In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2015 season. This is the first post of the series.
Let’s start this off with the most depressing of all Major League Baseball teams: The Philadelphia Phillies. After all, there is nothing more depressing than seeing something that was once great, only to have fallen into horrible disrepair and general despair.
And, man, that totally fits the Phillies. It was less than seven years ago that the Phillies won the World Series, less than six years since they lost to the Yankees in the World Series, and less than four years since the grand rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Cardinals, with Ryan Howard injuring himself on the final play of the series.
It’s been all downhill from there. And now, they are, without question, the most hopeless of all teams in Major League Baseball. Some teams like the Twins may well end up being worse than the Phillies in the standings, but they have better prospects for the future and better people at the helm. The Phillies, meanwhile, have… Ruben Amaro Jr.
Ruben Amaro has become something of a bogey-man in baseball internet circles. It is a scary place to be in, where Dusty Baker stalks young pitchers by night attempting to ruin their arms and Joe West purposely gets calls wrong just to piss us all off.
The internet’s characterization of Amaro can perhaps best be described as seeing him as Nero, fiddling while Rome burns. And, to a certain extent, there is some truth to that. The results of the Phillies have to a certain extent gotten worse with every passing season since he took over after the 2008 season, and the playoff appearances early in Amaro’s tenure can more be drawn up to the after-effects of Pat Gillick‘s work. He was the one who gave Ryan Howard a 5-year extension that was recently named the 7th-worst in baseball, and they remain one of the few- perhaps the only– team to not hold statistical analysis in a high regard (perhaps that is why he is known to overvalue the players he does have). Last year, I attended a Moneyball screening with a post-show discussion on statistics by FanGraphs editor/writer Dave Cameron. He said that the Phillies have one statistical analyst, and that Major League Baseball more-or-less may have forced them to take it.
I think he was only half-joking.
And so, as a result of all of this, the Phillies enter this spring training as one of the few teams that can truly be said to not have any chance. Jimmy Rollins is now gone to Los Angeles, and Amaro is still probably trying (perhaps in vain, given how much he wants for them) to get rid of Hamels and Howard. Oh, and did I mention that Amaro has literally said that the team would be better off without Howard? Because he totally did.
No wonder some are saying this might be one of the most awkward spring trainings in the team’s history.
Now, to be fair, it isn’t all bad for Philadelphia. They do still have some prospects left, including young SS J.P. Crawford, who is MLB.com’s 21st best prospect, #37 prospect Aaron Nola, a RHP who made it as high as AA last season, and #55 prospect Maikel Franco, a power-hitting corner-infielder who made his debut in the bigs as a September call-up.
They won’t nearly be enough to turn around the Phillies anytime soon however (Keith Law recently named the Phillies the 25th best farm system in baseball), and so, the team that only a few years ago was a perpetual contender for the World Series crown is currently in a holding pattern of horribleness, filled with has-beens, never-will-bes, and players who may just be a year or two away from falling into one of those categories. It somewhat reminds me of the Orioles of the mid-to-late 1990s, who went from two straight ALCS in 1996 and 1997 to a team not unlike the Phillies of today.
The Orioles didn’t return to the playoffs until 2012. It’s not that out of the realm of possibility that the Phillies could be facing a similar wait.