What Happened to My 100-Win Team?

Sometimes, being a fan is difficult. Usually, the most arduous times come simply from losing, but there seems to be a special, intense pang of despondency attached to the difficulty associated with watching a once mighty team crumble from within and without. Nationally, Philadelphia – the team and city alike – were never darlings, but I didn’t care; major-city sports teams always get plenty of attention, but rarely any non-partisan admiration.

So there’s no pity to be expected from the continued devolution of what was once a squad called the Philadelphia Phillies. No one who isn’t connected to the team in some way will feel badly for this string of events. They likely delight in it. And so be it; they’re entitled to react as they please. All that being said:

What the hell happened here?

In a sense, things have been going backward since the parade down Broad Street on Halloween 2008 ended. In 2009, the Phillies returned to the World Series, but were bested. In 2010, they bowed out a round earlier. In 2011, they were on the wrong end of one of the better postseason pitching duels in history in the NLDS. In 2012, they didn’t even have the chance.

And now, here we sit, spectators to the composing of another bizarre chapter in one of the strangest rebuilding parables ever told: the 2012-13 offseason. The roster has been transformed, through age as well as acquisition, into one that harnesses but a sliver of its former potency.

The progression of the Phils’ team slugging since 2007 reads as follows: .458, .438, .447, .413, .395, .400. The progression of the Phils’ team OBP since 2007 reads as follows: .354, .332, .334, .332, .323, .317. That is…um…not encouraging. But at least the problem is fairly easily identifiable: to complement an aging, papier mache core, corresponding moves had to be made. With, presumably, a sizable amount of budget room and a decent crop of free agent outfielders to choose from, the Phillies decided to hang onto their 16th overall pick and not sign a Michael Bourn or Josh Hamilton or Nick Swisher (although Hamilton’s eventual price of 5/$125M is out of the reasonable price range anyway).

Instead, the Phillies, having added the controversial and not-that-good Delmon Young to their bounty, now possess a bushel of nine outfielders on their 40-man roster, of whom six have seen Major League action:

  1. Domonic Brown: the former top prospect who’s had to battle nagging injuries and inconsistent playing time. Hit .235/.316/.396 in 212 PA in 2012.
  2. John Mayberry Jr.: made a fan favorite with a white-hot finish to 2011. Hit .245/.301/.395 in 479 PA in 2012
  3. Laynce Nix: given a two-year deal before 2012, he’s currently the most expensive outfielder on the roster. Hit .246/.315/.412 in 127 PA in 2012.
  4. Ben Revere: cost a depth starter in Vance Worley and well-regarded prospect in Trevor May to acquire. Defensive specialist. Hit .294/.333/.342 in 553 PA in 2012.
  5. Darin Ruf: the powerful, flash-in-the-pan never-prospect who might have a career as a bench bat. Hit .333/.351/.727 in a certainly sufficient 37 PA sample in 2012.
  6. Delmon Young: the former No. 1 overall pick with character, weight and baseball ability issues. Hit .267/.296/.411 in 608 PA in 2012.

On the infield side of things, the Phillies sent two relievers to Texas and assumed $6M of responsibility for Michael Young, who contributed a .277/.312/.370 line in 651 PA for the Rangers. This is to say nothing of Rule 5 draftee Ender Inciarte, who almost certainly faces waivers and an offer back to the Diamondbacks at some point this spring.

These are borderline penny-pinching moves, brought on by a combination of paying top dollar for top talent (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee), unnecessary top dollar for for very good or not-so-top talent (Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon) and an emptying of the farm for deals ranging from great (Halladay) to acceptable (Roy Oswalt) to just bad (Pence). It would be another thing entirely if the majority of these moves were made with sound baseball logic at their foundation, but the reality facing us here is that’s simply not the case. It is those second- and third-category moves that make this more frustrating than it needs to be, rather than an acceptable placement in the cycle of rebuilding -> contention and back again.

Now, here we sit, fewer than two years removed from a 102-win season, having to rely on a likely dual-platoon, five-outfielder system, an aging infield that provides no certainty of full-season health and questionable depth in the rotation, in the bullpen and on the bench.

