The Phillies achieved a rare but ignominious feat on Saturday

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The Phillies are old, but at least they have been mostly healthy for the majority of the 2014 season. Perhaps no stat better illustrates that than this one from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Gelb:

The Phillies, on Saturday, became just the second team since 1901 to have four 34-or-older players each accumulate 550 plate appearances. (The 2008 Yankees – Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Derek Jeter – also did it.) No major-league team has ever had four such players reach 600 plate appearances, a realistic milestone for these Phillies.

Those to reach the 550 plate appearance echelon include the three Phillies mainstays — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard — as well as Marlon Byrd. Byrd also hit a home run on Saturday at Citi Field, setting a career-high with 25 on the season. It just so happened to be his 37th birthday as well.

According to Baseball Reference, the Phillies’ position players are 31 years old on average, nearly two full years ahead of the next-oldest team, the Dodgers at 29.4. As for pitchers, the Phillies’ 30.2 average is second behind the Giants at 31.8.

All four are under contract for at least the 2015 season. Byrd will earn $8 million and has a club option for $8 million 2016 that can become guaranteed by hitting a plate appearance threshold. Rollins guaranteed his $11 million option for 2015 in late July when he took his 1,100th plate appearance combined between 2013-14. Utley will earn $10 million next season before going year-to-year with $15 million vesting options between 2016-18. Howard will earn $25 million in 2015 and in ’16, and has a $23 million club option for ’17 that comes with a $10 million buyout.

Red Sox owner: “spending money helps”

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The other day Rob Manfred said, as he and other owners have said often in the past, that there is no correlation between payroll and winning. He said that defensively, in response to criticism of the slow free agent market of the past two offseasons.

As we have noted in the past, Manfred is not being honest about that. While, yes, in any given year there can be wild variation between payroll and win total — the Giants stunk last year, the A’s won 97 games — common sense dictates otherwise. What’s more, a recent study has shown that there is a pretty strong correlation between winning and payroll over time. Yes, you can fluke into a big season with a low payroll — Deadspin compared it to a cold snap occurring during a time of climate change — but if you want that “sustained success” teams claim they want, the best way to ensure it is to spend more money over time.

If you know anything about baseball labor history, though, you know well that the Commissioner and the owners will continue to mischaracterize the dynamics of the business as it suits them. Mostly because — present lefty sportswriters notwithstanding — very few people push back on their narratives. Fans tend to parrot ownership’s line on this stuff and, more often than not, baseball media acts as stenographer for ownership as opposed to critic. That gives owners a far greater ability to shape the narrative about all of this than most institutions.

Which makes this all the more awkward. From David Schoenfield of ESPN:

In apparent contradiction to his own commissioner, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry said Monday that, while there is not a perfect correlation between a bigger payroll and winning, “spending more money helps.”

Which is right. The correlation is not perfect — teams can spend a lot of money on a bad team if given the chance and a low payroll team like the Rays can bullpen their way to 90 wins — but you’re way more likely to win year-in, year-out if you’re spending than if you go cheap all the time and hope for a miracle season.

Which is not to say that Henry is some labor activist owner. He and his fellow front office officials have a long history of backing the league office on just about everything that matters and will no doubt do so with labor matters in the runup to the next CBA negotiation. The owners tend not to have a solidarity problem.

But Henry does seem to draw the line at peddling baloney, which is a shockingly necessary thing when the league and the union’s relationship turns acrimonious.