It’s September, and that means the playoff races are heating up in Major League Baseball. However, not everyone makes it to the promised land. Tom Wright tells us what went right and what went wrong in the elimination of the Philadelphia Phillies
Hey, look! Incremental progress! It looks like this is the year where the Philllies finally realized that once you reach Hell, it’s best to stop digging.
For years, the Phillies attempted to hold the trade market hostage with a squirt gun pointed backwards. Every year at the trade deadline, sportswriters make a list of all of the players that the Phillies could trade for some sort of value, and every year, the Phillies made obscene demands that dissuaded other teams from talking to them. Ruben Amaro sensibly decided several years ago that he needed to remake the farm system; unfortunately, Amaro decided that the best way to do it was with “magic bullet” trades (i.e. one or two trades that would completely restock the farm), which is a lovely idea in theory but falls apart when one actually attempts to find a trade partner that’s willing to give up said magic bullet. Long story short, the Phillies had been waiting out the trade market for almost three years.
This year, Andy MacPhail was brought on staff in an attempt to talk sense into Amaro. Whatever it was that MacPhail said to Amaro, the pep talks seem to have worked, as the Phillies finally started making reasonable trade requests to other teams. This deadline, the Phillies moved Cole Hamels to Texas for a very good (but not magical) return, and Jonathan Papelbon was moved to Washington for a similar haul. On the offensive side, Jimmy Rollins was shipped out to Los Angeles before the season, and Chase Utley would join him at Chavez Ravine later in the year. McPhail’s plan for this year appears to have been “trade anyone worth anything before they lose any more value,” and, by all accounts, the Phillies have done exactly that. The trades have served to restock an otherwise fallow pool of minor league talent, quickly vaulting the Phillies from a bottom-ten farm system to a top-ten one. Of course, the last round of Phillies prospects (led by Domonic Brown) currently serves as roster filler for the Phils, so fans and the baseball community are probably right to exercise a little caution in praising the Phillies new approach. Regardless, for a team whose front office has largely seemed lost at sea for a half-decade, having an actual, honest-to-goodness plan is a major step forward.
Of course, for a last place team, “progressing” isn’t the same thing as “good,” and the Phillies, in their current incarnation, are terrible. Their lineup looks good only in comparison to their pitching; the hitting is the second-worst in the NL, while the pitching staff’s 81 ERA+ is the worst mark by an NL staff in five years. With Cole Hamels gone, the rotation is a who’s who of has-beens and never-weres, “led” by 37 year-old Aaron Harang and his 4.89 ERA. The lineup has been decimated by age, trades, and bad contracts, and for much of the season, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz competed to see who could put up the most useless season by a Phillies regular. While the youngsters give fans reason for optimism, most of those youngsters have not yet begun winning games at the major league level, and it still remains to be seen whether they will ever do so. Philadelphia has finally almost gotten out from under the myriad bad contracts that Amaro handed out as tokens of appreciation for the 2008 World Series victory, but the Phillies still have a ways to go before they can be considered to reside anywhere other than the lower tier of MLB teams.
Philadelphia has only won two World Series in history, first in 1980 and again in 2008. Their last playoff appearance was in 2011.
Previous Team: Atlanta Braves
Next Team: Colorado Rockies