Montgomery: Give Phillies' core a chance

Phillies president David Montgomery said, "Right now, we're enjoying tremendous popularity." (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Phillies president David Montgomery said, "Right now, we're enjoying tremendous popularity." (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Posted: June 22, 2013

David Montgomery is a Wharton School graduate, so he knows that the bottom line is always better when your team is on top.

For a half decade, the Phillies' team president watched over the franchise's second great era of baseball. The team won five straight division titles, two National League pennants, and a World Series. The paying customers poured into Citizens Bank Park, creating a cash flow that allowed the Phillies to become the envy of the National League.

The expression "it all starts at the top" was a welcome one in the executive offices because it gave Montgomery a chance to spread the credit, something he truly loves to do.

Times, of course, have changed. With an aging core besieged by injuries, the Phillies were a .500 team in 2012. A similar story has unfolded so far in 2013. Attendance is still robust, but significantly down. According to the Nielsen ratings, the Phillies' local viewership was down a major-league-high 39 percent last year, but they are still among the most-watched teams in Major League Baseball.

The glass may be emptying, but Montgomery still sees it as more than half-full. During a 30-minute interview before Wednesday night's extra-inning loss to the Washington Nationals, he covered a variety of subjects and gave some insight to what the Phillies might be thinking as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

"The good news is we have 90 opportunities left to turn this into a meaningful season," Montgomery said, referring to the number of games remaining. "I'm always a believer that the most appropriate thing is to look forward."

Like general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., Montgomery believes the 2013 Phillies cannot be fairly evaluated until they have their full team on the field. With catcher Carlos Ruiz back from a hamstring injury and second baseman Chase Utley close to returning from an oblique injury, the Phillies will soon find out if being close to complete will make any difference.

"It was nice to see [John] Lannan back on the mound Monday and it's nice to see Chooch," Montgomery said. "What had he played [before Tuesday]? Seventeen games? He was . . . our best player last year. Hopefully if the rehabs go well, we get Utley back before we go on this next trip. I think that the club that we envisioned is more likely to be formed . . . and we'll see how we do."

Montgomery believes 90 wins will get the Phillies into the postseason and he thinks they have that potential if star-crossed lefthander Cole Hamels' season turns around.

"If Cole was a .500 pitcher, we'd be right there," Montgomery said. "My view is, despite the disappointment so far and despite this inconsistency, there is opportunity."

When the subject turned to the trade deadline, it's clear that Montgomery also has an eye on the future. With the Phillies' payroll near the $178 million luxury tax threshold that will expand to $189 million next season, the team president was asked if the Phillies would be willing to take the 17.5 percent tax hit for going over the threshold if it meant adding a high-salary player at the deadline.

"In an ideal world, we'd prefer not to do that, but that would not be a determining factor," he said.

Montgomery was surprised that the trade-deadline question was not about protecting prospects, an indication that the Phillies are more likely to trade someone like closer Jonathan Papelbon than triple-A Lehigh Valley third baseman Cody Asche.

"If [getting help for this season] means giving up more young talent, that's a tougher question," Montgomery said. "Charlie [Manuel], the field staff and the 25 guys in the clubhouse should be doing everything we can to win tonight and the rest of the regular season, but when you get a level above that to our scouting and player development staff and Ruben's situation, then the target becomes a little bit broader.

"The target becomes, 'let's do what's right this year and let's also make sure we're making good moves going forward.' "

That's a clear indication that Montgomery knows this core's golden era is close to ending, regardless of how the rest of this season unfolds.

"The good and the bad of the nucleus that took us to five postseasons and hopefully six this year is that they all sort of came of age at the same time and are of the same age, so now they're all in the 33 to 35 range," Montgomery said. "They're all within 15 to 18 months of each other and we need to eventually bring a younger element to this club and we believe we have the candidates to do that."

One minor-league player he mentioned by name was double-A Reading pitcher Jesse Biddle, the Philadelphia native who is considered the best prospect in the organization.

"If a Jesse Biddle can come up here in a year or two and be part of this, I think that plays right into the sweet spot of what I think Philadelphia fans want," Montgomery said. "I think the future bodes well for us."

Time will tell if that's the case.

In the meantime, attendance is on the decline. After averaging at least 44,000 fans per game each of the last four seasons and at least 42,000 the last five years, the Phillies are averaging 38,510 this season.

Attendance, of course, has been the lifeblood for the franchise's rejuvenation after the long lull between the first great era of the franchise from the mid-1970s through 1983 and the most recent era.

How big of a concern is the drop?

"Well, it only concerns me in the sense that we've learned to live on the level of fan support that we've gotten," Montgomery said. "The good news is we still see that to be strong."

Montgomery said when Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, he expected to average between 2.6 and 2.8 million fans per season.

"We'll probably finish this year averaging around 3.25 million for the first 10 years," Montgomery said.

The challenge is to keep that going, which can only be accomplished if the Phillies continue consistently winning the way they have since the turn of the century.

The Montgomery Years

David Montgomery took over from Bill Giles as Phillies president in the middle of the 1997 season. Here's a look at the team attendance, payroll ranking and record during each full season of his tenure and so far in 2013.

Year Avg. Attendance/Rank Payroll/ Rank Record NL East Finish

1998 21,182/23 $36,297,500/21 75-87    Third

1999 22,535/21 $31,897,500/23 77-85    Third

2000 19,911/23 $47,513,000/20 65-97    Fifth

2001 22,001/25 $41,663,833/24 86-76    Second

2002 20,231/24 $57,954,999/17 80-81    Third

2003 27,901/15 $70,780,000/15 86-76    Third

2004 40,125/4 $93,219,167/5 86-76    Second

2005 32,905/13 $95,522,000/4    88-74    Second

2006 33,356/11 $88,273,333/12 85-77    Second

2007 38,374/8 $89,428,213/13 89-73    First

2008 42,254/5 $97,879,880/12 92-70    First

2009 44,453/3 $115,479,046/7 93-69    First

2010 44,968/2 $141,928,379/4 97-65    First

2011 45,441/1 $172,976,379/2 102-60    First

2012 44,021/1 $171,501,558/3 81-81    Third

2013 38,511/6 $166,860,000/3 35-38    Third

- Bob Brookover


Contact Bob Brookover at Follow @brookob on Twitter.

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