Vernon Wells, OF, free agent — It’ll be interesting to see whether Wells elects to retire and collect $21 million or hook on with another team after his release by the Yankees. One American League special assistant said, “It’s a no-brainer if you need a righthanded bat. He still hits lefties well [.269 last season], can play the outfield, not like he used to, but he’s basically a minimum-salary guy for any team since the Angels are still paying most of the freight.” The Phillies have expressed some interest, but a few teams are beginning to consider a look-see for the 35-year-old former All-Star.
Besides this being the sort of little-substance story that gives us something to talk about, to me it’s yet another sign that the Phillies are willfully giving up on this season. I know rhetoric from Ruben Amaro and Chase Utley and David Montgomery says otherwise, but no sane person would tell you that the Phillies have constructed a contending baseball team. Their name barely came up in discussions surrounding the biggest free agents this winter (of which there weren’t many). Signing (and re-signing) the likes of Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz, and now being linked to Wells – who is 35, an injury risk, and has been mostly terrible the last two seasons – are not the sorts of things teams interested in winning do. The Phillies, for the past two years, have been acting like the mid-oughts Sixers in that regard– signing has-been veteran talent to prevent the team from being the worst in the league and to put some butts in the seats. And since now just about every team in baseball makes the playoffs, the Phillies will be just good enough to keep you interested until September, when we finally realize that, yeah, nine games out with seven teams in front of you is too steep a hill to climb. In the meantime, we’ll get excited when they put together a five-game winning streak in May. We’ll talk about whether they should be buyers or sellers at the deadline. And we’ll pick up tickets for NL East games in September, because they might mean something!
In all honesty, this isn’t a bad strategy for the Phillies. They know their window is closed. Baseball, unlike football or basketball, doesn’t require you to bottom out to get good again. The Phillies basically just have to draft well, restock their system, and wait for the contracts of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and, sadly, Utley to expire. They already have their TV deal, so they don’t need to worry about ratings as much. But signing a few average veterans to field a competitive team isn’t a bad thing, from a business standpoint.