The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Phillies' 2003 payroll should climb to over $70 M. This is at least a $14 M increase over last year's payroll and would be a team record. One can quickly see that the signing of free agents Jim Thome ($9.5 M) and David Bell ($3 M) comprise the bulk of the increase.
However, it should be pointed out that this franchise has been run like a small-market club while playing in one of the largest cities in the country. And that the Phils move into a new stadium in 2004, with the promise of recouping their investment. Finally,-and the article does point this out-the Phils' projected 2003 payroll would still rank just fourteenth among the 2002 figures. Of course, with the severe austerity measures instituted by many teams, the Phils may move up slightly compared to 2003 payrolls. Still, it's been a long time coming and for a fan of the team, it's gratifying to see the Phils finally pony up some jack.
The Phils brass is, of course, spinning the story as if they were the Yankees continually building for success:
"We didn't do what we did this off-season to make a financial statement," said Ed Wade, the Phillies' general manager. "We did it to improve our club."
Wade goes on to hint that more spending will be in the offing as the Phils gear up for their new stadium:
"We should be somewhere between 7 and 12 in payroll when we get into our new ballpark."
A valid concern that the article raises is that the Phils may be back-loading too many contracts at a time when many teams are trying to divest themselves of expensive long-term deals. The Phils did go the mid-Ninties Indians route by locking up some young talent (Wolf, Burrell, and Abreu), but they have also spent freely with the veteran crowd (Thome, Bell, and Lieberthal). It is doubtful that all of those deals will work out in the Phils' favor especially as the vets continue to age.
That said, so what? The Phils coffers will be overflowing in the new stadium, especially if the spending helps them become a playoff-caliber team. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I would rather follow a team that is acting positively in pursuing its future goals, like the Phils this offseason and the Yankees throughout their dynasty, than follow a team that is just filling holes with warm bodies, like so many teams have done this offseason. The Phils strategy may come back to bite them, but I for one-and I would think there are more fans that feel similarly-appreciate the effort, even if it doesn't bear fruit. It's preferable to the approach of attempting to catch 1983/1993 lightning in a jar that seemed the favored strategy-that is whenever they had a strategy.
So payroll be damned. The increase has been a long time coming, and they're still no way near luxury tax land. Just let the team look forward. It's at least a strategy that sets the team apart in this cannibalistic environment. Time will tell if it is also a winning strategy.