What are the Phillies thinking?

Leon Halip

The Philadelphia Phillies have spent the offseason acquiring players on opposite extremes of the defensive spectrum. They should balance out, right?

In the second half of 2012, the Philadelphia Phillies were 44-31.

Before 2012 started, all sorts of famous, smart, and handsome people predicted the Phillies to finish in first place.

When you look at it like that, doesn't it seem like it we're all paying too much attention to that first half? The Phillies were supposed to be good, then they had a half-season of misery that was mostly bereft of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay. It wouldn't make sense to just write them off because of a single half, right?

It was a pretty miserable half, mind you.

But more than that, the problems with the Phillies were of an ominous and spooky nature. It's not like their 21-year-old superstar twisted an ankle, and everything fell apart after that. Utley missed time because his knees are a science-fiction landscape. Halladay missed time as a 35-year-old pitcher, and he came back to have his worst season in over a decade. Howard's on-base percentage was under .300, and he struggled to make contact even more than usual. None of these developments were especially encouraging.

Still, the worst thing the Phillies could have done was go into full rebuild mode. What a waste that would have been. Cliff Lee still has some good years left, and it's not like the Phillies were going to get Matt Moore in return for an expensive, struggling Halladay. They'd have to pay another team to take Howard away. A full rebuild would still have left the Phillies in a financial pickle, except they would have had a roster filled worse players. That wasn't going to do at all.

So the Phillies did the only thing they could do, which was get up and try again. The fruits of their offseason labors:

Ben Revere (trade)
Mike Adams (free agent)
Delmon Young (free agent)
Michael Young (trade)
John Lannan (free agent)

Nate Schierholtz (non-tendered)
Vance Worley (traded)
Juan Pierre (free agent)
Ty Wigginton (free agent)
Placido Polanco (free agent)

All told, the Phillies spent about $15.5 million and a couple of young pitchers on their upgrades. And these moves were a part of a two-part strategy:

  • Plan to ask really nicely if other teams would please hit the ball up the middle of the field
  • Hope like hell

The Phillies already had to hope like hell that Chase Utley would return at full strength, and they had to hope like hell for bounce-back seasons from Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay. They already had to hope Erik Kratz could hold the fort while Carlos Ruiz was suspended, and then hope like hell that Ruiz could approach his career-year numbers again when he returned.

The Phillies clearly have the worst defensive corners in baseball now. They probably have the worst defensive corners in recent memory. Can you think of another corner collection that even compares over the last 20 years? The Youngs are incomparably bad at their respective positions, and they're both close to all-time wretched with the glove according to the stats. Brown and Howard aren't great afield, either, and there's a good chance they might be lousy.

Wait, I remember a team that can compare with this kind of bad corner defense. The 2012 Tigers. The 2012 Tigers, who were the butt of offseason jokes, who were supposed to allow 900 unearned runs by May. The 2012 Tigers, who won the American League pennant. That's a good omen, right? Apart from the minor detail about not having Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hitting on the other side, maybe we make a little too much about out-of-position players.

The 2010 Giants started their season with Aaron Rowand leading off, Mark DeRosa hitting fifth, and John Bowker playing right. But they won the World Series because their pitching (and in-season tinkering) was good enough to overcome those obstacles. Of all those hope-like-hells up there for the Phillies, getting the real Roy Halladay back would make up for a lot of them. The troika at the top of their rotation was the reason everyone wanted to hand them a World Series trophy during each of the last two Februarys. And those pitchers are still there. That's kind of a big deal, assuming Halladay improves.

Yet all I can think is this: "From 102 wins to Delmon and Michael Young in the middle of the order, and on the corners of the baseball field. Woof."

I get why the Phillies think they can still compete. I don't get why they're punting half of their defense and adding more offensive question marks to a growing pile. They didn't have an easy task, navigating a self-made financial morass to build around an aging team, and it was always going to be a high-wire act. But I think they might have fallen down and gone boom.

Delmon Young pushed them, everybody. He might have been the Young who broke the Hamels' back.

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