Back in 2000, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded money to help both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to build baseball and football stadiums.
The Pittsburgh Pirates used the funding the right way, putting the stadium smack dab in the center of the city, which served as the engine to revitalizing the downtown economy. The Philadelphia Phillies tried to do that too, but were met with opposition from a restaurant community whose “not-in-my-neighborhood” provincial attitude failed to see the big picture. They were forced to build what is now Citizens Bank Park several miles from the downtown business district.
The Phillies could once again learn from the Pirates and this time, they need to see the big picture and follow through. This time, it will not matter if the neighborhood objects, because the Phillies control their own baseball future. They could spend their considerable resources on free agents or build the right way — the way the Pirates did by investing in the farm system and scouting.
This year, the Phillies spent $25 million on one pitcher, Cliff Lee, and added another $20.5 million on another, Cole Hamels, who gave them a combined record of 22-22 in 2013.
On the other hand, between 2008 and 2011, the Pirates spent more money on scouting and their farm system than any other team in baseball. They were able to get the best foreign talent, particularly in Latin America, because they were a full-time presence down there while other teams ventured in and out with their scouts.
They built relationships with the locals, and those relationships allowed them to venture outside the cities to find the best talent in each of those countries.
As a result, you could see the Pirates improve on the field with each year. In 2010, they were 57-105, 34 games behind the NL Central Division-winning Cincinnati Reds. They steadily improved to 79-83 last year and are now unquestionably one of the best teams in baseball.
The Phillies are on the outside looking in, tied down by long-term contracts to veterans like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Those contracts, though, will expire in three or four years, and that gives the Phillies time to build their farm system the right way. For that business model, they need to look no farther than 300 miles to the west.