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July 2006 was really the last time the Phillies were legitimately considered a “bad” team, and even then, they were only six games under .500. Your current squad just happens to be six games under .500 after last night’s win. Like the ’06 team, the ’13 Phillies have a 34-year-old injury-prone catcher on the verge of free agency and a veteran third baseman whose best years are long behind him. Most importantly and most similarly, the ’06 team had a tough decision to make leading up to the trade deadline with a franchise superstar. Right fielder Bobby Abreu was well on his way to free agency and the Phillies were preparing to transition. They traded Abreu, along with Cory Lidle, to the Yankees for a handful of prospects and salary relief.
After the trade, then-GM Pat Gillick warned fans to temper their expectations for the foreseeable future, as the franchise healed the wounds suffered from poor free agent signings and trades dating back to the late 1990′s.
“We have young people to plug in, and it’s going to take time for them to get their feet on the ground,” Gillick said. “It would probably be a stretch to think we’re going to be there [as a contender] in 2007. It’s going to be a little slower. I don’t want to mislead anyone.”
The Phillies rebounded sooner than we thought. From August 1 through the end of the 2006 regular season, the Phillies went 36-22 (.621). They finished 12 games back of the Mets in the NL East, but hung tough with the Dodgers for the Wild Card up to the final week. It was the start to what became arguably the greatest era of Phillies baseball, the same era that is now unfortunately drawing to an unceremonious close.
The 1996 team is an example of how not to operate at this stage. The Phillies had reached the World Series in 1993 and wanted to continue competing in the NL East. They finished under .500 in both 1994 and ’95, but both seasons were shortened by the strike. They went into ’96 with a more youthful roster, but it was not by choice but rather by need. Their roster contained plenty of holdovers from the World Series team. Lenny Dykstra started the season as the everyday center fielder, but an injury forced him out on May 18. That was his last appearance in the Majors. Pete Incaviglia lost playing time after the Phillies called up Scott Rolen on August 1 as Todd Zeile moved from third to first and Gregg Jefferies moved from first to left. Incaviglia and Zeile were eventually traded in late August. Jim Eisenreich, who had platooned in both left and right field, was lost in early September to a broken foot. Darren Daulton appeared in just five games and was traded the following season. Sound familiar?
Because the ’96 Phillies hung on to the dream of getting to another World Series, they passed over the opportunity to detach and build up for the future. From 1997-2001, the Phillies won between 65 and 77 games, never coming close to contention. Due to their payroll advantage relative to many other teams, the present-day Phillies aren’t in danger of becoming a 65-win team anytime soon. The Phillies have until 4 PM ET this afternoon to recoup value on their veterans through trades. Otherwise, they will have to utilize waivers in August, else they risk watching their players walk into free agency while recouping little to no value in the process.
This happened on MLB Network yesterday:
Ruben Amaro on MLB Network: “we still feel we have hope”. Says Phillies can be buyers and sellers.
— Scott Miller (@ScottMCBS) July 30, 2013
Now that the Tigers have acquired Jose Veras and the Red Sox traded for Jake Peavy, the Phillies are running out of options and their leverage continues to weaken with every passing hour. The Phillies risk damaging their future by stubbornly clinging onto the past.