Planning the Perfect Philadelphia Phillies Rebuild After July Sell-Off

August 5, 2015 by Zachary D. Rymer  
Filed under Fan News

OK, now the Philadelphia Phillies can get serious about rebuilding.

When they finally set their minds on doing so last winter, they were making a decision that was long overdue. Old, expensive players bogged down their roster, and their farm system was widely considered to be one of baseball's worst. Clearly, it was going to take time to get the club's rebuild on the right track.

Or not, as it turns out.

Over the winter, the Phillies bolstered their farm system by trading Antonio Bastardo, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. During this year's trade-deadline swap meet, they further bolstered their farm by dealing Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere.

So, that old, expensive roster? It's not so old and expensive anymore. And that fledgling farm system? MLB.com's Todd Zolecki notes that it's looking pretty good:

Including the prospects the Phillies received in December...they have added 12 Minor League players to the organization in the past seven months, including 10 that rank among the Top 24 in their system and three in the Top 69 in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com.

As general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said: "You've got to give quality to get quality. We think we did that."

He's not wrong, you know. And now that Amaro has what he needs to proceed, he could end the Phillies' rebuild in short order.

But rather than wait to see how that pans out, let's use our imagination and chart what would be the perfect rebuilding course going forward.

To do so, we'll imagine when the Phillies' best young talent will arrive in the majors. We'll also imagine which players the Phillies could bring in from outside the organization. And we'll assume there's a sense of urgency at play, with a goal in mind to put a legit contender on the field by 2018.

Mind you, for brevity's sake, we'll have to paint with broad strokes. And in the interest of full disclosure, your humble narrator admits that he is not Nostradamus. Odds are, what the Phillies end up trotting out in 2018 will look decidedly different from what's about to be dreamed up in this space.

But if you're in the mood for a fantasy with at least a hint of plausibility, read on.

 

2015 Winter and 2016 Season

One thing the Phillies can look forward to this winter is a whole bunch of money coming off the books. In Cliff Lee and Chase Utley alone, $40 million is about to vanish from Philly's payroll.

But though Philadelphia could use this as an excuse to go wild in free agency, it shouldn't. With multiyear free-agent contracts, you can really only count on getting good value in the short term. The Phillies won't be ready to take such risks just yet.

Instead, they should take a page out of the textbook for Rebuilding 101 and stockpile cheap veterans looking for an opportunity to turn their careers around, with the idea being to hope they can do just that before they're flipped for young talent in midseason trades.

On this front, a top pursuit could be current Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, who could be open to spending his age-30 season rebuilding his value at a hitter-friendly home like Citizens Bank Park. Elsewhere, players such as Matt Joyce, Steve Pearce, Bobby Parnell and Bud Norris could also be open to rebuilding their value in Philly.

As the 2016 campaign goes along, whether these players can attract the attention of other clubs during trade season will be one of the top storylines in Philadelphia. The honor of the top storyline, however, will belong to the club's growing youth movement.

In 22-year-old third baseman Maikel Franco, 23-year-old center fielder Odubel Herrera, 22-year-old right-hander Aaron Nola and 24-year-old right-hander Ken Giles, the Phillies are poised to move into 2016 with four quality young building blocks. By the end of the year, they could add five more to the big league club.

Those would be all-around shortstop J.P. Crawford, multitalented left fielder Nick Williams, slugging catcher Jorge Alfaro, power right-hander Jake Thompson and ground-ball-magnet right-hander Zach EflinMLB.com pegs them as five of the Phillies' top 10 prospects, and Crawford (No. 6), Thompson (No. 60), Williams (No. 64) and Alfaro (No. 69) are also considered to be four of the best prospects in all of baseball. And of those five names, four are virtual locks to debut in the majors before the end of 2016.

The one wild card is Alfaro, as he'll be ready next season only if his defense catches up with his offense. What the Phillies could and should do, however, is shorten Alfaro's path to the majors by converting him into a right fielder. It's a position that would take it easier on his surgically repaired left ankle and would be a better fit for his bat, his plus arm strength and his strong overall athleticism

If all goes well—and remember, you're playing along here—the 2016 season will see the Phillies establish an impressive core of young players while also replenishing their farm system's ranks by making more trades. Throw in a bottom-10 record that would ensure top-draft-pick protection, and the Phillies' 2016 season will have been successful without being too successful.

After all, the real work would still only be getting started.

 

2016 Winter and 2017 Season

After waving goodbye to a chunk of payroll following the 2015 campaign, the Phillies are due to watch even more money come off the books after 2016 with Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz's contracts likely ending (both have team options).

Once they're gone, the Phillies will be in a very strong position to advance their rebuild. They'll have a solid core of young players in place, tons of payroll flexibility and a gigantic $2.5 billion TV contract with which to make the most of that flexibility.

Time to go to town in free agency? To the extent that a seemingly weak free-agent class will allow, yes.

