Entering the 2014 season, many Phillies fans didn't have high expectations for the team with some predicting less than the 73 wins they produced in 2013 while others went slightly more positive with a .500-record for the Phillies. Few ventured to predict a winning record and even fewer predicted the team would compete for a championship.
Here we sit on June 5th and the team has lost five consecutive games and has fallen to nine games under .500 at 24-33. The problems with the team are everywhere. Just look around. The core (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Cliff Lee... you could even throw Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett in there too if you wanted) are all 34 years old or older. The payroll for this team is $184 million, the third highest in baseball behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers ($238 million) and New York Yankees ($209 million).
Stop for just a moment and think about that. This team, which struggles to string together wins and play fundamental baseball, has a payroll of $184 million. Wow.
The unrest has even spilled over to the coaching staff as bench coach Larry Bowa went on Philadelphia radio on Tuesday and ripped the team publicly saying they're not playing "big league baseball." However true the comments may ring, the fact a current coach on the staff is making the statements publicly is telling - and not in a good way.
Many people are on the Ruben Amaro Jr. hate-train expressing their desire to have the Phillies general manager fired. They cite the current state of the Major League club as well as the shortcomings of the farm system. While Amaro should certainly be blamed for the putrid play of the Phillies, the recent ill-fated drafts should fall squarely on the lap of assistant general manager and scouting director Marti Wolever. It was Wolever who signed off on drafting the likes of Greg Golson, Joe Savery, Anthony Hewitt and Larry Greene with the team's first picks in the respective drafts.
So where does that leave the fans? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? The sad part of this whole thing is that light at the end of the tunnel isn't the light of brighter days but instead it is the train coming head-on for Phillies fans.
There is no "quick-fix" for Phillies fans. Jimmy Rollins isn't going anywhere. Ryan Howard's contract makes him totally immovable for another two full seasons following 2014. Sure, Cliff Lee has value but not while he is on the disabled list with elbow discomfort. Marlon Byrd has played well but he has another $8 million guaranteed next year with an $8 million vesting option in 2016 if he reaches 600 plate appearances in 2015.
Then there is Jonathan Papelbon. He has been good - real good in fact. But he is also owed $13 million next year with a $13 million vesting option for 2016 if he reaches 55 appearances in 2015. Moving that kind of money for real value might be tough but some contenders could pay.
Either way, the Phillies aren't likely to turn their current Major League assets into solid contributing prospects. The future is not clear; it's murky at best. Maikel Franco, who took the organization by storm last year, is struggling in his first full season in Triple-A batting .223/.289/.344 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 55 games. Last year's first-round pick J.P. Crawford has played well this season batting .314/.410/.440 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 51 games with Low-A Lakewood but he is still three years away from the majors if things go well.
The future is not only murky, it is also far away for the Phillies. The thing they need is time... and patience from the fans. The organization and its fans need to weather the storm for the next two-three years as difficult as that sounds. They need to get through the aging player contracts that carry the big money while continuing to develop their young talent to replace them. They need to continue to draft well and restock their farm system that has been depleted by past trades.
During this process, there is a good chance the Phillies will be drafting near the top for the next few seasons. I'm not advocating for losing because they're doing that already. But these immovable contracts make it difficult to improve the team. If a team that is 24-33 on June 5th cannot be improved, they're likely going to finish near the bottom of the league - hence the high draft pick. Catch my drift? Amaro, Wolever & Co. made the bed now we all have to lay in it.
Losing is what the future looks like for the Phillies for the next couple of seasons. If they can capitalize on a few high draft picks while polishing some of the young talent in the minors such as Franco and Crawford in addition to the likes of Roman Quinn, Carlos Tocci, Dylan Cozens and Jesse Biddle, the Phillies could be in good shape.I emphasize could.
The only thing I fear, aside from all of these prospects falling flat on their faces and all of the options actually vesting, is offseasons in which the Phillies add aging veterans to deals that will block or delay the timelines of these prospects. One-year, low-money deals. Take a flyer on a guy who has been injured but could produce if he can stay healthy. They did it in the past and it worked (remember Jayson Werth?).
It will not be an easy few years for Phillies fans but if we can let the train pass and get through this dark tunnel, we could get back to seeing quality baseball with a young team eventually.
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