Last season was a rough one for the Philadelphia Phillies. With a record that read 73-89 it did not come as too much of a surprise to find them rooted to the bottom of the National League East. Whilst that was a bad year, people are already suggesting that the one to come is going to be even worse. Bookmakers Betfair currently have the Phillies at 100/1 to win the World Series. Together with the Minnesota Twins, Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks, we have all been written off. So can our team upset the bookies odds and have a fairly successful season, or will Citizens Bank Park again be invaded by mediocrity and disappointment?
Phillies at the Orioles by Keith Allison / flickr
To start with let’s look at the core, the squad. The biggest talking point is naturally the departure of Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Coming in his place were Tom Windle and Zach Eflin; two young and relatively inexperienced pitchers. Rollins is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand you have a player who has spent all his career with the Phillies, was the National League MVP in 2007, a three-time All-Star shortstop, the franchise leader in hits - at-bats and doubles - whilst his role in the victorious World Series 2008 team can never be underestimated. On the other hand there is a drastic need to modernize. Rollins has sentimental value to Philadelphia fans but does he really have a practical use at 36-years-old? If Rollins had remained with the team he would have cost them $11 million. That is money that could be used to bring in hot prospects.
Jimmy Rollins by Matthew Straubmuller / flickr
With the decision from management being to trade Rollins it did make you beg the question about Cole Hamels’ availability, although it has since been all but confirmed that the 31-year-old is available. The pitcher is one of the hottest commodities available in the MLB right now. As a three-time All-Star it is only natural that teams like the Yankees, Padres and Dodgers are sniffing around. Losing Rollins was bearable but what sort of shape is the squad going to be in without Hamels? Not a very good one. Efficiency was missing in so many Phillies players last season and only a few could truly hold their head up.
Cole Hamels by hueytaxi / flickr
One of those few was Hamels, who, despite how lacklustre the side around him could be at times, managed to finish sixth in the Cy Young voting. With their strongest component increasingly looking likely to jump ship it is imperative that the Phillies replace him with the right player. Signing Wandy Rodriguez is a gamble and one that could go either way. He is a pitcher who has proven that he can cut it in the past. He was a member of the Houston Astros 2005 World Series team and, although he hasn’t been at his best in recent years, he does still show glimpses and could be an attacking force. Unfortunately, all this talk is just theoretical baseball chatter. Hamels is a World Series-winning pitcher, although he will never do that again with us, whilst Rodriguez is someone who comes in at 36-years-old with his talent depleting by the innings.
Rodriguez is not the answer, but there is pitching talent in the younger players of the Phillies outfit. Granted, they will need to be blooded and shouldn’t be rushed, but trial by fire can be of extreme advantage. A lot of attention will be paid to Aaron Nola’s progress. The 21-year-old, who was drafted No. 7 by Philadelphia, will be expected to blitz through the minor leagues. It borders on the absurd to be thinking that Nola will be able to perform to the levels that Hamels achieves, but if the lad is given a chance in the big leagues then it would certainly speed up his improvement. Nola has the makings of a great pitcher, it’s just about making sure that he doesn’t get stuck in the minors for too long.
All in all, when it comes to the squad it is undeniably weaker. There are positives to be found, the club are looking towards younger players and expect there to be many more of them to come into the club as the older players are moved on. This season the improvements and benefits of this transfer policy will be highly unlikely to see, but the creating of a solid bedrock will be more than evident. If management bring in enough high-quality, hungry, young players then the side will grow together and before you know it will be back to performing like a cohesive unit.
Ryne Sandberg was brought in in 2013 after the club’s hierarchy ended Charlie Manuel’s eight-year tenure. It was a decision that did split some fans, many of which Sandberg has failed to truly convince. There are those that believe his handling of the Rollins situation was the right thing to do and there are those that believe it to be stupid ostracizing one of your greatest assets.
Ryne Sandberg by Tom Hagerty / flickr
Regardless of his dealings with Rollins there is still one undeniable fact; Rollins is unproven at the top. Yes, his time in the lower leagues saw him take the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to their first ever playoff appearance and International League championship in 2011, a feat that saw him justly named Baseball America’s Minor League Coach of the Year.
Here is a coach who may have an impressive resume, a resume that deserves to have a shot in the big leagues. Besides his success with the IronPigs, Sandberg is a Hall of Famer and a World Series MVP. However, for all the glory he has had in his past career it counts for nothing. You cannot live off reputation, you need to bring results. Something that last year Sandberg failed to do.
However, there is a much bigger picture going on with the Phillies than just the results, and this is something that Sandberg is very much vested in. You get sick of saying it but the need for youngsters is huge, and with his wealth of minor league baseball knowledge it is safe to say that Sandberg knows how to bring the best out of young talent.
Much like the team, Sandberg needs to become part of the bedrock. No, he won’t do particularly well this year, but he will be forging the start of something. The coach and the team have to be as one, getting rid of one completely disrupts the harmony of the other. If the Phillies are to get the best out of this partnership then they have to allow it time to grow.
So management won’t be doing much this year to put a smile on the faces of Philadelphia fans, but they will hopefully be building a playoff contending team.
Beating the Mets
The relationship we share with the New York Mets is one of the hottest in the MLB. A poor season can always be made slightly better by beating the Mets. Although the bookmakers favour the Mets over the Phillies in the World Series betting, they don’t have faith in either. In essence, we are both as bad as each other.
Last season it was the Mets who came off the better. This season let us hope that won’t re-occur. The Mets are more than beatable and the Phillies owe us one.
Philadelphia is very much a fixer-upper. It has all the grandeur and iconography of a lovely old home, but it also has the rotting deadwood inside. Here is a great team that just needs to be made great again. The only way to do that is to modernise. This season is not going to be particularly favourable for Phillies fans, but the project has an end goal that makes all this pain bearable.