Let me begin by saying that this post isn’t the happiest; it lacks upside, but honestly, it’s our current reality as Phillies fans.
The, by now, infamous trade deadline has come and gone, and once again Ruben Amaro has impressed no one, become an utter failure to many, and remains merely the Phillies General Manager to all. Nonetheless, the Phillies took a flier this year, choosing to make no moves at the deadline, which leaves the baseball squad from Philadelphia in third place in the NL East, 6 games under .500, and 11.5 games behind the division leading Atlanta Braves.
One of the major reasons behind many fan’s hopes that Ruben Amaro would begin clearing house at the trade deadline was that the Phillies farm system has holes. Other than a few prospects with upside, most of whom won’t touch Major League action for years, the bulk of the Phillies organization lies at the top. In Philadelphia sports is an self-loathing addiction, and like the junkies that we are, Phillies fans will continue to swoon over the few prospects that make their way through the farm system, glorifying them until they finally reach the promised land, at which time they will either disappoint us or become god-like.
Speaking of god-like Phillies players, Chase Utley will not only continue to wear a Phillies uniform for the rest of the 2013 MLB season, but according to reports that the clubs is seriously working on an extension with the 34 year old second baseman. Utley, more than any other Phillie of recent memory, possesses special powers of Phillies fans, bringing them to the park, keeping their interest in the team despite harsh times, and whether you prepared yourself for his departure via trade, few fans lament the fact that, health permitting, he will continue to wear the red pinstripes. In all seriousness, there may be no better player in Philadelphia sports to idealize, so let’s continue to do so until the day Chase’s knees fall off.
Discussing Chase Utley brings about such warm feelings, but for every Utley there’s also a Ryan Howard. While Howard has provided the Phillies and their fan base with much enjoyment over the years, sports, like politics is a “what have you done for me lately” type of business. Lately, Howard has continued to rake in his huge salary while producing a 107 wRC+ and 0.0 fWAR over last the last 2 calendar years. Along with Howard many fans have begun to understand the boondoggle that is Jonathan Papelbon’s contract. Pap is owed $26 million over the next 2 seasons despite the fact that since joining the Phillies he’s been less valuable (1.4 fWAR in 2012 + 0.5 fWAR in 2013 so far) than he was to the Red Sox in his final season in Boston (3.2 fWAR for $12 million).
Ah, but he lies the rub my fellow Phillies fans. Given that the team still possesses both some legitimate talent in the likes of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee (pending he isn’t dealt this offseason), Domonic Brown, and Ben Revere, there’s a solid chance that the team will remain in mediocrity, but not plummet far enough into the losing abyss to net them better draft picks and more money with which to sign those picks. Sure, the Phillies recently signed Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (he’ll probably replace Halladay in 2013) using one of the few loopholes left in the international market, but he’s just one player, and with baseball especially being a fairly hit-or-miss sport, rebuilding without gusto has less potential for success.
Lately the Phillies have been pretty bad. Generally, I’d look for a more poetic way of describing their recent play on the field,
but from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t warrant the effort. In the last 30 days, the Phillies have the 22nd best hitting team in the Major Leagues (team wRC+ of 84), and pitching that ranks in the bottom of the league in most categories, including overall value (1.3 fWAR for starters and 0.1 fWAR for relievers). Defensively, the team, other than Chase Utley (I know, big surprise), has continued to show their age by not getting to reachable balls in play, often making the incorrect play, and sometimes failing to convert the simplest of plays into outs. If you need anymore evidence that the Phillies defense constitutes an albatross, remember that Charlie Manuel continues to put Delmon Young, who could make a career out of starring as the real life version of any famous stature, in right field.
The team that calls Citizens Bank Park it’s home is a losing one. Every chance there will be for change, like the trade deadline, offseason free-agency, and MLB draft, will give fans hope that things could change, but really they allow us to pass the time while the organization figures things out. The Astros and Marlins may be dysfunctional in some ways, but the two franchises on the mend also understand one simple truth. Teams cannot be fixed with a glass of vitamin C and a good night’s sleep; instead these changes take time.
According to Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds calculations, the Phillies have a 1.2% chance of making the playoffs in 2013, with an expected winning percentage that would place them 4th in the NL East by season’s end. Looking a bit further ahead, the Phillies will have some fascinating decisions with which to ponder in the offseason. As I alluded to before, the market may prove more fertile for Cliff Lee in the offseason, making a possible trade for the southpaw once again a possibility. Michael Young, Delmon Young, Carlos Ruiz, and Roy Halladay come off the books at the end of 2013, which leaves RAJ with $31 million to play with and, more importantly, four starting roster spots to fill.
The current state of the Phillies isn’t pretty, in fact it’s downright depressing given the fact that the team won over 100 games 2 years ago, and won the World Series only 5 seasons prior. I don’t advocate pessimism on the same level as the fans felt at the turn of the century, I merely proclaim a realistic approach. For example, don’t hype up a player like Cody Ashe too much, he could very well become a solid option at 3rd base, but he doesn’t represent a rebirth of winning. The task of putting the Phillies back in the driver’s seat in the NL East constitutes one of frustration, hard work, and more than anything, a humble approach.
We are who we are, there’s nothing more to say, and at the moment the Phillies subpar record not only embodies the state of the team on the field, but also the state of the organization as a whole, as well as the mood of the fan base. Hopefully better times await our fair baseball team, but for now, let’s continue to enjoy the good things like Citizens Bank Park, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels’ potential facial hair choices, and the ongoing hope that the team rekindles it’s winning ways.
*Thanks to Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference for the statistics and contract information used in this piece