Yesterday marked the long-awaited end of an era for fans of the losingest franchise in American professional sports history, the Philadelphia Phillies (as of the time of writing, the number stands at 10, 349, dating back to 1883). Philadelphia fans and pundits love to consider the years 2008-2012 "the most successful stretch in Phillies franchise history." Perhaps, though I still would point to the era 1976-83, with 5 1/2 division championships, two 101-win seasons, two pennants, and the franchise's first World Series championship, led by perhaps the franchise's two greatest players (Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton), as at least the equal of the recent era.
But the end of an era it certainly is. More than three weeks ago I declared the season unofficially over. The team pretended it wasn't so, but after last weekend's listless sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves, they finally admitted the obvious and explicitly made moves with 2013 and beyond in mind. For the rare Phillies fan who is not aware of the moves the team made, they traded centerfielder Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 25-year-old righthanded reliever Josh Lindblom, double-A righty Ethan Martin, and a player to be named or cash. They also traded rightfielder Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants for rightfielder Nate Schierholtz, AA catching prospect Tommy Joseph, and single-A righthander Seth Rosin. With the departure of Victorino, one of the more important players in the Phils' recent success, only six players remain from 2008's World Series champions.
My initial reaction was one of disappointment. Victorino, I believe, had to go. He was often fun to watch, was a fine defensive centerfielder and good baserunner. Nevertheless, like the similarly frustrating Jimmy Rollins, Victorino was a wildly inconsistent hitter whose occasional forays into power hitting often led him to swing for the fences with his wiffle-ball worthy left-handed stroke. I often wish the late Whitey Ashburn could have watched Vic play and provided us with his always-honest evaluations of his play. To me, it is inexcusable that Victorino didn't hit .300 every year. As it is, he never hit better than the .293 he managed in 2008. In return we got a somewhat reliable 7th and 8th inning reliever in Lindblom. In 48 games he has a 3.02 ERA and 1.259 WHIP. What concerns me is that he has allowed 38% of his inherited runners to score, far higher than the league average of 28%. Nevertheless, my initial disappointment was mitigated somewhat when I took into consideration the fact that Victorino is, in effect, a two-month rental player for the Dodgers. It appears evident that the Phils were not going to re-sign Victorino. What they got for him, though not optimal, is better than the draft choice they would have received had they allowed to go into free agency.
The Pence deal initially disturbed me. Pence, though an unorthodox hitter and fielder, always hustled (too bad his intensity couldn't have rubbed off on "I'm too cool to run out grounders" Rollins). In his 155 games for the Phillies, Pence hit .289 with 28 HRs, 94 runs, and 94 RBI. His bat will not be easily replaced. Plus, at 29 he was the youngest of the team's more important position players. What they received from the Giants in return for Pence will not, in the short term at least, be his equal offensively. Without question the key to the deal is the catcher Joseph, who now is considered the best prospect in the Phils' system. The heir apparent to Carlos Ruiz behind the plate still has room to improve offensively, however, as his 8 homers and .260 average in 304 ABs at AA Richmond seems to indicate. Having given up our two best prospects a year ago to obtain Pence, I initially believed we didn't get enough in return. Upon further reflection, however, my initial disappointment has dissipated somewhat. Had we retained Pence, we would have had to pay him in the realm of $13-15 million next season, certainly more than he is worth and an amount that would have inhibited any major action in free agency. Dealing Pence also allows the team to give Domonic Brown and John Mayberry opportunities to play every day with the pressure of a pennant race. As much as I hate to admit it, Ruben Amaro Jr. did the right thing.
I had initially hoped that the team would find a suitor for the disappointing Cliff Lee. Once again, upon further reflection I believe Amaro did the right thing to keep him. The Phils are not in an enviable position. They have well over $100 million guaranteed to a few aging and underachieving stars for next season. Roy Halladay and Lee are not getting any younger. Chase Utley, diminished by a string of irreversible injuries, will never again be a star. As to Ryan Howard, who knows? I suspect he will never again be the devastating power hitter he used to be. The team has glaring holes at third base and centerfield. This year is a lost cause. Next season will be as well, barring trade and/or a significant free agent signing. The Phillies faithful can only hope that the down period that begins this season will be considerably shorter-lived than the one that commenced in 1984. The trades made yesterday could go a long way to helping make that happen.