There are two Philadelphia professional sports teams that might be the worst in their respective leagues. But there is a difference – the Phillies’ worst is much worse than the 76ers’ worst, and whereas it’s easy to see the Sixers becoming a contender in the next couple of years, the future is much bleaker for the Phils.
For one thing, the Sixers have a plan in place, even though it can be hard to follow at times. Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie appears to be as crazy as a loon at times, but we still have more faith in him than we do in Phillies GM Ruben Amaro and his gang of advisers.
Plus, it’s much easier to turn around a sad-sack NBA team than it is to resurrect a really bad major-league team. And the Sixers are already way ahead of the Phillies because they already have two key pieces in place, big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Imbiid. Now, we’re saying this with the assumption that those two players will still be with the Sixers next year, but the truth of the matter is that we don’t even know if they’ll be with the Sixers next week, and that’s because we would never claim to understand the way Hinkie’s mind words. But those two big men, as well as a bunch of high draft picks, do give the Sixers something they can build around and that’s something the Phillies sorely lack.
That is the most disturbing thing about the Phils right now – they don’t have a foundation for the future. They waited two years too long before they admitted the inevitable and started to rebuild, and that delay bogs down an already painfully slow process.
The biggest problem with restocking a major-league baseball team is that you need so many players to do it, starting with a pitching staff. A basketball team needs at least two All-Stars and a few other good players to compete for a championship, but a baseball team needs more than that – a lot more. And that’s what the Phillies had when they were one of the best teams in baseball. They had great players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee and they had really good players like Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz, as well as a reliever (Brad Lidge) who had a perfect season when the Phils won the World Series in 2008.
This Phillies team has no great players and maybe one that you could say is really good – Hamels. That’s assuming Utley and Howard continue to slide toward retirement and never come close to becoming the All-Stars they once were. The Phils do have some good, young relievers, but that’s about it for the major-league roster.
So, even though the Sixers can be painful to watch at times, you do get the feeling they could turn it around and do it rather quickly. There are no guarantees, of course, but at least there’s a chance.
With the Phillies, there is none. They have some decent prospects working their way through the farm system, but there are no can’t miss-players on the horizon. The Phils have three players listed among Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects – shortstop J.P. Crawford (14th overall), right-handed pitcher Aaron Nola (39th) and infielder Maikel Franco (56th). All of them have bright futures, especially Crawford, but nothing is guaranteed and it could be years before any of them has a real impact.
Minor-leaguers are difficult to project as major-leaguers because there is nothing more difficult in sports than hitting a baseball, especially when it dips and curves and comes at you at so many different speeds and from so many different directions, like it does when the ball leaves the hand of a quality big-league pitcher. And nobody knows how a minor-league player will adjust to that, or if he’ll adjust at all. Many a blue-chip prospect has failed because he couldn’t solve the mystery of a breaking pitch.
Of course, there have been plenty of college basketball stars who were supposed to shine in the NBA and then bombed. Still, it’s much easier to project how a college basketball player will fare in the NBA than it is to figure out how a minor-league player will do in the majors.
And even if the Phillies decide to go the free-spending, free-agent route again, what All-Star players would want to play at Citizens Bank Park? Quality players used to play for less money for the privilege of wearing the red pinstripes, but those days are long gone. In fact, it’s the opposite – right now, the only two veteran players the Phils have who are worth something to a contending team – Hamels and reliever Jonathan Papelbon – would love to be traded away.
So, there are no easy answers for the Phillies’ many problems. And what’s even worse for Phillies fans, there are no quick answers.