Inside the Phillies: Big earners make Phillies less flexible

Phillies starter Roy Halladay lasted 31/3 innings, giving up six hits, five runs, and three walks. He struck out nine. JOHN AMIS / Associated Press
Phillies starter Roy Halladay lasted 31/3 innings, giving up six hits, five runs, and three walks. He struck out nine. JOHN AMIS / Associated Press
Posted: April 08, 2013

Things are not quite the same as they used to be around here.

That point was driven home during the first series of the season when the young Atlanta Braves took two out of three games from the Phillies, showing off their power in the process.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the young Nationals opened the season with three straight wins while allowing only one run to the wretched Miami Marlins.

The Phillies had a lot of success for a long time, but they may be finally paying the price. And the price of success goes beyond the exorbitant contracts professional athletes have been signing since the 1970s.

You pay for greatness at the risk you'll someday be paying for something far less, and when the greatness disappears it's difficult to replace.

It's possible the Phillies have reached that point with Roy Halladay, who at the age of 35 is struggling to regain the form that made him a two-time Cy Young Award winner and one of the game's greatest pitchers over the last decade. He'll make $20 million this season regardless.

It's possible the Phillies will never get quite what they received from Ryan Howard a few years ago when he was a threat to hit 45 home runs or more, even though they're paying him at least $105 million over the next four years.

But it's not just about the money.

It's about the team, too. When you have been a great player who is making big money, it drastically changes the method of operation.

When young pitchers struggle at the big-league level, they end up being sent back to the minor leagues. When two-time Cy Young Award winners making $20 million struggle, you hang with them and hope for the best.

"I think I'm starting to see some results," pitching coach Rich Dubee said the day after Halladay's spring-training issues seeped into the regular season last week down in Atlanta. "You think I'm going to take the ball away from this guy? . . . You're talking about a two-time Cy Young Award winner. What do you think, we're going to put him in the bullpen?"

Nobody thinks that and nobody should think that.

Halladay has earned the right to try to get right and he'll get another opportunity Monday against the New York Mets, a far less intimidating opponent than the Braves. Howard also earned his money, and he deserves the right to erase anything that happened last season when he played at something far less than 100 percent.

When you have players with contracts like the ones that Halladay, Howard, Chase Utley, and some others are working under, you have to rely on them. That, in turn, makes it more difficult to give young players an opportunity.

Domonic Brown, for instance, might be a more advanced major-league player right now if he had been a regular in the lineup the previous two seasons. The Phillies did not have that luxury, so they have to accept his mistakes in the hope that he goes from raw talent to big-league star.

Some of the good young teams in baseball like the Braves, Nationals, and Kansas City Royals have had the benefit of letting their young guys play through their mistakes because they were not going to cost the team a chance to win the World Series.

The Phillies allowed something similar to happen with their young relievers last season, but because the Phillies had an older core, the only two guys who have stuck on this season's roster are Jeremy Horst and Phillippe Aumont.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. filled out the back end of the bullpen by signing Mike Adams and Chad Durbin. And veteran Raul Valdes made the team over some of the younger arms. Amaro felt the veterans would give this team its best chance to win, but it means guys such as Jake Diekman, Michael Stutes, Justin De Fratus, and B.J. Rosenberg are pitching again at triple-A Lehigh Valley, where they've already proven they can get the job done.

The money, of course, does matter when you're in the market for free agents. The Phillies decided they should not spend big on the most recent market because they were not enamored of the merchandise.

Amaro said all winter that how Halladay, Howard, and Utley performed in 2013 would be more important than any offseason acquisition he made. That's the truth. And regardless of the result, the general manager and the general population have to live with it.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow on Twitter @brookob.

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