“It’s been eight years since the last time the Phillies made the playoffs”. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times from Phillies fans since the Phillies were officially eliminated from playoff contention. It’s kind of odd though that people say that as if it is some big surprise. When you look at the Phillies history, they have always gone for long stretches in between playoff appearances.
After the Wiz Kids made the World Series in 1950, the Phillies went another 26 years before appearing again in the postseason. After a run of six trips to the post season in an eight year span from 1976 to 1983 , ending with their World Series appearance in 1983, the Phillies went another 10 years before appearing in the postseason again when they went to the World Series in 1993. That was followed by another 14 year stretch of futility before they made the Wild Card round in 2007. The Phillies went on to make the playoffs five straight years before falling short in 2012.
Which takes us to where we are today. Eight straight years without a playoff appearance. So what are the reasons for this? There is already a lot of debate for who is to blame for yet another disappointing season. Some blame the manager Gabe Kapler. Others blame GM Matt Klentack. Some say that owner John Middleton should completely clean house and get rid of Kapler, Klentack and team president Andy Macphail.
Whoever it is you want to blame, there is plenty of blame to go around when you are talking about a baseball team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011. And without a doubt, this current regime is a big reason why the Phillies have gone for such a long stretch without making the postseason.
But the reason for this long stretch of futility dates back before this regime came into power. Andy Macphail was made team president and Matt Klentack was hired as the GM in 2015. So they are only responsible for four out of the eight years of futility.
The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. As a result of having an older team, they decided to retool and start a rebuild. Only three years later, they won a division title and they won a World Series Title 5 years later. So why has it been eight years and counting with no postseason appearances for the Phillies?
The answer is simple. The Phillies waited too long to start their rebuild. In 2011, the Phillies won 102 games, breaking the franchise record for most wins in a season. So they were still a contending team but they were also a team that was starting to age.
Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins were 32. Ryan Howard was 31, Roy Halladay was 34. Cliff Lee was 32. Shane Victorino was 30. Carlos Ruiz was 32. The core of their team was slowly but surely moving away from their prime years.
But, coming off a year where they won 102 games, and with a core that might have been aging but was still young enough where they still had a few good years left in them , you couldn’t expect the Phillies to break up the core after the 2011 season.
Even after 2012 when they finished .500, you could possibly make the argument that it was just a down Year and that the core had at least one more run in them. But, after the 2013 season where they only won 73 games, it was time for the Phillies to start their rebuild. They were now an aging team that had put together two straight non-winning seasons.
And although their core was getting older, they were still putting up good individual numbers. At 34, Jimmy Rollins had 600 at bats, scored 65 runs, had 151 hits 36 doubles, 6 triples 6 HRs 39 RBIs and most importantly was still one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball. Chase Utley also 34 played in 131 games, had 476 AB, 73 R 135 H 18 HR and 69 RBI. Cliff Lee, also 34 was 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA and had 222 strikeouts in 222 innings.
Trading those 3 players along with Carlos Ruiz should have been a no-brainer. The team was getting older, it was declining, but you had some veterans who were still putting up some good numbers. Now was the time to trade them before their numbers started to drop and their value therefore declined.
A power-hitting second baseman, a shortstop who was one of the best defensive players in the game but who could also put up good offensive numbers and give you some speed on the base paths, a catcher who was one of the best defensively, who called a great game, who pitchers loved to throw to and who was clutch in the postseason, and a left-handed pitcher who was able to put up really good numbers on a bad team are all players that contending teams would covet and therefore would pay a pretty good price for.
But the Phillies didn’t pull the trigger on any of those potential trades. They waited a few more years before trading their veterans and thus they weren’t able to get as much back in return as they would have if they had traded them after either the 2012 or 2013 seasons. Jimmy Rollins was traded in 2014, Utley in 2015 and Ruiz in 2016.
The result was the Phillies continued to have subpar Seasons with an aging roster, If the Phillies had traded Rollins, Utley, Ruiz and Lee after the 2013 season instead of waiting until 2016 before having traded the last of the veteran core, that could have shaved three years off of the rebuild. That is a big reason why it has been so long since the Phillies have been in the postseason.
The most egregious mistake was not trading Cliff Lee when they had a chance to. There’s probably nothing more valuable at the Major League Baseball trade deadline than a quality left-handed starter with postseason experience. The Phillies definitely could have gotten a good haul of prospects back for Lee. Instead they waited and during that time Lee suffered a career-ending injury and the Phillies got nothing for him. Yet another reason why the Phillies rebuild has taken as long as it has.
A big reason for the Phillies holding onto their veterans too long was because of former majority owner Dave Montgomery. This is by no means meant to disparage Montgomery . I met him in person at Harry Kalas’s wake and he was one of the nicest men you would ever want to meet . Montgomery absolutely loved those Phillies teams that were winning division titles and World Series. He just couldn’t bear seeing any of those guys leave. And although you can’t blame him for not wanting to trade players that he loved, sometimes tough decisions like that need to be made. And him holding on to those aging players is a big reason why the Phillies are in the position they are in now.
If the Phillies had traded Rollins, Utley, Lee and Ruiz after either the 2012 or 2013 seasons, gotten a bunch of prospects back that were close to Major League ready, and then paired those prospects with young major league players already on the roster in Cole Hamels who was 27 and Hunter Pence who was 28, the Phillies could have had a new young nucleus to move forward with. And with maybe a few more judicious moves, could have been a contender in only three years like the Red Sox had done in 2013.
Instead here we sit in the year 2019 with still no playoff appearances in the last 8 years. If the Phillies had not waited so long to start their rebuild, there is a good chance we are not having this conversation.