Phillies' rebuild finally underway, but long season awaits in 2015
This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 30: the Philadelphia Phillies.
2014 Record and Finish: 73–89 (.407), fifth place in NL East (23rd overall)
2015 Projected Record and Finish: 63–99 (.389), fifth place in NL East (30th overall)
The Case For
It’s official: The big teardown that should have begun years ago is officially underway. Even the most optimistic Phillies fan knows it’s going to be a very rough year at Citizens Bank Park. It’s easy to look at Ruben Amaro’s team and see the disaster that the punching bag general manager has made, but let's take a moment to recognize what the Phillies do have: Cole Hamels, a bona fide ace who’s in his prime; Chase Utley, last year’s NL WAR leader among second basemen; a bullpen that has a chance to be quite good, anchored by a closer in Jonathan Papelbon who has quietly posted three straight sub-3.00 ERA seasons and had 39 saves and just four blown saves in 2014.
Do these parts make a playoff team? No, but there are a few things that, if they break right, could inspire hope. The stars need to stay healthy, Ryan Howard miraculously needs to find his 30-home run stroke, a few pitchers behind Hamels must rise to the occasion (Jerome Williams, who posted a 2.83 ERA over nine starts and 57 1/3 innings last year, could be interesting) and Papelbon has to continue to dominate while the rest of the bullpen performs up to its potential. If all those things happen… well, it's still hard to envision Philadelphia getting to .500. This isn’t close to a playoff team—but maybe the Phillies won't be quite as unwatchable as we think they’ll be.
The Case Against
The biggest change in Philly, of course, is that Jimmy Rollins is gone, and while his replacement at shortstop, Freddy Galvis, is adept with the glove, he doesn’t hit much (.176/.227/.319 in 128 plate appearances in 2014). Prospect J.P. Crawford is on the way, but until he gets to Philadelphia, it’s going to be Galvis and his .227 OBP. Some things, though, haven’t changed: Utley is still at second and Howard will still be manning first—not that that is good news given that he's hit just .233/.309/412 the past three seasons combined. Things are so bad with Howard that Philadelphia will apparently eat around $50 million of the roughly $60 million on the first baseman’s deal in order to trade him away.
The rotation is a mess, especially with Cliff Lee unlikely to return because of an elbow injury. The Phillies are hoping Chad Billingsley can return from his own elbow surgery (he’ll be ready at some point in April) and that they can get something from Cuban import Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. If Philadelphia trades Hamels, their ace would be… Aaron Harang. In short, the rotation is the weak link on a weak team.
On top of all this, the Phillies were a bad defensive team last year and figure to be again in 2015. A second consecutive last-place finish in the NL East—the first time that's happened since '96 and '97—seems like a near certainty. The best thing their fans can hope for is that Amaro finds a way to trade away all the stars and starts loading up on young talent to infuse that barren minor league system with some players who have legitimate upside.
X-Factor: Ken Giles
Though he pitched just 45 2/3 innings, Giles made his mark as the Phillies’ 2014 breakout star with an 1.18 ERA and 64 strikeouts. Early on, Giles couldn’t harness his big-time velocity, but things began to click last season, and he is now one of the reasons to watch this team—he can hit triple digits on the radar gun and doesn’t back off from anyone. He gave up one home run all season, and that was in his major league debut on June 12. If Papelbon is traded, Giles would likely slot into the closer’s role, and by season’s end, he could be one of the big rising stars on a team that is short on young talent.
Number To Know: 588,551
The drop in attendance at Citizens Bank Park, from 2013 to '14, the biggest fall in baseball. That is an average decrease of 7,266 per game. How low can it go? We’re about to find out.
Most Overrated: Domonic Brown
“He had that one great half in 2013, where people thought he was finally becoming the player they always thought he’d be, but that turned out to be a mirage. His swing is a mess, and he doesn’t seem to have a plan up there at the plate anymore. People talk about him as trade bait, but his value is close to nothing right now, and I know that I would have zero interest in acquiring him.”
Most Underrated: Cole Hamels
“Let’s remember that his guy has been one of the best pitchers in the game in a hitter-friendly park. All he does is [give you] 200 innings every year and dominate. He gets overshadowed by [Clayton] Kershaw, and he’s not as good as Kershaw, but I don’t think people realize how good he is. You look at his numbers, and he’s becoming, quietly, a guy you’ll start to soon talk about being a Hall of Famer.”