With the 2015 Phillies blessedly in the rearview and the year itself coming to an end, our thoughts have turned to the future. This coming season is arguably one of the most important in the life of the rebuild. What will the 2016 Phillies look like? Will they be bad? Or very bad? Or just the kind of bad we can all live with for a little while longer? When will JP Crawford make his first appearance in the majors, stealing my heart and earning my undying devotion? Will the Phillies attempt to put 88 pitchers on their roster, since they seem to be collecting them? Why have they not yet re-signed the team’s spiritual leader/mascot Jeff Francoeur? WHY?
These are all questions we don’t yet know the answers to. And while we’ll certainly lay down our 2016 predictions as we get closer to the baseball season, we decided to eschew hard questions and facts for the soft, fuzzy pleasantness of hope. What are our hopes for the Phillies in 2016? What do we desperately want for the team and their players in the year ahead? Behold, the TGP staff’s Phillies Holiday Wish List.
What I want, more than anything, is progress. Of any kind. The Philadelphia Phillies came within a hair’s breadth of losing 100+ games in 2015, and as someone who writes 130 game threads and 40ish recaps a year, I felt every single one of those losses. No matter what you tell yourself, there’s no preparing for a season like we just experienced. (There was also no way to prepare my liver, but I’m sure my local liquor store is grateful.) But having finally rung out (most of) the old and ushered in (most of) the new, progress seems attainable! Yes, the Phillies could possibly be just as worse in 2016, but at least they’ll do it with young players who are filled with potential, and we won’t have to watch Chase Utley put his head down and run to first as he hits his five millionth grounder of the season. The mistakes and bad performances will no longer be definitive signs of the future, but growing pains and learning experiences.
My hopes for these new Phillies are many. I want Aaron Nola to keep getting better and maybe try to look like he could possibly be having fun. I want Maikel Franco to stay healthy and hit more bombs and guard the hot corner with vigilance. I want the Phillies’ inexplicable love affair with Cody Asche to end so he can be traded and sent by trebuchet to his next destination. I want Alec Asher to be better with both his pitching and his hair, seriously, someone needs to talk to him about his hair. I want Jerad Eickhoff to build on his surprising 2015 and consider sending me a signed glamour shot of himself. I want the bullpen to build a Ken Giles doll that travels with them everywhere because I miss him so much already. I want the Phillies and Ryan Howard to find dignified way for him to end his time in Philadelphia. I want Jeff Francoeur to return. And what I want more than anything I just wrote is for JP Crawford to come to the majors and continue his ascent to Phillies future superstar and industry-best shortstop. My hopes are high, but he has the potential to actually fulfill them.
The Phillies organization has been like a snake trying to shed its dead, gross, useless skin for several years now, struggling against forces both internal and external to reveal even just a small centimeter at a time. 2016 may not be the year they finally wriggle free from that crispy, crinkly prison, but we’re finally seeing some of that beautiful new skin that’s been hiding underneath. 2016 will bring the team closer to the future we’ve all hoped is in store, and I’m ready for it. (And I’m also ready to forget that gross snake metaphor I just made.)
In 2016 I want more poetry from all facets of the Phillies organization. I suppose I should clarify: good poetry. And now I should clarify further: good poetry has a freshness to it, an economy of language, a subtlety of craft, and deep, powerful metaphors that give you pause years after you’ve read them, as an earworm might, but to your very soul.
Bad baseball has very little of this, save for the odd tragicomic pieces about people past their prime, acres of empty seats, and pretentious German concepts like Sehnsucht and Schadenfreude. These have their places, to be sure, and I am certainly not above them in the absence of any other interesting content. I’d prefer, however, to leave them to the kicky-beret’d, black-turtleneck-wearing, fingerable curled, z-snapping espresso-drenched crowds vaping after hours at the Student Hub, a crowd I like to imagine rolling their eyes at each other once they make eye contact and realize that they recognize each other from Trev223’s comparative literature class (Draaaag! I’m here to get away from that guy. Hope he doesn’t step to the mic and hog it like he did in November). I am long past those days and now forever after the new; I cannot muster much for dudes like Sean O’Sullivan beyond the odd snarky haiku, and while Jeff Francoeur makes me smile back at him, my sole wish for him at this point is that he find his way back home again, slaughter all the suitors, and and enjoy a satisfying month-long, alcohol-besotted boning of Penelope. But it’s all been done before, maaaaan, and like Bull Durham, these old ideas and ballplayers keep coming back. To an extent, they have their uses, like so many boxes of lucky moose underpants gift-wrapped under the Christmas tree, but their novelty wears off quickly, nobody really sees their impact, and eventually they crowd the underwear drawer while you habitually reach each morning for what you need: a nice pair of fresh tighty whiteys.
