The Phillies have inched back toward respectability. Now what?
Why in the world would anyone suggest the Phillies ought to blow it up and start over? That’s just silly talk. For one thing, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is not the type to give up on a season. Why would he? The Phillies are averaging almost 40,000 fans per home game, and those folks aren’t going to stick around for a two-year or three-year reconstruction.
Besides that, the Phillies have been just good enough to hover on the edge of contention. They haven’t been very good this season, but they haven’t been terrible either. They were 12-15 in April, 14-14 in May, 13-15 in June and 6-2 in July. Their longest winning streak has been five games, but it was followed, predictably, by a five-game losing streak.
They’ve had six losing streaks of at least three games, none longer than five. Likewise, they’ve had four winning streaks of at least three games, none longer than five.
They’re ninth in the NL in runs. They were 11th in April, 13th in May and third in June. They’re seventh in July.
They’re 13th in ERA—10th in ERA by starting pitchers.
They haven’t been more than one game over .500 or five games under.
And here’s the killer: Their run differential is -44, fifth-worst in the NL.
What do those numbers say? Probably that the Phillies aren’t good enough to make the playoffs.
On the other hand, in for a dime, in for a dollar. The Phillies have some bad contracts, but those bad contracts were signed for the right reason. They won five straight division championships, and rather than make some tough choices with some popular players, they decided to keep the band together in the hopes of winning another championship.
Unfortunately, those core parts—Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay and Jimmy Rollins—began to age, and production dropped.
But I don’t understand why it would make sense to start over. Their most valuable assets are on the pitching staff. They owe Cliff Lee $62.5 million, Cole Hamels $117.5 million and Jonathan Papelbon $26 million over this season. Lee and Papelbon might bring a handful of prospects, but they’re also the best chance the Phillies have to stay competitive.
It’s one thing to speak theoretically about breaking up the team, but what happens then? If you think the Phillies are mediocre now, what will they be when they start fast-tracking kids and fitting in players from other organizations?
They would have no identity. They would be relying on players with no track record.
Is this kind of thing inevitable? You bet it is at some point. I saw first-hand what happens to organizations—in my case, the Orioles post-1983 and Astros post-2005—when they’re forced to confront the realization that the current group’s run is over.
That’s a dark hallway in front of them, and for me, despite the negative analytics and all, I’d keep piecing these Phillies together as long as possible. What follows is uncertainty. The Phillies may never have another run as good as this one, but I’d extend it as long as possible.
In a perfect world, there’d be a natural evolution as players from the farm system force their way onto the roster. In Ben Revere, Domonic Brown, John Pettibone and Darin Ruf, they have four important players 26 or under. Delmon Young is just 27, John Mayberry Jr. 29.
The Phillies don’t appear to be as good as the Nationals and Braves, but those teams have some issues, too. Besides, when a fan looks at a team, he doesn’t always see what’s there. Rather, he sees what could be there, what should be there, what he wants to be there.
Amaro may have a dramatically different view of things three weeks from now, but if today was the Trading Deadline, I’d be a buyer.