It’s been awhile since I’ve seen my Twitter feed explode like it did today, when the news of Ryan Howard’s 5 year, $125m extension broke. There was really no consensus. Howard is good, so it’s good that he’s staying. But Howard is in his 30s, so he won’t be good for much longer, and that’s a lot of money to spend on a guy who is declining. This means they don’t have money for Jayson Werth, who is awesome. But maybe it does mean they have enough money for Werth, who is awesome!
As for me, I didn’t (and still don’t) know what to think. My biggest issue with Howard has been his drop off in the post-season. He’s come up mostly dry in October, and that’s disconcerting. However, he always wins me back with his off-season training and commitment to getting better. It’s already paid off; while he’s in a bit of a slump with hitting, he’s been fantastic at first base since the start of the season. This road trip, he’s made some incredible plays. Howard’s desire to improve is the reason I’m not up in arms about this deal. However, some have pointed out that this deal ties up the Phillies’ already stretched payroll and makes it hard for them to sign Jayson Werth to an extension. I was surprised this January when the Phillies didn’t sign him, and I’ve been waiting for some news concerning his fate. Werth has had a powerful few seasons, cleaning up in the post season and distinguishing himself defensively as well. It’s hard to imagine the team without him. For me, I love the way he sets up in the batter’s box. He does this weird leaning thing. It’s adorable. And don’t get me started on his foxy, foxy beard.
I read Kieran Kelly’s post over at Phinally, which touches on Werth’s now more inevitable departure from Philadelphia. He mentions the prospects that are ready to make their way up to The Show full-time: John Mayberry, Jr, Ben Francisco, and Domonic Brown. I’ll admit it; I hate thinking about the team without Werth. We’ve watched a few members of that legendary 2008 team leave Philadelphia and make their way in other places. Pedro Feliz, Pat Burrell, Eric Bruntlett. Watching that was tough (well, watching Burrell go was tough), but losing Werth seems like it would be harder for me to bear. What it comes down to is this: I don’t want to watch the 2008 team get dismantled. I’d like them to continue on forever.
That’s just not going to happen. I have to let it go. 2008 is gone, and it will never be repeated.
Watching the 2008 season was exhilarating. Everything seemed to be building. Every player was important. In the post season, every hit, every homer, every pitch felt momentous. Every success, every small victory on the field was exorcising the demons of the past. The players felt like extensions of ourselves, they felt like family. When Howard struck out, I wasn’t just sad because it was a missed chance, I was sad for Howard. I hope he didn’t let it get him down! I will never forget how my feelings ranged the night they won. Optimism: they’re ahead, they can win! Pessimism: They are the Phillies and will therefore BLOW THIS. The win was cathartic in every way possible. Extinguishing the flame of failure and turning on the GIANT CHANDELIER of success. Who wants to let go of any of that? The atmosphere, the hope for the future, or the players? Seeing Jayson Werth or Shane Victorino in any other uniform would somehow feel like a betrayal of everything that team accomplished.
But the past is past, and the future of the Phillies is murky. There’s going to be a natural drop-off of success as current players leave and new players are called up. For the Phillies, those drop-offs tend to last not years, but decades. There’s a tangible fear behind the loss of players who are both familiar and good. But I think the front office is being very smart, if not entirely shrewd. In the next several years, the outfield will be mostly new, as will third base and shortstop. That is a lot of new blood. But Amaro has secured Howard and Utley together until 2014. They’re keeping the backbone of their lineup while presumably welcoming new, young talent. Let us remember that young talent is how the 2008 Phillies eventually came to exist as they did.
Over the years, the expectation has been that the front office will fail the team and the fans. A loud, vocal minority still insist that the Lee-Halladay deal was a failure. (I really wish they’d shut the fuck up.) And everyone assumes that their failure to lock up Werth is a sign of their returned (or continued) stupidity. This is the front office that made the 2008 team possible. This is the front office who signed the best pitcher in all of baseball (suck it, Sabathia) for below market value. In 2007 they signed Utley to a 7-year deal. There are tough decisions that have to be made. One of the consequences of having a World Championship team is that the best players are worth more, and there is only so much room in the payroll. While I’ll hate to see some of my favorite players go, I’m going to trust that the front office has the long-term success of the team in mind. I don’t think I could ask for anything more.