Sunday, November 7, 2010

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies thrilled local sports fans with the city's first major sports championship in a quarter century. For that they were embraced and showered with love, and as Fred Shero once famously said of the 1970's-era champion Flyers, they will "walk together forever."

Eventually there will be reunions, old-timer's games if you will, alumni homerun derby nights at the ballpark. These heroes, some of whom are now temporarily booed because they moved on to opposition teams, will all be cheered again at the ballpark. 2008 will trump anything and everything else in the long run.

Nothing lasts forever, particularly the roster of a major sports team since the free agency era began, and especially in the 21st century when the money involved has become so huge. Keeping the core of a championship team intact for more than 3-4 years is nearly impossible. What Ruben Amaro has done at the helm of the Phillies has been magnificent, but the challenge becomes more and more difficult as each year passes, and as each new champion from 2008 gets a year further along in their contract and a year older in age.

The first major goodbye came almost immediately after the magic of 2008, while some loose confetti still blew down Broad Street and before championship rings had even been dispersed. Pat 'the Bat' Burrell, the slugging leftfielder who had bashed homeruns for 9 seasons at Veteran's Stadium and Citizens Bank Park and who had ridden in the honor position at the very front of the team title parade caravan, left via free agency for World Series opponent Tampa Bay.

Another year passed, the Phillies returned to the World Series and this time lost to the New York Yankees, and following the 2009 season another longtime franchise hero left when pitcher Brett Myers signed as a free agent with Houston. Myers had pitched 7 1/2 seasons for the Phillies, including a year when he saved their skins by moving successfully into the closer's role.

Some of the key role players for that 2008 title team had moved along as well. Outfielder Geoff Jenkins, whose booming double to centerfield had led-off the 2nd-half portion of the now legendary rain delayed Series clincher with Tampa, was released in spring of '09. Infielder Eric Bruntlett, who seemed to always be in the middle when a big run was scored in the Series, and who turned an unassisted triple play in 2009, was released following that season.

Matt Stairs, whose dramatic 8th inning homerun in the NLCS will remain legendary in team annals well into the future, and whose early 2009 homerun was the last ever called by legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas, left as a free agent. Pedro Feliz brought slick-fielding excellence to the hot corner, albeit with the price of a mostly weak bat, and also knocked in the Series winning run, and then took his airtight defense off to free agency following '09.

Now it is continuing, that process of saying goodbye to 2008 heroes. Lefty reliever J.C. Romero, such a key part of the bullpen for the better part of four seasons and particularly in '08, was not re-signed this off-season. Veteran hometown hero and ageless wonder Jamie Moyer is expected to either retire or move along as his contract has expired.

As varied as their individual departure stories have been, the cold, hard fact of the matter is that none of them, with the possible and arguable exception of Myers, were key losses on the field, none of them were really wanted any longer by the organization, and with the likely exception of Moyer, none has been especially missed by the fans.

That is all likely about to change. Rightfielder Jayson Werth is a free agent, and is widely considered as one of the top three names available this winter in all of baseball. Along with outfielder Carl Crawford and pitcher Cliff Lee, the bearded one is about to get rich beyond his wildest dreams. These opportunities come along seldom in a player's career, and particularly for Werth, who had so much of his early career derailed by injuries, this is his one shot at the big money.

Werth took the bold step during the 2010 season of hiring super agent Scott Boras to represent him in his coming contract negotiations. His services as a player would be welcomed by any organization in baseball, but will only be affordable to a handful. The likely landing places for the strong, speedy, clutch-hitting, colorful talent include the New York Yankees, the Texas Rangers, the Los Angeles Angels, the Detroit Tigers, and the Boston Red Sox.

These are only the most likely based on their ability to pay him the anticipated big bucks that Boras is currently demanding. Boras has begun his public posturing by putting out the 7-year, $120 million dollar deal signed by Matt Holliday with Saint Louis last off-season as the Werth benchmark. Some in baseball speculate that he may have to settle for something more like the 4-year, $66 million dollar deal signed by Jason Bay with the New York Mets. Splitting the difference means that you are likely looking at something like a 5-6 year deal worth approximately $90-100 million.

There are other teams who may be able to pay that type of contract. Both the Beltway franchises of Washington and Baltimore come to mind. The Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians should have money to spend. Perhaps the big-market Los Angeles Dodgers or Chicago Cubs or White Sox could get involved. And there is always the nightmare scenario of the rival Atlanta Braves or New York Mets getting involved.

The likelihood is that Werth will play only for a team that he believes can contend for a World Series title. Anyone who has watched him play with fire and passion here in the post-season for the past four seasons in Philly knows that he will not be satisfied to collect a huge paycheck for an also-ran ball team. And the fact is, he will not have to do so. His suitors will include some of the most serious contenders.

This all brings us back around to one serious contender who also will have some money to spend this off-season. That team is his now former team, the hometown Philadelphia Phillies. Will Amaro and the Phillies ownership be willing to go that many years at that dollar amount to bring one of it's most popular core players back into the fold? Should they even think about it? Would the money be better spent elsewhere, such as the bullpen and bench, allowing young Domonic Brown the playing time opportunity?

Ruben Amaro has claimed that the team has enough money to bring Werth back, but will they? The odds seem to be leaning towards yet another goodbye for a 2008 Phillies hero, a process that is inevitable. It did not end with Burrell, or Myers, or Romero, and it will not end with Moyer or Werth. Jimmy Rollins, the leader of this entire era of Phillies players, will see his contract expire a year from now if no extension is forthcoming.

Like Schmidt and Carlton, Bowa and Boone, Luzinski and McGraw, Daulton and Dykstra, Kruk and Williams, Rolen and Schilling, and hundreds more before them, every one of the 2008 Phillies will be moving along eventually, either into free agency, or retirement, or via trade to another chapter in their career. It will happen with Charlie Manuel, with Chase, with Lidge, with Chooch, with the Flyin Hawaiian, even eventually with Hamels and Howard. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but we will always, always have 2008 together.

1 comment:

WeaselMomma said...

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

I didn't know you were a fellow blogger. Btw, this is the alter ego, so to speak, of Barb K.

Are you on twitter too?