7 Reasons to Keep Watching the Phillies with an Eye on 2014
As the 61-73 Phillies head to Chicago for a Labor Day weekend series at Wrigley Field, there won't be a postseason run to look forward to for a fan base that hasn't experienced a losing season since 2002.
Instead of trying to get back into the National League playoff race, the Phillies will be looking towards the future. For the first time in a long time, it's very, very uncertain.
With an interim manager, young players trying to prove their big league worth and major decisions coming on veterans in the offseason, the franchise is at a crossroads.
September might feel like spring training 2014 has come early. Sit back and enjoy watching the path back to contention unfold over the next month.
Here are seven things to watch in September, Phillies fans.
1. Ryne Sandberg's Interim Tag
When the organization decided to move on from Charlie Manuel earlier this month, Sandberg's elevation to skipper wasn't hardly surprising, but the interim tag placed upon did catch the attention of Phillies fans.
Over the next month, can Sandberg truly do anything to remove that tag, or are the Phillies planning on conducting a full search and interview process to make sure their dugout is led by the best available manager next season?
If Sandberg's tryout is about wins and losses, he doesn't have a good enough roster to achieve tremendous results. If it's about handling a clubhouse and showing his mettle on in-game moves, he could earn the job before a slew of candidates become available.
2. Darin Ruf's Future
What is Darin Ruf?
On the surface, he's a 27-year-old right-handed hitter with power, a late-bloomer through the Phillies farm system and currently playing the outfield.
His future, however, is in doubt.
One of the biggest pieces of Philadelphia's offseason puzzle will to find out if Ruf can be an everyday player, bench piece or platoon partner for Ryan Howard at first base.
In terms of his Major League production at the plate, he's certainly making a case to be part of the future in Philly.
In 223 major league plate appearances, Ruf has posted an .891 OPS, smacked 24 extra-base hits and been roughly 40 percent better than league average with a 140 OPS-plus mark.
If he can continue to hit, Ruben Amaro Jr. will be forced to make him part of the long-term picture heading into 2014.
3. Roy Halladay's Value
When Roy Halladay when under the knife for shoulder surgery in April, I thought his career in Philadelphia was over.
Now that he's back on the mound, his performance and health over the next five weeks will make his likely impending free agency one of the most unique on the open market.
With a vesting option of $20 million, based on innings Halladay can't reach due to injuries in 2012 and 2013, set disappear, the 36-year-old former star will be a free agent at the conclusion of the season.
If healthy and the Halladay of old, $20 million for 2014 would have been a steal.
Now? He might not be worth half that on a one-year deal.
If he pitches well, the Phillies would surely want him back, but he could price himself out of town with a big September.
4. Cody Asche's Stake to Third Base
Asche, Philadelphia's fourth round pick in the 2011 draft, has the month of September to entrench himself as the franchise's starting third baseman heading into the 2014 season.
The 23-year-old has posted a .730 OPS in 93 plate appearances thus far, but, if his minor league track record proves to be a precursor to his big league career, improvement will follow.
Upon his selection in the 2011 draft, Asche was deployed to Single-A Williamsport of the New York-Penn League. During his 68-game stint that summer, he hit only .192.
Starting in 2012, big improvement began.
Over the last two seasons, Asche has put up OPS marks of at least .825 through each of his stops in the Philadelphia minor league system.
If he can improve from August to September in Philadelphia, the team will have a good view of their future third base plans.
5. Kyle Kendrick's Looming Arbitration
Kyle Kendrick has been a durable and versatile arm for the Phillies since the 2007 season. In 191 games, 150 of which have come as a starter, the 29-year-old right-hander has give the organization 923.1 innings of decent baseball.
Most importantly for a team that routinely pays stars atop their roster, Kendrick has done it at a very, very cheap rate.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Kendrick has made just over $11 million since his arrival in 2007, but, as David Murphy of Philly.com pointed out today, he's likely to command $8-10 million in arbitration this winter.
Outside of Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the Philadelphia rotation for 2014 is up in the air.
Kendrick, at $8 million, could provide peace of mind and durability in one of the three open spots.
6. Realistic Win-Curve
Rebuilding has become an uncomfortable term to use around Phillies fans. With a franchise that did nothing but win from 2007-2011, accepting years of losing in order to properly build for the future is hard to do.
Yet, regardless Sandberg's status or ownership's demands to fill the ballpark in 2014, the Phillies need to take a realistic look at themselves and the rest of the NL East to determine their direction and approach towards 2014.
Can young players like Ruf and Asche provide big, cheap bats in 2014? Will the team bring back Roy Halladay? What will Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins be as they continue to age?
All are relevant questions, but are only part of the evaluation of if 2014 is a realistic year for winning.
Along with the in-house issues, the Phillies need to monitor the state of the Braves, Nationals, Mets and Marlins heading into next season.
If contention is possible, the organization owes it to themselves and their fanbase to go for it. If 2015 and 2016 are more realistic, moves should be made that correlate with that thinking.
Don't just watch the Phillies in September. Keep an eye on their rivals, too.
7. Prospects on the Horizon
When the rosters expand on September 1, Philadelphia fans will have a chance to look at some of the organization's minor league stars. While it's hard to properly evaluate young players in September due to issues with playing time and competition around the league, it can give fans something to base their "eye ball" test on for the following season.
B/R's Alec Synder did a great job of projecting five prospects (Adam Morgan, Cameron Rupp, Cesar Hernandez, Leandro Castro, David Buchanan) that could have their names called in September.
Of that group, Morgan's potential as a mid-rotation starter is intriguing enough to take a gander at his appearances.
While his September inclusion in Philly is a long shot, keep an eye on Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
If that name sounds familiar, it should. The Cuban right-handed pitcher, first heard about in conjunction with the Phils in July, has officially signed a revised deal, according to a tweet from Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
Gonzalez's debut, whenever it occurs, will be must watch action.