Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer profiled Phillies GM Ruben Amaro as his team is about a month away from reporting to Clearwater, Florida for spring training. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a prognosticator willing to bet on the Phillies winning the NL East or even competing for one of the two Wild Card slots, but Amaro believes that if his team can stay healthy for the duration of the 2014 season, the Phillies will be contenders.
“If the club we believe is going to break camp is able to stay on the field, we’re a contending team,” Amaro said. “My job is for us to try to be a contending team every year. Our payroll should allow us to do that. We had a couple of crappy years because we couldn’t get guys on the field and couldn’t get the performances we’re accustomed to.”
Amaro seems to believe that the Phillies’ lack of health over the past two seasons has been bad luck, rather than the result of a poor gamble. But the Phillies last season had the second-oldest group of position players in the National League, averaging an even 30 years old. They had the oldest group in 2012 at 31.1 years old on average as well. He committed a lot of money to Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley despite the contracts taking them into their mid-30’s. While simply approaching 35 doesn’t guarantee an injury, athletes’ bodies tend to deteriorate more rapidly the further they get from their 20’s. If they’re not simply being less productive, they’re more likely to wind up on the disabled list. That’s the risk Amaro took in attaching so much money to an old group of players; it wasn’t bad luck.
That being said, every season those of us in the business of pumping out baseball content on the web heavily overrate at least one team and heavily underrate at least one team. No one expected the Red Sox to win the AL East, let alone win the World Series, this past season. You never know what can happen. Amaro’s optimism about the Phillies isn’t necessarily misplaced.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.