Sports rebuilds occur in stages. First you hit rock bottom, as the Phillies did last season. Then you hope the kids you bring in through draft or trades can develop together, as the Phils are doing now. Optimism amid the growing pains.
Then it comes time to accelerate. A trade to cover a hole in the system. A free agent to add leadership and show you’re serious. That was supposed to be next season, at the earliest. Remember when outgoing President Pat Gillick said they were unlikely to contend again before — gulp — 2018?
Except construction on this luxury house is moving nicely ahead of schedule. Maybe the rebuild doesn’t need to be as arduous and painful as we all girded up for. Perhaps the time to accelerate the plan is now.
The Phillies entered this week with a .568 winning percentage, good enough right now for that last wildcard spot. While a minus-31 season-long run differential makes the record seem illusory, note that it accumulated early. Since they went to Washington for a three-game sweep over the Nats on Apr. 26, the Phils have scored as many runs as they’ve allowed. And they’re 16-9 overall.
What we know is they’ve got a nifty young rotation, led by Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez. They’ve got an end-of-game bullpen that rarely falters. Their defense — with the obvious exception of Ryan Howard at first base — is solid. I don’t expect falloff in any of these areas.
Manager Pete Mackanin seems everything Ryan Sandberg wasn’t: creative, engaged, able to motivate youngsters and rookies. Odubel Herrera is an offensive threat in every regard — he can even bunt his way on. And Maikel Franco? Let’s just believe that last year’s splits — a .581 OPS before June 1, a .905 OPS after that — will come into effect again.
Hey, logic may say this team can’t hang in a pennant race. Too little offense, too many kids bound to run into slumps. Conventional wisdom says you wait for the next wave of prospects — Nick Williams, J.P Crawford and Jake Thompson — while enjoying any minimal success right now.
Except maybe, just maybe, they don’t have to wait. GM Matt Klentak certainly should not ship out any of the glowing lights of the system. But, come June, if he can add a veteran outfield bat for a B prospect, pick up an inflated contract to put some power in the lineup — well, he’d be wise to act. Start by finding someone who can persuade Mackanin to stop batting his pitcher eighth.
Hey, who says you have to adhere to a slower timetable? Fans are back, once again interested in this team. There’s the energy of youth, with more kids working their way up. But a dash of two of veteran offensive power added to this lineup could have the Phils playing meaningful games deep into the summer.
Sometimes, “the process” doesn’t have to take as long as you think.