Mapping out a Successful Rebuilding Plan for the Philadelphia Phillies
Considering the overwhelming success of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise since 2007, it's easy to understand why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and ownership would try to squeeze one more year of contention out of an aging group.
Wrong, but understandable.
Injuries and uneven performances from past stars were to blame for the disappointing 81-81 finish in 2012. If older players bounce back, new additions surprise and Washington isn't ready for the bull's eye on their back, it's possible that Philadelphia can turn back the clock and raise a division championship once again.
It's more likely that a rebuilding effort will be expedited between now and the start of the 2014 season.
Only 2 Phillies appear on the 29-man list of NL MVP candidates compiled by Vegas: Ryan Howard (33/1) and Michael Young (50/1). #WheresDom— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) March 20, 2013
If the former NL East juggernaut intends to reclaim the throne from Washington and Atlanta, they need to embrace change, specifically in the mindset of roster building.
Before suggesting any specific moves, the stale, old mentality of roster building must be removed from the Citizens Bank Park offices.
Sabermetrics aren't the only way to build a baseball team in 2013, but they must be part of the process in every single roster decision. While the "Tyranny of Acronyms" has turned off some old-school thinkers, making them believe advanced statistics are for nerds, the advanced stats should be viewed as tools used to make better decisions.
As late as May 2012, members of the Phillies brass brushed off the notion of using sabermetrics to evaluate players.
"I honestly can't tell you the last time WAR or VORP or any of those things were brought up in a conversation," assistant GM Scott Proefrock told Bob Brookover of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "We're aware of them, and we understand what they are. It's just not something we find relevant."
In a possible sign of softening that stance, Philadelphia reached an agreement with ScoutAdvisor Corporation last November, bringing advance scouting and analytical technology into the fold for the 2013 season.
Of course, that didn't stop the franchise from acquiring Michael Young, Delmon Young, Mike Adams, Chad Durbin or John Lannan this offseason. All have some level of upside, but all come with red flags in terms of age, health or consistent production.
In short, they were brought in to help squeeze one more year of contention out of an aging roster. At some point, the front office must read the writing on the wall: The offense is trending downward at an alarming rate and the top-heavy pitching staff may no longer be great enough to carry the load.
The following chart shows Philadelphia's OPS (on-base plus slugging) and runs scored rankings over the past six year across all of Major League Baseball:
Between a declining offense and question marks in the rotation, it's time for Philadelphia to change the status quo.
Much like moving Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence last July, moves can be made to improve the future of the franchise.
Recognizing the importance of analytics and the ceiling of this current group can open the door to a few moves that could pay dividends in 2014 and beyond. That could mean an openness to moving Chase Utley at the trade deadline, playing Domonic Brown full-time and giving young potential contributors like Tommy Joseph, Cody Asche and Antonio Bastardo bigger roles as the summer moves on.
CBS Sports' Scott Miller breaks down the 2013 Phillies:
Utley was the heart and soul of the 2008 World Series champions. His .911 OPS from 2004-09 is one of the greatest runs a second baseman has ever seen. Unfortunately, those days are behind him. If he can stay healthy and produce at a valuable level, Amaro should consider moving him to a contender at the deadline, à la the Beltran-for-Wheeler trade executed in New York a few years back.
Domonic Brown has never been a Charlie Manuel favorite, but his stellar spring training—and lack of other outfield options—may lead to his first full season in the big leagues. Will a career .373 minor league OBP translate in the majors? It's time for Philadelphia to finally find out.
Cody Asche is the "third baseman of the future" in the Philadelphia system. Antonio Bastardo has the ability to be a high-leverage, lockdown reliever. Tommy Joseph brings a power bat from behind the plate. As the summer goes on—barring All-Star-level campaigns from Michael Young. Mike Adams and Carlos Ruiz—both need to be given more opportunity on the big stage.
Asche could hit his way to the bigs and past Michael Young into the lineup. Bastardo's numbers and strikeout ability scream "closer of the future" rather than left-handed specialist or seventh-inning man. Joseph's power bat and future should be put ahead of the aging impending free agent Carlos Ruiz.
Charlie Manuel talked about #Phillies lineup options today, but said no matter what Ryan Howard will hit 4th ""till somebody (else) hits 50"— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 19, 2013
If the Phillies go years without competing for another postseason spot, it will be from stubbornness rather than a lack of options.
The past is over for this Phillies group. Fans may not love the idea of building and thinking for the future, but it's the best way to proceed.
Another era of winning baseball can be around the corner. Forward thinking, shrewd moves and understanding the potential of the current roster are the keys to Phillies fans seeing it in the near future.
Joe Giglio is an MLB Lead Writer covering the NL and AL East. Follow him on Twitter @JoeGiglioSports.
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