The truth about rebuilding the Phillies

Posted: June 06, 2014

THERE IS a good chance that, at some point over the next few months, you will find yourself in a conversation with a Phillies fan who attempts to downplay the ugliness that awaits this organization in the coming seasons. That fan will invoke the mighty dollar, regurgitating the numbers that he or she has heard or read during the last year or so. Franchises like the Phillies do not rebuild. They blow up the roster, clear the debris, and start writing checks all over again. Look at the Red Sox. Look at the Yankees. Look at the television contract that they just signed. What is it, $100 million per year? They are going to be fine.

At some point during this conversation, you will have a chance to respond, and when you do, you will have two choices. You can nod your head and offer an uneasy smile and decide that faith is too precious to crush. Or you can tell that person the truth. If you choose the latter option, I suggest that you bookmark this column, or print it out and make copies. Scissors and laminate are also acceptable. Once you perform one or all of the above options, I suggest that you keep this column in an accessible place, and retrieve it when necessary, and allow me to be the crusher of souls. Because this column is the truth.

The truth is that the Phillies cannot buy their way out of this mess. Money that cannot be spent on something of value is little more than fancy green paper, and thus has little utility when it comes time to extinguish the kind of tire fire that is currently billowing black smoke above the banks of the Potomac. The Phillies cannot buy their way out of this mess because there is nothing to buy, because the game has changed, because Major League Baseball's Gilded Age ended with the last collective bargaining agreement, specifically the strict spending limits imposed on the amateur markets where the rich could most effectively make themselves richer.

The wise organizations felt the economic winds change. They saw the supply curves shift, and they began to adapt. They scrambled to lock up their budding superstars, or they traded them to a franchise that would. Of the 27 players who entered yesterday with at least 2.0 Wins Above Replacement, as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, only three are scheduled to become free agents by the end of 2016. They are Jason Heyward, Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith.

Replace Ben Revere with Colby Rasmus in centerfield, Domonic Brown with Melky Cabrera or Cruz or Smith in leftfield. What do you have? Rasmus, Cabrera, Cruz and Smith are the top four outfielders who will be free agents this offseason. Fifth place isn't particularly close. At third base, you have 30-year-old Chase Headley and 27-year-old Pablo Sandoval. At shortstop, 30-year-old Hanley Ramirez. At second base, 32-year-old Kelly Johnson. At first base, 35-year-old Michael Cuddyer.

So forget about next year.

The following offseason doesn't look much better. Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Justin Upton and Heyward. Those are the middle-of-the-lineup bats who are on track to be available. Does the Phillies' money have value yet?

No, this is the truth. The truth is that any decision to wave the white flag this season is a decision to continue waving it through the next two. It is a decision whose self-evidence increases by the day. But it is a decision that will be followed by a building process, with 2017 as the best-case scenario for a return to decent baseball, assuming Maikel Franco is a middle-of-the-order bat at third base, and J.P. Crawford is a top-of-the-order bat at shortstop, and Cole Hamels is still a healthy, top-of-the-rotation starter, and Jesse Biddle reaches his ceiling as a steady No. 3. Maybe the money makes sense for Jeff Samardzija after 2015, and for Giancarlo Stanton after 2016.

But even after we assume a linear progression in all of the aforementioned developments, the holes in the roster will be numerous. Perhaps some of them can be filled with whatever talent is acquired for the assets that the Phillies are able to move on the trade market. But who will be responsible for moving them, and what are the odds that they will improve upon the moves that sent Cliff Lee to the Mariners, and Hunter Pence to the Giants, and Shane Victorino to the Dodgers? Remember, the game has changed, and with it the value of young, controllable talent.

The truth is that holes will need to be filled on nights like tonight, when the Phillies hold the No. 7 pick in baseball's amateur draft. The truth is that tonight's draft pick will need to defy significant odds to be major league ready by 2017.

The truth is that every night like tonight, every day like tomorrow, that does not result in a future cornerstone player might add another year to the rebuilding process.

The truth is that the Phillies' money will only start to play when it can be used to augment a lineup and rotation and bullpen that rests upon a foundation of young, talented, developed baseball players.

The truth is that the Phillies of 2014 are at a place where the Astros were in 2010, and the Cubs and Mets were in 2011. All three of those franchises are at least 3 years deep into their rebuilding processes, which is where the Phillies will hope to be at this point in 2017. The Mets entered yesterday at 28-30, the Astros at 25-34, the Cubs at 21-34.

Chances are, you can find someone who will spin you a scenario that places the Phillies on a steeper trajectory than any of those teams. But this, right here, is the truth.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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