The Phillies’ worst season in a long, long time comes to a merciful end this weekend, and all you need to know about this team is that while other teams are chasing after division titles and wild-card berths, the Phils are desperately trying to avoid losing 100 games.
Not only did the Phillies put together the worst record in baseball this season, they also saw their manager (Ryne Sandberg) quit halfway through the season and they traded away one of their best and most popular players ever (Chase Utley) and one of their best starting pitchers ever (Cole Hamels). They also dumped their high-ticket closer (Jonathan Papelbon), made one of the greatest sluggers in team history a platoon player (Ryan Howard) and pretty much phased out their World Series catcher (Carlos Ruiz).
With all of those moves the Phillies have pretty much closed the book on those great teams of yesteryear (yeah, we know Papelbon wasn’t part of that, but he was supposed to help them stay at that championship level) and now everything points to the future. And what that means, nobody really knows — but we’re willing to take a crack at it.
First of all, let’s finish off the great roster purge by getting rid of marginal players like Domonic Brown, Cody Asche, Darin Ruf and batting practice pitchers Adam Harang and Jerome Williams. Those guys are just taking up roster space and Brown, Asche and Ruf have been given plenty of opportunities to prove they’re everyday players and they’ve failed time and time again. They could be decent bench players if they’re willing to accept those roles, but none of them is an impact player and there’s got to be somebody out there who’s better. As former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan used to say about players like that, it’s time for them to get on with the rest of their lives.
Still, that leaves the Phils a pretty good nucleus of young, everyday players, assuming they continue to develop and live up to the potential they showed this season. That starts with two who look like they could be future All-Stars, third baseman Maikel Franco and outfielder Odubel Herrera. Throw in promising second baseman Cesar Hernandez and outfielders Darnell Sweeney and Aaron Altherr and suddenly there are enough young players with potential to give Phillies fans a little hope for the future. And, finally, we can wait for the eventual arrival of the Phillies’ No. 1 minor league prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, as well as other top prospects such as outfielder Nick Williams and pitcher Jake Thompson.
Of course, there are no guarantees these players will get better simply because they get older. But if you’re a Phillies fan you have to hold onto something and right now that’s all you’ve got. And you can cross your fingers and hope some of the young players the Phils acquired for Utley and Hamels become stars, even though the odds are always against that.
Where it really gets grim, though, is when it comes to the most important part of the game, pitching. The Phils ran a lot of young pitchers out there this season and only one of them, Aaron Nola, looked like he belonged, while guys like Alec Asher (ERA of 9.0), David Buchanan (7.54), O’Sullivan (6.08) and Adam Morgan (4.48) never found the secret to pitching in the big leagues. Perhaps they just needed this time to get adjusted to the majors and they’ll be much better next year, but maybe what we saw this year is also what we’ll get next year.
So, other than Nola, there’s not one pitcher on the Phillies’ current roster that you can point to and know for sure that he’ll be part of rotation in 2016 and beyond. And the Phillies certainly aren’t going to attract any good free agents, so everything will rest on those young pitchers who struggled so much this year. The bullpen is in a little better shape and the Phillies appear to have an important piece in place in closer Ken Giles, but they need a lot of help there, as well.
And where does that leave Phillies fans? Mostly, they’ll have to decide how patient they can be and if they’re willing to accept the inevitable losses while they watch young players develop. Or they could simply write off the Phillies until they become competitors again, assuming they ever do.
At the very least, they know the Phillies are finally looking to the future. Perhaps someday, when they have a 25-year reunion or something, we can relive those glory days of yesteryear when the Phils were the best team in baseball. But now it’s time to embrace the new Phillies or ignore them. The choice is yours.