How the Philadelphia Phillies are Building a Contender


It is undeniably a rough time for Philadelphia sports. The Eagles are in a state of turmoil following a 7-9 finish and the release of head coach Chip Kelly. The Sixers are dead last in the NBA with a measly four wins, while the Flyers are struggling to keep their head above water at sixth place in their division.

However, a beacon of light emerges from Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies. Despite finishing with the worst record in Major League Baseball in the 2015 season, the Phillies have a bright future ahead.

While struggling to watch an abysmal Phillies team last year, fans often had the question, “How did this get to be so bad?” It feels like just yesterday that fans were enjoying a star-studded Phillies team that won five straight division titles, including a World Series title.

Due to Ruben Amaro, Jr.’s disgraceful tenure as General Manager, the Phillies went free-falling into the cellar of the National League.

Former Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. will live on in infamy as one of the most incompetent executives to ever call the shots for a professional sports team. Amaro completely dismissed analytics during a time when the rest of baseball was embracing advanced statistics. The Phillies front office was left in the dust because of their stubborn refusal to adapt.

Blunders from the Phillies’ front office under Amaro were common and costly. Amaro loved handing out expensive contracts to aging players who were long past their prime, such as Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon.

Besides unreasonably blowing large amounts of money, Amaro’s favorite thing to do was trade prospects. The Phillies were a team that would soon need younger replacements for the quickly declining players on the field. Instead of retaining the farm system’s young talent, Amaro flipped young minor leaguers, who were filled with potential, for major leaguers with little left in the tank.

In the trades for Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Amaro grossly overpaid by trading away a wealth of top prospects, destroying the team’s minor league system.

And once Amaro did get around to an attempt at restocking the minors, he traded Lee and Pence for almost nothing; the only prospect received in those deals to reach the majors was the wildly ineffective Philippe Aumont.

The scouting department wasn’t any better. Top draft picks Jesse Biddle, Larry Greene, and Shane Watson were flameouts long before reaching the major league club.

However, after years of an inept front office from top to bottom, there is once again hope for the Phillies. In June 2015, the Phillies hired Andy MacPhail to become team president. MacPhail was once responsible for rebuilding the Baltimore Orioles, turning them into a contender by landing star players such as Adam Jones and Chris Davis.

MacPhail’s first order of business was to trade fan favorite Cole Hamels — or rather, make sure Amaro didn’t screw that up. Hamels was at peak value for the 2015 trade deadline, so the Phillies could cash in on that value by dealing him to acquire prospects, helping rebuild the farm system.

On July 31, 2015, the Phillies acquired Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher, and Matt Harrison from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman.

Williams, Thompson, and Alfaro ranked second, third, and eighth respectively on Baseball Prospectus’s 2016 Top 10 Phillies Prospects list. These are players with strong tools and huge upsides. They have the potential to be stars in the major leagues and should reach Citizens Bank Park at some point during the 2016 season.

Meanwhile, Eickhoff posted an excellent 2.65 ERA in eight starts at the end of the 2015 season, proving himself to be a viable rotation option.

Losing Hamels may sting to Phillies fan, but the players acquired in exchange for him should make up for his loss soon enough. Hamels won’t be the same pitcher by the time the Phillies would be able to fully rebuild.

Amaro also dealt Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere at the deadline, receiving useful minor league pieces for players who wouldn’t be helping the team down the road.

Next up for MacPhail was to fix the front office. He fired Amaro in September 2015. Phillies fans were free at last from his reign of terror.

After an extensive interview process, MacPhail selected Matt Klentak to be the team’s next General Manager. At 35 years old, Klentak is the youngest GM in Phillies history, and younger than two players on the Phillies roster: Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz.

Klentak graduated with a degree in economics from Dartmouth, where he played shortstop for the school’s baseball team. He had previously worked under MacPhail with the Baltimore Orioles. Before joining Philadelphia, Klentak was and assistant GM for the Los Angeles Angels.

“I wouldn’t have left Mike Trout in his prime if I didn’t believe we could win here,” Klentak said at his introductory press conference.

Klentak brings a combination of analytical and scouting experience to the Phillies that when combined, make for the most informed baseball decisions.

Matt Klentak’s first big splash came at the expense of another fan favorite: Ken Giles. Even though Giles is an elite, young, cost-controlled player, he is still only a relief pitcher. Relievers are easy to replace, so choosing to deal Giles was a smart move for the Phillies.

From the Houston Astros, the Phillies received Vince Velazquez, Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer, Thomas Eshelman, and Harold Arauz. Velazquez and Appel headline the deal, as they are pitchers with massive potentials.

At just 23 years old, Velazquez posted an impressive 9.38 K/9 in the majors last season. He offers a dominant fastball/change-up combo that could work well as either a starter or reliever.

Appel, once a former top prospect, has struggled with the control and command of his pitches in the minors, but still has immense talent and could turn into an ace with the proper development.

Giles will be sorely missed by Philly fans and will likely find lots of success in Houston. However, his trade has made the Phillies a much stronger team going into the future.

Due to finishing with the worst record in baseball in the 2015 season, the Phillies are in the best spot possible for a rebuilding team. They had the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft, will have the first pick of the 2016 Amateur Draft, and have top waiver priority.

The Phillies selected Tyler Goeddel with the top pick in December’s Rule 5 draft. He had his breakout season in AA with Tampa Bay last year and should see plenty of playing time in left field on the major league roster.

Klentak has also acquired Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, David Hernandez, and Peter Bourjos, among others, to make for a better MLB roster in the 2016 season. While these aren’t impact players, they are improvements to the team which will make the Phillies less painful to watch in 2016.

With a successful 2016 season, these players can be flipped at the trade deadline for more than they were acquired for.

The acquisitions of Hellickson, Morton, and Oberholtzer to the rotation ensure that prospects such as Velazquez, Appel, and Thompson have the proper amount of time to develop in the minors before pitching in the big leagues. Having depth in front of these prospects means that nobody will be thrown into the fire upon an injury or demotion to a starting pitcher in the majors.

With a strong core of Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, and Aaron Altherr already in place with the MLB club, the Phillies are in prime position to become legitimate contenders in 2017 and into the future. They have an incredibly deep farm system, which will only be further supplemented after the 2016 Amateur Draft in June, as well as arguably the best prospect in baseball with shortstop JP Crawford.

The current Phillies team resembles that of the Chicago Cubs from not long ago. Once the Phillies home grown talent develops into major league ready players, they can begin to start spending loads of money in free agency to fill any holes in the roster, similar to the Cubs 2014-2015 off-season.

The Phillies won’t be great in 2016, and that’s no secret. But there are heaps of young, exciting players to watch for this year.

And surely enough, whether it be 2017 or later, the Phillies will return to being one of the top franchises in Major League Baseball and contend for a World Series title. Under Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail, the Phillies are destined to thrive for years to come.