These cobwebs are tough to peel off. It feels as though the club has arrived at or near the place many of us feared it would arrive as the risky and head-scratching moves began to pile up: on the doorstep of relegation to “also-ran” status with a shaky outlook for a return to “elite” status within the next three years. The playoff hopes of this team as currently constructed rely on too many low-probability bouncebacks from too many players than should have been necessary. And far too many to be a viable plan. The 2011 season has never seemed further away.

I write this before a single game is played in 2013. I write this before these players can be given a chance to prove me wrong. As with most of my negative notions, I hope to eventually be proven wrong. But I also write this under cloud cover that feels thicker than any I can remember for years back.

And you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here?

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42 comments

  1. Hdrubin

    January 22, 2013 05:55 PM

    It sucks when a “window” closes.

    But let’s be real — unless a TON of things go right this year, the current window is done. Re-tooling will be at least a 3-year process.

    The big faces of the 2000s — Howard, Utley, Rollins, Halladay, Cliff — will be done (or mostly done) by then. And it should be a pretty tough division all around at that time, too.

    The next window will hopefully include names like Joseph, Galvis(?), Asche, DomBrown (heh), Revere, a veteran Hamels, Biddle, Morgan, Pettibone and others.

  2. Ryan Sommers

    January 22, 2013 05:58 PM

    The thing that drives me nuts, though, is that there need not be any “window” at all when you’re willing to drop $180 million on player payroll — if you use it wisely

  3. Jesse

    January 22, 2013 08:53 PM

    C’mon guys…
    So many people are acting like a team in the NL East with red hats and white script lettering isn’t going to easy win the division… Have a little faith!

  4. AG3

    January 22, 2013 09:25 PM

    ‘And you may ask yourself, well, how did we get here?’

    RAJ.

  5. Pat

    January 23, 2013 12:38 AM

    One thing I keep coming back to because it’s the only thing that would make sense of the Delmon Young signing: What if the Phillies know that Ruf can’t play LF?

    If Ruf can’t play a passable LF, you can easily make the argument that we did need another RH OFer. Young really does hit lefties well. It seems redundant with Ruf in the picture, but if you eliminate Ruf as an OF option you’re left with JMJ as the only RH bat. I like Dom Brown as much as anyone, but our best chance at winning games next year involves a double platoon in the OF.

    There also is some upside still with Young. He’s still in his prime and there’s a small chance he becomes the hitter everyone thought he’d be.

    Don’t get me wrong, I hate players with Young’s profile (no walks, bad defense, etc…), but if you squint hard enough you can see the logic here.

  6. hk

    January 23, 2013 02:44 AM

    Pat,

    I’m squinting as hard as I can, but I’m still seeing that JMJ is a better hitter, fielder and base-runner.

  7. derekcarstairs

    January 23, 2013 05:15 AM

    Had the Phillies been able to sign Greinke instead of Lannan and Youk instead of Young, they wouldn’t be on the outside looking in.

    Sure, there would be a one-year luxury-tax hit, but not necessarily more.

    Although you can’t replace the quality that Halladay and Lee have provided, a rotation headed by Hamels and Greinke also has long-term benefit.

  8. Hog

    January 23, 2013 05:37 AM

    I don’t get the “window” in baseball. I didn’t think the Giants or Cardinals had a window to win it all yet they did.

  9. Ryan

    January 23, 2013 08:14 AM

    I disagree that Papelbon isn’t a top talent. I also think that the window is still open. It’s not nearly as wide as it was two years ago, but it’s still open. We just need more things to go right to get in the playoffs. Once you get in, anything can happen. When is the last time that the best team won the World Series?

    I agree that RAJ has made some bad moves (Howard’s extension and the Pence trade primarily), but seems to have gotten smarter. I’d rather have our current outfield than be way overpaying for aging veterans like Hamilton, Bourn, or Swisher. Don’t discount our chances of making a move at the deadline if we need help.

  10. Ryan

    January 23, 2013 08:17 AM

    The Delmon Young signing reminds me a lot of moves that Pat Gillick made. They didn’t all work out, but enough of them did to bolster our roster with some low cost talent.

