First of all, thanks to dajafi for this. Go back and read it. Print it out, fold it up, and put it in your wallet and take it out and read it when you think about throwing your autographed Cliff Lee ball through your television. The Phillies are not this bad. Really.
Be honest with yourself, and look at the lineup that started last night. Kevin Frandsen is not a major league first baseman. He is a useful utility infielder and maybe a short-term solution at third base, but he is not going to be playing at first base for the Phillies or any other MLB team for 162 games next year. Ryan Howard will be there, at least against right-handed pitching, which he still kills. He was pretty good this year, till he hit the DL. If the Phillies would play Ruf against lefties, first base will be much more productive than what the Phillies get from Frandsen or Michael Young.
At third, the Phillies may have Frandsen or Cody Asche. Maybe Maikel Franco gets an audition later in the year. Still, third looks like there are credible options on the horizon who would be upgrades defensively, on the bases, and probably just as good at the plate. Maybe much better. We'll all be learning about an "arm bar" I am sure, and not the wrestling type.
Domonic Brown is your leftfielder, not Darin Ruf. Unless Domonic Brown is your rightfielder. Either way, Domonic Brown as a corner outfielder beats either Delmon Young or Darin Ruf, both of whom played tonight. Delmon Young will be gone. Maybe as soon as next week when Brown comes back, especially with Darin Ruf playing the way he has been.
Ruf is not going to sustain his .400+ BABIP, but he can play bad defense in left (instead of right) and hit better than Delmon Young even if his BABIP drops to .300 since he actually walks once in a while. And I'm not so sure Ruf isn't a starting outfielder, at least a 2 - 3 WAR outfielder. That beats Delmon Young. Even if Ruf is only a caddy for Ryan Howard next year against lefties and a bench bat and a sometimes outfielder, he's looking more and more like a useful part. I also can say with more and more of a straight face that Kelly Dugan might be spotted in the outfield in Philadelphia late next year, so Ruf doesn't even have to be a long-term solution.
John Mayberry is the Phillies' backup centerfielder, not the starter. Remember the hobbit guy who got carried off by giant flying eagles? He's coming back to play center. After a horrible start to the year, he was pretty good, too. And Mayberry is a better backup than someone like Laynce Nix. And probably a better starter than someone like Delmon Young. He's a 4 or 5, not a starter, though, which is the point. Ruf could well be a backup, too, but he'd be a better backup than they have available now. Folks, Michael Martinez has played outfield for the Phillies this year. That does not have to happen again.
The Phillies have upgrades already for 2 of the 3 outfield positions as they have been lining up during this slump. And for backup slots. It's not like they have no idea who is playing outfield for them. They also upgrade their bench by shifting a guy like Mayberry or Ruf out of the starting lineup, though some bench leftishness would be nice.
I love Chooch, but I seriously doubt that he is coming back next year as a full-time catcher, if at all. Maybe the Phillies go get Brian McCann (though his leftishness might dampen some enthusiasm there). Maybe not, but it's not out of the question. The losses piling up now make it more likely that they could go get him without harming the talent pipeline. If they decline to jump into free agency, the Phillies have younger, cheaper, still-improving (rather than declining) options that are more than plausible. They also have Kratz as a stopgap if one of the young catchers does not pan out.
Chase Utley is not part of the problem here, and keeping him is likely key to competing next year. Jimmy Rollins, well...he can still catch and throw, but his power seems to have deserted him. Frandsen makes sense here, or Galvis, as insurance for both Rollins and Utley. And the only reason Michael Martinez and John McDonald are playing in Philadelphia is so Freddy Galvis gets more practice hitting at Lehigh Valley.
A rotation of Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Jonathan Pettibone, and Brand X does not scare me at all. And maybe they get Roy Halladay back if the deal is right. Even at 80% of old Halladay, that could be a really good rotation. If he moves on, they are not without options in the minors that are plausible, though certainly not Halladay-esque. Tyler Cloyd is a quintessential AAAA fifth starter. John Lannan has not been awful in that role. Maybe Adam Morgan shows up late next year for an audition, or maybe Ethan Martin gets it together. Miguel Gonzalez is a huge X factor here, or in the bullpen.
