He wanted to win. I sat down to write my final report card and tasked myself with the following: find one positive thing to say about Ryne Sandberg‘s managerial tenure. The negatives of his stint as a Phillies manager are copious enough to fill an entire (boring, depressing, and unreadable) book, but from time to time our dialogue on baseball devolves into black-and-white Hot Takes. I know my own analysis of Sandberg has been more than a little Hot Take-y at times, so I give you this: He wanted to win. He really, really wanted to win. Unfortunately, that was never his job in Philadelphia.
Despite having made several headlines in recent months as the front office has molted, the Phillies portend to have a relatively quiet off-season. Nearly all of their trade candidates have already been moved — Cole Hamels to Texas, Chase Utley to Los Angeles, Jonathan Papelbon to Washington. Many roster spots are now spoken for by younger, less-proven players and the next stage of the Phillies’ rebuilding process is to help these players develop into major league-caliber players.
It is enticing to pore over the list of free agents and envision many of them donning Phillies red pinstripes, but the David Prices, Zack Greinkes, and Jason Heywards of the world will be getting their contracts elsewhere. The Phillies, as has been common for them over the past couple of years, will be hunting for bargains — inexpensive, risk-free targets not to star, but instead to support their youth.
The first half of the Phillies’ season was remarkably poor, considering their intent when the schedule kicked off at home against the Red Sox was to lose as often as possible. Chase Utley suffered an ankle injury, performed poorly for two and a half months, then landed on the disabled list for a month and a half. The veteran pitchers the Phillies slotted into the rotation neither pitched well nor deep into games. Carlos Ruiz became a shadow of his former self.
What was most stunning among all of that, however, was the erosion of clubhouse camaraderie under manager Ryne Sandberg. Former shortstop Jimmy Rollins criticized Sandberg’s inability to communicate effectively with his players. Former reliever Justin De Fratus said his transition to a mop-up reliever was something that wasn’t communicated to him. Sandberg was repeatedly flouted by his pitchers, most notably Cole Hamels.
Near the end of June, with the Phillies sitting on a 26-48 record, an impromptu press was called. Some speculated that GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. had finally been axed; others thought it was a trade announcement potentially involving Hamels. To the surprise of everyone — including close friend Larry Bowa — Sandberg announced he was stepping down from his post. Bench coach Pete Mackanin was named the interim skipper. Mackanin has never been a full-time manager but had been an interim manager twice before with the Pirates in 2005 and the Reds in 2007.
There’s a neighborhood here in Washington, D.C. called Adams Morgan. There’s a bar there called Madam’s Organ. Clever, I know. A band I was in played open mic there once, circa 1999. We were in town for a gig at a private art show, where an artist who was trying to sell some of her pieces rented out a small space for an afternoon. The band was asked to dress all in black. It felt like a funeral when she sold literally zero works of art that afternoon. We all helped her pack up her things and she went off into whatever was next for an artist who couldn’t sell one single work in an afternoon.
Seventy-eight starting pitchers threw enough innings in 2015 to qualify for the MLB ERA title, from Yordano Ventura and Erasmo Ramirez, squeaking in with 163.1 innings, to Clayton Kershaw, leading the league with 232.2 innings. Only one of those 78 finished the season with the Philadelphia Phillies, and it wasn’t Cole Hamels, who was traded to the Texas Rangers in a franchise-altering deadline deal. Let’s talk about Aaron Harang.
He led all Phillies hurlers in innings pitched (172.1), games started (29), and batters faced (748), and allowed the most hits (189), runs (100), earned runs (93), homers (26), and walks (51). Among those aforementioned 78 starters, Harang was 74th with 0.8 fWAR. Now, WAR isn’t an infallible statistic that explains everything about a player, but it does provide helpful context for comparing players. In this case, Harang was good enough to pitch the requisite number of innings, but finished among the bottom five in fWAR, ERA (74th), ERA- (77th), FIP (78th), xFIP (77th), SIERA (77th), and K% (74th). Somewhat admirably, he ate the innings the Phillies paid him to eat when they signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal last winter.
It’s not often that a player has the opportunity to go out on top and it’s even less common for a player to go out on top while playing for an atrociously terrible team, but that’s exactly what happened for Colbert Michael Hamels in the final chapter of his Phillies career.
The Phillies officially ended the Cliff Lee era in Philadelphia on Tuesday, buying out the lefty’s contract for $12.5 million rather than picking up his club option for $27.5 million. As Justin Klugh pointed out at The Good Phight, that transaction has become something of a joke, as many have responded with a joke to the effect of “they’re paying him an obscene amount of money not to pitch”. In reality, they’re simply saving themselves $15 million.
Lee may be 37 years old, but if his elbow hadn’t died, the Phillies most likely pick up that option if for no other reason than to hopefully flip him for younger players at the trade deadline. Alas.
In 2014, for the first time in five years, Chase Utley was able to play a full season. The oft-injured second baseman had been diagnosed with degenerative conditions in both of his knees, then suffered a strained oblique in 2013. Though his numbers were down quite a bit compared to previous years, that Utley accrued 664 plate appearances was a victory in and of itself. The goal going into the 2015 season was to rebound to his usual level of production while staying healthy.
Things couldn’t have gone more poorly. Utley dealt with ankle problems during spring training, but made it into the Phillies’ Opening Day lineup. Maybe he shouldn’t have. Between Opening Day and June 22, Utley hit .179/.257/.275, racking up only 12 extra-base hits in 65 games. Utley was placed on the disabled list with inflammation in his right ankle, and he wouldn’t return until August 7.