  11. Cutter

    January 23, 2013 08:41 AM

    Since 2008, the Phillies have basically operated with the philosophy that they’ve got a core capable of winning the World Series, so they need to do everything they can to win in the next few years.

    Obviously, that philosophy hasn’t paid off, but I can’t fault them for taking that approach, since as we should all very well know, championship teams don’t come to Philadephia all that often.

  12. TomG

    January 23, 2013 08:53 AM

    I think this team is marginally better than the team we fielded last year but I think, all-in-all, last season’s team under-performed just a bit. Not much, but a bit.

    So I really think the 2013 team has a shot at the second wild card. And just getting into the playoffs seems to be the most important thing. As Ryan sez above, when was the last time the best team won the WS? Last year, I considered the Reds, Nationals and the Braves better than the Giants. But that didn’t matter because the Giants got hot, Marco Scutaro in particular, and I’m not aware that anyone saw that coming. (By which I mean Scutaro in particular.)

    It was exciting last year when the Phils made their doomed mini-run at the second wild card spot at the end of the season. I think they have a better chance at it this year, which means every win will count, which means the season could be more exciting than the 2011 season when they clinched a playoff spot and then the division pretty early.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’d much rather they win 102 games – or more. But in 2013, they’ll be lucky to make it to 90. Which might be just enough, whereas 89 might not.

    That spells potentially exciting season to me.

    Disclaimer: I am notoriously bad at predicting how any team will perform at any given time.

  13. Paul Boye

    January 23, 2013 09:02 AM

    Cutter, I’d at least be understanding if I thought the moves were sound, sensible ones that didn’t pay off. A lot of these moves are reactionary or illogical, so they don’t sit well with me.

  14. Cutter

    January 23, 2013 09:26 AM

    I don’t know which moves you consider illogical.

    As for reactionary, that’s somewhat understandable, because pretty much each of them was done with the goal of winning the World Series in that given season.

  15. sam

    January 23, 2013 09:29 AM

    this is not my beautiful team

  16. pedro3131

    January 23, 2013 09:43 AM

    I agree with Cutter. While many of the trades look bad given that we didn’t win a 2nd world series and now were kind of SOL, they were all made to push us over the hump. In 2010-11 we stood right on the cusp and were a few plays this way or that from returning to the WS. I don’t think you can say that in the moment having those guys on the team didn’t increase our chances and didn’t make baseball more exciting to watch (which is what we’re all here for eh?). I’m perfectly content having experienced the past 6 years of phillies baseball, even if it means were no longer the nl east juggernaught for a few years.

    I do, however, wish they would have spent the money on swisher instead of a few complimentary pieces that wind up equaling his salary but not his production value

  17. JT

    January 23, 2013 09:56 AM

    I think a lot of pessimism about the Phillies exists in a bit of a vacuum. Yes the Nationals are very good, but most of the other teams in the NL also have their issues. The only other team in the league that is clearly more talented than us 1 to 25 are the Dodgers, and that’s just on paper with a good chance of blowing up.

    So we’re not a total lock to make the playoffs. But it’s not like we need all — or probably even most — of our “lottery tickets” to hit for us to get in. Unless you assume everybody else’s lottery tickets are going to hit too.

  18. LTG

    January 23, 2013 10:16 AM

    This might have been the better lyrical reference: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWtCittJyr0

    I hadn’t noticed before, but the Talking Heads wrote hymns to modernity. They are quite refreshing when one is gnashing one’s teeth.

  19. xDelta07

    January 23, 2013 10:26 AM

    I think in general we all agree that we probably won’t win the division this year unless a lot of things fall our way (not impossible, but it could happen). Let’s just assume that we don’t win the division. Remember when we were only 3 games out of that second wild card last year? I think that this team, as currently constructed on paper, has enough talent and will to make it AT LEAST to that second wild card. While not an ideal situation (what with the 1 game playoff), it at least gives us a chance. I’m all about chances. When the playoffs start, there is no rhyme or reason to any teams that win anymore, it’s just who’s hot and who has a few things fall their way. Assuming we can stay relatively healthy, I give us a legit shot to make the playoffs, and from there, who knows what can happen.