But enough of this. You are baseball fans, and you want specifics: I have high hopes for Odubel Herrera to become a Phillies folk-hero, perhaps somewhere in the short zeitgeisty outfield between Manny Trillo and Pat Burrell; his fans appreciate his meta-ness; his social media presence is strong, and he has already (in his Rule 5 season mind you!) an enduring early-career image of dustily preserving Cole Hamels’ swan song no-hitter. And he hits, too, like a bumblebee might, but damn we’ve needed young guys who can hit, and I mean beyond the Punch-and-Judy variety; an occasional doubles hitter. I need my Spanish to be better, however, to bridge the divide here, and welcome Spanish-speakers among the blog commentariat to help (seriously: drop Liz an email and let her know you want in here. We need you.) I like Franco a ton; the speed of his bat in comparison with his teammates excites me, and how he owned the Yankees for a weekend, well enough to get him a place fat-headedly decaled on my 12-year-old son’s bedroom wall (a son, by the way, named Ryan, who adores his similarly first-named first baseman). Every day that J.P. Crawford spends in the minors, to my way of thinking, is one too many. If all breaks the right way, and I think this is an easy bet, he should inherit Rollins’ captaincy as soon as he arrives, and not a moment after.
I want an end to Ryan Howard, but a good end; I want him to find a sluggy little niche of run-plater, a latter-day, end-career Joe Carter perhaps, or failing that, a sneaky little spot or two in advanced metrics that are not depressing so that other teams don’t completely know how to expose and de-pants him at the plate. I would love to see him hit his way toward respectability in 2016, and cram his bat a little up the racist and unappreciative asses of far too many Phillies fans who have blamed his boots, if you will, for the faults of this baseball organization’s feet, and not appreciated these (for the most part) last ten years of his baseball life. I want his life to turn out okay, too, because I am not all that confident it will, born of a place and era, and into a family, where despite all that money, I fear even odds that he will be a pathetic 60-year-old. That will be sad enough to see, but many of you younger fans, and particularly my son, even sadder. I hope for a retirement life for him along the lines of Gary Maddox’s; I fear ones like Mitch Williams’ or (shudder) Lenny Dykstra’s; and hope he can at least rise above the baseline of Richie Allen’s. We’ll see. In the short term, when the baseball goodbye day comes, I want it to be on good terms, with an opportunity to stand and cheer for him and all those many moonshots he hit for the Phillies.
I want Roman Quinn to do well, because I like him, have always liked him, and want to see, at long last, an injury-free season of production in the high minors. I crave Nick Williams’ bat in the lineup. I can’t wait for Jake Thompson to join Eflin and Nola in the rotation. I have a hunch that Eshelman, not Velasquez or Appel, will be the star of the Giles trade, mostly because I grow each year, especially now in my flat-butted middle age, to appreciate pitchers who don’t walk dudes and work fast.
I want things to break right for the Phillies as a team in 2016, perhaps in ways that haven’t been seen for a good six years, so that even past the young green shoots, some of the chaff of the rest of the lineup finds a good place, and a good year, to ply their trade; that they absolutely give their division-mates fits, especially the Mets, not unlike those young Marlins teams of the 2005-2008 era tortured the more talented Phillies. I want the Braves’ new stadium to represent an overextension not unlike Napoleon reaching for Moscow, and have it be passively-aggressively underappreciated by all of the southeastern United States in the grandest Southern tradition.
Finally, I want them to own the rebuild organizationally, not in the ludicrously cultish Sixers manner, but simply, and to return to a metacognitive sense that, though this is not terribly good baseball, it has a positive velocity and trajectory, and not to pretend that it is anything otherwise. And good God, I want them to fix their terribly hidebound attitude toward bloggers in general, and their derpish Twitter account in particular. To the last point, hiring Justin Klugh and schmenkman to tag-team it is exactly the kind of self-knowing sense of humor and attention to the statistical world and its history that this organization needs to come out of rehab and embrace everywhere, not just on the Internet. To metaphor! And baseball! But for God’s sake, 2016, the good kinds!
David S. Cohen
I have only one hope for the 2016 season - it’s not winning, it’s not improved attendance, and it’s not anything related to figuring out what to do with Ryan Howard or Carlos Ruiz. To me, it’s all about figuring out which players are going to stick for the long-term and, as a fan, developing an attachment to them.
