Raise your hand if you thought the Phillies would have an 11-10 record at this point in the season - with over half of their games played so far against the Mets and Nationals. Seeing none in the air....
No one could have thought the Phillies would be doing this well twenty-one games in. In fact, after an off-season of carefully acquiring prospects, assiduously avoiding taking on long-term contracts, and dutifully lowering fan short-term expectations, the team found itself being accused of that dreaded T-word - tanking.
As my co-phighter John Stolnis covered extensively, Buster Olney led the way with the charge, claiming that the only way to explain the Phillies' trades and avoidance of big free agents was that the team was intentionally losing in order to secure the best draft pick possible next year.
Olney stuck to this position all off-season and even stood by it today in a Twitter exchange with another co-phighter, Long Drive:
Given the team's early season success, those like Olney, who think that the Phillies are tanking this season, have to figure out their next move.
The most logical and obvious response to what's happening if you were a tank truther is to re-evaluate your position and then conclude that you were wrong and that the Phillies are actually not tanking this season. I've held this view all off-season, as have many others who have covered the issue. What the tank fingerwaggers seem to believe is that there are only two options that a franchise can have when thinking about its goals for the season: a) win as many games as possible or b) tank.
As I wrote two weeks ago, there's another option out there - that the Phillies don't really care about the results of any particular game, let alone the season as a whole. Sure, holding all things equal, the team would prefer to win, but what matters to the team this year is development and health, not the results of any particular game. If players like Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, Vincent Velazquez, and other young prospects stay healthy and keep progressing, the team will consider the year a success, regardless of the team's record.
This is very different than tanking. Tanking is intentionally losing games in order to better position yourself for the draft. This is not at all what the Phillies are doing. But to the Buster Olneys of the world, because the Phillies aren't doing everything they can to win, they are tanking. This simple view of baseball ignores that there's this obvious third option - not focusing on team results, but rather on player development.
How the team has played during the season makes this abundantly clear. If the franchise were tanking, it would have kept David Hernandez in the closer role rather than moving Jeanmar Gomez into that role because of his early success. The team would be giving more plate appearances against lefties to Ryan Howard. It wouldn't be experimenting with the pitcher batting eighth in order to try to generate more offense. It would be using Brett Oberholtzer more.
In other words, the team has plenty of ways to lose more games if it wanted to. But it's not. Why? Because the Phillies are not tanking.
Olney and others need to admit this and get off their stubborn insistence to the contrary.
Or, I guess, they can choose door 2. Maybe, the Phillies are indeed tanking, but they just suck at it. Having been accused of tanking after they did in fact make the decision to tank, now the Phillies are intentionally failing at tanking, just to show up Olney and his followers.
In other words, maybe the tank crew can save face by claiming that the Phillies are tanking at tanking.
However, if that sounds absurd to you, as it should, maybe Occum's got it right and the Phillies are not actually tanking.