2014 Finish: 73-89 (Last in NL East)
Projected Batting Order
CF Ben Revere
C Carlos Ruiz
2B Chase Utley
1B Ryan Howard
LF Domonic Brown
3B Cody Asche/Mikel Franco
RF Jeff Francouer/Darin Ruf
SS Freddy Galvis
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
LHP Cole Hamels
RHP Aaron Harang
RHP Chad Billingsley
RHP Jerome Williams
RHP Sean O’Sullivan
CLOSER Jonathan Papelbon
The Phillies are in the midst of a re-build. But the last person to realize that was apparently GM Ruben Amaro. So they are probably two years behind where they need to be and still have a number of high priced players who should have been traded away in recent years including Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon. Cliff Lee should also be gone, but continues to fight injury, hurting his value. The Phillies had a window to trade him when he was healthy 2 years ago, but held on to him and have regretted it. Philadelphia is a tough town for sports. Philly fans are notoriously brutal and impatient and have earned their reputation for being the worst fans in sports. But in this instance, their ire is warranted. In the modern baseball landscape, you are either going for it or re-building. The Phillies have tried to straddle the line for too long, locking themselves into a re-build that doesn’t look to have a quick turnaround time.
Last year the Phillies hit 242 as a team, ranking 10th out of 15 NL teams. They were also 10th in hits and runs and 9th in HR. That’s fairly consistent, but on the wrong end of the spectrum. This team is pretty much the same as last year. They parted ways with Marlon Byrd, a luxury they couldn’t afford or justify. They also let Jimmy Rollins go via trade, a move that looks brilliant at this point in the year. But they still have Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the right side of the infield, making a lot of money and blocking youngsters from a chance to play in the big leagues. Carlos Ruiz is still behind the plate. And their outfield still features a number of guys with one or two skills, but generally not enough to be more than an average outfielder in the major leagues (and that’s probably too generous). The Phillies will send the same squad out there this year, but Philly fans are hoping to see a much different team take the field by the end of the year as they are practically begging for the team to blow it all up and start over.
I think the Phillies best offensive piece is Ben Revere. Revere tied with another NL East center fielder last year to lead the league in hits (Denard Span), was third in SB and 5th in batting average. That’s very good. But he has absolutely no power with only 22 extra base hits out of those 184. So he is a very limited player. He’s a career 291 hitter with a 325 OBP. But you know what you are getting with him, and it’s singles and stolen bases. I like him a lot this year and figured he’d be good for another year around 300 (305 in 2013, 306 in 2014) with 45+ SB (49 last year) but only about 75 R (nobody decent to drive him in). While he isn’t great, he’s likely their best player on the offensive side of the ball. He is a better player than Philly fans realize.
Frankly, the rest of the offense goes downhill from him. Chase Utley can still be a good hitter, though not what he used to be. Last year he hit 270 with 11 HR, 78 RBI and 10 SB. The speed was a surprise. The rest was where I thought it would be. For a second baseman, that’s very good. For Utley, it’s a clear decline, which is understandable since he’s 35 years old with a significant injury history. I like Utley but think the Phillies had no business re-signing him. It was not an unfair deal, but they shouldn’t be spending money on a veteran who won’t be around to help them win in the future. The more confusing part is that Utley wanted to return to the Phillies. I figured he’d be good for 265+ again with 10-12 HR, 65-70 RBI and maybe 5 SB. But he’s played terribly to start the year and is currently on the DL. He’ll need a very strong second half to reach those plateaus.
First baseman Ryan Howard is shockingly still around. After winning the Rookie of the Year and MVP in back to back seasons, things looked bright for Howard. But pitchers adjusted to him, realizing the big man had huge holes in his swing and Howard has not been able to adjust. More importantly pitchers have kept him from going yard. He’s been in a heavy decline since 2012, and a slight one since 2008. That’s part of the reason almost everyone derided his 5 year $125 million deal in 2011. His AVG fell off a cliff in 2012 and outside of half a season of 266 in 2013, Howard has not reached 220 in a season. He stayed healthy for 153 games last year and reached 23 HR, the first time he surpassed 20 since 2011. His 95 RBI last year was also his highest total since 2011. He only hit 223, but a 23 HR/95 RBI guy has value. The Phillies should have aggressively pursued a trade in the offseason or at the trading deadline last year when his value was the highest it’s been in 4 years. They didn’t, and now his market value has returned to zero. He really is just a guy who will run into 20 HR, hit for a terrible AVG, strike out a ton and can no longer work a walk. Nobody wants him. I thought he would struggle this year, to the tune of 200 with 15 HR and maybe 60 RBI. He’s playing a little better, but not much. And he will likely continue to eat away at the Phillies funds and play bad baseball for them for the remainder of his deal since he no longer has any trade value. This was the biggest mistake Amaro ever made, and he continued to make mistakes with Howard again and again.
