Development is No Longer a Priority for the Phillies and the Reason Will Surprise You

Former Phillies GM Pat Gillick built a Championship in 2008 for the Phillies. There hasn't been a championship since.The Phillies have not been World Series Champions since 2008 and have experienced diminishing results year after year since then. The popular theory with the fan base is that the diminishing success is due to age and that Ruben Amaro Jr. is just not making the right transactions at the right times. I have a different Idea. My theory is that the city has become so consumed with winning that it has handcuffed the front office into making big splash, high payout moves that are geared more to pleasing the fans and less about making development a priority which ensures winning in the long run.

Here’s two simple facts: The Phillies winning the Series in 2008 had it’s roots in development and the annual poor showings in the Nineties that didn’t fill seats, filled the team’s farm system with high caliber prospects that laid the ground work for winning in the future

Year after year since the early Eighties I had faith the Phillies would come out and win. More often then not, they wouldn’t, and that was okay to me and the rest of the die hards. Since Spring of 2008 I have had that same faith but it was a bit more concrete. The past few years though I have had less faith in this team then I ever had when they put out perennial losers in the late Eighties and Nineties. This off season that faith has been rocked to the core when Ruben Amaro Jr. stated, “Development is important, but winning is more important. “ What baffles me is how he expects to put together a winner without development while remain under the teams financial constraints. Notice, I said winner, not perennial winner. Baseball is cyclical, an organization can’t build a team without losing something. That something could be games, talent, free agents, or prospects. Winning does not magically appear out of dust and air. Likewise it’s cyclical in its fan interest too. I might alienate myself here when I say this but today’s Phillies fan is a less educated, more casual fan then those that once roamed Veterans Stadium, and that’s okay too. The masses bring with it television contracts, paid attendance and merchandising which in turn gives the team revenue. But the masses are also fickle and it’s easy to become a slave to the horde. The problem with the horde is they want to win. They want to win now and they can couldn’t careless about a farm system 90 miles away that to them has no real bearing on “their” Phillies. The exemption is when a hot talent is brewing in Lehigh Valley or Reading that is “the answer” to the team’s woe du jour.

This organization for years had a plan. That plan was losing and restructuring not just around young players but a new shiny ball park that would bring in revenue not just to pursue free agents but to pay the rising stars they had in the system. The teams years of losses stocked that farm system with a level of players that was unprecedented in Phillies history and that was exactly what this team needed, a fresh start with homegrown players that would be under team control for years. Behind Ed Wade was developmental genius, Assistant GM Mike Arbuckle. Arbuckle is responsible for Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson, Jimmy Rollins, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick Michael Bourn, Gavin Floyd, J.A. Happ, J.D. Drew and Scott Rolen. In other words, he stocked the farm system with not just studs but diamonds in the rough that would be either valuable Major League Players or Super Stars. The Phillies achieved this through careful draft preparation and immense research. But that same tool, the draft and the development of new players, was also seen as inconsequential by Ed Wade.  This disregard which to nightmares in 2003 and 2005. And Signing the likes of Rheal Cormier and Jose Mesa, Jim Thome and David Bell, Jon Lieber, and Tom Gordon led to the team having to forfeit 3 first round picks, 2 2nd round picks, and one 3rd-round pick in those drafts from 2001-2006. That’s a lot of of high potential prospects to squander away for a relatively low return.

In 2005 when the Phillies hired Pat Gillick that paradigm shifted. Gillick knew this team needed to improve the team with internal prospects, tiny pickups of tossed aside external prospects (Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth), and key trades (Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, Matt Stairs) and signings (Geoff Jenkins) of major league talent that would not exactly be considered blockbusters became de rigeur. For the most part fans were okay with this because they had the constant thought of “the future” and they were not yet used to the blockbuster deals that would soon be all the rage. During Gillick’s tenure the decision to progress was made clear. Gillick traded Thome away for a player who later became a fan favorite, Aaron Rowand and, gulp Gio Gonzalez (where is he now) in order for a home grown Ryan Howard to emerge. Howard at the time had been stewing in the minors blocked by Jim Thome. The Phillies before Gillick had the bad habit of letting talent stew and go to waste in the minors or by sitting them on the bench, sadly it seems Amaro has fallen back into that rut. Domonic Brown anyone? Delmon Young pretty much has Jim Thome‘d Dom Brown from ever getting the chance he deserved.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2008, the buzz of the Series win hadn’t left the air when Gillick retired as GM, and Arbuckle quit after it became clear that Amaro would be tabbed as Gilick’s successor. With Arbuckle’s departure went that genius that orchestrated the developmental symphony that secured the Phillies dominance in the National League East. What we were left with was a showman and appeaser. “Step right up ladies and gentlemen!”

The real watershed, light bulb moment that made this all clear was this years trade deadline. The buzz word was “Re-stocking”. The team needed to re-stock a depleted farm system. Just a few short years from Amaro doing said depleting, (Travis d’ArnaudKyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Carlos CarrascoJason DonaldLou Marson, Jason KnappJonathan SingletonJarred CosartJosh Zeid, Domingo Santana) he decides it is now time to restock by giving up Pence and a player that truly loved being in Philadelphia, Shane Victorino. I could understand the urgency, the fans for the most part were not happy but it was needed and I had hoped that another shift in philosophy was about to rear its head. Maybe RAJ is going to give Dom Brown that chance he deserves. Maybe Darrin Ruff is gonna get a shot to grow and season up in the majors, perhaps Tyler Cloyd is going to be given a shot too, maybe he is thinking young with bring in Ben Revere. Then it happened. Delmon Young. Why? What does he bring to this team, that relies so heavily on chemistry and work ethic. Then it finally once and for all hit me. This was a move to appease the fans who are angry about a lukewarm hot stove season.

In a few short years, Ruben Amaro Jr. has taken this team from a homespun, chemistry laden team and turned it into what all the fans in this city hate most, The Yankees. In a few short years, the fan base has not just let him, they’ve empowered him. No longer are winning seasons brought to you by “homegrown heroes” but with an endless parade of high cost mercenaries that are not brought in to shore up beleaguered veterans or to mentor up and coming rookies. They are here to carry the team into the post season single handedly at the cost of a limitless supply of prospect fodder. No longer is value placed on seeing what takes shape. The finished product is demanded by the fans, who if the slightest slide in the standings shows it’s head, take their ticket sales and go elsewhere to drink high priced beers and talk on their cell phones while waiting for the real game to begin at Xfinity Live after the last pitch is thrown.

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Les Engels

Les Engels is a lifelong baseball fan and obsessed Phillies follower. He is a member of the Society of American Baseball Research and loves studying the history and stories of the American Pastime. He enjoys collecting Phillies memorabilia and traveling to ball parks across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @phightens.