As surprising as it is to admit, the Major League Baseball season of 2013 will end soon. For a number of teams in the league the final month and a half constitutes the most exciting baseball of the season.
Which teams will make the final push to force their way into the playoffs, and which ones will be forced to wait the excruciating 6 months for the next season to begin. For the other 15 or so teams that can essentially count themselves out of making the postseason, the final month plus can become monotonous and seemingly endless.
The Phillies fall squarely into the latter group, leaving an intense group of passionate fans with little to do but lament the season lost, and hoping that their complaints of this season’s squad and management will cause next season to begin sooner. Still, the fact remains that this season hasn’t ended, and as both baseball and Phillies fans we owe it to enjoy everything, if anything, we can in these last few weeks. The question then becomes: Is there anything left in the season about which to get excited?
1) Roy Halladay’s return
This tops my list, and I would expect nothing less from most other fans. Since joining the team in 2010, Doc has been a fan favorite, and one of the most productive Phillies starting pitchers in recent history. Between 2010 and 2012, Halladay ranked third behind only Justin Verlander and Cliff Lee in Fangraphs’ wins above replacement. During his years in Philly, Halladay dazzled us with the franchise’s second perfect game, first postseason no-hitter, and first Cy-Young award since Steve Bedrosian in 1987. Interestingly, it is Halladay’s 2011 performance (8.0 fWAR) that was statistically his best season as a professional ball player, and happens to be the best individual season a starting pitcher has had since Zack Greinke (9.1 fWAR) in 2009.
Halladay’s 2012 perfectly mirrored the Phillies’ season as a team, and his start to the 2013 season also epitomizes the state of the franchise. Still, no one can argue that trading for Doc wasn’t a brilliant move, especially since unlike the numerous prospects traded to the Astros in recent seasons, none of the youngster the Phillies sent to the Blue Jays have paid any dividends (Although the wait is still out on Travis d’Arnaud). Okay, so the Phillies didn’t exactly win any World Series in Halladay’s tenure in Philadelphia, but two postseason appearances and a 100+ win regular season are still outstanding accomplishments, and nothing to sneeze at given the current situation of the team.
All of that kvelling and nostalgia is my way of saying that we should all get excited for Doc’s imminent return to the Phillies rotation. Given that his $20 million vesting option will not vest due to a lack of enough innings pitched, Halladay’s last chance to pitch in a Phillies uniform could be this September. Now, that isn’t to say that seven or more impressive starts down the stretch would not cause the Phillies to pursue resigning Doc this offseason, but that remains only possible, not probable. I’m fascinated to see if the ever hard-working righty can return to any semblance of his former self, and as long as he doesn’t pitch awfully, I plan on savoring every pitch he throws.
2) The Youngsters
I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to reiterate that Domonic Brown, Darrin Ruf, and Ben Revere should make up the starting
outfield for the Phillies for the foreseeable future. Add in Cody Asche and Ethan Martin into the bunch, and even before the rosters expand to 40 in September, Phillies fans can get a glimpse of the maturation process of the team. New toys are always fun, and while we’ve already passed the honeymoon phase with Brown and Revere, Ruf, Asche, and Martin, while not the cream of the crop prospect-wise, still constitute a significant portion of the Phillies near future.
One of the best aspects of the 2013 season has been the breakout of Domonic Brown, and while he probably reigns supreme amongst the Phillies youth movement, the excitement and fun to be had relishing the emergence of a young talented player can be had as players like Asche and Ruf grow and gain experience at the MLB level. If the Phillies are to become winners again in 2014 or 2015, it’ll be on the backs of these young players, so if you’re still watching, analyze their performances, and treat them as if they aren’t playing meaningless games because for Ruf and the like, every game is important.
The Phillies have an opportunity in front of them that many may not have realized. If the Phillies finish the season with one of the worst nine records in baseball, it will give them an automatically protected draft pick in the 2014 draft. The protection afforded to them comes from the new collective bargaining agreement, and it would make it so the Phillies would not have to give up their 1st round pick if the team was to sign a player who had turned down a qualifying offer. The new CBA did away with type-A and type-B free agents, replacing that system with the qualifying offer system.
Any team can tender any free agent a qualifying offer. A qualifying offer is a one-year contract with a salary based on the average salary of the top players in the league from the previous season. Last year that number came to $13.3 million, and most likely this offseason that number will rise to somewhere like $14 million. Many free agents don’t want a 1-year deal, but they must decide to turn down the qualifying offer if they wish to pursue other options. If that becomes the case, that player is tagged with the notion that any team that signs him must relinquish their 1st round draft pick in the upcoming draft. That fact remains in effect unless the team has a protected pick, which is a luxury afforded only to the 9 worst teams from the previous season.
Basically, all of that is a way of saying that if the Phillies want to spend, aggressively, frivolously, or even tentatively on any upper-level free agents this offseason, but don’t want to give up a chance to significantly improve a dilapidated farm system the team should want to finish in the bottom third of teams this season. It’s tough to advocate losses, but rarely has tanking ever had a legitimate incentive before in baseball. The Phillies currently stand tied with the Padres as the 7th worst team record-wise in baseball, meaning that was the season to end today, they would have a protected pick. Flexibility breads opportunities, and opportunities can lead to improvements, something the Phillies franchise could use, at the bottom and the top of the food chain.
4) Chase Utley
It’s a Chase Utley world, and we’re all just living in it. I can’t be the only person to think that way, and as Phillies fans we
should continue to revel in every moment Chase Utley plays in a Phillies uniform. Thanks to a nifty two-year extension touted by virtually all baseball folk as a quality signing, Chase will play for the Phillies until at least the 2015 season. I don’t know about you, but if Chase was to play 2 great seasons in 2014 and 2015, and was then to retire never having played a professional game inning for any other MLB franchise, I’d feel quite proud.
Few plays exemplify the true professional and talented player as much as Chase. In playing around recently with some data I found that Utley, even this season, continues to have on average some of the fast times from home to first base when attempting to beat out a ground ball. He works hard, plays hard, and more importantly plays smart. He wastes none of his gifts and talents, showing his immense physical, mental, and baseball skill every time he takes the field. No Phillies fans should need to be reminded to never take for granted Utley’s time as an active MLBer, but this is a reminder nonetheless to do just that.
The season is winding down, and as Phillies fans we don’t have a lot about which to swoon or get excited, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the season is a waste of time. Enjoy the games because now you have a number of reasons to do so, whether they lose, or pull out the occasional victory. The Phillies won’t reach the promised land of the postseason in 2013, but don’t fear, baseball is the game that continues to give, and only asks for your attention and passion in return.
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