The tenets on building a successful baseball club according to the practices put in place by Pat Gillick are complex in their simplicity. The basic idea is to mix in some younger players with the veteran to ensure that everyone on the team doesn’t get old all at once.
“… No one in the game is as patient anymore,” Gillick told writer John Eisenberg for his book, From 33rd Street to Camden Yards. “But you still have to have somewhat of a program of integrating younger people to your team, because if you don’t, everyone gets and collapses at the same time. …”
There are some trap doors in this approach, though. For one, just when is a player too old? Another is just how much patience is the proper amount for a young player? Certainly that has a lot to do with the veterans on the club and whether or not they are “too old.”
Better yet, just what does all of this mean for the Phillies?
Come Nov. 30 when Shane Victorino turns 30-years old, all eight of the 2010 Phillies position players will be 30 or older. Eleven days after Victorino’s birthday, Joe Blanton also turns 30, leaving only Cole Hamels as the only player amongst the core group under 30. Come Dec. 27, Hamels will be 27 with five big-league seasons under his belt.
In other words, the time is right now for the Phillies. You know that window of opportunity they talk about that opens only so often and closes quickly? Yep, the window has reached its apex and is beginning to make its slow descent. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. talked about being caught beneath the crush of it all collapsing at the same time when he traded Cliff Lee last December. It kind of made sense, too, considering the Phillies had traded seven of what they labeled prospects. The idea was to replenish the farm system in a Gillick-like fashion so that those prospects could be sprinkled in appropriately.
Ah yes, but there’s the other caveat… what if the prospects aren’t any good? What then?
That’s where the real GMs separate themselves from the pack. It’s one thing to throw money at the best players every winter, but it’s another all together to develop the talent and keep it together for a long time. The Braves did it with some consistency in the ‘90s when they put together a string of 14 straight division titles, but only one World Series title. The Phillies have a good base, too, considering that many of the main group of players came through the ranks together.
However, the question remains if someone like Brown is ready to be sprinkled into the mix right now, or if guys like Howard, Utley, Rollins, Polanco, Ruiz and Victorino are going to collapse at the same time?
That’s what Amaro is going to have to work on this winter when deciding which pieces to add to that rapidly aging core. The Giants’ victory in the World Series should have hammered that point home loud and clear.
Think about it… like the Phillies, the Giants are built around pitching. Of the four pitchers the Giants used during the playoffs, Jonathan Sanchez is the oldest and he doesn’t turn 28 until Nov. 19. Tim Lincecum had two Cy Young Awards before his 26th birthday and Matt Cain turned 26 just before the playoffs began. Meanwhile, the Giants’ No. 5 starter, Barry Zito, is younger than Roy Halladay and has more career appearances.
The best part for the Giants is that they control all of their starting pitchers until 2012 when Zito’s deal is up. Lincecum and Cain aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
The youth of the pitching staff isn’t the only thing the Giants have going for them. Buster Posey, the 23-year-old catcher has carved out his spot behind the plate and could turn into another Johnny Bench. Better yet, the Giants have a little over $76 million committed to nine players for 2011 and will shed veteran contracts for Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, Jose Guillen, and Juan Uribe. Huff likely will return and Uribe probably won’t be too costly to retain, either. So if they do it right, the Giants could become the dynasty everyone thought the Phillies were on the verge of becoming.
Of course they can’t go out and give out another 7-year, $126 million contract like they gave to their albatross, Zito.
So how do the Phillies get better? They have just seven open spots on the 25-man roster and $143 million earmarked already. Plus, manager Charlie Manuel rides his regulars hard. Just look at how much Chase Utley has played even when injured. Or, not to pigeonhole just Utley, look at the offensive production during the playoffs. Did the combination of so many games over the 2008 and 2009 runs to the World Series contribute to the injuries and offensive malaise in 2010?
Maybe. Or maybe some of the Phillies need to get a little younger in time for the 2011 season. Hey, that’s not as strange as it sounds. Check out what Jamie Moyer has been able to do for, oh, say the last three decades. If the Phillies want to stave off the Giants in 2011, it seems like time to get healthy, fit and a little bit younger in time for spring training.
If that happens baseball will go back to lasting until November in Philadelphia again.