For Phillies, rebuild is inevitable

Posted: July 15, 2014

IT IS SO obvious that it does not need to be said. But the nature of the job requires that we say something about this team, so let's get on with it. In wrapping up the unofficial first half of the season with a 10-3 loss to the Nationals, the Phillies offered a tidy summation of their year to date. They are not particularly good at scoring runs, nor are they particularly good at preventing them. In baseball, that is a bad combination.

After it was over, a dejected Ryne Sandberg tried to focus on the positive things that he sees from his team heading into the All-Star Break. It was a short list. He mentioned the play of first-year starter Cody Asche, who has provided a solid .254/.309/.408 batting line and six home runs at a position where the Phillies have struggled to find offense over the years. He mentioned the imminent return of Cliff Lee, who is scheduled to rejoin the rotation Sunday in Atlanta after a 2-month absence. He mentioned the addition of Grady Sizemore to the outfield mix. But he also seemed to understand that with 18 days remaining until the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, his players have yet to offer his bosses a compelling reason not to begin the process of sifting through the wreckage and selling off the parts.

While Ruben Amaro Jr. and David Montgomery have been reluctant to use the word "rebuild" when discussing their thought process moving forward, you have to wonder whether the last 3 weeks have made it any more difficult for them to avoid the inevitable. You also have to wonder what goes through the minds of the rest of the ownership group when they look at the return on the $179 million investment that they made in a franchise-record payroll. They might not be the most proactive owners in professional sports, but they are rich people, and rich people tend to understand when their money is being wasted.

What the Phillies need more than anything right now is a plan, and the one that the current architects have implemented over the last 3 or 4 years is speaking for itself. They are 11 games under .500. They have scored the fifth-fewest runs in the National League, and they have allowed the fourth most (actually, they are tied with the Brewers). Their first baseman is hitting .220/.300/.381 and is owed $25 million in each of the next two seasons, plus a $10 million buyout of a 2017 option. Their most valuable trade chip at this time last year has not pitched in 2 months and almost certainly will not have enough time before the trade deadline to recover anything close to his previous value. Their second-most valuable trade chip at this time last year now has the ability to veto any trade thanks to the 10-and-5 rights that he earned last August (10 years of service, the last 5 with the same team). It remains to be seen whether their $12.5 million-a-year closer can be traded for a prospect that inspires anything more than a shred of hope for the future, although one can argue that there will be at least three potentially available players ahead of Jonathan Papelbon on any team's wish list (Joakim Soriah, Huston Street, Koji Uehara), and perhaps four (Joaquin Benoit).

The Phillies might be able to land a two-star prospect from the Mariners or Royals in exchange for Marlon Byrd. Otherwise, their only significant assets, at least in terms of trade market worth, are Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. A.J. Burnett, Antonio Bastardo, Carlos Ruiz, Kyle Kendrick - they are not the types of players who can make enough of a difference on a team's postseason hopes to command a significant prospect in return.

Yesterday, Kendrick allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings, including a three-run homer to Jayson Werth in the first inning. His ERA is now 4.62. It is hard to identify a contender where his addition would provide anything more than a marginal back-of-the-rotation upgrade. Yet the Phillies have no obvious candidate to replace him when he becomes a free agent at the end of the year. Roberto Hernandez also will be a free agent, and Burnett could decide to retire, leaving the Phillies with Hamels and Lee and maybe rookie David Buchanan, who posted a 4.40 ERA while averaging 5.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 1.4 HR/9 in 10 starts filling in for Lee. That's not a good situation.

The fundamental problem with this Phillies team is that they do not excel in any facet of the game. They have the second-worst team OPS in the National League (.664), the third-worst on base percentage. They rank 12th in starters' ERA (3.95) and ninth in bullpen ERA (3.59). They do not have a single area you can point to and say, "Well, at least they do not have to worry about that." It's why their stated reluctance to rebuild is so confounding. If every option will result in at least 2 more years of bad baseball, why not pick the one that at least offers some hope for Year Three and beyond? Their best position prospect is in A-ball. Their only starting-pitching prospect has struggled in his second season at Double A and has not pitched in 3 weeks.

You can call this the All-Star Break if you'd like. But with regard to the Phillies of 2014 and beyond, it feels more like the All-Star Broken.

More Phillies: J.P. Crawford making major progress.



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