Why in the hell are the Phillies clearing payroll? They are one of the most lucrative franchises in the MLB.Moving Blanton and clearing payroll, for whatever reason, is merely conjecture. The who, the what, the when, Roy Hallady – typical Hot Stove fodder. What peaks my interest is the question of why the Phillies would clear payroll. After thinking about it for about thirty seconds, I said to myself, “So they don’t end up like the Detroit Tigers.”
The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003. At that time they had a payroll of a relatively mere $49 million. Three years later, the Tigers had almost doubled payroll and had a very successful year, losing four games to one in the World Series.
The Tigers won 88 games the following season and narrowly missed the playoffs. The organization hadn’t seen the team finish that high in the standings back to back years since the 80’s. I’m sure the success was a breath of fresh air at Comerica, but like the breath you take from a balloon full of nitrous, it’s an inhalation that can cause you to do stupid things.
In 2008, the Tigers sold more season tickets than they ever had before. They wanted to build on that success so they kept all of their contributors from the previous seasons and even brought in more (expensive) talent. Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Brandon Inge, Gary Sheffield, Ivan Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson were all given big contracts. Their payroll was second only to the mighty New York Yankees.
It seemed that the Tigers were spending beyond their means. I’m sure all the spending was justified by looking at the increased revenue that was gained by making the playoffs, with the increased ticket sales and with all the other peripheral revenue that comes with winning. But things didn’t go according to plan.
The Tigers finished dead last. The world’s economic troubles hit Michigan very hard and despite the record season ticket sales, not many people showed up to watch the struggling Tigers. The following year, they returned to respectable form but a second place finish was not good enough to generate substantial attendance increases or make the playoffs. There was no playoff payoff. The Tigers were in trouble. Forget adding players to make the team better, they could no longer afford their current roster. And they had millions committed in long term contracts for players who had already reached their peak so there was no immediate resolution to their money problems.
In response to the money crunch the Tigers have begun lowering payroll. Curtis Granderson, whose contract is heavily backloaded, was unloaded. Edwin Jackson, while a bargain now will be due for a substantial pay raise very shortly, so he was shipped off. In return they got some quality young talent (Max Sherzer, Austin Jackson) that will be under team control for modest amounts of money for the next few years. It’s nice to have young, affordable talent, but the team is not as good as it was one week ago, is less likely to make the playoff and they still have a ton of money to pay this year. The Tigers overplayed their hand. They extended themselves too much and have quickly gone from contender to rebuilder.
Joe Blanton and a few million dollars are not even in the same ballpark as the salary and spending explosion of the Detroit Tigers but there are enough similarities between the teams and the organizations that the Phils (and us fans) should take warning. There is a ceiling to the spending and when teams hit that ceiling and lose their payroll “flexibility” the teams suffer.
As Phillies fans, we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dog to yell “cheap” as soon as we hear any sign of reluctance to spend money from management. But the Phils haven’t been so frugal lately. The payroll has risen significantly in the last five years, starting even before any postseason appearances. So the next time you hear the Phillies brass talk about payroll flexibility or the like, think about the Detroit Tigers and be thankful that there is some restraint in the front office.
Now, when the Pirates talk about payroll flexibility, feel free to scream and throw something.