Friday, May 26, 2017

Phillies left with no choice but to wait

In case you were wondering, the Philadelphia Phillies are not a good baseball team. With more than a quarter of the 2017 season in the rear-view mirror, the Phillies are 16-29 which ties them with the Miami Marlins for the worst record in baseball. Before yesterday’s 2-1 win in 11 innings against the Colorado Rockies, the Phillies had lost 20 for their previous 24 games. By the end of May, usually the season is old enough to pass judgement on what kind of team you have. There’s always a few risers and fallers, but for the most part the teams at the top of the standings on Memorial Day are still in the mix by Labor Day and those at the bottom of the standings in late May are on the golf course in October. The Phillies are undoubtedly the latter.

The woeful start has led to questions about moves second-year general manager Matt Klentak can make to remedy the situation. Klentak has already commented on the hot starts of prospects Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro at triple-A Lehigh Valley and told fans not to expect big league promotions for either prospect any time soon. Outfielder Roman Quinn is finally healthy and off to a good start for the IronPigs after having a cup of coffee with the Phillies in September last year. Quinn would be the best guess for the first promotion from Lehigh Valley, but outside of filtering up prospects during the final 117 games, there are not many transactions to be made that will make the major-league club much better.

Despite only being 45 games into this season, it’s time to start to see who can earn spots with the Phillies in 2018, a process that may only become more evident after the trade deadline if Klentak can sell of a couple of players.  Prioritizing individual performances to evaluate future roles of certain players does not often lead to many wins, but this is where the Phillies are at. The frustrating thing for many fans is that it’s easy to assume the progress of a rebuild to be linear. A 63-99 season in 2015 was perceived as rock bottom. Last year, the Phillies posted a 71-91 record and were an exciting team early on climbing as high as seven games over .500 at one point in May. After an eight-win improvement one year ago, many thought the Phillies could flirt with .500 this season.  It’s not impossible that they could match their win total from 2016, but forget winning any more games than that.

So how concerning is it that the Phillies are almost surely to underachieve this season and are still nowhere close to becoming a contender? The answer to that question really depends on each fan’s amount of patience. It’s tough to stress patience to Philadelphia sports fans right now considering it’s been five years since one of the city’s major four professional sports teams advanced in the playoffs. But rebuilding in baseball often takes longer than the other professional leagues. In baseball, teams don’t just have one bad season, and then acquire a transcendent talent in the draft who makes an immediate impact the following year while also being an organizational cornerstone for the next 15 years. For example, the Houston Astros lost over 100 games in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and had the number one overall pick in the draft after each season. Two of those three number one overall picks are not in Houston’s organization right now yet the Astros currently have the best record in baseball and made the playoffs in 2015.

MacPhail (left) and Klentak have not had much to smile about
so far during 2017.
It takes time to develop a talented minor league system when you consider where the Phillies were after the 2014 season when the team finally opted to rebuild and began to break up its nucleus of veterans. Since the end of 2014, the team has been through a managerial change and changed general managers after the 2015 season. The Phillies also added current President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail to the front office in 2015. The farm system is better but still not elite in the eyes of many minor-league experts. Players with the big club like Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco once looked like building blocks for the future and have struggled mightily so far this season. Trading established big leaguers for prospects who are not major-league ready is an inexact science.

Preaching patience by no means guarantees a brighter future in two or three years. However, it serves as a reminder that while we all expect a linear progression, it’s not always that simple when transitioning to a group players under the age of 25. While it’s been almost impossible to watch the Phillies so far in 2017, a couple of short-sighted moves or big contracts in the winter would be detrimental well beyond this season. It doesn’t sound like an appealing alternative, but there truly is no better option than playing out the string and hoping that the grass is greener on the other side.

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