The Phillies future is as dim as ever.

June 5th, 2015 by Kyle Lutz | Filed under Baseball, General, Phillies.

This may seem obvious as it’ll ever be, and every Phillies’ fan knows it, but here I’ll break down, bit by bit, why the Phillies’ future’s looking dim. I see no reason thus far, based on personnel moves by Ruben Amaro (Jr), to believe they’ll be a contender in (at least) the next five-six years. Here are some of the reasons listed below as to why I believe so.

Ruben Amaro, Jr. 

I think, or I at least hope, the majority of Phillies’ fans can agree with me that Amaro holds significant blame for the downfall of the Phillies. Since he took over in ’09 for Pat Gillick, who won the World Series with the team a year prior and then retired, the team’s declined ever year. Even though they made the playoffs from 2009-11, they went from atop the mountain to the one of the worst teams in baseball.

In 2009, they went to the World Series and lost it in six to the Yankees, in 2010, they lost to San Francisco in the National League Championship Series, and in 2011 (despite winning a franchise record 102 games), they lost to St. Louis in the first round. After that, they haven’t made the playoffs since. They won 81 games the next year, and since then, they’ve won just 73 games the past-two years, finishing in last place last season. So far this year, they’re no better, with a win-loss record of 21-33; the second worst record in the league (ahead of Milwaukee). Point being, they’ve gotten worst each year.

Amaro’s lack of logic shows, as he hangs onto players for way too long, specifically Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins (before he was traded), and Chase Utley. This is usually due to Amaro’s assumptions that veteran players still have something left in the tank after their prime, when they need to be let go, and it’s preposterous to sign a guy (in this case Ryan Howard) to a $120+ million-dollar deal, when he’s over 30 and strikes out 190+ times a year. It’s obvious that Amaro should’ve been shown the door awhile ago, when he started to make irrational moves, re-signing players over the hill, and signing free agents that were the same age as those players- e.g. Marlon Byrd in 2013.

In professional sports, when you’re a GM, you can’t let personal feelings get in the way of business- such as keeping a 36-year-old Chase Utley just because he was the cornerstone for your team for a decade and pivotal in winning you a World Series. After awhile, even good players (believe it or not, (sarcasm) ) get old, decline, and are no longer needed- and thus, due to those reasons, they need to be moved. Hopefully the Phillies’ minority owner John Middleton will become the majority owner of the team soon, since he said that if/when he does become the majority owner, that Amaro will be shown the door.

Ryan Howard’s contract/age/strikeouts/defensive woes

In 2012, Howard signed a (very lucrative) five year, $125 million-dollar deal, which includes a 2017 $23 million dollar team option and a $10 million-dollar buyout. Since that contract was signed, he’s hit .234 (303/1295), averaged 27 home runs, 101 RBIs, and averaged a whopping 201 strikeouts a year. Last year, he led the league in strikeouts (190), he ranked second in errors for first baseman, with nine (behind only Garrett Jones, who had 13), and he hit just .223- and yet he still managed to make $25 million.

Howard’s vastly overpaid, over the hill, a below-average fielder, a strikeout machine, and his home runs and RBI totals aren’t enough to negate those problems, unfortunately. The Phillies need to move him, and fast, but the problem is, unless they eat roughly 90% of his remaining contract, they’ll have a tough time trading him. Even then, a fair amount of National League teams probably won’t want him, since his fielding sucks, so he’s more suited for an American League team, since he’s well suited to be a designated hitter. He’s 35, and isn’t getting any younger.

Prospects

Baseball America wrote an article two-months ago that ranked each major league team’s farm system, from the team that had the best group of prospects in the minors to the worst. John Manuel, the author of the article, ranked the Phillies as the 21st best team, in terms of prospect talent, which isn’t reassuring at all for our future’s sake. He ranked shortstop J.P. Crawford as our top prospect, who Baseball America also ranked as the 14th best prospect in baseball prior to this year.

Starting pitcher Aaron Nola was ranked second on the list, and Baseball America — prior to the 2015 season — ranked him as the 39th best prospect in all of baseball. Crawford’s hitting an astounding .367 this season combined, with A+ Clearwater and AA Reading, with a .479 on-base-percentage to boot. As for Nola, he’s been equally impressive in the minors this year, with a 6-3 record and a 1.81 ERA.

Thankfully, this past off-season, the Phillies acquired some decent prospects, in Ben Lively and Zach Eflin. Lively came over from Cincinnati in the Marlon Byrd trade last New Years’ Eve, while Eflin was acquired in the Jimmy Rollins’ trade a week and a half prior. In the minors last year, Lively went 13-7, with a 3.04 ERA and 10.2 strikeouts/9 innings, a solid year for sure.

They need to significantly restock their farm system, since, for years, they traded away a ton of prospects (usually, they were dumb moves, too)- some that were highly touted and some that had a fair amount of potential. Losing, while it won’t be fun to watch, can certainly help that problem, with high draft picks, so they need to stockpile those high draft picks and build towards the future. They also need to scout well, too, whether it be overseas or not, and acquire some young talent.

Payroll Issues

I mentioned Ryan Howard’s contract (see above), but I’ll go into more details now about the team’s overall payroll issues. Things aren’t adding up, it seems. The Phillies have won just 45% of their games the past two seasons, and yet they have the league’s ninth-highest’s payroll this year ($140 million), and no cap flexibility whatsoever. In addition to Howard’s contract, ace Cole Hamels is earning $22.5 million this year (and still has $90 million left on his current contract), Utley’s earning $10 million (despite only hitting .204 so far this season), closer Jonathan Papelbon is earning $13 million, and catcher Carlos Ruiz is earning $8.5 million. The good news is, there’s a good chance Hamels and Papelbon are traded sooner than later, perhaps even before the July 31st trade deadline.

After this year, Ruiz — through 2016 (his 37th birthday) — has $17 million left on his deal (with a 2017 club option), Howard’s a free agent after next year, and Utley’s signed through 2016, too, at $12.5 million per year. Once the Carlos Ruiz era is done, the problem is, there’s really no solid replacement yet in the farm system for him. In 240 at-bats last year with Reading and Lehigh Valley, Sebastian Valle hit just .238, with a .262 on-base-percentage, although he was stellar defensively (with a .992 fielding percentage). Gabriel Lino, who hit just .215 last year, in 288 at-bats with Lakewood/Clearwater, doesn’t seem to be any better, or ready yet.

As for Cameron Rupp, he hit just .165 last year with Lehigh Valley, yet, somehow, he managed to make the Phillies’ team out of spring training this year. So far this season, he’s hitting just .212, with no home runs and 2 RBIs, in only 52 at-bats. At first base, if (somehow) Howard were to be traded, perhaps the team could move third baseman Maikel Franco back to his natural position.

They have a ton of holes to fill within the infield, and question marks if/when players get traded. People are wondering, who’ll take over for Howard and Utley if they get moved? Who’s the team’s long-term shortstop (perhaps it’s highly touted prospect Roman Quinn), and will first baseman Darin Ruf get a shot at starting? I don’t see Ruf as a starter, and if the Phillies decide to pick up Chase Utley’s vesting options and trade Howard, they might consider moving Quinn to third and Franco to first.

They need to fire Amaro, trade the veteran players and eat up a significant portion of their contracts, stockpile prospects, and build towards the future, because success is nowhere in site, and the near future looks dim so far- unless they make drastic changes to improve that.

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