This is the second part of my series looking at offseasons from years past. We are now entering the rebuild years which means we’re not going to get any flashy free agent signings, and most of the players of note are the ones leaving Philadelphia.
The Phillies made an attempt to stay competitive in 2014; It didn’t work. They finally seemed to accept that a major rebuilding effort was needed, and the 2015 offseason reflected that. They traded away several veterans and all of their free agent signings were cheap, one-year deals.
The Phillies might have made more headlines for deals they didn’t make. Cliff Lee would have probably fetched a good return had he been healthy, but after missing most of 2014, he needed to re-establish that he could actually take the mound. (He didn’t.) And to the dismay of pundits everywhere, the Phillies did not trade Cole Hamels, saying that they weren’t going to trade him unless they got a suitable return.
The big moves
- Signed Aaron Harang as a free agent (one year).
- Signed Chad Billingsley as a free agent (one year).
- Signed Jeff Francoeur, Jeanmar Gomez to minor league contracts.
- Traded Jimmy Rollins for Zach Eflin, Tom Windle.
- Traded Marlon Byrd for Ben Lively.
- Traded Antonio Bastardo for Joely Rodriguez.
- Claimed Odubel Herrera in Rule 5 Draft.
- Extended contracts of Grady Sizemore, Jerome Williams.
How did it go?
The biggest move was trading away Jimmy Rollins. The former MVP had five-and-ten no-trade rights and hadn’t wanted to leave the team until he broke Mike Schmidt’s franchise hits record. With that task accomplished in 2014, Rollins signaled that he wouldn’t mind moving on to a contender. The trade took a while to complete, since it was basically a three-team trade, but eventually the Phillies got Eflin as the primary return. Eflin had his moments with the Phillies, but unfortunately, health concerns kept him from fulfilling his potential.
Phillies Trade Jimmy Rollins for 2 Minor League Pitchers http://t.co/BFTZYOQqKU— PHI Minor Thoughts (@PHIMinorThought) December 11, 2014
The Phillies also traded veterans Marlon Byrd and Antonio Bastardo. Byrd was signed the year before and gave them one year of solid play. At one time, Bastardo looked ready to become a dominant reliever, but there were too many outings when “Bad Bastardo” showed up and he’d look terrified to throw a pitch. None of the prospects the Phillies got in return amounted to much.
Even rebuilding teams need to field a team, so the Phillies sought out cheap rotation options, that in a best-case scenario could be flipped at midseason. Aaron Harang was a veteran innings eater who pitched pretty well to start the season before regressing to his expected level of performance. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the Phillies were unable to move him at the trade deadline.
Aaron Harang continues to look like a free-agent bargain and, for rebuilding Phillies, marketable trade chip: http://t.co/vJZvbZEJso— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) May 15, 2015
Billingsley was a former All-Star who missed almost the entirety of 2013 and 2014 with an injury. It was a low-risk gamble to see if he could rebound, but he was only able to make seven ineffective starts before getting shut down for good. And Jerome Williams was a waiver pickup near the end of 2014. He pitched well enough that the Phillies wanted to see if he could do it again. Instead, he showed them why he had been available on waivers the year before.
The Phillies hoped Jeff Francoeur and Grady Sizemore would soak up some at bats in the outfield. Both were veterans whose careers had gotten derailed but were young enough that a rebound was theoretically possible. Sizemore never did much of note, while the lasting memory of Francoeur’s time with the Phillies was the infamous “white flag” incident.
Jeff Francoeur thought Chase Utley and the Phillies’ pitching coach were about to fight on the mound. Francouer’s re-telling of the White Towel Game. https://t.co/yTIatxxEBO— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) June 5, 2020
The Phillies also brought in reliever Jeanmar Gomez on a minor league deal which worked out well. Gomez was solid in middle relief in 2015 and would eventually become the closer in 2016. He is proof that if you give any halfway competent pitcher out there in enough save situations, he’ll manage to rack up 30+ saves.
The Phillies did make a savvy pickup in the Rule 5 draft when they chose Odubel Herrera. The rebuilding Phillies felt they could take a chance on the raw second baseman, and sure enough, he developed into a centerfielder with a top-of-the-order bat. His All-Star selection may have been as the Phillies’ token representative, but he was a legitimately good player for a while. Unfortunately, things fell apart both on the field as well as off of it. I’m sure you all know the story, so I don’t have to discuss it further.
Analysis and grade
The Phillies weren’t trying to be competitive in 2015, and it showed. Most of the signings were placeholders or rehabilitations, who the team could potentially trade for prospects. Unfortunately, none of the moves had much of a lasting impact. At one point, both Herrera and Eflin looked like they might be real pieces for the future - and to be fair, Eflin did contribute to the World Series team in 2022 - but for different reasons, that didn’t come to pass.
Ultimately, the Phillies’ approach wasn’t bad, but the execution just wasn’t there.