Right now, outside of Franco and Nola, is there anyone on the Phillies 40 man roster that a) you can say for sure is going to be part of the next generation of Phillies and b) more than just a few prospect junkies has any attachment to? The answer is a resounding no. That doesn’t mean there isn’t promise and excitement on the 40 man. There most definitely is. But, this is the season where the team has to make progress sorting through this collection of promise AND hope that the fans get attached to some of them.
Because right now, it’s really hard to know which of these players, if any, are going to be key parts of the future.
Maybe "Klentakian" will become a thing. Or maybe, "MacPhailian." That would be cool. It would signify that those two guys are probably putting enough of an imprint on the team that allows for us to identify them by certain traits, sayings, or even what they desire in a player. You know, something that gives us some insight into what the next few years might look like. I guess "Klentakian" is better than "Ruin Tomorrow, Jr."
And who wouldn’t love to see Maikel Franco play 162 games, or as close to it as will be allowed, with say, a nice .280/.350/.480 type of line.
There should be some better pitching. We shouldn’t have to see Severino Gonzalez ever again. Sean O’Sullivan is a thing of the past. (David Buchanan might slink back in there if injuries allow, but if he didn’t throw a single pitch this year for the Phillies I don’t think I’d complain.) A full season of Aaron Nola should be fun to watch. A healthy 30+ starts with similar numbers to last year would be a nice surprise and mean there was no real sophomore slump.
In a related note, maybe Charlie Morton or Jeremy Hellickson will pitch well enough that they can be flipped at the trade deadline for something of meaning. The Phillies tried it with Chad Billingsley last year. It didn’t work. It did work with Roberto Hernandez in 2014. Maybe it’s a pattern thing.
We’ll see a new closer here at some point. Lord knows who it is, but we’ll probably be okay without Ken Giles, even though Liz tells us otherwise. (But we think that might not have had so much to do with his on-field performance.) (Editor's note: It was both.)
Lastly, the Phillies head into the season without Cole Hamels. Wow. Without Chase Utley. Hard to believe. Without Jonathan Papelbon. Alright, thank god on that one.
It’s a new era. New names will be here soon. How soon is anyone’s guess. J.P. Crawford could make a late-season appearance. Andrew Knapp might get a shot if he’s lucky. Jake Thompson lurks if anyone in the rotation struggles. These are just a few of the names we’ll be learning over the next half-decade. There is youth here! The time has come, and who wouldn’t mind seeing some of these names make the jump this season?
We can only hope the Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz Farewell Tours are done gracefully and appropriately. Thanks for the memories. The future has finally arrived.
A confession: I experienced the Phillies’ awful 2015 season as less a tragedy or an abomination than as… well, something like a convenience. Having started a new job that commanded most of the time and energy my year-old son didn’t claim, it wasn’t entirely bad not feeling like I was missing out when I couldn’t follow the game every day. I’d generally try to watch when they strayed into my broadcast area--which as a New Yorker means I saw a crap ton of ugly losses to the eventual NL champion Mets--and would put Franzke and LA on the radio when I made it down to Philly or south Jersey. And I probably checked the score on my phone more days than not. But for most of the season, Maikel Franco aside, it seemed like they had little to offer beyond the sad decline of Chase and Chooch, the bleeding out of Dom Brown’s future, the grotesquerie of Aaron Harang and Sean O’Sullivan (whom I initially misnamed "Scott" writing this, which pretty much equally damns his performance and my level of commitment) and Jonathan Papelbon’s pro wrestling performance art. I mostly plugged in only when it looked like a trade or other roster move was coming.
This doesn’t jibe with my idea of what serious fandom should be. Baseball lacks the mass fan base or cultural immediacy of the NFL or NBA in large part because its rewards are less visceral and immediate than subtle and cumulative. If it isn’t the unfolding narrative of a season in contention,at least give me the growth curve of a rookie or second-year man. Toward the end of last season, I’d read what Aaron Nola or Jerad Eickhoff or Aaron Altherr had done the night before and think, I wish I’d seen that. But I was just getting the result; I’d missed the process of adjustments within or between at-bats, or what happens when a 23 year old is playing his first games in September with five months already on the odometer.
I doubt I’ll have too much more bandwidth to follow the Phillies game-in and game-out in 2016. My wish for next year is that the team makes me regret that. The talent now on hand, or just one or two levels away, is legitimately exciting. I’m not sure I see any future superstars--but there weren’t many people 12 or 15 years ago who saw Chase Utley or Ryan Howard as a nascent championship core either. But J.P. Crawford seems like a good-at-everything guy who might have an elevating X factor to his game. Roman Quinn has the kind of elite speed that can change games. And at the risk (ok, hope) of re-invoking taco pal, I’m gonna go ahead and call Jorge Alfaro a toolbox.
