On the eve of the 2013 playoffs (unless you're a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays or Texas Rangers on Monday night), the Phillies – once again – sit at home, making reservations for the front nine, thanks to a disappointing regular season campaign. To be fair, things went downhill from the jump, thanks mostly to injuries, Roy Halladay's right shoulder falling to pieces, a lack of consistent offensive firepower, and a bullpen that couldn't get the job done. In short, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. It was a complete and utter mess from the get-go, save for a few spurts of promise here and there that gave fans the false impression that this team might have a shot.
And, here we are. The playoffs are a day away, and for the second straight season, they don't involve the Phillies. It'd be a bitter pill to swallow if things weren't slowly turning that way since the 2010 season, when Ruben Amaro began the journey that would irrevocably lead the team to where they are: bloated, old, expensive, and injured.
So, now what?
The Phillies re-arm. Hopefully, they are taking a long, hard look at the organization and taking stock of exactly what they have, and what they need. It's not an easy task, as the Atlanta Braves figure to be competitive for a while, and the Washington Nationals – despite missing the playoffs thanks to an oddity of a season – aren't going to be pushovers. And then you have the New York Mets and Miami Marlins, who aren't without their share of promising talent. The Phillies have their work cutout for them.
On the bright side, that work got a bit easier thanks to the Phillies owning the seventh worst record in baseball, leaving them with a protected draft pick, which means they can sign a big-name free agent (like Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin Soo-Choo) without forfeiting that precious first-round pick. It's a huge off-season advantage afforded to the Phillies, who possess not only a big market, but the funds to lure top talent, unlike, say, the Houston Astros.
While the free agent signing period is a month away, the Phillies have already gotten to work on re-organizing for 2013, starting with news that they are not bringing pitching coach Rich Dubee back for the 2014 season. It makes sense, especially with new manager Ryne Sandberg at the helm. While Dubee was fine at what he did, sometimes a change is needed when the organization is undergoing some rather drastic turnover in the dugout.
But more important than the pitching coach next season is Ruben Amaro's fresh take on player evaluation. While he's never been one for utilizing advanced statistics and more stat-oriented player evaluation tools in the past, Todd Zolecki wrote on Monday about Amaro's evolving stance when it comes to player evaluation.
“We’re going to make some changes,” Amaro said. “I think we’re doing some stuff analytically to change the way do some evaluations. Look, we are going to continue to be a scouting organization. That said, I think we owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate. We’re going to build more analytics into it. Is it going to change dramatically the way we go about our business? No, but we owe it to ourselves to at least explore other avenues. We may bring someone in from the outside, but we have not decided that yet.”
For the fans who love sabermetrics and a more analytical approach to running a front office, it's great news. Amaro, who has made plenty of great moves in the past, has also committed a great deal of money to players in the face of obvious statistical trends and analysis. While teams like the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, and Boston Red Sox have embraced this methodology, the Phillies have been slow to adjust. Hopefully, this will lead to a more thought-out game plan, better player evaluation, and a better constructed roster going forward.
It won't be an easy task, but Amaro is a smart enough guy, and the Phillies have enough talent at present that a few extra pieces could go a long way. While the season may be over for the fans, the next few months are arguably as important as the previous six. If Amaro and company can right the ship this off-season, then it might be the Phillies who are gearing up for a run at October in a year from now.