The bullpen looks to be shaping up as a fading, but not worthless (I'm talking about pitching here) Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Justin De Fratus (and I am a De Fratus believer), maybe a healthier Mike Adams, and some other guys. Maybe Miguel Gonzalez. Perhaps a Jake Diekman who doesn't walk people or Ethan Martin goes to the pen. Maybe this is the year (and I would give him more or less forever at AAA to figure it out) Aumont figures out how to walk no more than 4.00 batters per nine innings. Hell, Aumont is such that I might just keep him around for the "we need a strikeout or it doesn't matter anyway" type situations.
Maybe the Phillies, in order to solve their bullpen problems, should decide to waive some guys so they can pick up the guys that they waive, who will then turn into all-star closers. Then waive the guys they decided to keep, unless that would somehow backfire. Maybe there's some sort of Schrodinger effect here preventing that, though.
In any case, the team I see described above does not project to win 102 games. Nor is it a 12 win team, like the Phillies team we have seen since the All Star Break. It could be a mid-eighties team for whom a trade deadline deal turns out to be the difference between making the playoffs or not. Or maybe they outperform their pythag and sneak in on the lucky side of their standard win distribution. It is not a team that I could reasonably see losing 90 or more games.
It is a team that is also beginning to reshuffle its age profile and payroll obligations. It is also a year closer to being free of Ryan Howard.
In Federal Reserve talk, the Phillies in 2011 were in bubble mode. Career pitching years, or close to it, from the big guns and no major pitching injuries made me more optimistic than I should have been about the future. Still, from that high, the team had to find a new core, hopefully on the fly and without losing too many seasons. They're looking for the "soft landing."
There's been some gear-grinding as they've looked to downshift and get momentum headed the other direction. During that gear-grinding, we have experienced a few months full of bad baseball, but nothing like the Pirates of the 1990's and 2000's. Or the Orioles. Or the Nationals. Or even the Mets of the last few years. And it does not realistically look like it will ever be that bad.
Since the Pence trade, Amaro has not made any stupid "prospects for players" trades, Michael Young notwithstanding. He has not signed anyone of consequence (Mike Adams is noise in the Phillies' budget. Durbin, too.) He turned Worley into Revere, who, till his injury, looked playerish after an atrocious early part of the year. Amaro didn't move Brown, though many were ready to cut ties with this "bust" not long ago.
The minors may not be bursting with talent, but there are players on the horizon to wishcast on, like Adam Morgan, Maikel Franco, Kelly Dugan, Ethan Martin, Asche, as well as ones we have started to get to know, like Galvis, Ruf, and De Fratus. Who the hell knows what Miguel Gonzalez is? I'm not even putting players like Sandberg or Crawford into the picture, since they are way off yet. The young talent hemorrhage is over. The old talent hemorrhage is well underway, starting with Blanton, Polanco, Victorino, and Pence last year and likely to continue this off-season. No major, long-term commitments have been made to old players for a while now.
The Phillies sold out for the last time in 2011 to try to wring one more go-round out of the 2008 crew. That sellout likely made the pain worse and longer -- having Singleton and Cosart would be really nice right now, but it is done. It looks like the modus operandi since the 2011 trade deadline has been to stockpile younger players, work off the pain of the old obligations, and move forward. The Pence deal, awful as it was, was really they last time they shipped out young cheap bodies for old expensive ones.
There have been small "dumbs" like Mike Adams and Delmon Young, but the Phillies needed a body in right. Non-tendering Schierholtz baffled me, but he doesn't make or break the team long-term. Adams was dumb, but not a huge problem. Michael Young was needed to pilot third during what was likely to be a Sargasso Season, and they got Texas to pick up some of the freight on him. And he hasn't been great, but he hasn't been awful. He wasn't Youkilis, at least. The Phillies are not saddled with long contracts for Josh Hamilton or B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino or Angel Pagan.
So take a big, deep breath and chill out. You are going through a fan root canal. It will last a little while longer, but the worst is probably over. The losing may not stop Tuesday or Wednesday, but it will stop. And 2014 will be better than 2013, and the end of the tunnel that much nearer. I saw a lot of "there is no bottom" comments and tweets over the last week. There is a bottom and this is it. I'm calling it. It only gets better from here on out.