There was a time when the Philadelphia Phillies were the gold standard in baseball and believe it or not, it was not that long ago. From 2007-2011, they made the playoffs every year and even made it to the World Series twice, winning it in 2008 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Their best regular season in that span was 2011, when they finished 102-60, but were defeated by the underdog St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series. But now, it is 2013, and the Phils are 38-41 (as of Thursday) and busy burrowing into their grave in the NL East.
But, how can a team that dominated its way to 100-plus wins perish into a team struggling to reach .500 in only two seasons? Just ask the Diamondbacks and Mariners. In 2001, both teams had historic years — the Diamondbacks won the World Series, and the Mariners tied the regular season record for most wins with 116. But by 2004, both teams finished well under .500. While the Diamondbacks have had spurts of success since, the Mariners have failed to make the playoffs once since 2001.
What do these two teams have in common with the Phillies? Old age. The 2001 Diamondbacks' entire team was full of players over 30-years-old including their whole starting lineup and the top of their pitching rotation. The 2001 Mariners were not as old as Arizona, but a majority of their best players were also over 30.
Although Philadelphia has a sprinkle of youngsters in their outfield, with Domonic Brown and Ben Revere, the rest of their starting depth chart is above 30. In addition, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are also over 30, although Lee is still pitching like an ace this season. But Cole Hamels, only 29, is picking up the washed-up-old-man slack, posting a 2-11 record with a 4.58 ERA.
The Phillies took the route that a great deal of World Series contenders generally take. They decided to sign sexy veteran All-Stars through free agency with a "win now" attitude that worked marvelously for a while. From Roy Halladay, to Cliff Lee, to Raul Ibanez, to Roy Oswalt, to Jamie Moyer, to Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia was constantly throwing money and prospects for the chance to suit up veterans who could help them win right away.
And no one can fault their front office for making this decision. Philadelphia had home grown talent that was in the prime of their careers and were in a position to make a run for the World Series. Getting the necessary and sexy complementary pieces was a necessary move to become a contender, but like all decisions based solely on sexiness, at some point, time takes its toll and the strategy can't last.
That is where the Phillies find themselves in 2013. They ransacked their own farm system over the years and now have no tools to build with for the future. While their decrepit veterans have been getting hurt, they do not have the young talent to bring up to properly replace them. So that leaves them with an old, majorly overpaid team that does not have the ability to play at a high level anymore. Which is essentially what the 2004 Mariners and Diamondbacks became.
But the Phillies still have a chance for salvation. They have some remaining veterans who have trade value that aspiring contenders like themselves back in the old days will want. Lee, Hamels, and Papelbon are all players who can help a team win this season, but do not do much good for the Phillies, who will have a poor season regardless if these three players are on the team or not.
But Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has made it clear that his three potential trade chips ï»¿are not going anywhereï»¿. His logic is that they give them the best chance to win this year, but how logical is that? Why would you watch your team bury itself when you could salvage the future by gaining prospects for veterans who are not making a difference anyways? It really is hard to make sense of Amaro Jr.'s stance. The only thing I can think of is he is playing hard to get so fellow general managers will have to offer him more for his trade chips.
Either way, it makes no sense to see a player like Cliff Lee in a Phillies uniform in the second half of the season. It's sad to watch a former great team decay over time, but it is even harder to watch a bad team with options ignore them and consequently become awful. At this point, the Phillies have options. What they decide to do with them is what will determine their future.
By: Matt Levine