30 Teams, 30 Posts (2015): The Philadelphia Phillies are a pit of doom and despair

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.

Random Thoughts (August 3, 2014)

Some random thoughts this Sunday, some of them on baseball, some of them not:

1. I wish that that “double no-hitter” last night had continued past the seventh inning. That truly would have been a sight to see. Only once has there been a no-hitter both ways after nine innings, by the way.

2. I still can’t believe how bad Ruben Amaro Jr. is at his job as Phillies GM, at least as far as the last few years go. It makes the glory days of the late-aughts seem a million years ago, and the lack of prospects in the wings means it could be a long road back, especially if he continues to refuse to flip what few trade pieces he has left.

3. It’s good to see Manny Machado has once again become Manny Machado instead of that slumping guy from the first half who got hurt and threw his bat in anger. One of these days he will literally throw out a man at first while standing on the wall that separates the field from the seats.

4. It’s going to take awhile to get used to David Price being in a Tigers uniform.

5. A video you should see of a one-armed pitcher in a youth all-star game.

6. It’s over a week old now, but I still recommend “An Idiot in Exile” by Pat Jordan, on Johnny Damon’s post-playing days.

7. It is truly sad to see Jim Kelly as he is now, but also truly inspiring to see him continue on despite his cancer.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun (and funny) movie and I think you all should go see it.

 

Is this the end of the “Red Devil”, old Charlie Manuel? Or merely the end of the Phillies?

Charlie Manuel has had an interesting baseball life. After a sub-par career in the big leagues, he headed to Japan, where he was dubbed the “Red Devil” by fans for his tenacious play (at one point returning to play against doctor’s order after having his jaw smashed into six pieces by a beanball) and becoming the first American to win the MVP of Japan’s Pacific League. He also, legend says, once joined forces with fellow American exiles Clyde Wright and Roger Repoz in fighting the East German National Hockey Team in a Tokyo nightclub.

After retiring, Manuel’s second life began, as a scout and then as a manager. And what a career it ended up being: he made the playoffs once with the Indians before being let go after a contract dispute, and then later began the tenure that this post is about: the Phillies job. In this final year, where the Phillies have flailed and flopped and ultimately cost Manuel his job, some may have forgotten just how good the Manuel Phillies have been. Before this year, they had finished at or above .500 every single year. They won five straight NL East titles, and won one World Series and may well have won another if it weren’t for Alex Rodriguez‘s alleged artificial help (yeah, I said it). While, as SBNation’s Steven Goldman said, Manuel was hardly the second coming of John McGraw, the success must have had at least something to do with him. And, while the fall of the Phillies (the Phillies’ Phailure?) also has something to do with him, it’s not his fault. No, the end of the Phillies run can be traced primarily to Ruben Amaro, the General Manager of Philadelphia.

Amaro gave a gargantuan extension to Ryan Howard in 2010, an extension that has come back to bite the Phillies as Howard’s injuries have increased and his power numbers have gone down. Nobody is willing to trade for him, and as a result, Howard and his 125 million dollar salary will be with the Phillies until 2016. The rest of the team, while not suffering the wear-and-tear of age and injury to the extent as Howard has, still isn’t getting any younger. And bad drafts and once-acclaimed trades have left the cupboard bare for the Phillies as far as the minor leagues are concerned. And, what’s more, Amaro has refused to deal some of the best trading chips he had: he could have traded Cliff Lee for several good prospects this summer, for example, but didn’t.

Charlie Manuel may one day find another job… but the Phillies could be in the wilderness for several years in the future. Good luck, Ryne Sandberg.