In Part II of our series examining the serious roadblocks preventing the Phillies from getting younger, we explained why trading any of their high-priced veterans is, at the moment, impossible.
But while five of their eight projected starting position players will be 35 or older come opening day, the Phillies do have a good amount of young talent on the roster.
Darin Ruf and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are 27. Domonic Brown, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus are 26. Ben Revere and Cameron Rupp are 25. Freddy Galvis, Ethan Martin and Phillippe Aumont are 24. Jonathan Pettibone, Cody Asche and Cesar Hernandez are 23.
The problem is that, aside from possibly Brown, none of those players are on the verge of stardom. The Phillies don’t have the kind of young, impact talent that seems to be sweeping the league.
Ruben Amaro Jr. traded 16 young players from 2009-12 to acquire Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Revere. In all fairness, none of those 16 players has yet blossomed into a difference-maker at the major-league level.
Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ fizzled out. Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp couldn’t stay healthy. Michael Taylor was dealt at his peak, as was Vance Worley.
In that list of 16, the players with the best chances of stardom are catcher Travis D’Arnaud, who has since been dealt to the Mets for R.A. Dickey, and the three players traded to the Astros for Pence -- right-hander Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder Domingo Santana. If the Phillies had those three players right now, the future would look much brighter.
But they don’t. They do have Aumont, Martin, Tyson Gillies and Tommy Joseph.
And that’s the issue.
The Phils made three big trades from 2009-12 to get younger and replenish a weakened farm system, but none of the three moves panned out.
Lee to Seattle
The Lee-to-Seattle trade in December 2009 remains the worst move of Amaro’s tenure as Phillies GM. He hurriedly dealt Lee to the Mariners for a package of prospects the front office liked. Many criticized the rushed nature of the trade -- remember, they traded Lee the same day they landed Halladay -- but the Phillies didn’t want to give fans a chance to get used to a rotation fronted by Halladay and Lee since they didn’t plan on keeping both.
When Aumont was mercifully demoted to Triple A this past season, he had thrown the highest percentage of balls of any major-league reliever. Control and confidence remain major hurdles. He’s not a starter, he’s not a closer, he’s not even a right-handed specialist. How can a team be confident putting Aumont into a tight situation? He’ll never meet Phillies fans’ lofty expectations (which isn’t solely his fault), and he may never justify his former first-round status.
Gillies hasn’t been able to stay healthy or avoid off-field controversy. He also hasn’t been able to hit. When the Phillies acquired him, he was coming off a ridiculous age-20 season at High-A in which he hit .341/.430/.486 with 17 doubles, 14 triples, nine homers and 44 steals. He looked like a toolsy centerfielder who could one day replace Shane Victorino.
Didn’t work out. Those numbers were compiled in notoriously hitter-friendly ballparks in the California League. Gillies’ power began disappearing as he made the switch to the East Coast, and while the singles were there in Double A, he hit just .220/.286/.313 this past season at Triple A.
The failures of that deal became even more apparent late in the 2013 season when the Phillies needed a setup man to replace Mike Adams and a centerfielder to replace Revere ... and couldn’t turn to either Aumont or Gillies to fill the voids.
The third player in that deal was J.C. Ramirez, whose 95 mph fastball played well in the bigs for a few weeks until hitters figured out it was his only pitch. He was granted free agency and signed with the Indians.
Victorino to the Dodgers
At the 2012 deadline the Phils dealt Victorino to the Dodgers for Martin and reliever Josh Lindblom.
Lindblom was mediocre, and the Phillies used him to acquire Michael Young several months later.
Martin’s ceiling appears to be a late reliever, which isn’t bad considering it cost the Phils just a half-year of Victorino.
The second Pence trade
The same day they traded Victorino, the Phillies sent Pence to the Giants for Joseph and Nate Schierholtz.
Schierholtz was strangely non-tendered last winter (only to have a career year with the Cubs), and Joseph’s development time was stunted in 2013 because of concussion issues.
So yeah, there are factors and reasons and excuses for why the few moves the Phillies did make to replenish the farm system haven’t worked. But all that matters is that those moves haven’t worked. They traded Lee in his prime for very little. They traded Pence -- who was then a year and a half away from free agency -- for significantly less than 100 cents on the dollar. And they’re paying the price.
The Lee and Pence deals were genuine opportunities to add talent and depth to a barren farm system. But trading is an inexact science -- as evidenced by the mediocrity in that list of 16 -- and that’s a major reason Amaro chose to hang onto Lee at this past trade deadline rather than flip him for a prospect who may or may not pan out.
The outlook isn’t completely hopeless, though. The Phillies do have all those twenty-somethings mentioned above, as well as the rapidly developing Maikel Franco and a potential front-line starter in Jesse Biddle. But it would have helped a great deal if they acquired just one difference-maker for Lee, Victorino or Pence. Had Amaro “hit” on just one of those players acquired from Seattle, Los Angeles or San Francisco, we may not even be talking about this today.