No shortcuts to a Phillies rebuilding plan

Posted: June 20, 2014

If you believe the Phillies should rip their roster apart, rid it of all their older players, and start anew, there is one pressing question: How much patience do you have?

You'll need plenty, regardless of whether Ruben Amaro Jr. stays or goes as the general manager. Proof of that can be found in the Bay Area, where the two best teams in baseball play. Oakland general manager Billy Beane and San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean are considered two of the brightest minds in baseball.

Beane, despite consistently having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, is the architect of seven teams that have made the playoffs in the last 14 years. He's so good at what he does, they made a movie about him, and Brad Pitt played the role. They don't mention in Moneyball that the A's went five years, from 2007 through 2011, without a winning record, or that they've won one playoff series since Beane took charge after the 1997 season.

Sabean provides a better example for the Phillies, because the Giants have a more comparable payroll. San Francisco has been to three World Series and won two of the last four during Sabean's 16 seasons as GM. The Giants also had a six-year playoff drought from 2004 through 2009 that included four straight losing seasons in the middle.

No matter who is in charge of baseball operations going forward, the road back to the top will not be an easy one, and that's especially true because of how little talent the Phillies have in the upper tiers of their farm system.

"I would say, at those levels, they have fewer prospects than any of the other teams in their division," a baseball scout said. "It can turn around with some really good prospects like this [Aaron] Nola guy they just took, but for years they drafted high-risk, high-reward guys, and it wasn't working. When you miss on those guys, it really sets you back. And when you talk about guys you like in low-A ball, half of them won't be prospects in a couple years."

A baseball executive agreed that the minor-league cupboard needs restocking.

"Based on our reports and what we talk about in our meetings, we have them ranked in the bottom third or at least the lower half for sure," the executive said. "They've got a few players, but not many with a significant ceiling. They have some guys who will play in the big leagues, but they're not going to be prime guys."

Adding to the problem is the fact that the organization's two primary prospects coming into this season have not performed consistently well in the first half. Jesse Biddle was told to return to double-A Reading and throw more strikes than he did a year ago, but he has continued to struggle with command.

"I'd say he's closer to Clearwater than Philadelphia," the scout said.

Infielder Maikel Franco has also struggled in his first season at triple-A Lehigh Valley, but he's only 21 and has plenty of time to recover.

"This kid should be cut some slack," the scout said. "It's his first triple-A experience, and I believe they should leave him there all of this year and maybe all of next year to get a feel for what he is. If you have him on opening day in 2016, he's still only 23 years old."

We have seen some encouraging signs recently from the younger members of the Phillies' bullpen, but many of the relievers experiencing success now have endured some acute growing pains along the way. The same thing is likely to happen to whatever prospects the Phillies bring up or acquire from other teams at the trade deadline.

If the Phillies commit to a roster makeover at the trade deadline, which, despite their recent success, is still a very real possibility, the one thing they should be prepared to do is eat salary. The more you eat, the more you reap.

The last time the Phillies ate a significant amount of money was when they traded Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox after the 2005 season. It cost them $22 million, but they got Aaron Rowand and Gio Gonzalez in return.

It wasn't Amaro's fault the Phillies later traded Gonzalez, but some people probably want to blame him anyway. Regardless of blame for the recent past or the decisions to be made in the near future, the rebuilding of the Phillies is going to be a difficult job that requires a lot of patience.


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