The Phillies’ Process: Turning a Corner

The future is what Philadelphia sports fans have been repeating endlessly in their heads for the majority of this decade, after so many long seasons of losing, high draft picks, and dumb takes by sports media personalities. After the Phillies won the 2008 title (and came so close to a repeat in 2009), as well as the Flyers’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup in 2010, the city saw little playoff success from 2012 through 2017 (other than the 8th seed 76ers somehow taking Boston to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2012).

That ‘future’ we’ve been so adamant about finally seems to have arrived in Philly. The 76ers’ young superstars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are leading the team to the playoffs for the first time in 6 seasons; the Flyers are primed for a playoff spot after missing out last season; and of course, Nick Foles led the Eagles captured their first Super Bowl title just over a month ago. 

It seems that another Philly team is on the verge of entering contention. After a long rebuilding process, the Phillies seemed to have turned the corner and taken a big step toward contention.

The Phillies went all in during the late 2000s and early 2010s. It was definitely worth it, as the team won 5 straight NL East titles, 2 National League titles and, of course, the 2008 World Series. The core of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay proved to be a near unstoppable force. Unfortunately, injuries and age caught up to this team, and after winning 102 games in 2011, the team finished with just 81 wins in 2012. Despite holding of the oldest rosters in the league, as well as a depleted minor league system, Ruben Amaro Jr. decided to try to compete again in 2013. This failed, as the team won 73 games in both 2013 and 2014 as the trade value of the old stars plummeted. The Phillies hit rock bottom in 2015, finishing with the worst record in the league at 63-99. Ruben Amoro Jr. finally decided to make a move for the future, dealing Cole Hamels for a haul of young players, including highly touted prospects in outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitchers Jake Thompson and Jared Eickoff. After the season, they dealt closer Ken Giles for 5 prospects, including Vince Velasquez, who has shown a lot of promise despite some inconsistency at the Major League level. 

2016 brought a lot of hope for the future. There was a new GM in town with Matt Klentak taking the reigns as the man to bring this Phillies roster back to contention. The team started well, floating around .500 for the first few months of the season until ultimately falling apart in June, finishing the season 71-91. It was not a wasted season, however, as Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola, Cesar Hernandez and Vince Velasquez all showed plenty of promise as young pieces for the future. The team also picked high school outfielder Mickey Moniak with the first overall pick in the draft. Entering 2017, many fans expected the team to push .500; but the team took a step back, finishing in last place at 66-96. There was still a lot of promise on display, however. Aaron Nola solidified himself as the team’s ace of the future, and Nick Williams showed that he can be a solid outfield bat. The biggest story of the season, though, came near the end of the season when rookie Rhys Hoskins hit 18 home runs in his first 34 games, setting a major league record. He also displayed impressive discipline, slashing .259/.396/.618 in 50 games (per Baseball Reference). 

This past offseason has been a huge one for the Phillies. In December, first baseman Carlos Santana signed a 3 year, $60 million deal with the club. Santana will bring a veteran bat to the middle of the lineup that the team desperately needed. The Phillies also brought back solid side arm reliever Pat Neshek on a two year contract. Then, on Sunday, the team agreed to a 3 year, $75 million deal with 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is still a very solid pitcher despite a slight dip in production since his historic 2015 campaign. All of these deals are great signs for the Phillies. Handing out short term, high salary deals to veterans gives the team plenty of flexibility for the next few off-seasons as young stars like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and hometown hero Mike Trout hit the free agent market. The Santana and Arrieta deals remind me of the J.J. Redick signing by the 76ers: sign a veteran to a short term, high value deal to improve the team now, while also keeping flexibility for future moves. With a much improved lineup and rotation, as well as young stars Sixto Sanchez, Scott Kingery and JP Crawford all set to make major impact soon, the Phillies are looking to become major contenders as we begin to enter the 2020s. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this team contended for a wild card spot in a weak National League East. It’s going to be a wild ride for Philly sports fans. I can’t wait to see what comes of it.  

 

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