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The Undiscovered Country

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Over the weekend, I wrote "Kiss the Phillies Goodbye" for ESPN Insider, part of a series they've been doing with we BPers. One of the things we're asked to do is identify a potential trouble-spot that might trip the team up in the short-term future. The answer for the Phillies was obvious. "The Phillies are so old," I wrote, "that they're the official MLB team of the AARP."

I wasn't thinking about that in a Yankees context at the time, but if the Phillies are on their way to joining the '83 edition as "The Wheeze Kids," the Bombers must be right behind them. Phillies position players were the oldest in the majors this year, with a playing-time weighted average of 31.6. The Yankees were right behind them at 30.6. Only three other teams, the Red Sox, White Sox, and Giants, had an average age of 30 or older.

The Yankees check in as the younger team because they were more youthful at three positions: At 28, Russell Martin was four years year than Carlos Ruiz; Robinson Cano, 28, was four years younger than the increasingly fragile Chase Utley; and Brett Gardner isn't even in the same generation as Raul Ibanez, having been born 12 years later.

Age is an urgent issue for both clubs; the older a club is an aggregate, the more vulnerable it is to injury and sudden declines in performance across multiple positions. Both clubs will have a difficult time addressing the problem in the offseason for several reasons: a disinclination to trust youngsters, a lack of ready prospects, and multi-year contracts that keep both teams locked into the present cast.

The Phillies may have more flexibility than the Yankees at the moment. Ibanez is a free agent and made a very convincing case for replacement with Domonic Brown with a .245/.289/.419 season. The Phillies haven't seemed eager to trust Brown, but he's a no-cost replacement and still has a world of potential. The lad turned 24 last month, so that's quite a change right there.

The other position the Phils might get younger is shortstop. Jimmy Rollins, 32, is also a free agent. J-Rol is coming off his best season since 2008. It wasn't the equal of his MVP season, but then his MVP season wasn't the equal of an MVP season. He's still a quality player when healthy, but seems unlikely to be the central part of an offense going forward, and a multi-year deal is going to be expensive and drag the team into his decline years. Rollins is very popular in Philly, but the club has already handed out an unwise contract to a popular player (Ryan Howard, signed until well after he'll be both a literal and figurative statue), so perhaps they will choose not to do the sentimental thing given that they have an alternative.

...Well, maybe they have an alternative. Shortstop Freddy Galvis, who turns 22 next month, hit a combined .278/.324/.392 at Double- and Triple-A this year. That doesn't sound like much, and it really doesn't give you a lot to hang your hat on insofar as major-league projections, but Galvis' defensive reputation is beyond immaculate (what IS beyond immaculate? So clean it would be a shame to eat off of it?) and if he can hit .250 he might be good enough to play.

So, that's two positions. The Yankees will, perhaps, give Jesus Montero regular turns at designated hitter, which is a position I haven't even dealt with here and thus won't affect the picture presented. That aside, there really aren't openings or youngsters clamoring to take them. The club could turn down Nick Swisher's option, but for all of Swish's limitations, they are unlikely to get either better or younger by going that route. There is every chance they will be older than the Phillies next year, which isn't important except that it's a dubious honor to have for all the negatives that it implies. The canoe is rushing towards the waterfall, and there isn't anything to be done but wait to go over--and it doesn't matter how much money you have, because no one will sell you what you need to get out of it.