A top priority should be signing an impact bat to go with the club's gaggle of young position players. To this end, Philly should target the speed, power and defense of center fielder Carlos Gomez. It'll take a lot of money to sign him, but that won't be a problem. And as Business Insider can show, the relatively small amount of fair territory for Gomez to cover at CBP could be a deal-maker for both sides.

As a bonus, signing Gomez could be a way to kill two birds with one stone. The Phillies could use his acquisition as an excuse to move Herrera from center field back to second base, which could be quite the defensive upgrade. Whereas Herrera is nothing special in center field, Baseball America notes that he was named the best defensive second baseman in the Texas League in 2014.

After Gomez, the Phillies could move on an impact starter to flesh out their rotation. But since they should want nothing to do with the flimsy health and inconsistent production of Stephen Strasburg or Andrew Cashner, they should instead settle for upgrading their bullpen with one of the market's elite closers. That list is set to include Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, Drew Storen and Kenley Jansen.

Of those options, Jansen would be a good choice for a multiyear contract. Whereas the others could see their success fade as their velocity does, Jansen's Mariano Rivera-esque cutter is his ticket to age like, well, Mariano Rivera.

After adding Gomez and Jansen, the Phillies should next look to add a replacement catcher for Ruiz. Signing Jason Castro for his elite framing skills and ability to handle pitchers would be the easy option. But he'll be on the wrong side of 30 and with an iffy injury history.

If the Phillies are going to think defense first for Ruiz's replacement, they'd be better off targeting somebody younger in a trade. With this in mind, here's a name: 23-year-old Christian Vazquez.

Though he only played in 55 games with the Boston Red Sox as a rookie in 2014, that was all Vazquez needed to establish himself as an other-worldly pitch-framer and running-game manager. Tommy John surgery has put his career on hold, but 2016 should see him re-establish himself as a valuable asset.

But he's also likely to be an expendable asset, as Blake Swihart is widely considered Boston's catcher of the future. If that future materializes more solidly in 2016 than it has in 2015, the Red Sox are likely to be open to shopping Vazquez. With what should still be a good farm system, the Phillies will have the pieces to deal if it comes to that.

With Gomez, Jansen and Vazquez joining the budding young core the Phillies established in 2016, the 2017 season would figure to be their first big step back toward relevance. 

And the following winter, it would be time to close the gap.

 

2017 Winter and 2018 Season

Though the Phillies will have spent big on free agents in the winter of 2016, they should still have plenty of payroll flexibility and revenue for another splurge after 2017.

This is good, because that winter's free-agent class is shaping up to be a doozy that could help the Phillies fill their remaining needs.

One of those would be at first base, where the Phillies would still need an heir for Howard. Fortunately for them, their options on the open market are due to include Eric Hosmer, Brandon Belt and Lucas Duda. Between the three, Hosmer makes the most sense. Beyond his being the most likely of the three to actually hit free agency, he's also the youngest (currently 25) and arguably the most well-rounded of the three.

Securing Hosmer would just leave the Phillies the need to round out their pitching staff, and the open market could help them there, too.

Among the starters poised to hit free agency after 2017 are Lance Lynn, Tyson Ross, Michael Pineda, Chris Tillman and Henderson Alvarez. Of those five, Ross would stand out due to his light workload history and how his heavy emphasis on ground balls and strikeouts would play at CBP.

After Ross, another welcome addition would be a power left-hander to pair with Jansen and Giles in the bullpen. As it happens, Jake McGee and his power fastball are set to hit the market that winter. He'd be a perfect option to round out the back end of the Phillies bullpen.

With Hosmer, Ross and McGee aboard, the Phillies would need just one more thing: a tried-and-true ace to join Ross, Nola, Thompson and Eflin in their rotation. And since we're imagining the Phillies' "perfect" rebuild, let's talk about Sonny Gray.

Oakland A's assistant general manager David Forst recently said (h/t Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area) that Gray is the closest thing the A's have to an "untouchable" player. But that could change once he starts getting expensive, and that's going to happen very soon. Gray will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after 2016 and for a second time after 2017.

By then, he could be due for too big a raise for Oakland's pocketbooks, forcing the A's to do their usual thing by dangling Gray on the trade market. Due to past trades and high draft picks in 2016 and 2017, the Phillies should still have enough young talent to strike a deal and bring Gray to Philadelphia.

If so, the Phillies would head into 2018 with the following roster:

After brushing up against it in 2017, the Phillies could easily take a roster like that and bring about a decisive end to their rebuild. And with it, the beginning of a new Phillies dynasty would arrive.

Or so we can imagine, anyway.

As easy as it is to picture everything falling neatly into place for them, odds are the Phillies will have to contend with numerous bumps in the road over the next couple of years. These will make putting an end to their rebuild that much tougher.

For now, though, there's comfort to be taken in the list of possibilities for the Phillies. With their rebuild finally on the right track, it's a long list.

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies