It’s Christmas Eve, and John Middleton is having dinner with Dave Dombrowski.
Dombrowski: I’m telling you, John. We have a championship caliber roster already, but we can put ourselves over the top with just a few more moves.
Middleton: I hear you, Dave. But we can’t go over the third luxury tax threshold. I love to spend as much as the next guy, but even we have to set limits somewhere.
Dombrowski: But we’ve still got holes! And look at what the Dodgers are doing. They have both Ohtani and Yamamoto. We’re not going to compete with that if we don’t get a new outfielder better than Johan Rojas.
Middleton: You’re just going to have to find some answers a little cheaper this year, Dave.
Dombrowski: I think you’re making a mistake and I hope you change your mind. Merry Christmas, John.
That evening, Middleton is in bed, sleeping soundly when the sound of movement in his room startles him awake. His eyes open wide to see the ghost of former Phillies president David Montgomery standing in front of him.
Montgomery: Calm down, John. It’s just me, David Montgomery.
Middleton: I know it’s you! But you’re dead! That’s why I’m screaming!
Montgomery: Yes, I’m a ghost, but there’s no reason to scream. I’ve been sent here to warn you that you’re headed down a similar path to the one I once took. You’re in danger of leading the team into another era of disappointment.
Middleton: What do you mean?
Montgomery: I mean that if the team continues on its current path, your legacy will not be a good one.
Middleton: But we’re a good team! Two straight NLCS appearances! Most teams would love to trade places with us!
Montgomery: Do you want to be remembered as the guy who brought multiple World Series titles to town, or a guy who was happy with NLCS appearances?
Middleton: I want the titles, obviously.
Montgomery: I thought so. And that is why tonight you will be visited by three spirits. You must listen to them and take their advice.
Middleton: Three ghosts? So... two more will be coming?
Montgomery: No, three ghosts in addition to me.
Middleton: Doesn’t that mean I’ll be visited by four ghosts?
Montgomery: You’re missing the point! The important thing is that you pay close attention to what they say.
Middleton: Okay? (Looks at the clock) Do you know when they’ll be here? If it’s going to be a few hours, I’ll go back to sleep. If it’s less than an hour, I’ll just stay up and read or something.
Montgomery: I’m...not entirely sure. Time works differently when you’re dead.
Middleton: Oh, okay.
Middleton begins to read a book but soon grows tired and falls asleep. Shortly after, he wakes up to find the spirit form of Phillippe Aumont hovering in front of him.
Middleton: Phillippe Aumont? Are you the ghost Monty told me about?
Aumont: Yes, but I am not actually Phillippe Aumont. I am the Ghost of Phillies Past, and I have taken a form you would recognize.
Middleton: But why would you take the form of Phillippe Aumont? I don’t think even Phillippe Aumont wants to look like Phillippe Aumont.
Aumont: Because you need to be reminded of the mistakes that the Phillies franchise has made. And one of the biggest mistakes was not maximizing a championship window by trading away Cliff Lee.
Middleton: But we re-signed him a year later!
Aumont: A year too late! For you to truly understand, I must show you.
With a flash of light, the bedroom vanishes, and Middleton finds himself standing in Citizens Bank Park. There is a loud crowd, and the Phillies are playing the Giants.
Middleton: Citizens Bank Park? How did we get here?
Aumont: We’re not just at Citizens Bank Park...we’re at Citizens Bank Park during the 2010 NLCS.
Middleton: But how?
Aumont: I’m a ghost, remember? That’s something we can do.
Middleton looks at the field and sees Ryan Howard batting against Giants closer Brian Wilson.
Middleton: Oh no, this is the final at bat, isn’t it?
Middleton watches in horror as Wilson freezes Howard with a pitch to end the series.
Middleton: Why would you show me this?
Aumont: You must remember what happens when a team doesn’t do everything it can to win. If Cliff Lee had started that game, it might have turned out differently.
Middleton: There’s no way to know that!
Aumont: Perhaps. But there is more you must see.
There is another flash of light. They are still at Citizens Bank Park, but the crowd is noticeably smaller.
Middleton: Oh, it’s Roy Halladay on the mound! (Watches as Halladay gives up a series of hits.) No! Why would you show me this version of Halladay?
Aumont: It is September 2012. Roy Halladay is now a shell of his former self. And look in the outfield! Do you see Hunter Pence or Shane Victorino out there?
Middleton: No... Wait! Is that.... Darin Ruf?
Aumont: It is! Darin Ruf would make over 700 plate appearances over the next three seasons. Do you know how many home runs he hit in those seasons? 29!
Middleton: That wasn’t 29 per season, was it?
Aumont: No, it was 29 total! Do you know who else saw plenty of action in those years? Delmon Young! And John Lannan! And do you know why they saw so much action?
Middleton: Because our good players got old, and the farm system didn’t have anyone better?
Aumont: Well...yes. But also, because the team wouldn’t spend money to overcome those failures! The team could have been aggressive but instead chose to let the franchise collapse!
Middleton: I can’t bear to watch this.
Aumont: But there’s more!
With another flash of light, the scene changes. They are still in Citizens Bank Park, but the crowd is even smaller.
Aumont: This is Citizens Bank Park on the final home game of the 2016 season. The team is in last place and the fans have given up. The sellout crowds are a thing of the past, and the “Ill” T-shirts are rarely seen anymore.
Middleton: I remember those times. (Squints at the pitching mound) Who’s that pitching for us?
Aumont: Colton Murray.
Middleton: Colton Murray? I don’t remember him.
Aumont: You have chosen to forget. He made 32 appearances over two seasons, and I assure you, they were mostly bad appearances. So, pay attention! Because this is what could become of the Phillies if you don’t avoid making the same mistakes of the past!
Middleton cringes as Murray gives up an RBI double.
Middleton: I can’t watch anymore! Please take me back!
Aumont: I will take you back, but you must remember what you have seen.
With another flash of light, Middleton finds himself lying in bed, thrashing under the covers. He sits up with a start.
Middleton: What? Was that all just a dream? It must have been a dream! But... It felt so real!
Merry Christmas Eve! Please come back tomorrow as John Middleton learns that it definitely was not a dream.