By Barbara Harrison
We here at FastPhillySports.com are mindful of our readers’ sensibilities, which is why we decidedly do not:
Beat up on the headed-for-100-losses Phillies any more than we have to.
Most folks turn to sports for the spirit of accomplishment one deries as a fan when your favorite team does well.
Especially when the awful news of ISIS, floods in Houston, and the interminable 2016 presidential campaign has turned so many folks off.
But the national media beats on, like Gatsby’s boats against the tide.
Witness Grantland.com’s take on our lovable losers:
As the franchise has plummeted from World Series winner to bottom-feeder in little more than half a decade, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has received a lot of well-deserved flak.
From the money and dollars invested in an overrated-even-in-his-prime player to the inability to recognize the dangers of age curves, the Ryan Howard contract was a nuclear disaster. After re-signing Cliff Lee in 2010, Amaro then kept him around for too long, allowing Lee to put up stellar numbers for an 89-loss team rather than flipping his ace talent for prospects and avoiding the downfall that followed.
Meanwhile, the outfield put together this spring has been an abomination, featuring a former superstar long past his prime (Grady Sizemore, whom the team just cut), a genial fellow who set the world on fire for 70 games in 2005 and has done little since (Jeff Francoeur), and a serial at-bat waster who’s a lovely fantasy baseball asset but otherwise just a space-filler (Ben Revere).
Now fans are wondering why Amaro hasn’t been more aggressive in calling up the team’s top pitching prospects, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin. Never one to shy away from responding to his critics, Amaro maintains he has a plan: “[The fans] don’t understand the game. They don’t understand the process. There’s a process. And then they bitch and complain because we don’t have a plan. There’s a plan in place and we’re sticking with the plan.”
But should those fans have any reason to trust that it’s the right plan? And even if it is, is Amaro the right guy to see it through?
For all of these failures, the thinking behind dishing out multiple albatross contracts was at least understandable. While signing and then keeping big-ticket players like Howard and Chase Utley well into their 3os wasn’t the smartest approach for the team’s long-term success, ownership was delighted that it produced five straight years of averaging 40,000-plus fans at Citizens Bank Park, in addition to a gigantic local TV contract.
Still, we’ve been calling on Amaro to blow everything up for a while, and there might be no better time than the present. Howard is hitting for more power than he has in years, and the Phillies could absorb a big chunk of what remains on his deal to pick up a prospect or two. Utley still wants to remain a Phillie, but he has softened his no-trade stance a bit. Aaron Harang has been surprisingly dominant and is on a one-year, $5 million deal, and Cole Hamels is the team’s one true in-his-prime blue-chipper.1
There’s talent in the minor league system, including Nola, Eflin, and superstar shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford, but then it quickly gets thin. And much of that comes back to Amaro.
He’s made four major vet-for-prospect deals over the past six years, and just one brought back any substantial talent. Trading Lee to Seattle in 2009, along with Hunter Pence to San Francisco and Shane Victorino to the Dodgers in 2012, brought back no viable major league production. Last winter’s deal that sent Jimmy Rollins (who’s in the last year of his contract and is hitting an eyelash above theMendoza Line) to the Dodgers in exchange for Eflin (who has shown good command as a 21-year-old at Double-A Reading, albeit with a modest strikeout total) is the only one that could be classified as a success — and even that’s still pending.
With a lack of young talent up and down the organization, Amaro really should be patient and wait until he finds the best deals for all of his chips. He helped create the problem in the first place, though, so if Amaro wants fans to not “bitch and complain” about the moves he’s making, those same fans can offer a simple message when it comes to the 2015 trade deadline: Don’t mess this up.