In my never-ending quest to search for reasons to be optimistic about the 2013 Phillies season, I may have just stumbled onto another one. And it has me as giddy as a school girl being asked out by the quarterback of the high school football team.
Or, something a little less effeminate than that.
The 1992 season was something of a disaster for the Phils. That year, they went 70-92 and finished dead last in the NL East, 26 games behind the division-winning Pirates.
It was ugly. While the offense was actually pretty strong that year (Darren Daulton and Dave Hollins both had WARs over 6.0, with John Kruk‘s WAR at 4.0), they missed Lenny Dykstra, who was hit by a pitch on Opening Day and suffered a broken wrist that would affect his entire season.
The pitching staff was a nightmare after Terry Mulholland and Curt Schilling. I mean, Kyle Abbott was their #3, and he went 1-14 with a 5.13 ERA that year. Fourteen different pitchers started at least three games that year for the Phils, including such luminaries as Cliff Brantley, Greg Matthews, Don Robinson, Brad Brink, Danny Cox, Andy Ashby, Mike Williams, Pat Combs and Jose DeLeon.
That off-season, the Phillies tried to fix the team by, for the first time in years, going after a couple big-name free agents.
And, much like this off-season, they failed.
One of those targets was David Cone, who had just helped the Toronto Blue Jays win their first World Series in team history in ’92. Cone would have been a magnificent fit in the rotation, giving the Phils an immediate ace starter, allowing Mulholland and Schilling to slide down one spot in the rotation. Cone turned 30 that year and was in the prime of his career.
Of course, the Phillies screwed it up. By trying to play “hardball” with Cone and his agent, the Phils lost out on his services to the Royals, where he would proceed to go 11-14 with a 3.33 ERA in ’93. He would win the Cy Young Award the following year in Kansas City.
It was not a move that inspired much confidence.
Then, one off-season after targeting, and failing to acquire, Bobby Bonilla, the Phillies went hard after Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett. Puckett’s ’92 season was terrific. He finished second in the MVP voting, and led the AL in hits (210) and total bases. He would have been a perfect addition to an outfield that really only featured one player of note, Dykstra. Puckett could have taken over center field, allowing the team to move Lenny to left field, where his weak arm could have been hidden a little better.
In the end, even though Puckett said he liked the Phils and almost signed here, he decided to return home to Minnesota on a five-year, $30 million deal. Injuries forced Puckett to retire early, but he did have three more productive season with the Twins, posting an .824 OPS in ’93 for Minnesota.
Again, he would have been perfect in Philadelphia, even if he did turn out to be a horrible human being.
Sounds kind of familiar, right?
Everyone knows what happened next. Danny Jackson had one of the most productive seasons of his career, Schilling finally realized his “ace” potential, Mulholland was solid once again, and Tommy Greene emerged as a young pitcher around which the team could build.
Dykstra finally stayed healthy for a full season and had the best year of his carer (albeit likely aided by “special medicine”), Hollins, Kruk and Daulton picked up where they left off in ’92, and the double platoon of Inky, Milt, Eisey and Wes worked out better than anyone could have ever imagined.
Granted, a lot of things went right that year. It was a charmed season, no doubt about it. And the 1993 Phils had far fewer injury concerns than the 2013 Phillies do.
But Phils fans should take heart in knowing that, even though they didn’t win the off-season horse race that year, the season to follow wasn’t a total disaster.
In fact, sometimes it’s the moves a team doesn’t make that end up working out for the best (although I would argue the ’93 Phils probably would have sustained their success a little better if Cone and Puckett had come aboard).
But just because the Phils lost out on B.J. Upton, Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton, Angel Pagan, Nick Swisher, Cody Ross and the rest of the free agent outfield bonanza this off-season, relying instead on smaller moves that cost less but offered less production, it doesn’t mean the moves made by Ruben Amaro this off-season won’t work.
The chances for success would be greater with one of those guys here, but there would be no guarantee.
The Phillies have done this before. And the core of the 2013 Phillies is far more talented, if not a little older, than the core that went to the World Series in ’93.
There is a precedent.
On that thin nail hammered into the wall, a hat can be hung.