After a stretch of years when any result short of a title was disappointing, followed by a few seasons in which the team’s decision-makers seemed either delusional or disingenuous, the Phillies of the next few years are in good position to fulfill our hopes, maybe even exceed them.
What are my hopes for the 2016 Philllies… honestly, I have very few. I want to see Nola and Eickhoff and Altherr develop alongside Velasquez and Eshelman and Oberholtzer. I want to see Franco blossom into the star we know he can be. I want to be struck with Shiny New Toy Syndrome when JP Crawford lights the world on fire in September. I want all of that, as, surely do the rest of you.
Selfishly, I also want to see some wins, and I think the 2016 squad will be more equipped to deliver them than last year’s bunch. They’re obviously not going to sniff anything resembling real success for another year at least, but this is a better team than we had a year ago, and should continue to grow as the younger guys fall into place and come into their own. We’ll get our share of wins. We’ll steal plenty from the shamelessly Sixerian Barves and the Marlining Marlins, and we’ll sneak some from the elite of the NL Central. We’ll beat some playoff teams and some dumpster divers; we’ll lose more than we win, of course, but we should start to see more good losses and fewer what the hell just happeneds.
Finally, I hope to see a game or three in person. As most of you know, I live approximately a long-ass distance from Philadelphia, but there’s hope. Maybe at the annual SABR conference in Miami (how hot and muggy could it possib*bursts into flames*), maybe I’ll even make it back to Philly. Don’t know yet, but that’s my biggest goal for this year. Watching a damn game.
The 2015 season started out fun. Aaron Freaking Harang was in the top 5 in WAR in baseball a month into the season. Freddy Galvis, with his cyclops club of a bat, looked like he may have turned a corner offensively. Chase Utley, at least with respect to his physical appearance, was aging gracefully into the "hot dad" stage of his life. Ryan Howard hit a bunch of dingers for a couple weeks. What days to be alive!
But, then, as quickly as a game started by David Buchanan got out of reach, I lost interest. Chase Utley kept being bad and eventually went on the DL; I moved in with my girlfriend for the first time; Aaron Harang’s deep fly balls suddenly all became home runs; I started a new job that demanded more hours than I bargained for; Cody Asche kept playing baseball; I went on vacation. Whenever I would get a chance to watch the game, I would turn on the TV, open up Twitter and, next thing I knew, the game would be over. I just couldn’t bring myself to care about this team.
This brings me to my wishes for 2016: I want to start caring about this team again. While I’m contractually obligated to care about this team to some extent, I want to get back to the place where I experience joy, or something resembling such, while watching the Phillies. But, "find joy" isn’t exactly actionable advice. Here’s what I wish the Phillies will do in 2016 to set me on that path:
- Help us get to know players. Which Phillie will follow Brett Myers to become the next great country-rock star? Can we get some video of Luis Garcia giving his teammates haircuts? How about a contest where the winning fan gets free fashion advice from Mario Hollands? Post a picture of some player or another interacting with a dog. Athletic ability can only make an athlete so compelling; it’s everything else that makes you fall in love.
- Aggressively promote prospects. One thing I found exciting about the Astros rebuild was their willingness to bring their top prospects to the majors at the first sign they could hack it. Might they have coerced some players to accept extremely team-friendly long-term contracts as a ticket to the show? Most definitely, but, as they say, then end justifies the means. That end was a team that arrived earlier than expected and, more importantly, was fun.
- Use expected lack of competitiveness to experiment with different strategies. The Phillies have historically been slow to make advances in the way they think about the game. When the stakes are as low as the difference between 100 and 105 losses, a team can afford to throw shit at the wall. Give players the green light to steal bases; experiment with infield and outfield shifts; maybe experiment with entirely different defensive alignments. You have nothing to lose but your chains!
2016 is hopefully the year the Phillies will begin to look like the teams that will eventually be able to return the franchise to the playoffs. Because of that, the Phillies owe it to themselves to begin to rebuild and re-engage their fan base. To do that while being objectively bad at baseball requires them to be fun. In short, then, I just want the Phillies to be more fun in 2016 than they were in 2015. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.
I want to see the Phillies organization begin to reflect the youthful invigoration that we’ve all sort of accepted as their new image. Give the @Phillies Twitter account a distinct voice! Explain why the Dollar Dog Days ended in early June last year! Occasionally let blogs into the press box without measuring their behavior via a deeply flawed, lazily enforced barometer that soils the franchise’s reputation among some of its most passionate fans! Really get nuts in ‘16.