  20. Paul Boye

    January 23, 2013 10:32 AM

    1. Papelbon was given 4/$50M when no other reliever ended up getting near that much. Plus, he was signed in a rush, prior to the new CBA, that caused the Phillies to forfeit their first-round pick. So they preferred to do that for a reliever, but not the corner OF they so desperately need.

    2. Raul Ibanez given 3/$39M, again in a rush, again Type A. Had a good half-season, then got old. Which is to be expected when a guy gets 3 years after turning 36.

    3. Never giving Dom Brown a shot and instead deferring to give players with less upside the bigger chunk of playing time based on a short hot stretch (Mayberry, not trading Juan Pierre).

    4. Signing Ryan Howard 2 years before free agency when he was already beginning to show signs of decline.

    5. Giving up a boatload for Hunter Pence when Bourn was acquired for less talent, for one.

    6. The SEA Cliff Lee trade, which has apparently netted the club just one RP moving forward, followed by re-signing him to (presumably) more than it would’ve taken to extend him in the first and forfeiting another Type A.

    7. Danys Baez. Two years.

    I see a lot of logically flawed moves, and I’m sure I haven’t listed them all.

  21. Harry

    January 23, 2013 10:48 AM

    Don’t forget signing Kwame for 2 years. That was inexcusable

  22. hk

    January 23, 2013 11:07 AM

    8. Giving then 75 year old Jamie Moyer 2 years.

  23. Ryne Duren

    January 23, 2013 11:12 AM

    what happened to our 100 win team? injuries! and a losey pen. once the pen started to pitch better and the big guys came back they were on a 95-97 win pace! and they still weren’t 100% and we had no Doc. that’s what happened. so if those three are their ole selves we’ll be in the hunt.
    as far as ruf goes. people keep questioning his ability to play LF. has eceryone forgot luzinske. burrel, ibanez? how much worse of an outfielder can he be than those 3. and as far as his offense. well even if he doesn’t his 50+ homers and drive in 100+rbi and only does 60% of that we got a decent LFer and a power bat. i’m not worried about LF.

  24. Jesse

    January 23, 2013 11:58 AM

    @Major Hog,
    You’re looking at the window with the wrong perspective. You don’t *need* to have a window to win, but certain teams the way they are constructed have a window. Like the Phillies of late, like the Knicks this season (average age is what, 38?) etc.
    So not all good teams have windows, but if there is a window, it’s implied there is an expected time it may close.

  25. CJ

    January 23, 2013 11:59 AM

    Great analysis. Can’t add much but the short version:

    Amaro inherited a talented core drafted by Ed Wade/Mike Arbuckle. To remain competitive, he would have to sign complimentary players and draft replacements who, if all went well, should be causing difficult decisions regarding veteran playing time right now. Doesn’t look like that is happening.

    It’s probably too early to judge Amaro’s drafts (what about Gillick’s?) But we just don’t have young players to challenge the vets or step in during injuries.

  26. mikeb

    January 23, 2013 12:10 PM

    Amaro had to have said Delmon Young will be the RF just to keep Young content for now. Go back to the article about platooning Ryan Howard. It would only work to play Mayberry or Ruf at 1B if you had another righty outfield bat because all they had to actually be the replacement in the lineup for Howard was Brown and Nix, who are worse than Howard vs lefties. Knowing the inefficiencies and extraordinary lack of every day players it could make sense in theory to add Young to pinch hit, DH, and occasionally start vs lefties. There’s just no way he is the every day RF. I can’t see Manuel being OK with that, and at $750k Amaro shouldn’t care if Manuel barely plays him.

  27. amarosucks

    January 23, 2013 12:21 PM

    The Howard extension was the beginning of the end.

    I’d rather have lee thomas or ed wade than ruben ‘minaya’ amaro jr. Fire him now

  28. Scott G

    January 23, 2013 12:37 PM

    mikeb,

    You can’t see Manuel being okay with playing Delmon Young every day? He plays Ryan Howard every day without even thinking about it. Not compelling enough? He NEVER even pinch hits for Howard against dominant lefty relievers (not that I can remember anyway).

    You’re giving Manuel wayyyy too much credit here. He’s always going against statistics, conventional logic, and following his gut that often correlates highly with less saber-inclined fans. From what I’m hearing, this subset of people love getting Delmon Young.

