Discover more from 2008philz
These are the good old days.
“I don’t look at this as a rebuild,” lied Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg. “I look at it… Well, it's a transition. It's where we're at.”
Sandberg couldn’t say it, but “where they were at” was Baseball Hell. Less metaphorically, he was in Clearwater, speaking to reporters in February 2015. As pitchers and catchers filed in to Spring Training, the usual excitement was nowhere to be found. Team morale was low. Fan morale was nonexistent. Fresh off an 89-loss 2014 season, the 2015 Phils looked even worse than the previous year’s squad.
Phillies all-time hit leader Jimmy Rollins was now a Dodger, traded away in December for pitchers Tom Windle and Zach Eflin. The team had sent outfielder Marlon Byrd to the Reds for another arm—righthander Ben Lively—and swapped longtime reliever Antonio Bastardo out for a younger lefty, Pirates minor leaguer Joely Rodríguez.
Those moves were only the beginning. General manager Ruben Amaro was dismantling the roster, and everyone knew it. Competitive MLB clubs circled like vultures to pick off anything useful from the team’s carcass. Closer Jonathan Papelbon would get shipped to the Nationals for Nick Pivetta (still pitching in Double-A) on July 28. On July 31, after a dramatic final start, former World Series MVP Cole Hamels went to Texas in exchange for six(!) young players. (Matt Harrison, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher, Jerad Eickhoff, Jorge Alfaro, and Nick Williams.) That same day, Amaro traded outfielder Ben Revere to Toronto for two pitchers who would never play for the major league Phillies. (Jimmy Cordero and Alberto Tirado.) Finally, after hitting .217 in his final games with Philadelphia, 36-year-old Chase Utley would join Rollins in LA. Utley was traded on August 19 for minor leaguers John Richy, Jeff Edwards, and Darnell Sweeney.
A few familiar faces would stick around throughout the season. Ken Giles wasn’t traded to the Astros until December, the Dodgers wouldn’t poach Carlos Ruiz until the following August, and Amaro would never find a taker for Ryan Howard’s big contract. Howard and the Phillies didn’t part ways until the club exercised a buyout option in November 2016.
“I'm excited to see some young players,” continued Lyin’ Ryne Sandberg on that February morning. “I'm anxious to see who is going to step up this year to continue to be Philadelphia Phillies and move forward as core players.”
The Phillies went 63-99 in 2015. Sandberg resigned in June. Howard was the only player to reach 15 home runs, no pitcher won more than 6 games, and Odúbel Herrera led the team in WAR. Cody Asche played in 129 baseball games and Jerome Williams made 21 starts. Attendance at Citizens Bank Park plummeted, dropping 500,000 from 2014 and 1.8 million from 2011. One despondent young Phillies fan gave up altogether and started live-tweeting the 2008 season.
Worst of all, almost none of the prospects the Phillies received in exchange for their franchise icons ever found significant success. Only Zach Eflin would reach the playoffs with the Phils in 2022. Pivetta and Velasquez proved to be serviceable, albeit frustrating, big league starters. Alfaro was part of the JT Realmuto trade. But most of the other players named above are entirely forgettable. In fact, one of the names is fake and you probably didn’t even notice. (Jeff Edwards played Umpire #2 in the movie Major League.)
The Phillies were four seasons removed from their last playoff appearance, and seven seasons away from their return. That’s… a long time. For context, Game of Thrones premiered in 2011 and the whole show was over by 2019. Years after Arya Stark stabbed the shit out of the Night King, the Fightins were still sitting on their couches at the end of September.
But now? Clearwater in 2023? We are so back, my friends. It’s the first spring in a long time where fans can genuinely expect the Phillies to compete for a championship. We’re only a few months removed from the insanity of Red October 2022. From the wild 9th-inning comeback in Game 1 vs the Cardinals. From the Rhys Hoskins bat spike in Game 3 vs the Braves. From the 500-foot Schwarbombs and the Nick Castellanos sliding catches. Rally towels, locker room celebrations, Realmuto hitting an inside-the-park home run. NL Championship merch and Dancin’ On Our Own. Bryce Harper and the got-damn Swing of His Life. It’s all fresh in our minds, and there’s no reason to think it can’t happen again.
Things have changed. The Phillies’ unexpected postseason run ended two games short of a championship, but the party is far from over. Nearly all the players who brought playoff baseball to Citizens Bank Park last year are ready to run it back. The lineup is stacked, a beautiful mix of young talent (Phillies Daycare graduates like Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm, and Brandon Marsh) and veteran leaders (stars right in the middle of their prime like Harper, Hoskins, and Schwarber). Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola are still at the top of the rotation, and Ranger Suárez is a very underrated number 3 starter with a career 3.12 ERA.
