The Philadelphia Phillies are a sleeping giant, and the baseball world is starting to realize it.
As young pitchers Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Vincent Velasquez impress, as Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera continue to show they're for real, and as a large number of close-to-Major League ready prospects continue to play well in the minors, there is a growing realization that the Phils will not be doormats for very long.
On his Baseball Tonight podcast from last Friday, ESPN's Buster Olney spoke to Phillies beat writer from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Matt Gelb, about the Phils' young rotation. And while Olney couldn't help but once again mention his belief that the Phils are involved in "tanking" the 2016 season in order to get as high a draft pick as possible in 2017, he noted once again that, given the current rules in baseball, the franchise was doing the right thing (as he has often said).
While it still doesn't square in my mind how the Phillies can be doing something that is morally wrong (like "tanking") while at the same time be doing the right thing, Olney did go on to say that he thinks the Phils are setting themselves up to be "a monster" once again, very soon.
...what the Phillies are building right now is a monster. This, to me, is a team that you could say that the Phillies of 2016 are like the Cubs of 2012, because of the prospects they're collecting, the quality of players they have in their farm system and because of their unbelievable financial flexibility that they are gonna have going forward, particularly as we get closer to the fall of 2018 when we have that historic free agent class that could include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez. It seems to me the Phillies are absolutely moving in the right direction.
Rebuilding works, and by all accounts the Phillies are doing an extremely good job of rebuilding thus far.
And Olney is not alone. In his weekly "10 Degrees" piece for Yahoo! Sports, Jeff Passan referenced the magnificent performance of Velasquez against the San Diego Padres last week, and noted it could be just the start of a revival for the Phillies.
...no team is better set than the Phillies to leap from the doldrums and contend within the next two years. It's not just that after a decade of awful drafts they crushed their last three first-round draft picks - shortstop J.P. Crawford, who's going to be a star, Nola and Cornelius Randolph, who might've been the best prep bat in last year's class. It's the two big trades. Velasquez came with four others for reliever Ken Giles. And Eickhoff was the fourth-biggest name in the Hamels deal behind Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and Jake Thompson.
Between their revamped rotation and replenished minor league system, all would be well enough. The fact that the Phillies can supplement it with a wide-open payroll - once Ryan Howard comes off after this season and Matt Harrison after next, their commitments are literally $0 - is scary for the Nationals, Braves, Marlins and, yes, the Mets...
In case you were wondering, here is that free agent class of 2018 (from ESPN's Dave Schoenfield).
Besides Harper, you'll have Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, Dee Gordon, Jose Fernandez, Dallas Keuchel, matt Harvey, Garrett Richards and Shelby Miller. Players with opt-out clauses will include David Price, Jason Heyward, and Clayton Kershaw. Need a relief pitcher? How about Trevor Rosenthal, Zach Britton, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Kelvin Herrera, Jeurys Familia or David Robertson? There will be veterans like Adam Jones, Michael Brantley, Adam Wainwright and Adrian Gonzalez available as well.
So here you have a team that could have a solid nucleus of Franco, Herrera, Nola, Eickhoff, Velasquez, Jake Thompson, maybe Mark Appel, J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Andrew Knapp, Jorge Alfaro and whoever this year's No. 1 overall pick in the draft will be.
When you couple that with absolutely no financial commitments at this time and a virtually unlimited wallet at their disposal, it's frightening to think the position they could be in in just a couple seasons.
As it is, given the fast start the pitching staff has gotten off to (Nola's last start notwithstanding), the Phillies could already be a year ahead of schedule, as mentioned by Phils beat writer Kevin Cooney in the latest Felske Files podcast, found below.
They may be paper tigers now, but the drumbeat is starting to grow louder.
The Phillies are coming, and that right soon.