  29. Cutter

    January 23, 2013 03:23 PM

    CJ nailed the real problem: The lack of quality replacements from the minors.

    You could blame trading away so many prospects in the Halladay/Oswalt/Pence deals, but none of those players has done anything to make the Phillies regret the deals…yet.

    If those players haven’t yet emerged as difference makers in Toronto or Houston, I can’t imagine that they would have been more successful in Philly.

    The issue is that the Phillies just haven’t produced any quality position players. The last star quality position player to emerge from their system is Michael Bourn in 2007.

  30. Del

    January 23, 2013 04:45 PM

    Singleton could turn out to be good, but his star is certainly a bit dimmer now that he’s been suspended 50 games for his second failed test for a “drug of abuse.”

  31. Ben

    January 23, 2013 04:57 PM

    It’s also hard to turn out quality prospects when you keep forfeiting your first round pick every year. And that can certainly be blamed on Amaro

  32. EricL

    January 23, 2013 05:22 PM

    Cutter, criticizing illogical trades doesn’t mean that the alternative is to stand pat and hope they turn into great players. The point is that they could have been used to fetch other, better players than the ones they did. They’re an asset that the team can use in various ways.

    Also, the notion that a first place team has to make a trade to “put them over the hump” is flawed. If we understand that the playoffs are a high variance, random event filled tournament, then the only real goal should be to make the playoffs (and potentially address any glaring weaknesses, but in most circumstances it would be illogical to give up a lot of young, cost-controlled trade chips to do so).

  33. Phillie697

    January 24, 2013 12:49 AM

    When RAJ signed Howard to that logic-defying extension, I think my words were exactly, “watch the Phillies start sucking come 2013.” Looks like I have the gift of prophecy.

  34. Cutter

    January 24, 2013 10:31 AM

    @Phylan

    “Singleton may turn out to be a quality position player”

    The key word in that sentence is may. If he or d’Arnaud become stars, then things will look different. But it hasn’t happened yet.

    @EricL

    You’ve got the benefit of hindsight. At the time, many people thought the additions of Oswalt and Pence improved the Phillies chances of winning the World Series in those seasons.

    And remember that when the Oswalt trade was made, it wasn’t a certainty that the Phillies would even make the World Series.

  35. Phillie697

    January 24, 2013 10:37 AM

    @Cutter,

    Who are these “many” people? You’re talking to an entire group of fans here who berated that Pence trade, so let’s not try to re-write history that YOU were a part of back then as well.

  36. LTG

    January 24, 2013 11:54 AM

    Dude, Cutter, in one post you move between an outcome-based evaluative approach (“The key word in that sentence is may. If he or d’Arnaud become stars, then things will look different. But it hasn’t happened yet.”) and a process-based evaluative approach (“You’ve got the benefit of hindsight…”). There are two problems here. First, you should pick one evaluative approach and stick with it. Otherwise, you are just trying to leverage your opponents’ beliefs against them to win, not get anything right. Second, you should pick the process-based approach since that doesn’t require that the GM be a prophet.

  37. Cutter

    January 24, 2013 12:10 PM

    I apologize for the confusion between the two approaches. They came from two separate arguments which I combined into one response.

    When discussing the prospects, I was trying to illustrate that the Phillies haven’t developed a quality major league position player in some time, and anything that happens from this point on doesn’t affect that reality right now.

    If those prospects do become stars, then the statement about the Phillies not producing quality players will no longer be true.

    In the second situation, I was taking a look at those deals and the thought process behind them at the time they were made.

    I hope this clears that up.

  38. bptess

    January 25, 2013 04:40 AM

    Benefit of hindsight.

    The 2011 team was much better than the 2008 team. Only in 2008, everything fell into place in the post-season – Sabathia’s bad start, Stairs’ HR, etc.

    If you told me in April 2011 that Cliff Lee would have a 4-0 lead in game 2 of the NLDS, up 1 game, I’d buy that scenario every time.

    Only 16 months ago we were the best team in baseball. We still have a top rotation and as much offense as the World Champions. Don’t stand there saying “I told you so.”

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