No, the Phillies Couldn’t Contend in 2016 With Cole Hamels/Cliff Lee


Former Phillies General Manager and Interim President Pat Gillick provided the Phillies fanbase with the first sense of a realistic idea for a plan for the future when he said this in late October.

"“I think where we are right now, it’s probably a couple years…I wouldn’t think [2015] or [2016,] ’15 or ’16 I don’t think is in the cards. I think somewhere around 2017 or 2018.”"

Since then, the organization has seemed to completely change their thought process on handling player personnel. Jimmy Rollins was moved to the Dodgers for Zach Eflin and Tom Windle in a deal the Phillies may very well win. Marlon Byrd was traded for Ben Lively, a pitcher who looks like he could be in the Phillies rotation in a few short years.

Those moves highlight some of the quality moves the Phillies have made in a quietly productive off-season. Whether credit for that should go to Gillick, Ruben Amaro, or David Montgomery not being present, is unknown. But the Phillies have quietly moved some of their expensive veterans for pieces that look like they could help the team in the near future.

I don’t believe that the Phillies should force a Cole Hamels trade to complete an offseason that has seen much turnover, but I am in favor of doing it for the right price. Given that the Phillies “right price” doesn’t seem to be lining up with other teams around the league, it appears unlikely that will happen. But that doesn’t mean the Phillies should attempt to take any shortcuts in a rebuild process.

Ken Rosenthal wondered Friday if Hamels doesn’t get traded and Cliff Lee has a bounce-back year in 2015, if the Phillies won’t try to do just that.

It’s worth noting that this series of tweets was nothing more than speculation on Rosenthal’s part. That’s fine, but it shouldn’t be taken as him reporting that the Phillies front-office believes this line of thinking. I tend to think that even as stubborn as they have been in the past, the front-office wouldn’t fall back into thinking this way. But it isn’t impossible.

The problem with the idea is that even with the Phillies having Hamels, Cliff Lee and potentially another starter, where would they get offense from? Their best offensive player in 2014, Chase Utley, will be 37 in 2016. Maikel Franco and Cody Asche may have made improvements at the plate by then, but not to the point where they would be “cornerstone” type players. Even if Domonic Brown can bounce-back the next two years and Ben Revere learns how to be more patient at the plate, free-agency wouldn’t be enough for the Phillies to build what wouldn’t be one of the worst offenses in the National League just a year from now.

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Hypothetically, the bullpen could be very good in 2016. If Jake Diekman begins to turn his electric stuff into consistent production out of the bullpen, mixed with continued excellence from Ken Giles and the improvement of Justin De Fratus and Mario Hollands, the Phillies bullpen could be pretty impressive for the next few seasons. That goes without saying that Jonathan Papelbon may still be in the picture.

The biggest hole in Rosenthal’s concept is that the pitching staff wouldn’t be nearly as impressive as he suggests. Cliff Lee would turn 38 late in the season, and struggled to stay healthy in 2014. While his advanced statistics (FIP and WAR) suggest that he may bounce-back in 2015, there’s no saying that he will ever be able to stay healthy consistently again. Even if he does stay healthy and is able to return to being a productive pitcher, expecting him to be ‘elite’ still, seems rather foolish.

Sure, Cole Hamels and whichever free-agent the Phillies would sign in this plan would still be elite pitchers, but that probably wouldn’t be enough to overcome a rotation with question marks (Lee’s health, are Aaron Nola and Jesse Biddle ready?) and what would almost certainly be a below-average offense? Probably–almost certainly–not.

As previously stated, Rosenthal is just suggesting that the Phillies could feel this way, not reporting it. He may not even think this is the best idea for the Phillies future. Hopefully, for everyone involved, no one in the Phillies organization thinks that the Phillies are just one elite starting pitcher away from competing. As Sixers owner Joshua Harris has consistently stated about the team’s own rebuilding process, there aren’t any shortcuts to doing a proper rebuild. If Gillick, Amaro and the team publicly believe that the team is two or three years away from competing again, they hopefully understand behind close doors, that if anything, that estimate is and underestimate, not an overestimate.