The Phillies entered the 2011 season with a record $166 million payroll. This number has skyrocketed over the last 10 years, but will likely flat line hearing into next year.
All indications are that the Phillies ownership group is unwilling to pay the MLB luxury tax, which levies a tax on all payroll above $178 million.
The Phillies will be able to shed some salary in free agency. Some players not likely to return include:
Raul Ibanez – $12 million in 2011 (He may retire this off season)
Brad Lidge – $12 million in 2011 (The Phillies will decline his club option for 2012)
Danys Baez – $2.75 million in 2011 (Completely ineffective for the club)
Brian Schneider – $1.625 million in 2011 (Phillies may look to give a young player in the minor leagues a shot as Ruiz’s backup job)
J.C. Romero – $1.35 million in 2011 (He hasn’t been the same since 2008, and Antonio Bastardo has emerged as a top-notch lefty reliever)
Total salary off the books – $29.725 million
That leaves Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson and Ross Gload as the in-house free agents the team would likely try to bring back next year.
Rollins isn’t the offensive player he was in 2007, but his batting average and on base percentage have rebounded nicely this year. More importantly, he is a team leader and an elite defensive player at a premium defensive position.
Madson has finally thrived in the closer’s job, and the Phillies will likely try to extend his deal three years to be the heir to Brad Lidge.
All Ross Gload does is get pinch hits. He ranks among the all-time best pinch hitters, and he’s a stable force on Charlie Manuel’s bench.
The Phillies also have multiple players available for arbitration.
Wilson Valdez and Scott Mathieson are eligible for the first time. Mathieson won’t see much of a raise since he hasn’t contributed in the big leagues. Valdez is an interesting case. He and Pete Orr are both arbitration eligible, and the Phillies may only look to bring one of them back.
Kyle Kendrick and Ben Francisco will be eligible for the second time this off season. Kendrick has done a solid job in the bullpen, but the Phillies may look to deal him since he has no obvious role on the team other than a nearly $3 million long man in the pen. Unless Francisco is willing to come back on a reduced salary, I see the Phillies letting him walk with the emergence of John Mayberry, Jr. and Dominic Brown.
The two biggest obstacles for Ruben Amaro, Jr. will be Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
Oswalt has a $16 million mutual option and a $2 million buyout. The Phillies would love to bring him back, but Oswalt has indicated he may retire. That could be a blessing for the Phillies who would be able to allocate that money to the players they need to resign and one ace they need to sign to a contract extension — Cole Hamels.
Hamels signed a 3-year $20.5 contract to buy out his first three years of arbitration eligibility. Now, Hamels is entering his final year of arbitration, and the Phillies would like to extend his deal again. Hamels is only entering his prime on an elite pitching staff, and he has been one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game in the last year.
Amaro broke the Pat Gillick rule by signing Cliff Lee for more than three years, and he should do it again for Hamels. By giving Hamels a 5-year extension, you have a left-handed ace locked up through his entire prime.
One often overlooked aspect of contracts is that many are back-loaded deals.
Next year, the Phillies will pay $14.5 million more just on the existing contracts of Cliff Lee, Placido Polanco, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz.
The Phillies will need to be creative this winter, but expect a lot of rookies in the bullpen and bench to fill some roster spots with guys making less than $5oo K.
Projected Starting Lineup for 2012:
1 – Rollins (SS)
2 – Polanco (3B)
3 – Utley (2B)
4 – Howard (1B)
5 – Brown (RF)
6 – Victorino (CF)
7 – Mayberry (LF)
8 – Ruiz
9 – Pitcher
Projected Rotation for 2012:
1 – Halladay
2 – Lee
3 – Hamels
4 – Blanton
Projection for the Back End of the Bullpen for 2012:
Closer – Madson
Setup – Bastardo, Contreras, Stutes
See all of the Phillies contract obligations in the years to come.