Carlos Ruiz is back behind the plate again. Ruiz has had a decent career with 3 good years in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but a PED suspension in that time explaining away the numbers. Outside of that, he’s been a guy who hits around 250 with 6-8 HR and a good defensive reputation. Pitchers like throwing to him, which is why he’s stuck around so long. But he’s 35 and doesn’t play like he used to. He can work a walk, but is a below average offensive catcher at this point in his career. I don’t think there’s a ton of interest in him and he doesn’t make a lot of money so a trade doesn’t help anyone very much. I bet he’ll finish his career as a Phillie. Preseason, I liked him for 240 with 5 HR and 35 RBI. That seems to be a reasonable estimate at this point.
Domonic Brown is the only other name of note on this offense. A long-time prospect, Brown never seemed to do anything with his chances in the big leagues. But he slugged 27 HR and hit 272 in 2013. But the second half of that season saw him struggle and last year he only hit 235 with 10 HR. He doesn’t make adjustments well and that has crippled him in the big leagues. I think another season of 240-245 is in the offing (career 246) with 12 HR and 65 RBI. A little better than last year, but still not what the Philadelphia front office expects of him. With injuries limiting him to 19 games thus far, those totals look like they may be out of reach.
Cody Asche is one of the few young Phillies on the starting roster. He played in 121 games last year hitting 251 with 10 HR. The year before it was 50 games with 5 HR and a 235 AVG. He may be a serviceable big leaguer, but not someone to get excited about. He had to fight Mikel Franco to win the starting job at third, but earned it to start the year. However, with the recent struggles of the outfield, Asche has played a lot of left, letting Franco have time at third. I liked him for another 250 season with 12 HR and 50 RBI. But an injury has robbed him of some time. The AVG looks to be on point, yet he will likely fall a little short of the HR/RBI total, but only because of missed games.
Mikel Franco has gotten a chance to play in the big leagues this year. He’s started hot hitting 297 with 10 HR and 34 RBI in 48 games. His bat kept him in the majors even after Asche got healthy. Asche has been moved to left to keep both bats in the lineup. He’s had some hype around him coming through the minors, but no one realized he’d be this good. That being said, he’s still very young and will have to learn to make adjustments as pitchers adjust to him. And that’s something that most young players struggle with greatly.
The outfield is a mess. I originally saw Domonic Brown in left, Revere in center and Darin Ruf in right. But Ruf has struggled greatly (227, 4 HR in 52 games). Early on in the season, Revere played left (due to his defensive limitations in center) while Obdell Hererra played center. Hererra has been passable in his 75 games (264/3 HR/22 RBI/8 for 12 on the base paths) and has earned playing time. Grady Sizemore and Jeff Francouer have both played a lot of right field, more for their defensive presence than their bats. Sizemore was eventually released and signed with Tampa Bay. Francouer has played better than expected with 5 HR and a 259 AVG. But in the end, this defense features what is likely 1 proven everyday outfielder (Revere), 1 possible everyday outfielder (Hererra), and lots of question marks, which is why Asche has moved from third base to be the everyday man in left field.
Freddy Galvis will man short, but I had little to no expectations from him. His glove got him the job, but outside of occasional pop, he’s done little else at the plate over his career. I didn’t even bother making predictions for him, thinking a young prospect may take his job away. That being said, he has played better than I expected hitting 277 with 6 SB thus far.
That’s the offense. There are lots of bats around on the bench in the forms of Brown, Ruf and whoever isn’t playing out of the Francouer/Revere/Hererra trio. That’s a luxury, but none of those guys will help the Phillies much now, or in the future. I think it’s telling that Cody Asche, a young third baseman who hits around 250 with 10 HR in a season, was moved out of position to get his bat in the lineup. I can’t think of a more average stat line, but it was still good enough to warrant moving him from third base to left field to play everyday. It sent Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf to the bench and ate into the playing time of the rest of the outfield as Francoeur, Revere and Hererra now share two positions. This offense will struggle to score runs, and the near future doesn’t provide much relief.
