One of the many nice things about rooting for the defending world champions is that you don't generally spend a lot of time thinking of the Ones That Got Away--players who formerly wore the red pinstripes but have moved on in their big-league careers. Still, a lot of talent has passed through Philadelphia over the last decade or so, as is true for pretty much every major-league team: whether through trades, non-tenders or free agency, roster turnover is such that Jerry Seinfeld's famous line about "rooting for laundry" is perhaps more true today than ever.
So I thought it might be an interesting exercise to go through the majors and try to put together a team of All Ex-Phils. Some guidelines: to qualify, the player either had to appear in the majors in 2008 or have a reasonable chance of making his big-league debut in 2009, and he must have been under Phillies control at one time--so Adrian Cardenas is eligible, but Curt Schilling, J.D. Drew and Joe Saunders are not.
Without further ado, here are the ex-Phils I identified at the various positions.
Catcher: Rod Barajas, Johnny Estrada, Sal Fasano, Jason Jaramillo
First base: Wes Helms, Jim Thome
Second base: Ramon E. Martinez, Placido Polanco
Third base: Scott Rolen
Shortstop: Adrian Cardenas, Nick Punto
Left field: Marlon Anderson, Pat Burrell, David Dellucci
Center field: Marlon Byrd, Greg Golson, Aaron Rowand
Right field: Bobby Abreu, Endy Chavez, Jason Michaels
Starting pitcher: Paul Byrd, Gavin Floyd, Gio Gonzalez, Kyle Lohse, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva, Randy Wolf
Relief pitcher: Taylor Buchholz, Fabio Castro, Ryan Franklin, Geoff Geary, Aquilino Lopez, Justin Miller, Josh Outman, Brian Sanches, Russ Springer, Derrick Turnbow
Of this universe of players, here's the 25-man roster as I see it:
Starters: C Barajas, 1B Thome, 2B Polanco, SS Cardenas, 3B Rolen, LF Burrell, CF Rowand, RF Abreu
Reserves: Jaramillo, Helms, Punto, Byrd, Chavez, Michaels
Rotation: Lohse, Wolf, Millwood, Floyd, Gonzalez
Bullpen: Buchholz, Castro, Franklin, Geary, Miller, Outman
What can we take from this?
Well, for one thing, the Phillies probably have parted with less talent than most teams, and almost all the quality players they have parted ways with did some or most of their best work while wearing a red cap with a P on it--there's nobody to compare with how Twins fans must feel when they watch David Ortiz, or Mets fans tearing their hair out over Scott Kazmir. This team’s starting outfield was the actual 2006 Phillies outfield; all three guys are now well past age 30, with more yesterdays than tomorrows.
Even more encouraging, few of the guys on this team even would be assured of jobs on the 2009 Phillies. Lohse, this team’s ace, probably would be the fifth starter, and Buchholz, this team’s closer, would have a good chance to stick as a middle reliever. Gavin Floyd had a nice season in 2008, but going forward I’m not sure I like him any more than the Phils’ three young fifth-starter candidates. You could make a case for Rolen at third, but with his injury history at age 34, he’s not worth his contract. Polanco remains a good player and perhaps he would be the Philies’ third baseman; he’s certainly not going to play ahead of Chase Utley at second. Punto and Byrd might be bench players (and indeed both were mooted as possible off-season pickups this winter). The Burrell decision we’ve gone over and over; while most of us would still rather have him lumbering around left than Raul Ibanez, the team obviously didn’t feel the same way. You might think Abreu’s ridiculously great 2009 contract would make him this team’s right fielder, but given their lack of any other remotely scary right-handed bat as well as defensive considerations, I’m confident the Phillies would rather have Jayson Werth—even discounting any lingering bad associations on their part with St. Bobby.
All that said, there’s a pretty good chance that in a year or two we’ll be looking toward Oakland and the Phillies’ one-time crosstown rivals, where some of our former prospects are growing up strong. Adrian Cardenas is a top-100 prospect who’s expected to hit .300 in the majors at a middle-infield spot. (He might not stick at shortstop, but were I running this team, I'd take my chances with him rather than Punto.) Josh Outman is going to be a very good relief pitcher, and Gio Gonzalez (dealt from the White Sox to the A’s a year after the Phils sent him away with Floyd in the Freddy Garcia trade) still has #2 starter upside. But as someone who got to see his Game Four home run in person, it’s very hard for me to take issue with the Joe Blanton trade now… and that’s kind of how it’s supposed to work when you make a deal that helps bring a WFC to town. It was almost two decades ago now that Pat Gillick won his first title after sending a package to the Mets for David Cone that included likely future Hall of Famer Jeff Kent; we probably didn’t send anyone remotely that good to the A’s for Country Joe.
Now the question is whether Ruben Amaro Jr will continue in the admirable footsteps of Ed Wade and Gillick by holding onto the team’s top talent. Indications so far give grounds for optimism: the two minor-leaguers Amaro dealt away this winter, Jason Jaramillo and Greg Golson, both look like marginal big leaguers at best. The major talent infusion of the 2008 draft restocked the inventory; it’s certain, and appropriate, that Amaro will trade away some of those players to fill big-league needs over the next few seasons.
But choosing whom to keep and whom to swap out among the prospects is probably the single biggest determinant of long-term success—and the list above suggests the Phillies have done a damn good job of this over the last ten years or so.