"All right guys," Jayson Stark said to the giant computer screen, on which a group of anonymous MLB executives looked back at him, their faces masked by shadow. "Let's hear it."
And with that, the mysterious coven of unnamed baseball people who are tapped for various baseball polls and quotes revealed what they believed to be the truth: that the Diamondbacks were the most improved team to come out of the 2016 off-season. It doesn't really matter if you agree; we're not here to talk about Arizona's new look, or the Rockies' lack of movement, or which free agent will come closest to the vast expectations laid in front of them by fans coming out of another empty winter.
We're here to discuss what those executives surveyed by Stark for his annual story had to say about the Phillies. The answer is, not a lot.
As Stark points out, the National League in general has been infected by the afflictions of the NL East; meaning that it might be such a bad season for so many teams that if a fringe squad wants to really give it a shot, now's the time for them to step on some heads. It's bad out there, is what I'm saying. One of the two title for which the Phillies received votes was "Least Improved Team (NL)," a label that was spread out among nine different NL teams.
Fortunately the amount of votes here is key: two. Two faceless cowards called the Phillies the "least improved," with the Rockies (obviously, with 15 votes), Reds (9), and Padres (8) taking the top three spots. The Phillies and Pirates were both at the bottom of the list, as it apparently takes a higher thought process than an MLB executive's to determine that the Phillies are, despite their record not leaping into playoff territory just yet, on the upswing. A team like the Rockies is a far more appropriate winner in this category.
The other section in which the Phillies received votes (16 of them, and they were one of three teams to get them in this category along with the Braves and Brewers, who both got 17) was "Least Recognizable Team," which, yeah, makes sense. That sort of feeds into the other one, in that the aging, injured vets who everyone yelled at the Phillies to get rid of are finally gone, and a litter of prospects mostly unknown to the common man has taken their place. Not even the beat writers can identify everyone in person.
An unidentified Phillies player wore this T-shirt this morning: pic.twitter.com/zaM81JjEAu— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) February 17, 2016
The Phillies' rebuild continues, then, as secretive and unnoticed as ever.
"Carry on," Stark tells the giant screen, and it blips off. The Nameless Ones sit in their chairs, awaiting the next question.