The Phillies absolutely destroyed Stephen Strasburg on Saturday afternoon in the Nation's Capital, 8-1. They have won 8 out of their last 11 and now have a record of 19-26. They are seven games out of first in the National League East.
The Phils have played so much better lately, actually looking like a competitive team out there, even in most of the games they've lost over the last week and a half. It's actually been fun to watch them most nights.
Saturday was perhaps the most enjoyable game of the season thus far. Ryan Howard had three more hits, including his 10th home run. Maikel Franco has been piling up the extra base hits since his call-up, including a two-run homer to right-center field off Strasburg.
And then there's Hamels, who did his "ace" thing again, going eight innings and giving up just one run. After some early-season struggles (which are very common for him), he's got his ERA down to 2.98. For teams needing a starter, they just blew another gem from Cole that could have been theirs. And with every day they wait, they throw away another potential "ace" performance from one of the best pitchers in baseball.
But here's where it gets interesting. Granted, the Phils aren't going to the playoffs this year, I don't care how good they've been recently. But there have been encouraging signs from some of the younger players, both in the Majors and down on the farm, that make you wonder just how far away this team is from competing for a potential wild card spot.
We've been assuming they are 3-4 years away. But could it be sooner than that? And if that timetable is a bit sooner, would it be a mistake to trade Hamels?
After hitting rock bottom when they officially secured the worst record in baseball at 11-23, the Phils have been hot. They have 19 wins now, which is as many or more than the following teams:
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Boston Red Sox
- Baltimore Orioles
- Chicago White Sox
- Cleveland Indians
- Oakland Athletics
- Miami Marlins
- Cincinnati Reds
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Colorado Rockies
And these teams all have 20 wins, just one more than the Phils.
Their winning percentage is still a meager .422 and their Pythagorean record is 16-29, so the team has actually outperformed its statistical performance by three wins. At the end of the season, this is still probably a 90-loss team.
But it's also obvious that perhaps the Phils don't have as far to go as we think. The Red Sox were supposed to be a powerhouse, but look where they are. The Padres spent all that money and made all those deals, and they're just one game better.
Meanwhile, the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and, heck, even the New York Yankees are doing better than anyone expected. These are obviously not apples-to-apples comparisons, but who's to say the Phils can't turn things around quickly, too?
In 2016, payroll obligations will shrink, and the money situation will be even better in 2017. The team has a ton of cash at their disposal thanks to the new Comcast deal, and the team could look to free agency to some gaps.
And while it's still early, the early returns on Franco are more than positive. Freddy Galvis has come back to earth after a hot start (now hitting .311), but if he's hitting in the .260-.270 range with a league average on-base percentage, that glove allows him to play anywhere on the infield and be a productive player.
In the minors, shortstop J.P. Crawford just doesn't stop impressing. At some point next year, he's likely to make his Major League debut. Starting pitcher Aaron Nola is going to be the team's number-two starter next year, and could join the big club at some point this season. And outfielder Carlos Tocci is doing some ridiculous things as a 19-year-old in the Sally League. He's a ways away yet, but there's some hope there.
And while the Phils are woefully short in the catcher and outfield department, and it's unclear which of their starting pitchers in the minors could be productive Major Leaguers, there is a scenario in which the Phillies can compete for a wild card, if not next year, than in 2017. Hamels is signed through 2018, with an option for 2019. Most of us assume he's still going to be a productive pitcher at that point, just 35 in that final option year.
In that scenario, if the Phils are not blown away by an offer they simply cannot refuse, perhaps it makes the most sense to just hang onto Cole, in the hopes the team's minor league system and huge payroll can fill in the roster gaps and make the Phillies a potential playoff team within the next year or two.
That's not to say the Phils shouldn't still be in "sell" mode right now. Howard's best start since 2009 has been fun and fantastic and it's terrific news, both for him and the organization. But he's not going to be around for the next "good" Phils team. Ruben Amaro and Pat Gillick should look for a reasonable offer from an American League team, something that can help the team's future, and deal him.
Same goes for Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Ruiz, Ben Revere, and any of the other veteran players teams might have an interest in.
Listen, the Phils still have a ton of work to do, and there are still a lot of pieces missing. But they have money, they have some assets, and they have some time. It would be nice if there were more Major League-ready prospects on the immediate horizon, but there are a few names to get excited about.
Trading Hamels still makes the most sense, if they can get the proper return. But holding onto him isn't a bad idea either, as he could conceivably be the ace for the next good Phillies team.
Whenever that may be.