One of the key points made by John Middleton, Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak at Friday's press conference was that most of the Phillies' additions performed but many of the players who were on the 2018 team either did not improve or were worse in 2019.
That's not news to any Phillies fan. They saw the product. They watched a team they thought last winter was on the brink of contention add a superstar in Bryce Harper, a star-level catcher in J.T. Realmuto and a very good, multi-dimensional vet in Andrew McCutchen and win just one more game.
It really is staggering to look at how few players on the 2019 team sustained or increased their 2018 production. Rhys Hoskins was worse. Odubel Herrera was worse before his season-ending suspension. Maikel Franco was worse. Roman Quinn was worse (and dealt with a slew of injuries again). Nick Williams was substantially worse.
Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Seranthony Dominguez, Edubray Ramos, all worse.
This highlights the dilemma the Phillies find themselves in. They spent so much money last offseason that they are now pot-committed. They have to continue to spend. You don't tear it down a year after building it up by committing more than $400 million to future payrolls.
A strong case can be made that the Phillies spent that money a year too soon. It's hindsight, but execs are paid to have this sort of foresight. There were too many holes on the 40-man roster. That doesn't mean Harper was the wrong player to splurge on. It means the Phillies didn't do a good enough job building up their roster leading to that gigantic moment they landed Harper. Their current core now looks like it clearly wasn't ready yet. The manager, hitting coach and pitching coach played a role in the disappointment, but would any coaching trio have conjured the eight additional wins it would have required just to tie the Brewers for the second wild-card spot? The answer is almost certainly no.
If the Phillies had a stronger homegrown core, they wouldn't have this great need to spend big for a second straight year. (Or a third straight year, given that Arrieta and Carlos Santana cost $135 million the prior offseason.
If Pivetta and Vince Velasquez ever developed, they could have formed 40 percent of the starting rotation. If Quinn or Williams ever seized an everyday role, or even a bench role, the offense would be in better shape. If Arrieta had been anything close to what the Phillies thought they were getting, that would mean one fewer pitching need. The Phillies didn't sign Arrieta to be the ace he was in Chicago but they certainly thought they were getting, at worst, a mid-rotation piece. Hasn't happened. Those misses matter, especially when they add up.
Then there are the drafts. MacPhail pointed out Friday that the Phillies went with three high school players in the first three rounds in 2016 and that prep prospects develop more slowly than college players. He pointed out that in 2018, the Phillies didn't have a second- or third-round pick because of free-agent signings. This past draft, they didn't have a second-round pick because of the Harper signing.
Still ... that's not an effective excuse. Bo Bichette was a high school player drafted 65 spots after Mickey Moniak that year and he's already a far better prospect. Jesus Luzardo was a high school player drafted in the third round who is now one of the most exciting pitching prospects in baseball. You could look at any draft any year and fault any team for missing on a certain player. All drafts are crap-shoots, especially in MLB. But the Phillies didn't appear to hit on the right high school players in that 2016 draft. The 2017 draft may produce three big-league players in Adam Haseley, Spencer Howard and perhaps Ethan Lindow.
Too many misses while drafting high in every round.
The draft, the international free-agent market and player development have been the Phillies' three biggest-picture problems in recent years.
They have led the Phillies from the basement to the middle. They had the 16th-best record in 2019 and the 18th-best record in 2018.
To gain the wins needed to make the playoffs in 2020, the Phillies will need one or more of these things to happen
• Harper and Realmuto perform like superstars for the majority of the season.
• Howard or Alec Bohm not only contribute in 2020 but make a significant major-league impact as rookies.
• The players added this offseason meet or exceed expectations.
• Players like Hoskins and Scott Kingery take steps forward.
If, if, if, if. It's hard to believe that after eight years of non-winning baseball, these many ifs still exist.
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