Entering the 2013-14 offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies are a team that should be in the middle of a gut and rebuild.
Unfortunately, Phillies management looks at Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and think that since they're all wearing the same numbers and playing the same positions that maybe it is still 2009.
For that reason, the Phillies are in the worst position the franchise has been in entering an offseason since 1996-97.
The 1996 Phillies team, like the 2013 version, boasted familiar faces doing sadly unfamiliar things.
And those fading stars, like Utley and company now, were victims of their own success.
Darren Daulton and Lenny Dykstra were the primary holdovers from the improbable 1993 National League champions. The pennant they won bought them time in Philadelphia in the form of (for the time) long, guaranteed contracts.
Daulton had actually landed his big-money deal before the pennant run, signing a four-year, $18.5 million contract extension before the 1993 season began. Certainly, the money the Phillies owed Daulton kept him in Philadelphia longer than his falling production and failing health justified.
Dykstra notoriously parlayed his 1993 playoff success into a now clearly absurd four-year contract extension that guaranteed him $24.9 million.
At the time that must have seemed like generational money for Dykstra. It wasn't.
Come 1997, Daulton was playing out the string as a miscast right fielder. That was more than Dykstra could say: He was (unbeknownst to him) never to play another Major League Baseball game.
As you no doubt recall, the Phillies did not return to the playoffs until 2007.
They did not revive the dying franchise in free agency, either. They reloaded through the draft with players like Pat Burrell, Rollins, Utley and Hamels. By the time Howard was launching home runs off stadium facades throughout Major League Baseball, the Phillies were one of the best teams in the sport.
The Golden Era of Phillies baseball (2007-2011) is now indisputably past. Unfortunately, what is likely to follow is a repeat of the lost Phillies seasons through the remainder of the 1990's that followed the fluke World Series appearance in 1993.
The Phillies, committed long-term at long dollars to too many heroes of the not-that-recent past, are going to try to fill in around their expensive burned-out supernovas with a modest signing here and a promoted-too-soon minor leaguer there.
What the Phillies should do is take several steps back as soon as possible.
That would mean parting with Hamels and Lee, the two Phillies who have the highest trade value. Even given their oversized contracts, both left-handers would fetch a good return in prospects from a team like the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who had a lot less pitching than they thought they had in 2013.
The Phillies will point to their coming television contract negotiation and their flagging attendance as reasons for their apparent plan to stay their disastrous course in the face of incontrovertible evidence that what they are doing is not working.
Unlike the Phillies of the late 1990's and early 2000's, though, the current franchise cannot build a new stadium to turn things around quickly.
Could Howard, Utley and Rollins all bounce back in 2014? Could Hamels stop losing two of every three decisions? Maybe.
Unfortunately for Phillies fans, that is the franchise's only hope for the near—and even further away—future.
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