By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Before this season started, it was pretty much agreed upon by both optimists and pessimists that the Phillies window of contending for World Series championships with the current core of players is closing.
Whether there is another year or two management can squeeze out of Utley, Howard, Rollins and the rest is possible or not, it doesn’t change the fact that another year or two is just about the best case scenario.
Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal says that not only is the window closing, but the way the Phillies have built their team over the last several years assures that when it does close, it will stay closed for a while.
Money may be their trump card. The Phillies led the majors in attendance the last two seasons. And they’re due for a windfall when their local television deal with Comcast expires after the 2015 season. But the decline of free agency will make it harder for them to land impact talent on the open market.
It all points to a multiyear gap between the time the Phillies can no longer win with this core group and the time they assemble another contender.
Teams have been locking up players to long-term deals a year, sometimes more, before they even enter free agency. The Tigers’ Justin Verlander, the Giants’ Buster Posey, and the Rays’ Evan Longoria are just a few who have opted for long-term security over the lure of an even bigger free agent contract.
The Phillies have traded prospects for players to help them win now. Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt all came with a price tag (various costs) of young talent.
You trade prospects for players to help you win now. You surrender draft picks to sign free agents for the same purpose. You never draft very high, because you keep on winning, at least for a few years. You take on some bloated contracts, believing the short-term benefits outweigh the long-term risks. To borrow a line from Theo Epstein, you keep feeding the monster.
Then, one day, you wake up and find a team in shambles—the way Omar Minaya did in 2009, the way Ruben Amaro Jr. might soon—and realize there are no more quick fixes.
This isn’t to liken the Phillies to the Mets. Philadelphia’s title window, which included winning the 2008 Series, has been vast and filled with light. The Mets’ was more like a porthole.
But there is a universal truth: Teams can only make so many win-now, shrug-at-the-future moves before a day of reckoning comes. For teams rich and poor, for teams smart and foolish, the system promotes equilibrium. Winning is supposed to be difficult to sustain.
As Costa notes, it’s still possible the Phillies recover and make a run this season, but it’s hard not to agree with the logic that suggests it will be hard for them to build a contender once again.
You can read the original piece by Costa at this location.
Follow Spike on Twitter @SpikeEskin.