SportsProf

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Opiates for the Masses

Read this and see what I mean.

The Philadelphia Phillies are touting the following:

1. Chase Utley's 33-game hitting streak.
2. Ryan Howard's home run prowess.
3. Rookie Scott Mathieson's first Major League win.
4. Made-for-Disney back-up catcher Chris Coste's elevation to the majors (where he's hitting the cover off the ball) after 15 years in the minors.

All of these things, of course, are good.

1. Chase Utley is the best second baseman in all of baseball.
2. Ryan Howard is one of the best first basemen (okay, so his defense needs work), and together with Utley they form the most exciting right side of the infield in baseball.
3. Mathieson is one of a corps of young pitchers that first-year GM Pat Gillick is hoping will make the Phillies respectable in a few years.
4. Chris Coste's story is the best since "The Oldest Rookie" (whose title morphed into "The Rookie" when Disney made the movie.

However. . .

After the most recent salary dump (which most Phillies' fans have to concede was needed), Gillick conceded that the Phillies won't contend in 2007. You don't have to be a brain surgeon or rocket scientist to figure that out, because a) the Phillies don't have the pitching and b) even with extra money to spend, the free-agent market this off-season will be weak and few first-line pitchers in their right minds would choose to pitch in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park when they could pitch in a venue more likely to increase their fame. Most fans won't like an "off" 2007, but the problems for the Phillies won't end in 2007. In fact, they could just be starting.

Because while intellectually the fans might accept the strategy, these fans have tolerated, endured and even supported mediocrity so much so over the past 20 years that they might just stop coming to the ballpark. The novelty of the place has worn off (it's in its third season), and as I've written, they'll go to a cow pasture to see a winner but they won't go to a palace to see a loser (and especially a losing team whose ownership has been out of touch for decades). The ramifications of a potential mass "voting with the feet" is that revenues could drop significantly, with the result that ownership could start to argue that they can't afford to pay free agent salaries or even higher salaries for budding stars because they don't foresee a revenue base to sustain the payroll.

The proverbial "slippery slope", as it were. Perhaps it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are, though, flaws in that argument too, in that if they spend money to make money, as the saying goes, and lock up Utley, Howard and the young pitchers (including Brett Myers, who is a must keep in order for the franchise to build something solid), people might just renew their faith in the hometown team and keep coming out. Pat Gillick thinks he has a nucleus (and, at least, he pronounces the word correctly) of about eight players he can build around -- Utley, Howard, SS Jimmy Rollins, CF Aaron Rowand and pitchers Myers, Cole Hamels, Scott Mathieson and Ryan Madson. Maybe he's right, or maybe Rollins has a fatal OBP problem, Rowand is just an above-average CF and Madson might end up being another Pat Combs and Mathieson another Marty Bystrom. Who? That's the point.

Last year the hometown nine won 88 games and missed the playoffs by a single game. This season, well, they're so far out of first place that they can't see it with binoculars. Next year they'll probably need a telescope.

So, Phillies' fans, you have to be careful what you wish for. The team, as you knew it, got partially blown up before the trade deadline, and the demolition will be completed by next year's winter meetings. Just don't expect an instant turnaround anytime soon. And don't complain about it either.

In the meantime, enjoy Ryan Howard as he begins his journey to become the next Willie Stargell, enjoy Chase Utley's hitting streak, Chris Coste's life story and some brilliance that some young pitchers will show during the next couple of months. Save your bucks, too, for you'll need a bunch of those $6.75 beers to drown out your sorrows once again.

It's just that it's even money that "E-A-G-L-E-S!" chants will start resounding through Citizens Bank Park by mid-August.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard deserve a little more than that.

Here's to hoping that the Phillies' front office will do a better job of keeping them than they did with Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen, one of whom has won two World Series since he left Philadelphia, while the other has appeared in one.

But don't let the highlight films fool you. They're just highlights.

Keen observers tend to look at the roots. And if you link here, to Baseball America's website, you'll notice that there isn't much help awaitin' down on the farm. The roots just aren't all that pretty.

There may be a nucleus of eight, but even assuming that all of those guys will pan out, where will the other 17 come from?

So sit back, enjoy the mammoth home runs, the hitting streak, and an occasional outing by a rookie pitcher where he strikes out 12 in five innings.

Because, for right now and perhaps through 2008, that's all you've got.

4 Comments:

Blogger John Salmon said...

Gillick's getting credit for his honesty about where the team is headed-but he should get just as much blame for his own failures: he brought Franklin, Nunez, Rowand, Fasano, etc. to Philadelphia, not Ed Wade. He traded Padilla for nothing. He has now traded Abreu and Lidle, also for essentially nothing.

The team is remarkably worse than a year ago, and it is Gillick's doing. It is, to be sure, not exactly impossible that this team will win the Wild Card, considering that the NL WC (apt initials this year) may only have 82-84 wins. That team may well be the Phillies.

If so, Gillick's a genius.

4:26 AM  
Anonymous PK said...

Since a fanbase's elasticity of demand for winning is an important factor in determining whether or not they willl have a winning team, not going to the park is probably the best thing Philly fans can do to get a winner. If fans just keep showing up and supported the team no matter what, all you get is a franchise like the Cubs, flush with cash and no rings.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous fodwox said...

Gillick can't GM his way out of a wood-panelled basement. He has waltzed the last 15 years on the coat tails of his predecessors. It's time nobody hired this asshole ever again.

9:43 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

It's hard to read Gillick so far, but the Nunez and Franklin signings were duds, as is the current decision to carry 13 pitchers, 2 of whom you're not using at all(Sanches and Castro).

The team could win the wild card, but they don't realistically have enough pitching to do so. They can score runs -- and in bunches, as they did so last night -- but the bullpen is weary.

My guess is that attendance will be down next year, especially if the pitching staff isn't fortified and the bench remains thin. They can't bring back Nunez at third and not add another power bat and expect the fans to be loyal beyond reason.

4:41 PM  

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