The Phillies have extended three of their arbitration eligible players, all to three-year contracts, locking up the complementary core of their team through the window of opportunity for the club.
The 31-year old Carlos Ruiz has a $9 million contract extending through 2012, at a salary that Matt Klaassen over at FanGraphs deemed to be a free agent value of $16.3 million and at a slight bargain. The contract buys out all three of the right-hander’s arbitration years. Ruiz’s warts are readily apparent with a career-high of just 117 games behind the plate. Given the Phillies’ fascination with Paul Bako last year, I fully expect a similar fascination with Brian Schneider, limiting Ruiz to 120 games, tops. At 31, age is doing him no favors coming off a career year of .255/.355/.425 while posting a career-low groundball percentage (42.3) percent. What intrigues me about Ruiz is that according to xBABIP, he has been criminally unlucky his entire year, nevermind 2009. His career BABIP is .264, while his xBABIP indicates a .318 mark. 2009 saw a mark of a .266 BABIP with a xBABIP of .309. He has strong plate discipline and low strikeout numbers, but his power leaves much to be determined. It’s entirely possible that Ruiz’s lack of power is what deflates his BABIP, but at the very least, I can’t see Ruiz underperforming his contract.
The Phillies’ centerfielder, Shane Victorino, saw two of his arbitration years bought out plus one at a total price tag of $22 million. The “Flyin’ Hawaiian,” similar to Ruiz, saw a career year in 2009, at least according to OPS. The .803 OPS over 620 at-bats is four points over his second-best year in 2008, but his wOBA of .355 bests 2009’s total by one point. Victorino is a player that gives you above-average tools in every aspect of the game. According to UZR, he had a -4.1 year in centerfield, but looking at UZR over three to four years of data is recommended. With that in mind, his 9.4 UZR over the four years he has started indicates a strong ability to patrol the green grass. Offensively, Victorino is good for an average just under .300, with solid plate discipline and some pop, although most of his pop comes with his wheels. He posted a league-leading 13 triples in 2009, eight in 2008. Once his wheels go, he’ll slip to a fringe player, but with his age 29-31 years coming up, the Phillies don’t need to worry about that happening anytime soon.
The final player extended is starting pitcher Joe Blanton, who sees his final arbitration year bought out followed by two free agent years. Blanton’s average annual value at $8 million makes one wonder why they settled for Blanton and not Cliff Lee at $9 million for 2010. It’s a legitimate thought, but the Phillies clearly felt it was more important to have a long-term solution — even at a lesser player — and restock the farm system with players closer to the majors than the two compensatory draft picks Lee would have netted. Blanton is generally good for around 200 innings pitched on the year, a great trait to have as a middle of the rotation starter. The move from Oakland’s spacious park to Philly’s confined stadium hasn’t affected him as much as some may have thought, although the transition of leagues may have had something to do with it. The 29-year old posted a 4.05 mark in 2009, along with a 4.07 xFIP, indicating his year was stronger than thought. Taking away the park-adjusted home run values and looking at FIP, Blanton’s mark was at 4.45 which jives nicely with 2008’s 4.54 mark. Either way you cut it, Blanton is a solid No. 3-4 starter who should represent, at the very least, market value for his services over the next three years.
Speaking of the next three years, I don’t think the length of the contracts is any accident. The club’s core is getting older and more expensive by the day, and the back-to-back NL Champions (with a ring in 2008, of course) have approximately that amount of time left to compete: three years. Ryan Howard is a free agent after 2011, where he will have played his age-31 season at $20 million. Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson all expire following 2011 as well. Placido Polanco will join the three players who just inked extensions as free agents after 2012. Chase Utley will be sticking a bit longer than Howard, being tied up through 2014 while new acquisition Roy Halladay is in town for at least four more years. Using Cot’s Contract’s salary database (which has not put in Carlos Ruiz’s numbers yet), we see the Philles on the hook for $134.6 million so far in 2010. That drops to $129.8 million in 2011, which is not that much of a drop when you consider they’ll have to replace or resign Jayson Werth, as well as other arbitration-eligibles or free agents. In 2012, the salaries tumble to $61.2 million, then $32.9 million in 2013. They have no one under contract for 2014.
The Phillies are ensuring that their current core of star and complementary players can stick together for at least two more years and have hedged against Ryan Howard’s departure by having it’s other core players locked up through at least 2012. Given that all of their important players at that point will be in their mid-30s, it will be exactly the right time to flip the roster over. Whether they can do so seamlessly with their prospects or have to go through a rebuilding phase is yet to be seen, but it’s nice to see Ruben Amaro correctly identifying the window of opportunity and taking steps to maximize production over said window.