In the course of my daily activities, I do a lot of reading. I recently read an excellent article that tracked the rebuilding of the Chicago Cubs, why it is taking so long, and how the process is going. As a matter of comparison to the 2002 Boston Red Sox, the author compared them to the state of the Cubs when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the team over and began their Astros-like rebuilding process.
Describing the team, the author stated that the Cubs were coming off of a season where they went 71-91, had seen their record get worse in three consecutive seasons, and were desperately old with six of their regulars over the age of 33.
This status was described as a situation in dire need of a rebuild. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the same exact situation applies to my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. In the past three seasons, they have won 102, 81 and 73 games — sharp declines in each subsequent season. Looking at this year’s Opening Day lineup, seven of the anticipated starters are over the age of 33.
In fact, of the seven (Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Marlon Byrd, Bobby Abreu), only Howard is under the age of 35! This is truly a geriatric team.
Calls for the Phillies to begin a rebuilding process have been made for well over a year now, once it became apparent that the core was not going to regain their magic from their glory years. It is one thing to be in denial about the state of the current team. This offense is forgivable, especially for a Phillies roster that brought so many years of joy and jubilation. What is not forgivable, however, is the ignorance of the landscape.
Last season’s World Series pitted arguably MLB‘s two best-run franchises against each other. Not only did the Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals win in the present, but they won with baseball’s newest currency — youth. The Red Sox and Cardinals are perennially competitive and relevant because they have navigated the new baseball waters better than everyone else by spending their money on drafting and developing good, young players. This is why they simultaneously have two of the best major league rosters and two of the best farm systems.
In contrast, the Phillies’ farm system is middling at best. Their best pitching prospect, Jesse Biddle, is a good prospect, but is projected to be a No. 3 starter in the majors. He is also the only top pitching prospect they have, whereas the Cardinals seem to replenish their rotation regularly with young guns who produce.
GM Ruben Amaro Jr., rather than investing in the future and helping to build the farm system, has stubbornly stuck to the outdated playbook of signing big free agents to fill the roster. Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Byrd, A.J. Burnett — Amaro has become the illustration of the old-school Luddite approach of the pre-Moneyball era that no longer exists in MLB.
The Phillies are picked to go nowhere but down this year, and rightfully so. They are old, susceptible to injury and just downright mediocre. This would be somewhat acceptable if the team had a front office that at least had an inkling of the new world that surrounds them. Instead, the reputation that follows Amaro and the Phillies by association is that of senility, ignorance and incompetence.
As a result, the Phillies are the butt of every joke regarding how not to treat a team in decline. The real shame is that the legacy of these old players, the same players that made Philadelphia a baseball town again, is rapidly diminishing.
It is clear that a full-blown rebuild is necessary. What is becoming blatantly obvious is that a new Phillies brain-trust may be necessary as well.