Seriously, why will noone answer my questions about the dollar dogs inexplicably ending very early last season. Is it because I didn’t ask about it anyone except for a single beat writer who told me he had "no clue" and then I did no additional research? I can think of little else other than cheap meat to keep people in the seats when Larry Bowa has half of his own head in his mouth because the team has somehow lost 100 games around early July. It’s certainly not going to be the $11 craft beers that are drawing people into the stadium while this team finds itself. How much can we really rely on the Phanatic’s hot dog cannon for inexpensive concessions? Because I’ve been in the stands for at least one hundred performances and I have yet to catch one in my mouth, like you’re supposed to, no matter how many children I shove or threaten. I JUST WANT TO GO TO THE FOOD STAND WITH A COUPLE BUCKS AND BE ABLE TO HEAD BACK TO MY SEAT WITH MY ARMS FULL OF ALL-PURPOSE MEAT TUBES TO DISGUST MY LOVED ONES.
Well, you did it, Phillies. You ruined Christmas. My new wish is for the Phillies to have never been born, thus preventing me from undergoing this suffering. Is that what we’re doing? "Wishes?" Go to hell, everyone.
What I want most to see out of the 2016 Phillies is competence. Last year, the Phillies were bad for much of the season, but there was a stench of incompetence that followed the team. The Great Jeff Francoeur Incident that occurred in Baltimore being a prime example.
I want to see the Phillies establish a core of players upon which this team can build around. I want to see Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, and Odubel Herrera take steps forward. I want to see one of the new pitchers they’ve acquired over the last few years show some promise at the Major League level. I want to see if Mark Appel is really a lost cause or if maybe a change of scenery will help him.
I want to see a starting rotation that doesn’t want to make you find a loaded revolver to put in your mouth. I’m excited to see more of Aaron Altherr and Jerad Eickhoff, two guys who made a very good impression with the team in August and September.
This season should be a bridge to something better. It should be a bridge to playoff contention in 2017. It should be a bridge to a new era, led by new players. That’s not to say we should expect 80 wins this season, but an improvement of 5-7 games should be expected, and 10 more wins would be a pleasant surprise.
I also hope that we see more fans come out to the ballpark to watch the younger players. No one is expecting the Phils to sell the stadium out, but it would be nice to see more than 17,000 there on a given night.
And most of all, I want the national baseball writers to get on board with what’s going on here. For years, everyone, including myself, rightfully ripped Ruben Amaro and the rest of the front office for the direction the team had gone after 2011. For being too slow to recognize a rebuild was necessary. And now that we’re finally here, we have to endure all this tanking nonsense.
I want this team to be able to reconstruct its roster and establish a new identity without a negative cloud hanging over it. Because unlike the last few years, I come into 2016 optimistic about the long-term future of the Phillies.
To paraphrase the great military leader Hannibal (no, the fictional one from the TV show/movie), I want to see the plan come together. Or, at least, start to. Following prospects is mostly disappointment (farewell to my favorites: Willians Astudillo and Kelly Dugan), but the Phillies actually look like special things may be on their way. I can’t remember a Reading team playing as well as they did in 2015. Andrew Knapp suddenly looked very legit at the plate. Nick Williams is really exciting. Jake Thompson largely lived up to (and a few times exceeded) his scouting reports. Crawford looks like our best prospect in at least 6 years (and given his position, maybe at least a decade). That’s not even mentioning encouraging lower level debuts of Cornelius Randolph, Scott Kingery and Kyle Martin. Then there’s the improvements Adonis Medina and Franklyn Kilome showed - both with some top of the rotation potential.
Then, to top all of that off, Klentak and MacPhail go out and acquire a former #1 overall with some TOR potential himself. Speaking of #1 overall, I also get to write about that. The #1 overall pick in the June Draft, which looks likely to bring the Phillies AJ Puk or Jason Groome or Alec Hansen or maybe Riley Pint; well, let’s just say some really tall Pitcher.
I feel like the girl in High School writing her name out with the last name of the boy she has a crush on, and practicing her future signature. I catch myself imaging lineup cards in 2018 with various prospects in there. I don’t want to be pollyanna about this, some of these prospects will end up sucking in the Majors. It’s incredibly hard to be one of the 30 best at your position in an entire sport, whittled down from the millions of kids around the world (but mostly the Americas) playing in Little Leagues. However, the Phillies have so much redundancy that I believe we will start seeing some of those pieces pay off this year. And I pity the fools who try to tell me otherwise.