First, please acknowledge that I’m not picking on you. In fact, I’m a Phillies fan too. I’ve got tons of hats/shirts/jackets and such to prove it, should you not believe me. The Phils started the season 0-4, with much thanks to the bullpen. If you’ve been paying any attention over the last two years, you saw this coming. This season, in particular, was expected to be distinctly awful. Last season’s “luck” of ending with the worst record (and No. 1 overall pick) was no guarantee. Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, and Chase Utley were still on the team to open the 2015 season. Those three were enough to give people doubts that the Phillies could be bad enough to earn the first pick in the draft. Last year’s team was expected to be a non-contender while they pawned off what value they had left from their aging core, but scoring the draft pick was an added “bonus”.
This year, it’s less of a guessing game. If the Phillies do not have the worst record in the league this year, the front office’s plan for the season will have failed. I do not mean this as a slight to the front office, it is simply the truth. Of course I don’t expect Matt Klentak or Pete Mackanin to come out for the next press conference and say,
“Ok guys, you caught us. We are totally losing on purpose. Not only that, but we are going to continue to lose as much as possible, until we feel good about our farm system.”
That would be ridiculous of them to say, because it’s a terrible PR tactic. Sure, there would still be some attendance at the games. The diehard fans that love their team, no matter what, would certainly still attend, as would the non-Phillies fans in the area that just like to watch baseball. But if the team’s leadership actually told the media and fans of their intentions, the fanbase would essentially dissolve. That’s just how many fans are. If the team isn’t winning: they pick another sport.
Now Phillies fans, keep in mind that you begged for this rebuild. Remember the petition? Ruben Amaro Jr. was (understandably) run out of town for failing to initiate a rebuild in a timely fashion. I begged for this rebuild, too. The team needed it. We (the fans) needed it. As real as the goosebumps are when I watch the ‘08 Playoff highlights, that does not justify rooting for the same players, on the same team, 8 years later. Baseball just doesn’t work that way. It’s clear that the team is preparing to lose more than the front office will admit, but Pat Gillick warned us that this was coming.
One topic that I feel the need to address is the bullpen. Yes, the team started 0-4 thanks to the ‘pen. Yes, they would have been 2-2 if the relief corps wasn’t a complete tire-fire. However if you look at the history, a tire-fire bullpen is pretty essential to rebuilding a team. Think about it: wouldn’t it be incredibly foolish for a team with no intention of winning in the near future to invest in their bullpen? If the team isn’t expected to compete, then what good is a bullpen? You can’t save games that you don’t lead.
If you need a comparable situation, just look at the Astros or Cubs a few years ago. The Astros lost 100+ games for three consecutive years before taking the “leap” to a record of 70-92 in 2014. Last year, they finally got a taste of the playoffs with a Wild Card berth. This was a fairly quick rebuild for a team that was very, very hard to watch for half a decade. I doubt I’m the only person that feels that Carlos Correa, the 2012 No. 1 overall pick, played a huge role in the Astros’ success this year. If you agree, then please realize that Correa would be playing for a different team, had the Astros not been so bad in 2011.
The Cubs are a more extreme example, but they have done the same thing. Theo Epstein spelled it out pretty clearly for fans in Chicago, and let it be known from the start that the team would not be a contender while it is rebuilding. Epstein was very tactfully building a system with incredible depth and jaw-dropping talent for three years, all while the Major League team struggled to win 65 games per season. Now you see that Epstein’s plan has come to fruition, as the team won 97 games last year, and the roster is loaded with young talent. While injuries like Kyle Schwarber’s freak accident are always worrisome, the Cubs are still projected to do just fine, even without the slugging lefty.
Even though the team isn’t expected to win many games, there’s still plenty to be excited about when watching the Phillies. Maikel Franco looks like a star in the making over at third base. Should Odubel Herrera’s bat continue to develop, he will be even more of a steal. Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez have looked impressive on the mound, as has Jeremy Hellickson. The rebuild is working, it’ll just take some time before the Phillies will be winning games again.
Rest assured, Philly Phaithful, my blood boils as hot as yours when I watch this team blow saves. I hate to watch my favorite team lose, it really sucks. I simply believe that a rebuild is much more needed than a retooling for this team, and I want to see the Phillies win again someday soon. It’s no guarantee that the high draft picks to come will actually have a role on the next contending Phillies team, but the chances of success are definitely better than if they kept signing 30-year old free agents to supplement a now-37-year old core. Trust the leadership, watch the exciting players, then turn off the game once the bullpen falls apart. It’s hard to watch them lose, but this rebuild gives the Phillies the best opportunity to have another parade in the near future.