The mild chill in the air on that fateful late-October evening when Brad Lidge closed out the first Philadelphia Phillies World Series championship in 25 years was one that most who weren’t inside Citizens Bank Park that night will never remember. For those inside, shoulder-to-shoulder with hearts in stomachs and tears welling at their eyes, they will never forget it. Whether you grew up passionately suffering for the Phillies, or only knew as much as the late-night sports recap would tell you, seeing the Phillies back atop the baseball world was something that everybody reveled in in their own unique way. From Harry Kalas’ voice, to the improbable bats of Matt Stairs and Shane Victorino, it was a story that even Hollywood would be jealous of, but it was real, and it still is.
As the Phillies enter a new era, under a new regime, with nearly every face from the 2008 championship team now mere ghosts in hallways, the dreams of yesterday are just that: dreams. The hopes of tomorrow don’t yet exist, but rather uncertainty. With a new president, general manager, manager, and faces on the field not even a mother could love, the Phillies are entering this new era with a roster that would rival the replacements. What exactly is the plan in Philadelphia?
Bill Gates once famously said, “If you’re not given the tools to succeed at your job and you fail, it’s not your fault. If you’re given the tools to succeed at your job and you fail, then it is your fault.”
New general manager Matt Klentak has absolutely no excuse to fail in Philadelphia. He has truly walked into a modern-day gold mine with the Phillies. He has the first overall selection in next June’s draft, a $2.5 billion television deal with Comcast, third baseman Maikel Franco, and pitchers Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff to build around.
Klentak knows talent, having spent the last four years in Anaheim watching Mike Trout grow into baseball’s best power hitter and most marketable face. What Klentak may not know, or may know very well, is that Philadelphia doesn’t have the patience of Anaheim, or Baltimore, or Colorado — the three previous stops on Klentak’s trail en route to his fresh seat as GM of the Phillies. Klentak has to begin building this roster around the centerpieces that are currently in place, but he needs to be cutthroat about it. For too long, Philadelphia has had the strings of their hearts pulled by the wishful thinking of Ruben Amaro, whose legacy will forever be hanging onto lost talent for too long, and overpaying for rentals.
If Klentak wants to survive the inevitable onslaught of Phillies fans, he’ll need to be relentless in building a roster that’s first meant to compete within the division, then continuing to build a team that’s capable of competing with the rest of the National League. As mentioned before, Franco, Nola, and Eichoff are your sure building blocks. There are solid role players on the 40-man roster, but there are also anchors … *cough* Ryan Howard *cough*.
The farm system has somewhat been replenished after shipping off top prospects for three-month rentals that didn’t pan out in hopes of returning to the World Series for nearly six years after the 2008 championship. The Phillies currently possess five top-100 prospects according to Baseball Prospectus, including 2015 first-round pick Cornelius Randolph, and J.P. Crawford, who ranks sixth in the top 100.
If the Phillies want to sell a dream to a fan base that’s looking to buy one, they’re going to have to do better than what’s been coming out onto the field the last five years. Amaro has left an awful, bitter taste in the mouths of so many fans, and it’s not something that’s going to go away with mid-level acquisitions. Of course, signing Jayson Heyward to a $300-million contract isn’t going to excite anyone either, thanks to Howard.
It was that mild chill back in October 2008 when dreams were fulfilled in the hearts of so many Philadelphians, where once-children have grown to remember that fateful night as the shining moment of their Phillies fandom. What once was golden has now rusted away and been forgotten, but is it never to return? Or has the road back to the top of the baseball world begun to be embarked upon again. Has the narrow path that is success in baseball been re-found, or are we mere starving stray cats circling the house that feeds us the whatever-it-is-today meal that never fills or satisfies, yet we return because it’s all we have?
Only time will tell, but rest assured, brick by boring brick, the Phillies are building towards something. What, exactly? Well, right now we just aren’t so sure.