Stick a Fork in ’Em: 2013 Phils Most Disappointing Ever?

A once-promising season devolves into a full-fledged debacle.

Now that we have solved the question about whether the Phillies should be buyers or sellers as this week’s trade deadline approaches, we can address the larger question of whether this team has any idea of how to become competitive once again in the National League.

One thing is certain: This last week of baseball belongs with some of the epic failures in franchise history. Comparing it to the fetid early ’70s or early ’40s (62.5 games back in ’42) isn’t fair. These Phils were supposed to mount a challenge for the post-season. Instead, they put together an eight-game losing streak that featured some of the most lifeless — and heartless — baseball seen in these parts in a long time. It’s one thing to stink when you’re supposed to stink. It’s another to flat quit when contention is not so far away.

The upshot of the past nine days’ face-plant is that the Phillies are not just eliminated from this race; their entire organizational culture is in question. GM Ruben Amaro’s recent testiness with the media shows just how arrogant the team has become. When a team loses contact with the top of its class, its future doesn’t depend on whether it can trade Michael Young for a mediocre middle reliever or Carlos Ruiz for a minor league outfielder. It depends on whether it has the leadership in place to turn things around.

At this point, that’s a highly debatable proposition.

This week, a lot of talk centered around whether the Phils should trade Chase Utley, who seems to wish the rest of his career will be spent in Philadelphia. Investing a sizeable amount of money over the next three years in a player whose body could betray him at any moment and whose “leadership” during the past couple seasons has been hard to discern isn’t the best idea. In professional sports, loyalty is for suckers. St. Louis let Albert Pujols go. The Rangers dispatched Josh Hamilton. Spending good money on Utley or Ruiz as a reward for their service over the past several years may be good P.R., but it’s bad baseball.

It’s time for the Phillies to admit they cannot remain in contention with the team’s present core. It doesn’t matter whether Ryan Howard is healthy; he can’t hit lefthanders and isn’t so sharp against righties, either. Domonic Brown has cooled considerably since his big May. Jimmy Rollins’ production is sliding – thank goodness the Phils have him for two more years – and the dynamic duo of Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee has produced a total of 14 wins, the same amount Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Pettibone have managed.

Amaro’s mandate of fielding a contending team (or the illusion of one) precludes him from tearing down the decaying edifice and starting again. It won’t be possible to draw close to three million fans with a club that more resembles the Astros than the Cardinals, although this week’s three-game fiasco in St. Louis proved that the Phils are hardly in the Cards’ class. But trying to freshen up a failing club with a couple meaningless additions each year won’t do anything but anger the fan base and make it less inclined to spend money on tickets when the crash ultimately comes. It wouldn’t matter if Howard, Brown and Ben Revere were healthy right now. The team wasn’t very good when they were all healthy. It’s hardly guaranteed their presence in the lineup will matter going forward. Nope, this team needs help at practically every position, and until the Phillies recognize it, and better yet, admit it, they will slide slowly into irrelevance in the National League and turn Citizens Bank Park from a rollicking cash register into a highly priced morgue.

It’s not like we can trust Amaro to make the right moves to fix things. Take the signing of Cuban pitching refugee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Committing a minimum of $48 million over the next six seasons for a pitcher about whom scouts wonder whether he has a successful pitch beyond his mid-90s (tops) fastball is highly irregular. Expect Gonzalez to be joining the team as soon as possible, the better for the Phils to get some kind of return on their investment. But this sounds like a desperation move by a team that has had a spotty record on international players. Devoting the largest amount of cash ever (foreign division) to a pitcher who is a question mark doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially when there are so many other spots of need on this team. The worst-case scenario for this move is that Gonzalez is a bust, and Amaro tells us for the next several years that his salary hurts the team’s ability to get other players.

Fans shouldn’t spend much time worrying about what the Phillies will do over the next three days, because whether they buy, sell or stand pat, this team is cooked for 2013. The bigger question is whether the organization has the guts to admit that this core is finished, and it’s time to move on, or whether it will try to fool fans next year and the year after into thinking contention is possible with this group.

You know what the smart money says on that one. Let’s hope the Phils prove it wrong.

SUCKER PUNCHES

  • Jeremy Maclin’s tragic ACL tear couldn’t have come at a worse time for him – a contract year – and it’s bad for the Birds, too. For all the talk about how much the team’s offensive tempo and Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme will make a difference, nobody wins in the NFL without personnel, and Maclin’s injury is a huge blow to a team with few big weapons.
  • No matter what Ryan Braun says about his recent steroid suspension, he should remain a pariah of the Lance Armstrong variety moving forward. When he dodged his previous discipline because of a technicality, he didn’t show humility or grace. Instead, he was obnoxiously defiant and worked hard to discredit the man whose error in handling his toxic sample resulted in Braun’s escape. Let’s hope a trip to Oprah’s couch or a couple of teary TV interviews don’t fool fans into thinking he has rehabilitated himself.
  • Any Eagles fan who boos Donovan McNabb at his retirement ceremony had better turn in his collection of jerseys – or never cheer another player. The Birds didn’t win a Super Bowl while McNabb, the best QB in franchise history – was with the team, but they didn’t win with Brian Dawkins on the roster, either. Or Brian Westbrook. Football is the ultimate team game, and McNabb was a good teammate and a highly productive passer. He deserves applause, and those who boo him had better examine their motivation for their behavior to see if it’s pure or influenced by other, more insidious circumstances.

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