On deck: The Phillies drafted Aaron Nola seventh last year in the first round of the draft for the same reason you call 9-1-1: they needed help now. Nola won’t be the first pitcher from the 2014 draft’s first round to reach the majors, but he might be the first to stay. Kansas City’s Brandon Finnegan, who pitched in the World Series last fall, was returned to the minors this week — after the Series, Omaha might be a letdown. Nola pitched in 12 games last summer after signing and looked good doing so — he had a 2.93 ERA in high A and AA, walked just 10 in 55.1 innings and fanned 49. He’ll start this season in the minors, but doesn’t figure to be there long, in part because of his abilities and in greater part because of the parent team’s lack of them.
Trivia: Jimmy Rollins, who was traded this offseason, has been the Phillies everyday shortstop for the last 14 seasons. Who was the last shortstop other than Rollins to start on opening day? Answer below.
What he said: Cole Hamels at the start of spring training: “I just want to win. That’s all. That’s all any competitor wants. And I know it’s not going to happen here. This isn’t what I expected. It’s not what the Phillies expected, either. But it’s reality.” What he meant: “Get me out of here.”
Outlook: The first step in rebuilding is admitting the problem. It nearly took an intervention, but after consecutive 89-loss seasons, GM Ruben Amaro finally acknowledged that his team was as unhinged as Cliff Lee’s elbow.
A year ago Amaro came off an 89-loss season, made changes and an old team got older. The Phillies lost 89 more.
The Phillies haven’t lost 90 games since 2000, but they will this year and they may not stop there. The 2015 Phillies might lose 100 — they have’t done that since Gene Mauch’s 1961 team lost 23 in a row on its way to 107 — depending how long Lee is out and how long Cole Hamels is a Phillie. The team with the most losses in major-league history will pad their lead this year.
Their outfield is the worst in MLB, the rotation might be, and the most valuable part of the team is the bullpen, which will do it the least good. What’s the use of being able to protect a lead if you don’t have many?
The Phillies rotation is so bad Kevin Slowey, who has a career 4.62 ERA and has made 16 starts in the last three seasons, might be in it. A non-roster invitee, he picked the right team to sign with.
The Phillies’ outfield is so bad Jordan Danks, a career .227 hitter with a .629 OPS, little speed and less power, is protected on the 40-man roster. Brother John Danks of the White Sox has a career 4.28 ERA. And he’s the good one.
Against that backdrop, there’s good news: the Phillies are getting better even as they get worse on the surface. It won’t show in the standings this year, and it didn’t in Keith Law’s farm system rankings. He had the Phillies’ 25th this year, a drop of 11 places, which seems unnecessarily cruel given the Phillies’ 2013 draft, which Law loved, the 2014 draft, which was well received, and the additions Amaro procured.
That kind of ranking, like a Ryan Howard at-bat versus a lefty, makes you shake your head.
Amaro added pitchers Zach Eflin, 20, the Padres No. 1 pick in 2012, and Tom Windle for Rollins; Ben Lively (2.58 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 192 innings) in what must have been a moment of delusion from the Reds for Marlon Byrd; and lefty Joely Rodriguez for Antonio Bastardo.
Amaro might have had the best Rule 5 draft, which is a little like having the best team in the NIT: it’s only consolation.
The Phillies got two flawed players, who are good enough to make their team: they took utilityman Odubel Herrera, who can play second base, short and the outfield, and hit .321 at AA (though he doesn’t walk enough and isn’t an efficient base stealer) and lefty reliever Andy Oliver, a former Tigers second-round pick who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 but fanned 85 in 64 innings last year in AAA in his first full season as a reliever (alas, he walked 47).
Herrera wasn’t protected by the Rangers, who won six fewer games than the Phillies last year. That’s where the Phillies are at in 2015: adding players who can’t make a 67-win team.
You have to wonder how all the young talent will coexist if they arrive in a locker room with Hamels, who doesn’t want to be there, and Jonathan Papelbon, whose attitude needs to be adjusted more than his equipment.
Shortstop J.P. Crawford won’t get there this year, not after he sits out the first month (oblique). But Maikel Franco made it up last year and might get back. Franco is the Phillies’ best hitting prospect, which is damning with faint praise. There’s not much competition.
Franco is as enigmatic as the Phillies’ recent history: he doesn’t walk a lot and of his 66 career home runs in five seasons, he hit 31 in 2013. In 2013 he hit .339 in a half season at AA, a year later and a level higher he hit 82 points lower. And he plays third base, which is manned by Cody Asche, one of the Phillies’ few young regulars.
The Phillies would be happy to move Franco to first, as soon as they can move Howard off of it. There’s about 25 million reasons they can’t.
When they do, they’re likely to find Franco doesn’t hit enough to be an above-average first baseman. But at least he’ll be paid more like it.
Trivia answer: The last shortstop other than Rollins to start on opening day for the Phillies was Desi Relaford in 2000; Relaford had three hits and homered off Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in a 6-4 loss.
Team song: Tom Harrell: Hope St.