By Connor Thomas
Last night the Atlanta Braves won the 2021 World Series. Their win marks the 2nd time in the past 3 years that an NL East team has won the Fall Classic. The Philadelphia Phillies have not made the postseason since 2011. In fact, with the conclusion of the 2021 season, 3 of the other 4 teams in the NL East have either gone to or won the World Series – the Mets fell to the Royals in 2015 – since the last time the Phils have even reached playoff baseball. The Marlins even made the playoffs during that stretch. It’s time for the Phillies organization to take note of what is happening around them, not just in Major League Baseball, but within their own division: they are being left behind. If things don’t change quickly, this won’t be the last time this discussion is had.
Now, there are changes coming to the league in general that could change the landscape of baseball. Will there be a salary cap? A salary floor? Will the DH become universal? Will there be a major lockout that causes a shortened season? All of these things are on the table, and whether or not they will help the Phils, frankly they are out of the team’s control. But there are things that are well within John Middleton’s organization’s control that they have been failing at consistently over the past decade that they will need to start changing this offseason in order to compete. First of these, of course, is creating an actually competitive farm system. Now baseball is much like business in that the great marks you currently see are results of successful months/quarters sometimes years prior. It takes a consistently effective approach, carried out over the course of multiple seasons, in order to rebuild a minor league player pool. The Phils have been consistently failing at this since they last made the playoffs in 2011. It’s easy enough to tell this from just a quick glance at their top picks in the amateur draft over the past 10 years:
2011: SUPPLEMENTAL PICK – The team was still good
2012: SUPPLEMENTAL PICK – The team had recently been good
2013: JP Crawford (16) – Won a gold glove in 2020… for the Seattle Mariners
2014: Aaron Nola (7) – Has tapered off over the past few seasons, but can’t fault the pick
2015: Cornelius Randolph (10) – Has batted .252 since being drafted, still hasn’t made MLB debut
2016: Mickey Moniak (1) – Hasn’t been able to consistently stay in the Majors
2017: Adam Haseley (8) – Batted .194 this past season before taking a hiatus from baseball
2018: Alec Bohm (3) – Almost won 2020 NL Rookie Of The Year, then got sent down in 2021
2019: Bryson Stott (14) – Seems to be a strong selection, #97 on MLB Top 100 Prospects list
2020: Mick Abel (15) – #64 on MLB Top 100 Prospects list, good selection to this point
2021: Andrew Painter (13) – Too early to tell
Over the past decade, the Phillies have turned 9 first round selections into 1 consistent starter for their team, Nola, who is prone to complete collapses in big spots. Bohm, Haseley, and Moniak all have showcased major flaws that have hampered them from being every day Major League players. Everyone else has either not debuted or is no longer with the organization. In the same time frame, here are some other first round picks within the NL East: Anthony Rendon, Lucas Giolito, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, Carter Kieboom, and Trevor Rogers. This is just looking at the first round. Does it seem that the Phillies drafting is improving? It’s possible to make that argument, but they will have to draft consistently better if they want to dig themselves out of the hole the past 10 years of top picks has put them in.
That task will fall heavily on Dave Dombrowski, and while it’s a tall order, there’s been no indication so far that the Phillies’ President of Baseball Operations is not up for the challenge. Dombrowski is still just under 11 months into his tenure with the Phils, so it is far too early to exact judgement on anything he has done so far in Philadelphia. In reality, though, if I had to make an argument one way or another, signs point to the positive for Dombrowski’s changes since his arrival. He made sweeping changes to the front office this past season, including bringing in Preston Mattingly to head Player Development. Those changes seemed to be largely accepted by the fan base, and Dombrowski’s trade deadline roster moves all seemed to pay off. So, it seems the arrow is pointing in the right direction, but the front office will probably have to consistently keep up this quality of operation for the next 3 to 4 seasons before the team will realize the benefit at the Major League level. In the meantime, there’s really one man that matters.
Barring a major change to the salary structure in Major League Baseball, it’s time for John Middleton to go all in. No, not just having the 5th highest payroll in baseball. I’m talking blank check, luxury tax be damned, whatever Dave Dombrowski, Sam Fuld, and the rest of the front office needs to get this team back to the playoffs. The Phillies are consistently one of the top 10 most profitable teams in baseball, so the money certainly exists. While Middleton waits for Dombrowski to build him a playoff baseball team, he needs to spend these next few years trying to buy one. Bryce Harper, who will most likely win the NL MVP Award this season, is proof of this concept working. The Braves won this year’s World Series at the MLB trade deadline, but last year’s World Series was won by the Dodgers in free agency. Both paths are viable, and only one can happen quickly. It is officially time for desperation at 1 Citizens Bank Way, and if the Phillies front office does not recognize this, there could certainly be worse repercussions than half empty stadiums over the next decade of a drought.