The defense is also subpar in the city of brotherly love. Howard is a butcher at first base defensively. Utley has lost range at second. Galvis is solid at short and Mikel Franco is below average at third. He looks like a future first baseman, but can’t play there until Howard is out of the picture. Carlos Ruiz still calls a good game and has a decent percentage on throwing out base runners, but doesn’t frame pitches or block the plate as well as he used to. Cody Asche is the superior defensive third baseman, but also the better athlete between him and Franco so he was tabbed to learn left field. He may be good there eventually, but not this year. Ben Revere has great speed and that makes up for his deficiencies in the outfield. He gets bad reads and takes terrible routes to the ball. But his speed helps his range be average to better, despite terrible instincts and a limp arm. He’s better in left field. Francoeur is a very solid right fielder, even if he’s lost a slight step. He still has the best arm in baseball. Obdell Hererra plays center and second fairly solidly. He’d also be fine in left. Domonic Brown was a bad defensive outfielder. Darin Ruf was passable in either corner. There are lots of outfield options, but really the best outfield defense of Revere in left, Hererra in center and Francoeur in right doesn’t happen often for offensive reasons.
While the Phillies offense struggled last year, the pitching was worse. Their team ERA of 3.79 was 12th in the NL. They were 11th in hits allowed, 14th in walks and 9th in Ks. Last season, the Phils had 7 different pitchers make starts for them. 6 of them were veterans who were either Phillies already, or were past their prime. Philadelphia did decide to save money in this area as they let A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez walk in free agency. They were planning to go with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jerome Williams, newly signed Aaron Harang and a mixture of David Buchannan and Sean O’Sullivan for the last spot. But Lee is gone for the year and Williams has already had health issues. So the Phillies have had to turn to their farm system to fill out some of the spots and the rest went to re-treads trying to come back from injury including Chad Billingsley, Kevin Correia and Dustin McGowan. It hasn’t worked as Philly has already used 11 different starters.
Needless to say, I didn’t make predictions for all 11 pitchers, as I didn’t know all would be starting. I knew Cliff Lee was gone for the year, so I started with Cole Hamels. Hamels is exceedingly talented and has the track record to prove it. He’s reached 200 IP 6 of the last 7 seasons, reaching 193 IP the one season he was under 200. He’s also had an ERA under 3.10 4 of the last 5 seasons with the other season in that span being 3.60. But 2 of those 5 seasons saw ERAs under 2.80 with a career best 2.46 last season. He’s struck out 200 hitters 3 of the last 5 years, with 190+ the other 2 years in that span. He is consistent and experienced with a World Series MVP on his resume. And yet all the talk about Hamels has been less on performance, and more on what it would take for Philly to trade him. He has no business being on that team. Ruben Amaro Jr. refuses to let him go for anything other than an insane haul of talent and salary relief. But Amaro has a terrible reputation for over-valuing his players and for that reason no one wants to trade with him. For the time being, Hamels is wasting away on the Phillies throwing incredible innings and not getting any wins or run support. I thought he’d have another season of 200 IP, 180+ Ks and an ERA around 3. He’s well on his way to those totals now. But with those great totals, I was expecting a losing record and only about 8 Wins. Hopefully he ends the season on another team. Otherwise he will continue to see his Win total tank and Philly will overspend on an asset they can’t afford.
Aaron Harang was signed to give Philly the same kind of innings he gave Atlanta last year. As a 36-year old, he gave Atlanta 204 IP, a 12-12 record and 3.57 ERA. That was phenomenal output and was completely unexpected. Harang used to be an excellent, underrated pitcher, but his best days are far behind him. While he started hot for the Braves, his second half was not nearly as strong as his first half. I thought he’d have a similar year in Philly, with perhaps 10 Wins, 12 losses and an ERA of 4 moving to the hitter’s park in Philly. 200 IP would make this signing a win. Even 175 IP. While he started on a strong note again, his last 8 starts have been a mess and he is now on the DL with plantar fasciitis.
