in which he has constructed this team.
The good news is that if a few bullpen arms break down, Bob McClure, who will turn 62 in April, might still have a few good innings remaining in his left arm.