Thursday, July 27, 2017

Phillies rebuild reaches difficult transition phase

Hernandez, Herrera, Galvis part of recent losing core
For a fifth consecutive year, the Philadelphia Phillies are in the midst of a miserable season.

The glorious winning decade of success from 2001-2011 reclaimed old fans and captivated a new generation of younger fans. All of that glory and excitement is now, sadly, a faded memory.
The collapse of that Phillies era came shockingly fast. Age, injuries, and poor decisions by the previous management regime conspired to erase any hope of a seemless transition into another generation of similar success.
For a couple of years, the Phillies went through a necessary transformation. There were purges everywhere, from the roster to the front office, even up to control of the ownership group.
The new regime took over where the old had ended, completing the job of turning the page from that faded former glory. As new prospects were brought in via trade and the MLB Amateur Draft, the farm system gradually regained respect from the wider baseball industry.
During the transitional period, a group of players has been taking the field for a few years now as the core of the Phillies lineup. That core group has not experienced very much success.

THE LOSING CORE

Those players include catcher Cameron Rupp, who turns 29 years old in two months. Rupp has been the starter behind the plate for most of the last two and a half seasons.
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez and shortstop Freddy Galvis, both 27 years old now, are each in their third season as the starting Keystone combo.
Center fielder Odubel Herrera is 25 years of age. ‘El Torito’ is in his third starting season as well. Third baseman Maikel Franco, who turns 25 a month from now, is now in his third season as the primary starter at the hot corner.
For the vast majority of the last three seasons, that core of Rupp, Hernandez, Galvis, Herrera, and Franco have been written into the Phillies starting lineup.
In 2015 they finished 63-99, the worst record in Major League Baseball. They barely avoiding becoming the first Phillies team in more than a half-century to lose 100 or more games.
In 2016 they “improved” to 71-91, and thus finished ahead of seven of MLB’s other 29 teams. There was hope that maybe, just maybe, they were taking a step forward. Alas, it was not to be.
Thus far in 2017 the Phillies are 35-64, which is back to being the worst record in all of baseball. There has been no progress shown down at Citizens Bank Park. Not by the team as a whole, and not by this core group of players who remain regulars in the starting lineup.

PHILLIES NEED SOLUTIONS, NOT EXCUSES

I constantly read and hear writers and broadcasters extolling the virtues of one or the other of these players. Those platitudes usually come during some hot streak of play.
What I rarely, if ever, see addressed by those same people watching this mess is the totality of their efforts.

The fact is that with this Phillies core, the proof is in the pudding. They have been the core now into this third season. The team is a combined 85 games below the .500 mark in that time.
You can nitpick all you want and say that it isn’t all their fault. Yes, a couple have been injured for stretches and missed some of that time. Yes, the team has been transitioning on the mound as well. We all know that pitching is at least half of the puzzle.
But the fact is that a large share of the blame for the Phillies consistently poor play these last three years rests with the lineup core. They simply aren’t very good big league ballplayers.
Let’s look at their career slash lines. Rupp carries a .239/.302/.409 line. Hernandez is at .281/.349/.368, Galvis has a .243/.284/.378 line. Herrera slashes .286/.344/.424, and Franco has a .249/.304/.427 line.
That’s five of your eight starting position players doing nothing special. That comes to thousands of plate appearances over three years accomplishing little on a consistent basis.

PROSPECTS ARE NEARLY READY FOR THEIR SHOT

Some of the Phillies most exciting prospects are nearly ready to advance from the minor leagues. By no later than spring training of 2018, second baseman Scott Kingery and shortstop J.P. Crawford will be ready to begin trying to approximate what Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins did in the middle of the Phillies infield a decade earlier.
First baseman Rhys Hoskins is ready right now for his shot. But the Phillies keep giving at-bats to Tommy Joseph, who is slashing .253/.312/.453 for the season, and just .233/.299/.457 since mid-June.
I have real concerns that the Phillies brain trust does not recognize that their recent/current core players are simply a dysfunctional group of placeholders.

Maybe worse, perhaps management recognizes it, but has invested so much in publicizing these players that they have already written off the 2017 season completely, and are willing to just let it die.

TIME TO TURN THE PAGE

Rupp should be traded right now. Hernandez and Galvis need to be dealt away by early next season at the latest. Me? I’d be floating Herrera’s name right now. Franco is the only one of the current core who I would keep around and factor into my 2018 plans.
I don’t think that the Phillies will suddenly become a winning team if the prospects are called up. I don’t even think that 2018 will be a winning season if the kids take over for the current core.
What is certain is that Phillies baseball will be far more exciting when fans believe they are watching the future develop in front of them. Nick Williams is demonstrating the possibilities. But right now, he is a lone bright light.
Williams is also a good example of the problem. He had been hitting for weeks, and his overall game had obviously improved right from the start of the AAA season. Yet he only got the call due to injuries at the big league level.
Will Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail be able to move on from this losing core by will, and not simply wait for circumstance?

Due they have the stomach to look beyond the positives that the current core players have in certain areas of their games, and give the full-time opportunities needed by the younger, higher upside kids?
The next phase of the Phillies rebuilding program may be the hardest, coming in the closing weeks of this season and into next spring.

Moving on from core players who have been here, holding down the fort for 2-3-4 difficult, losing years. But it is a necessary phase, one that it is the management team’s job to see through successfully.

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