Everyone who is a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies has started to grow a little desperate.
It seemed for a while there that, as the Phils accumulated former Cy Young winners like a teenager acquires acne, the team was destined for at least another World Series appearance, if not another title. But, as the core group of this team has gotten older, and valuable pieces have become either injured (Halladay) or ineffective (Howard), the likelihood of such a thing happening seems more and more remote with each passing day.
Yes, I know the Phillies are just 3 1/2 games out of first place. But where they are in the standings at the moment is little indication of how inconsistently they’ve played and how limited their ceiling appears to be.
Ever since that World Series title in 2008, Ruben Amaro and the Phils have been chasing a second title like a dog chases firetrucks. And that’s good. The core was young and the pieces were in place. That’s what fans of the team have always wanted them to do.
Now, though, it seems as if Amaro and the Phils have grown desperate, grasping at straws and reversing long-held team policies on character in order to try and squeeze just a few more ounces of blood out of this rock.
When the Phils traded for Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence and others, and signed guys like Pedro Martinez to free agent contracts, those deals made sense. At its core, the Phils were still a viable World Series contender, and appeared to be just a piece or two away.
However, the Phils’ recent “low-risk, high-reward” signings of players like Delmon Young and Carlos Zambrano show a team willing to abandon an old team-wide policy of avoiding guys with troubled pasts.
As Crashburn Alley noted this week, the Phils have seemingly abandoned their long-standing policy of valuing “clubhouse guys,” players who are good citizens and positive clubhouse influences.
Signing Michael Young appeared to be a step in that direction this offseason. Long known for his “leadership qualities,” Young was supposed to provide a winning attitude and be a good influence in the clubhouse.
But then, the Phils signed Delmon Young, a player who, while being not very good at baseball, also had a long history of attitude and behavioral issues. They include yelling antisemitic slurs at someone last year, getting into fights with teammates, and throwing a bat at an umpire while in the minor leagues. Then on Wednesday, the Phils announced the signing of Carlos Zambrano, a pitcher who has had a history of violent outbursts and fighting with teammates.
In other words, the Phillies have hired a couple of guys with real turd-like tendencies in their past. Perhaps Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe put the Zambrano signing best…
When Carlos Zambrano hit free agency for the first time this past winter at the age of 31, he didn’t find any takers, not an incredible surprise given his troublesome reputation and his uneven performances over the past two seasons. Now, though, both he and a suitor have reached a point of mutual desperation: the 31-year-old righty signed a minor league deal with the Phillies.
This is mostly a departure from how the team has operated in the past. For example, back in 2003, the Phillies released a middling talent named Tyler Houston because he was supposedly having a negative effect on Pat Burrell‘s attitude. They traded Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling, partly because of contract issues, but mainly because they felt both players had become clubhouse cancers.
Now, however, it seems as though things have changed. Why?
Desperation. That’s why.
Amaro and the Phillies are desperate to become relevant in the national spotlight once again. They’re desperate to play October baseball and, having committed so much money to a group of players that are aging and incapable of performing up to the levels of those contracts, they’re left with adding fringe players with troubled pasts in the hopes they’ll hit the jackpot and exchange attitude issues for talent on the field.
From a purely baseball standpoint, signing Young was stupid because his career has shown him simply to be a baseball player who is not very good at anything. Zambrano is a decent signing because it’s on a minor league deal. If it pans out, great. If not, the Phillies are out nothing.
The reality, though, is that neither Young nor Zambrano is likely to have much of an impact here in 2013.
But as we’ve seen in the past, attitude issues can be forgiven if a player is productive enough to add to the win total.
It was 2006 when starter Brett Myers allegedly punched his wife outside a Boston nightclub. While no charges were ever formally brought against Myers (mostly because his wife did not want charges to be pressed), the Phillies took a lot of heat from women’s groups and others for keeping the talented right-hander on the team.
You see, unlike utility player Tyler Houston, Myers was a dynamic, up-and-coming talent, someone the team couldn’t live without.
So, he stayed.
Desperation makes people do funny things. A person who is desperately hungry might steal some food. A person who is desperately poor may steal money or rob people. A person who is desperately lonely may turn to prostitution.
None of what the Phillies have done recently is as bad as all that. But desperation makes people do things they might not ordinarily do. Recently, it seems as though Ruben Amaros’ desperation to keep this team’s World Series window open has led him to changing a long-standing team philosophy on character.
At the end of the day though, fans don’t care about personalities. Only in the rarest cases will fans object to a player being added to a team on moral grounds. For the most part, fans root for laundry. If a player with a sketchy past puts on a jersey that says “Phillies” on it, they’re going to root for that person to do well.
And of course, in the cases of Delmon Young and Carlos Zambrano, it’s possible the two men have changed their stripes. It’s possible that Young and Zambrano will be good citizens and actually provide value to the ballclub this year.
It’s a pie-in-the-sky hope, but if it happened, it would be wonderful.
But no matter what happens, the signing of these two men prove that Amaro and Co. have deviated from a long-held club belief that character matters.
And the reason they’ve done that is simple.