And we haven’t even discussed the new guys.
Trea Turner joined the team in December, and rarely has a free agent been such a perfect match for a club’s needs. Last year’s Phillies combined to mash 205 home runs, 7th-most in franchise history. But far too many of them were solo shots. The Phils hit .253 collectively with a .317 OBP, and there were countless nights when the ball-go-boom approach failed. The team averaged 4.59 runs per game, 5th in the National League, but they were shutout 16 times. The World Series proved to be a microcosm of the regular season, with a 5-HR Game 3 followed by a 0-hit Game 4. The team needed a .300 hitter, a speed guy, and, with the departure of Jean Segura, a new middle infielder. Enter Trea Vance Turner—check, check, and check.
Eight days later, it was Taijuan Walker shaking hands with Dave Dombrowski at a Phillies press conference. Walker is a big 30 year-old righty who registered a 3.49 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with the Mets in 2022. A team could do a lot worse in the middle of its rotation than Suárez/Walker.
Rounding out the starting pitchers, 19-year old Andrew Painter is in camp. He’s one of the most exciting Phillies prospects in a long time. A 6’7” righthander with a fastball that touches 100 mph, Painter was the Phils’ first-round pick in 2021 and has simply dominated in the minor leagues. He’s looking to be the first teenager to start a game for the Phillies since Mark Davis in 1980, and based on early reviews it just might happen. A few other pitchers, most notably Bailey Falter, are on the roster as serviceable number 5 starters should Painter… well, falter.
Even the bullpen looks to be a strength, which may be the most startling news to longtime Phillies fans. Relievers are notoriously volatile from one season to the next, but a lot of teams would love to take their chances with this group’s big arms. Jose Alvarado and Gregory Soto combined to throw 81% of 100 mph pitches thrown by lefties in 2022, and Seranthony Dominguez averages 98 mph on his fastball. Sam Coonrod, Nick Nelson, and Connor Brogdon all throw 95+ mph. Eight-time all star Craig Kimbrel, while on the downside of his career, still averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball last season. Meanwhile, Matt Strahm and Andrew Bellatti would have been the best relievers on more than a few Phillies teams in recent history.
“The best that I’ve seen maybe, in my career,” Rob Thomson said when asked about his team in Clearwater in February 2023. And we should believe him. First of all, Thomson has the look of a man who never lied once in his life. But more to the point, this is an objectively great group of Phillies behind him. Sure, the NL East will likely be baseball’s toughest division, nobody gets anywhere without catching some breaks, and Bryce Harper starts the season on the IL. Nothing in life is guaranteed. But the odds are pretty good that we’ll have another Red October in Philadelphia this year.
So when the 2023 season starts, take a second and soak it in. Enjoy the good old days before you’ve left them. And once in a while, when you’re sitting in Citizens Bank Park in your powder blue Harper jersey, sipping a Bud Light Lime-a-Rita and watching Turner slide into home… Think about the 2015 Phils. Say a little prayer for the team that burned in the depths of Baseball Hell.
If you’re reading this, I can’t thank you enough for subscribing to the 2008philz newsletter. This will really be a lot of fun. Moving forward, look for emails on Mondays. There will be game recaps, interviews, stats, art, videos, memes, trivia, low-quality photoshops, Phillies memories… Basically all the dumb stuff you expect from your friend 2008philz. But now it’s in a newsletter, how exciting.
Tweets of the week.
Here are this week’s top tweets, selected by a panel of Nobel Prize-winning scientists:
Alec Bohm hit a home run on Monday, let’s check in on UKphillies:
Phillies Muse is in midseason form:
Absolutely Hammered says it’s time to sign Aaron Nola to an extension:
We’ll be making fun of the 2022 Padres for a long time. From Franzke & LA:
The Phanatic is a menace to society:
This week in 2008.
The big news in 2008 is an injury to new closer Brad Lidge. He caught a spike in the mound while throwing batting practice. His very first pitch. Disastrous free agent signing, if you ask me.
Phillie you forgot about.
Travis Lee, 3 seasons with the Phils (2000-2002). .258/.343/.402, 34 HR in 366 games.
Congratulations to twitter handle CoachJCarleton for winning the April 9 Phillies tickets, and to twitter handle furiousBall for winning the autographed Carlos De La Cruz baseball. Shoot me a DM to claim your prize. And if you didn’t win this week don’t worry, more prizes on the way. Including an autographed Andrew Painter ball.
This is the section of the newsletter where I make you look at my dogs.
Talk to you next week. Go Phils!
Thanks for reading 2008philz! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.