Two years ago, beginning, I guess, with the trade of Roberto Hernandez to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies entered into a rebuilding cycle in earnest. After a couple years of tiptoeing around the inevitability of a full rebuild with the Hunter Pence trade to the Giants or the Shane Victorino trade to the Dodgers, the rebuild is fully underway—and perhaps even beyond its halfway point.
While any reasonable observer would note that the course of action the Phillies have pursued over the last two years was not only needed, but also long overdue, I must admit that I experience a great deal of anxiety when thinking about the future returns on that process. With every flailing strikeout, I worry that Maikel Franco won’t be good enough to start on the next Phillies team that goes to the playoffs. I fear that J.P. Crawford will never be anything more than a 2-3 win per year shortstop, that Vince Velasquez’s next injury will be a major one that derails his career, that Aaron Nola will never figure it out, and that Nick Williams will, for some reason, piss off every coach he ever encounters. In short, I worry.
That worrying, I hope, is just a natural product of the sort of course the Phillies have gone on and not a specific reflection of the players that have come to comprise our dreams of future greatness. Indeed, prospects are lottery tickets, each possessing various probabilities of working our or, alternatively, of not working out. All these probabilities are less than one, so it follows that the probability of it all going to hell is also less than one.
But this is all silly, unnecessary worrying from a person with an established predisposition to do so to excess. The good news for the Phillies rebuild is that there is one thing I don’t worry about: That they are going about things the right way and are in the best possible position to maximize the chances of this all working out alright in the end. That locus of non-worry has become even more secure in the last two weeks.
Back in June, Phillies President Andy MacPhail spoke to the media and offered a peak into the philosophy underlying their process of acquiring prospects:
In my view, there's never enough pitching and if you have good pitching you have the greatest safety net of good performance. In the places where I've been, we've been able to find a hitter to plug in somewhere.
The Phillies have undoubtedly followed this course. Recent trades of Cole Hamels, Ken Giles, Jonathan Papelbon, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins have all brought back pitchers as headliners. We don’t have to look lower than even AAA to see what could potentially be a solid starting rotation of Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, and Zach Eflin and enough depth to pick up the slack if some of that doesn’t work out as constructed above.
After Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford, and Maikel Franco, the stock of hitters the Phillies have acquired is a little bit shaky. At the time MacPhail made the above remarks, many of us questioned whether they reflected the reality of the MLB player market and valid concerns were aired regarding where, exactly, the offense would come for the Phillies when their timeline dictates they should be able to contend.
Fortunately, the last two weeks of pre-deadline deals have shown the veracity of MacPhail’s assertion that hitters are easier and cheaper to acquire than pitchers. Two weeks ago, the Red Sox made the first move on the trade market, trading Anderson Espinoiza (Baseball America’s #19 prospect for Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranze has undoubtedly been a better pitcher than Hellickson this year, but he comes without a long track record of either health or performance. Earlier this week, the Cubs traded two top-100 prospects (Gleyber Torres and Billy McKinney) and a reliable reliever/swingman for 80 or so games (including playoffs) of Aroldis Chapman, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Meanwhile, the Padres only got back a 19 year old pitcher in rookie ball who has never appeared on a top-100 prospect list for Melvin Upton, Jr.
There are two things to say about this. First is that, based on an extremely limited sample of three trades, Andy MacPhail was correct in identifying that hitting was cheaper to acquire than pitching in the current market. Reasonable people could argue that the Cubs and Red Sox got fleeced in their moves to bring in pitching. I personally don’t agree with that, but I understand that others might. On the other hand, it would be difficult to convince me that someone arguing that the Blue Jays gave up too much for Upton was a reasonable person. In other words, it appears indeed that pitching is more expensive than hitting.
Second is that this face puts the Phillies rebuild in a good position. In the short-term, their most valuable trade chip this deadline season is a pitcher: Jeremy Hellickson. He’s not the pitcher that Pomeranz and Chapman are, but it seems fair to say that he’s likely to bring back a better return than we could have realistically hoped for at the beginning of the year. In the long-term, the Phillies should be able to acquire the hitters they’ll need to fill in around a solid rotation and whoever of the current crop of position player prospects is still around.
So, while I can’t quite put to rest my fear that the rebuild will go the way of Dom Brown’s major league career, I am confident that the Phillies have brought in the sort of players who will give them the best chance to succeed in the current environment. It would be hard to say that of at least one other team that calls Philadelphia home (hint: they wear green). All you can want is for your team to put itself in the best position to build a sustainable winning team, and the Phillies have done just that.