Let’s all go back to early April shall we? Some early season losses were met by that subtle phrase “it’s early yet”. Sure April is very early, and it is always hard to judge a team’s future based on the first few games of a season, but if you are a real Phillies fan, you had to know this had a sour flavor. Fast-forward to early July, to find your team 11 games out of first place, 9 games under .500, becoming a trade deadline seller instead of a buyer, and having the makings of the worst season of baseball in quite a few years. Hate to say I told you so!
In looking deeper into this off-season the Phillies brought back Jimmy Rollins at over 11 million dollars a year, threw a ton of money at Jonathon Papelbon to be the closer, prepared to pay Cliff Lee over 21 million dollars (and not even a win this season), worked an arbitration deal with Hunter Pence for over 10 million, but paid little to no money to assure solid, quality role players, outside of Ty Wigginton.
Alright, I know by now I have irked many of the Philly faithful so I won’t go on about what the Phillies did or didn’t do, because they did have the sense to bring in Juan Pierre, a solid leadoff hitter who can place the bat on the ball, run well, and drop down a bunt if needed. They also had guys like Dontrelle Willis and Scott Podsednik in camp, solid veterans who at least have a shot at making a contribution. Since then, Willis has retired and Podsednik moved. I am not about to say the Phillies tanked it this off-season, but when as fans you get used to seeing a new big name every year, it seemed to be a big letdown.
So as we reach the half-way point of the season, some 81 games in, we see a Phillies team that we have not seen in years. A ball club that puts together losing streaks and runs out a no-name lineup that makes fans scratch their heads. A team who was supposedly surviving with pitching, but since has lost Halladay to injury, watched Cliff Lee struggle terribly, have no contract news on Cole Hamels, had to shut down Vance Worley for a few games earlier on, and are paying Joe Blanton over 10 million dollars to be Joe Blanton. The Phillies are a team that is relying on Carlos Ruiz to be the clean up guy after years of being an 8-hole hitter with little expectations. Luckily, Ruiz has managed to have an excellent year. The bullpen is full of “who is that” guys like Diekman, Schwimer, Valdes, Rosenberg, and Horst.
So what would I have done different? The funniest and most dangerous question to ask, as it will have people raging with anger over the answers, but let’s see:
1. Not signed Papelbon: What sense does it really make to shell out such a huge amount of cash for a closer if you know that you will struggle early on to win games without your major talent? For me a guy of much cheaper value, like a Grant Balfour, or you go from inside the clubhouse and give a try to a guy like Antonio Bastardo. Hey, he may flop, but they had the guts to give a try to Ryan Madson, and at one time even tried Brett Myers. You don’t know if you have a closer unless you try. There, in my opinion is Cole Hamels money, gone.
2. Not even bother with Jim Thome: I know his appearance made Phillies fans happy, and I am aware it was a neat selling point to watch him go nuts in inter-league play, but all it turned into was fans now complaining on how they cannot believe we traded him away. Yep, we traded an over 40 bat who did very little to help on defense, and was getting blown away by most hardcore closers. Heck for that they could have gotten an Austin Kearns or a Ryan Theriot and actually knew they would have a chance to fully perform.
3. Hunter Pence, maybe not the best choice: Now without throwing things at me, Pence may have been a move of haste last season instead a move of pure sense. At the same time Houston was looking hard to move him they were having a total fire sale that also included Michael Bourn. Go ahead and laugh! Bourn has been a consistent .280-.300 average guy the last few years, has tremendous speed, plays a better outfield, and is a guy that knows how to put a ball in play. The Phillies have been using the reputation of a power team, and for that the ability to play small ball has vanished. Consider Bourn and Pierre at the top of your lineup with Rollins third, then a Ruiz, Victorino, Wigginton etc. Pence loves to hack at pitches and makes the easiest play on right sometimes look like a pure disaster. Bourn would have cost less as far as who to deal too.
4. Cole Hamels, contract in hand: It is easy to say what to do with others money, but Hamels in so many words is the modern Carlton. He is a solid lefty, hard-working and no nonsense. He has been a staple of this pitching staff since he entered the league and has been a World Series winner, a mark you can’t put on Halladay or Lee. Contract moves are at times dicey. They could have thrown money at Ryan Howard back when he showed he was something special, and maybe saved a few million per year, instead of waiting until the very last second and have to give him a huge deal, with tons of money per season. For Hamels to have no contract is a serious issue, and it has been a big buzz all season.
No,no I am not trying to be a typical “told you so” type of guy. My moves may seem insane to many. Not much of my bullet points would make us that much better, or maybe it would. Hey, it is only July and they may have a run left in them. Chase Utley is back, Roy Halladay should be back soon and Ryan Howard is working towards his comeback. The lineup certainly looks better with those names in it. If they do not improve with all the players returning, then the panic can set in, and we know what that means. Teams like the Phillies who have had the glory days, suddenly find themselves getting older, and come trade deadline time, could be looking to rid themselves of dollars.
Cole Hamels is rumored to be on the trade block, or at least thats what you read all over the internet and on local sports talk shows. Yes, he has even been linked to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and no potential prospect can cure the pain of losing Hamels this season or maybe next. Shane Victorino is making 9.5 million dollars this season, and has not been the huge numbers guy of the past. Could he be on the move too? And who’s to say the Phillies won’t try and dump Lee, Halladay or Hunter Pence? If a team is struggling enough, moves have to be made, right? They already parted with Thome, and moved Qualls, so you know full well deals can get done.
The beauty of being a fan is that we all have the luxury to either root or quit. We all have the luxury to complain or cheer. I for one never give up on a local team. I root for them win or lose, that’s what makes someone a true fan. Sure it is hard to watch right now, and no, I am not thrilled with seeing the Nationals and the Mets fight for the division lead, but you have to think about this: How excited were Atlanta Braves fans when the Phillies took over as the big dogs of the NL East? Losing always stings, and losing players stings too. The comfort zone can be found in that there is always a next season.
Look, GM Reuben Amaro gets paid no matter how much some may dislike his current position. The players make the money and will go where traded to, or stay if asked. You can boil over with anger, you can scream at your TV and call in to a radio station and say what you like. However, as I said there is always a next year, maybe Amaro is a step ahead, and is making his cap space for a Josh Hamilton? I know, I know, pipe dreams. Pipe dreams, isn’t that what being a sports fan is kind of all about?
So, I ask you, who is pushing the panic button here?
If you’d like to hear anything else from me on topics or ideas I can be reached at [email protected]