Phils went all-in, and lost

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez uses the wrong side of his glove to try to rob the Brewers' Logan Schafer on this infield single in the sixth inning.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez uses the wrong side of his glove to try to rob the Brewers' Logan Schafer on this infield single in the sixth inning.
Posted: June 04, 2013

YOU CAN'T have it both ways.

If you want your team to do whatever it takes to win championships when it has a chance, you have to be prepared to suffer on the back end when the window closes.

The sputtering organization with declining major league players and a depleted farm system that the Phillies are today is a direct result of the organization doing what most fans craved by going all-in to try to add another World Series title to the one it won in 2008.

It wasn't nearly as gradual a process as some want to make it out to be.

Unless you are of the belief that the success of an organization can be measured only in World Series titles, the Phillies didn't do a slow burn to their current mediocrity.

They had the ground fall out from under them when they were still 50 meters away from the cliff's edge.

Going all-in doesn't mean you get to keep some of your money if your gamble fails. It means that when it's time to pay the piper, you're lucky if you get to keep your clothes.

They used a 4-year window to make a run at a title. They didn't get it, and now the price is coming due.

It is a rare phenomena in sports when a franchise can win titles while simultaneously preparing to transition to the future.

That is particularly difficult in baseball because getting over the championship hump usually involves the trading of prospects to get the right pieces.

From 2009 through '11, the Phillies made four major trades in their pursuit of a second World Series.

The acquisitions of starting pitchers Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt and outfielder Hunter Pence cost the Phillies 14 prospects in a three-season span.

Because the Phillies were also winning a World Series and five straight National League East flags from 2007 to 2011, their highest pick in the last four drafts has been highly regarded lefthander Jesse Biddle at No. 27 overall in 2010.

The combination of lower picks and trading future talent for current stars will quickly diminish a farm system.

But at the time of each move, how many honestly thought the Phillies were doing the wrong thing?

The approach and execution of the plan of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is open to full criticism because the Phillies did not win that second World Series.

We might be having a different conversation if they had.

But to bury the Phillies for not having the foresight to avoid being in the situation they are now is 20/20 hindsight.

The Phillies did what most Philadelphia fans have complained that their teams didn't do often enough.

Win when the chance presents itself. Go for it. Trade down the road for a championship today.

That's what the Phillies have tried to do for the last four seasons.

In July 2009, with another World Series in their reach, Amaro made a deal to trade prospects to the Cleveland Indians for Lee. If Lee could have pitched every game in the World Series, the Phillies would have beaten the New York Yankees.

To start 2010, Amaro traded several top prospects to the Toronto Blue Jays for Halladay.

Even if you want to argue that Amaro bungled that because he could have had both Halladay and Lee, whom he traded to the Seattle Mariners, that doesn't change the fact that the farm system took a big hit to get Halladay.

Halladay won the Cy Young for the Phillies, and when Amaro wanted to enhance the team's chances of getting back to the World Series, he traded three young players to the Houston Astros for Oswalt at the July deadline. The Phillies lost in Game 6 of the NLCS to eventual World Series champion San Francisco.

Having come up short, Amaro thought he could pitch his way to a championship and brought back Lee as a high-priced free agent.

Led by Four Aces (Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Cole Hamels) and a Joker (Joe Blanton), the Phillies won a franchise-record 102 games.

At the 2011 trade deadline, Amaro traded prospects to the Astros for Pence, an All-Star who was supposed to bolster the offense. The Phillies lost in the wild-card round to eventual World Series champion St. Louis.

This is where I give full credit to those Phillies fans who wanted to break up a 102-win team and start rebuilding for the future.

There weren't as many then as now claim to have been, but there were a handful.

I was like Amaro. I believed that core of players still had a strong chance to win the 2012 World Series. To me, signing closer Jonathan Papelbon was a bold move toward that.

Like the previous moves, it didn't result in a World Series. The Phillies missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

So here the Phillies are today.

It's bad, and more games like yesterday's near-choke against the Milwaukee Brewers will be hard to stomach.

But the Phillies did what most fans wanted them to do. They went all-in to win another title.

That didn't happen, and the cost has come due.

Today on PhillyDailyNews.com : How the Phils barely hung on to beat Milwaukee.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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