While the Sixers’ 100-year crawl through ignominy sparks hashtags, fan clubs and lottery parties, I’ve thought the Phillies’ rebuilding plan has a better chance.
Our baseball team’s process (pardon the copyright infringement) has three steps toward recapturing the glory days:
First, the Phils need to identify and nurture a half-dozen players on the current roster who comprise the nucleus going forward – keepers with talent to start on a contender.
Second, they must develop other prospects from the farm who will grow together, come up together, learn to win together. It occurred in the 1970s (Schmidt, Bowa, Boone, Luzinski) and the 2000s (Utley, Rollins, Howard, Hamels). It can happen again.
Third, with that foundation in place, ownership must go out after 2018 and add a few glittering free agents of the Harper, Machado, Kershaw pedigree. The Phils now sit on a Scrooge McDuck-sized money bag, and principle owner John Middleton has vowed to spend it.
Except there’s a problem. Parts 2 and 3 of this grand plan only work if Part 1 is successful. And right now, Part 1 is a disaster.
The Phils 6-22 stretch is wretched on many levels, but the worst is that it seems to reveal wood rot in the foundation. The current players counted on to be the future may be fraudulent.
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Headed into April, I identified five players on the big league roster as essential to the core: Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez. All (or at least most) of these 24- to 26-year-olds had to stabilize their careers this season and show they can avoid injury and produce on a consistent MLB level.
Well, the opposite has happened. Franco is a lost soul, hitting .213. Watch him at the plate. His head, front foot and rear end go in opposite directions as he waves at outside curveballs. Franco has regressed each season and, by some accounts, may be the next Phillie traded.
Herrera, a 2016 All-Star, may be even worse. His OPS is now at .592 – not bad for a pitcher, horrible for a centerfielder. His desperation to break the slump has him flailing at everything. For May, El Torito has one walk, 29 strikeouts. That’s some bull.
And the pitchers? Combined, Nola, Eickhoff and Velasquez have a 4.95 ERA, 13.0 WHIP and 4-11 record. Plus, they’re averaging under 5-2/3 innings per start.
Each of my five nucleus guys might turn things around. Franco’s had cold-and-hot streaks before. Nola’s working past an injury. Eickhoff’s pitched in some bad luck. But the evidence mounts that all or most of them may not become the front-liners they were projected to be.
And if that’s the case, it places an impossible burden on the farm system. And it makes Citizens Bank Park a far less attractive destination for elite free agents.
So root for the Phils over the next month, but root especially hard for those five players to crawl through the river of sludge and come out clean on the other side.