Editorial: Hope for the Phillies? A roadmap to success
|After a dreadful first half, the Phillies|
are poised to improve ... quickly.
For the first half of the season, the Phillies, to steal a quote from the Grinch, "stink, stank, stunk," posting the worst record in Major League Baseball (MLB). Manager Ryne Sandberg quit. The team was ravaged by injuries and ineptitude. Watching games was painful; clearly players approached their jobs with complacence. However, since the All-Star break, the squad has won six of seven games. And while I am not willing to jump on a playoffs in 2015 bandwagon, I am willing to set aside my usual cynicism and postulate that if some things go right, the Phillies can be competitive as early as 2017, if not next season.
It starts now
With the trade deadline approaching in less than a week, how the front office handles the roster and mounting pressure to trade star pitchers Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon will be the first factor in determining the outlook for the future. Although both could yield valuable prospects, the Phillies should make a deal if and only if they get the package they desire. An articulate piece from The Good Phight, a Phillies blog, suggests that if the team does not move either, it could reload its roster in the offseason with a few complementary pieces, and march back to the playoffs next year. While a lot would have to go right for that scenario to occur, it is not invalid by any means, and the author's thesis is well taken: not trading Hamels or Papelbon is far from a travesty.
Front office shakeup
Even general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. himself must see the writing on the wall: especially with the hiring of Andy MacPhail as the Phillies' president-in-waiting, Amaro's days are numbered. And that's a good thing. He has engineered the decline in which the Phillies find themselves with harmful intransigence and smug arrogance, and although I give him more credit than some Phillies fans, it is time for a new general manager, and it seems highly likely that will happen sooner rather than later.
Avoid a managerial shakeup, though
The front office needs a shakeup, but the Phillies' coaching staff should remain largely in tact, which would facilitate an atmosphere of continuity, something beneficial especially for the young players who will comprise the Phillies' core of the future. Although the last time the Phillies hired their new manager simply by taking the "interim" tag off his job title did not work out so well, this time they should do just that. Pete Mackanin is a talented baseball lifer who has been the finalist for several managerial jobs, and is in his third interim gig. He has earned a shot to try righting this ship; so far, the players have responded well with a renewed vitality that was sorely lacking during the first half of the season. Bench coach Larry Bowa will probably depart at the end of the season, but again, his replacement should come from within the organization by promoting Juan Samuel. The Phillies' coaches are a talented group.
Picture these pitchers
The Phillies' pitching staff is pretty solid. Even without staff ace Cliff Lee, who has missed the entire season due to injury, the Phillies pitching staff has been far from dreadful, at least when they rely on new prospects rather than washed out veterans. With or without Cole Hamels, a starting rotation headlined by current rookie Aaron Nola, whose first start showed real promise, Adam Morgan, who reminds me a lot of fellow lanky lefty J.A. Happ, and some back-of-the-rotation organizational guys like David Buchanan, who has unfortunately been unable to cement himself in the rotation this year, and Severino Gonzalez would only need a couple low-to-middle tier mentoring veterans (hopefully ones who work out better than this year's crop of Aaron Harang, Chad Billingsley, and Jerome Williams) to be at least adequate. Names that come to mind include lefties Wei-Yin Chen or Happ, either of whom could mentor Morgan in the ways of middle-tier left-handed starting pitching, and righties Bud Norris, John Lackey, Tim Lincecum, and Williams.
The Phillies' bullpen is already solid. Even if Papelbon departs, fireballer Ken Giles could absolutely slide in as closer tomorrow, and notwithstanding their mediocre statistical seasons thus far this year, lefty Jake Diekman and righty Justin De Fratus could constitute a more than serviceable pair of setup men, complemented by a group of long and middle relievers such as Jeanmar Gomez, Luis Garcia, and Williams from the right side, and Elvis Araujo, a healthy Mario Hollands, and perhaps a buy-low free agent like Eric O'Flaherty from the left.
The lineup need not be dreadful
The most overused soundbite in relation to the Phillies over the past few years has been "aging core of veterans"; it is time to acknowledge that Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley are no longer the core of this team. Ruiz has value as a mentor for pitchers and whomever will replace him (he is under contract through 2016), and Utley has value as a fan favorite, although it would be wise for him to retire and ride off into the sunset, perhaps returning as an assistant hitting coach (for which the Phillies will be in the market) -- Cesar Hernandez has clearly supplanted Utley during his stint on the disabled list. Howard should be in a platoon with criminally underused righty Darin Ruf at first base. Freddy Galvis has been a more than serviceable replacement for Jimmy Rollins at short, and the Phillies clearly brought up rookie Maikel Franco to play third base at the right time -- he obviously has a bright future ahead.
As for the outfield, the prevailing consensus is that there is no one of value there; I vehemently disagree. Ben Revere has intrinsic value as a top-of-the-order speedster. Are there areas of his game that need significant improvement? Absolutely, but he is well worth keeping around. Cody Asche is having a rough year at the plate, but his resilience in learning a new position as a leftfielder in wake of Franco's emergence proves his aptitude as a major leaguer. Jeff Francoeur has really come into form as a situational rightfielder and pinch hitter recently, and has expressed a willingness to return next season. If he survives the trade deadline -- and I hope he does, he should return. That leaves Odubel Herrera and Domonic Brown as odd men out. The latter might have trade value as a change of scenery candidate, and the former can remain on as a So Taguchi/Michael Bourn-esque pinch runner/defensive replacement/potential spark. This outfield is not bad.
In the pipeline
The Phillies have received much flak for having a depleted farm system, and while some of that is warranted, bright spots exist. J.P. Crawford is the Phillies' shortstop of the future, which likely means either Galvis or Hernandez will switch positions (or teams). Aaron Altherr and Kelly Dugan show promise as outfielders, and both could make an appearance on the major league squad soon. If the Phillies move Hamels and/or Papelbon, the organization will almost surely obtain several more good prospects. The farm system is not deep, but it does have some talented players.
Philadelphia sports fans are not renowned for their patience. In fact just yesterday I read that Eagles' fans are the most hated group of fans in the National Football League. All that notwithstanding, there is reason to have hope for a resurgence from their beloved Phillies within the next two years. Unaccustomed to the complacence that has plagued the team over the past few years, fans' frustration is understandable, but there is hope on the horizon. Even a cynic such as myself sees it.
--Benjamin Pontz, LSNews.org Editor-In-Chief