It was a year ago this week that the Phillies went through some startling changes.
Ryne Sandberg, beaten down by the losses that come with managing a team in strip-down-and-rebuild mode, resigned as manager.
A few days later, ownership hired veteran executive Andy MacPhail, winner of two World Series as a general manager in Minnesota before moving to top positions with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, as a special assistant and elevated him to franchise president at the end of the season.
MacPhail joined the organization just in time to see his new club swept in a four-game series at home by the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that finished last season 26 games under .500.
"That was a wakeup call," MacPhail said over the weekend in San Francisco. "I'm thinking, 'Yow.'"
A year later, the losses are still mounting at the big-league level where the Phillies have lost 28 of their last 36 heading into Monday night's game at Arizona.
Nonetheless, MacPhail sees progress, some at the major-league level, lots in the minors.
The Phillies, who got off to a 24-17 start after six weeks, take a 32-45 record into play Monday night.
"I'm not really surprised by the record," MacPhail said. "I don't think that should come as a surprise to anybody, but I'm very surprised how we got there. I did not anticipate that we would play as well as we did the first seven weeks and just take a dramatic downturn from there and, frankly, play as poorly as we have since that time.
"I'm hoping we can stabilize. We've seen both sides of it. It's a funny game. The Minnesota series (the Phils lost two to the lowly Twins last week) was an example of balls we would have caught the first six weeks that we didn't catch, plays we would have made that we didn't make, balls that got through that we might have had somebody there in key situations. It's just the way the game works. They talk about things evening out over the course of 162 games. That probably says a lot about how our season has gone."
MacPhail pointed to the work of former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his staff at the trade deadline last July as a reason the organization is in better shape than it was when he watched those four losses to Milwaukee his first week on the job.
The Phillies traded away Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman, who are both making contributions to a Texas Rangers club that has opened a big lead in the AL West and has legitimate World Series aspirations. In return, they got their likely catcher of the future in Jorge Alfaro, a potential middle-of-the-order bat in outfielder Nick Williams, a future big-league rotation arm in Jake Thompson (he's likely the next pitcher to come from Triple A) and a pitcher who has already made significant contributions in the majors in Jerad Eickhoff. It's possible that Alfaro, Williams and Thompson will join Eickhoff as mainstays on the big-league roster as soon as next season. Williams and Thompson could get a look even sooner than that.
"I would really say (the early stages of the rebuild) has gone better than I anticipated," MacPhail said. "And I really think that the trade deadline acquisitions helped springboard this process, accelerate the rebuilding process. Guys are coming along and progressing.
"I'm actually more encouraged today than I ever would have dreamed I would have been after my first month with the Phillies, a lot of through Ruben's efforts at the trade deadline."
This July's trade deadline won't be as busy as last year's for the simple reason the Phillies don't have a player with Hamels' value on the block.
The Phils would be open to dealing a number of veterans — infielder Andres Blanco, catcher Carlos Ruiz and pitchers such as Jeremy Hellickson, Jeanmar Gomez and Andrew Bailey — but are under no pressure to do so, and they certainly won't give anyone away.
MacPhail restated his oft-stated philosophy that he wants to build the franchise with a core of pitching. He will not come off that philosophy.
"My experience has been you can find hitters," he said. "Pitching is the essential component. When you look at this team's success for the first seven weeks of the season, it wasn't offense. It was pitching and playing much improved defense from where we were a year ago.
"In my view, there's never enough pitching and if you have good pitching you have the greatest safety net of good performance. In the places where I've been, we've been able to find a hitter to plug in somewhere. We have resources here. We have ownership that has never had a problem spending on the product. Our park is relatively attractive for hitters to come to."
The resources MacPhail spoke about were a big reason he came out of retirement to join the Phillies. Ownership has big money and has shown a willingness to spend in the past. It wants a winner, but backs MacPhail's intention to do it methodically with lots of young pitching and the addition of bats, either through the system or free agency.
The Phils have only about $25 million committed in payroll for next season. They have the capability to be big spenders on the free-agent market this offseason. Will they be?
"We won't shun the free-agent market by any stretch," MacPhail said. "If we can find something that makes sense for us and is a nice fit, we would do it, certainly in the pitching corner."
MacPhail mentioned the Phils could also look to take on the contract of player that another team is looking to trade. But any additions must fit into the fabric of the rebuild. In other words, they must be young enough and contractually controllable enough to be around for a while. Or they must be veteran-type placeholders on short-term deals, a la Hellickson this season.
"Our baseball operations group is very thoughtful," MacPhail said. "They are not going to shy away from opportunities today if they think it's going to make sense for the future. If something comes up that we think, 'Boy this fits in our window,' let's go."
Many baseball people see the Phillies as being just a couple or three years away from another big run in the NL. They have kids coming and money to spend in some fertile upcoming free-agent markets. It might be difficult to imagine now as the losses are piling up, but the Phillies could be building a power. That's a real belief in baseball circles.
"We've been around long enough to know how things look now, what people's perception of the system is now, and what ultimately happens can be two different things," MacPhail said.
"But I'm aware of that perception and I certainly hope that's the case. We're going to do everything we can to make it the case."