(Controlling owner Middleton needs to open the pocketbook wide)
For much of this past summer the Philadelphia Phillies appeared to be a team and an organization on the rise. The club bolted to first place and sat atop the National League East Division standings for more than a month. The teams within their minor league organization were also enjoying success.
But in the end, the Phillies collapsed to finish in third place with a losing record for the sixth consecutive season. And though three of the organization’s minor league affiliates reached the postseason, none were able to capture a title.
It was a disheartening ending to what as recently as early August seemed to be shaping up as a summer full of promise. Still, you might be excused for feeling that the Phillies organization was making positive strides and was now primed to contend for years to come.
Slow your roll.
By the failed stretch run, the Phillies were regularly starting a lineup where half the players were over 30 years of age. And in their most recent organizational rankings, the respected analysts at Baseball America had dropped the Phillies from sixth to 18th place. Just as importantly, the Phillies division rivals were on the rise.
The Atlanta Braves ran away with the National League East Division crown. The Braves are led by 28-year-old Freddie Freeman and feature a pair of dynamic young talents in second baseman Ozzie Albies (21) and left fielder Ronald Acuna (20) in their everyday lineup. Atlanta also has a boatload of talented young pitchers both at the big-league and minor league levels.
The Washington Nationals bolted past the Phillies to finish in second place. They may lose superstar Bryce Harper to free agency, possibly even to the Phillies. However, the Nats are likely to remain serious contenders thanks to the emergence of shortstop Trea Turner (25) and outfielders Juan Soto (20) and Victor Robles (21) along with their returning solid pitching.
Baseball America put the Braves at #5 and the Nationals at #12 in their organizational rankings. And it isn’t just those two teams that the Phillies appear to need to focus upon with concern.
The New York Mets suffered through an extremely disappointing campaign, one marred seriously by injuries. By the end of the year, New York had pulled within just three games of the Phillies in the standings.
New York was rated at #19, just one place behind the Phillies, in the Baseball America organizational rankings. That was a jump up from 27th place on their previous list, revealing that the Mets organization appears to be on the rise.
There is no doubt that things are looking up for the Phillies as far as their own possibilities are concerned. There are a handful of talented young players and pitchers, and a few well-regarded minor league prospects. The club is positioned well financially to add impact free agents.
More the point for Phillies fans is that whether their team actually develops into a true contender for the next handful of seasons is not simply a matter of what their own team is doing. It is not simply a matter of whether Rhys Hoskins and Aaron Nola are joined by two or three more young players stepping forward to impact the on-field talent at Citizens Bank Park.
The real point is that their direct competitors in the National League East Division continue working hard to contend into the future themselves.
The main reason that the Phillies, led by owner John Middleton, need to spend big in free agency if they actually want to contend next season and into the immediate future is that, frankly, they are playing from behind.