With Harang going to the DL, the Phils were able to activate Chad Billingsley. They were hoping for a bounce back for Billingsley, the talented starter who saw his Dodger career ruined by injuries. He’s only made 2 starts in the last two years so this was a risky move for Philly. But he came cheap and had 81 Wins and a career ERA under 3.70 coming into the season. Like Harang, the goal was innings. But he started the year on the DL. I thought he’d come back sooner than he did and maybe make 25 starts and give Philly 150 IP. My estimate was 8 Wins and an ERA of 4.25. But his late return and a disastrous first 4 starts make those totals look unlikely.
Jerome Williams is a solid veteran arm who can fill in the back end of a rotation. He played for 3 different teams last year, pitching out of the bullpen for Houston and starting for Texas and Philadelphia. He went 5-3 in his 11 starts. His ERA was 6.43 as a reliever in Houston and 9.90 in his 2 starts in Texas. Luckily he was much better in his 9 starts in Philly, pitching to a 2.83 ERA. Like Harang and Billingsley, I thought the goal for Williams was competitive innings. I expected 5-8 Wins, 10 Losses and maybe a 4.50-4.75 ERA. He has made 14 starts thus far and hasn’t even pitched well enough to reach those pedestrian numbers. He’s currently on the DL. Still, with the unsure situation at the back of the rotation, the loss of Cliff Lee and the hopeful trade of Cole Hamels, the Phillies just want him to throw a lot of innings and eat up starts, even if that means an ERA of 5, which would currently be an improvement on his numbers.
With all the injuries piling up, Philadelphia signed journeyman Kevin Correia to a deal and he has made 5 starts for team thus far. He’s 0-3 with a 6.56 ERA, so he has not been great.
Sean O’Sullivan beat out David Buchannan for the last spot in the rotation, but hasn’t played that well either. I didn’t expect much from him, but 1-6 with a 5.76 ERA in 12 starts is worse than I imagined.
That’s the starting rotation. It’s not great. It’ll get worse if Cole Hamels is traded, which he should be. So David Buchannan may get called back up. At least he’s young, even if he hasn’t pitched well to this point in his career.
The bullpen features Jonathan Papelbon, another major trade chip. He has no business on this team and there are good teams that could use his closing expertise. He is the most likely piece to be moved. He’s not as good as he used to be, but he’s reached 30 Saves in 2 of his 3 seasons in Philly, with the other year being a 29 Save season. He keeps runners off base, works around hits and isn’t afraid to adapt and tinker with his approach to pitching. And while he’s not an elite closer anymore, he still better than average and would be a useful piece to any number of contending teams, especially Houston and Toronto. I think he will get traded, but Ruben Amaro will have to bring the asking price down.
The rest of the bullpen includes a number of young arms including Justin De Fratus (who has made some starts for Philly), set up man Ken Giles (a future closer) and Jeanmar Gomez, a formerly highly touted prospect who hasn’t been successful starting at the big league level. These arms aren’t proven, but at least most are young. But there is little excitement about this group, even in comparison to other young bullpens.
The Phillies pitching staff wasn’t great last year. It only looks to be worse this season, with a potential to lose their two best pitchers in Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon. The hope is the Phils will also get a look at some of their young arms and see if any can be a meaningful part of their future, though contending in the future looks to be farther away than Phillies’ fans would like
The Phillies are a team in transition. The problem is, they have been a bad team for years, but haven’t committed to re-building until seeing their team absolutely fall apart. They are in the worst possible position: they have a lot of old, highly paid veterans to go with underwhelming young players. There is also very little in the high levels of the Phillies’ farm system, which means change is farther away than anyone in Philly wants to admit.
A good season for Philadelphia would be trading away Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon for a busload of prospects. A great year would be dumping Hamels, Papelbon and Ryan Howard. Chase Utley could also be on the trading block, or at least he should be. Maybe Amaro ties Ryan Howard to Cole Hamels, the way John Hart did with Craig Kimbrel and B.J. Upton. The problem is, these guys have been on the block so long with no interested trade partners, that the Phillies may have reached a point of diminishing returns, and may have to eventually settle for far less than they want. The other option is to continue paying these guys a bunch of money for subpar baseball (outside of Papelbon and Hamels). That’s the worst possible option, so don’t be surprised to see some movement from Philadelphia at the trade deadline.
The future is not clear for Philly. What is clear, is that the present will be bad. It can look better, if the Phillies can dump some assets while they have value. But even that will only help some, as they need to re-build from the minors up to the major league club. This team has fallen on hard times and seems unlikely to improve soon. I’m thinking 60 Wins and a last place finish in the NL East.