We took them for granted.
As we watched the 2007 Phillies hunt down the New York Mets and, against all odds, win the NL East title from seven games back with 17 to play, we were introduced to a score of players who would become household names.
Chase Utley. Jimmy Rollins. Ryan Howard. Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth. Carlos Ruiz.
When you think of the position player core of those 2007-2011 teams, those names are the ones that most quickly spring to mind (yes I know Werth was not a part of the ‘11 team, just go with me here). As that era ended and those players either left via free agency, were traded away to help with the rebuild, or simply retired, we foolishly assumed another rebuild would net the Phillies prospects and draft picks that would allow them to restock their team with players who could, you know, play both offense and defense.
But as we look at the 2021 Phillies, a team with a $205 million payroll that is 7th-highest in baseball, we see a team that has struggled to field a collection of players who excel both offensively and defensively. And as we watch the 2021 Phillies put together the worst defensive season in memory and struggle at the plate due to a myriad of injuries and underperformance by some, we should now realize just how hard it is to collect the number of two-way players the Phils did during their glory run more than a decade ago.
Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins were both elite defensive players and among the very best offensive players at their positions. There’s a reason Utley had multiple seven and eight-win seasons. At his peak, Rollins was a five and six-win player who won an MVP award in ‘07. Utley should have won a couple. Both players were Silver Slugger Award winners, while Rollins won four Gold Gloves. Utley, again, should have won at least a couple.
Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino were both well above average defenders in right field and center field, respectively. Werth was athletic enough to play center on occasion, too, and both were outstanding offensive players, key cogs to a championship lineup, both of whom went to All Star games. And let’s not forget Chooch, who was a defense-first, offense-last player until his last few seasons when his offensive numbers suddenly went through the roof.
As for Howard, he was a liability defensively but, was so effective offensively from 2005-10 that it more than made up for any deficiencies with the glove.
Those Phillies teams had several players who were not either/or guys. They were elite and/or effective offensive and defensive players. This Phillies team has J.T. Realmuto and maybe Bryce Harper when he’s on a hot streak. That’s it.
And therein lies the conundrum for Dave Dombrowski. It is extremely difficult to go out on the open market and bring in solid-to-good two-way players, at least not without paying a huge price. The indictment lies in the front office’s inability to draft and develop a core that can do both.
Realmuto is a two-way stud and Harper, when healthy, puts up good enough offensive numbers to balance his slightly above average defense. But outside of those two, the Phils are devoid of anything resembling a quality two-way player.
Alec Bohm, his offensive struggles this season aside, was never viewed as a good defensive prospect. It was always known that his offense would carry him. Likewise for Rhys Hoskins. Scott Kingery was a decent and versatile defensive player, but his offense has been an anchor around his neck pulling him toward the ocean’s bottom. Players who have come and gone — J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, Jorge Alfaro, etc., were either good gloves/no offense or simply not very good at either.
Two-way players do not grow on trees, but the Phillies will be hard-pressed to be a postseason contender if their existing roster doesn’t play better defense or hit better. Right now, it’s an either/or scenario (or in the case of some a “neither” scenario), and Dombrowski clearly has some work ahead of him.