That two-word mission statement set forth by Gabe Kapler became the center of the Phillies’ marketing push for the 2018 season. Many Phillies fans are hoping that mindset defines the team’s approach to this offseason as well.
The dots are easy to connect here:
• The Phillies showed some promise this season before the wheels came off in mid-August.
• Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will both be available in free agency.
• The Phillies have the financial wherewithal to land one of those two players.
When asked about the club’s future following the season, both general manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail acknowledged the need to get better. But neither was willing to put the Phils’ eggs entirely in this year’s free agent basket.
You don’t want to pay sticker price if you can avoid it. This could just be a case of maintaining some leverage in future negotiations, but there are also legitimate reasons for the Phillies to temper their free-agent appetite.
I know nothing about building a house, but it seems logical that you ensure the foundation before getting to an addition. The Phillies are still in the foundation portion of their rebuild. That might be frustrating to fans that haven’t seen a postseason game at Citizens Bank Park in seven years, but that’s the reality.
Outside of Aaron Nola and possibly Rhys Hoskins, there’s no safe bet on the current roster to be an everyday contributor for a championship-caliber team. There are reasons to hope players like Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro and Roman Quinn will join that group, but they have not ascended there yet.
The anticipation surrounding this offseason reminds me somewhat of the mood following the 2002 season. After pushing the Braves to the final weekend of the 2001 season and clearing the deck of the Scott Rolen mess the following July, the Phillies went all-in prior to the 2003 campaign. Jim Thome, David Bell and Kevin Millwood were all acquired to push a team that had missed the postseason for nine straight seasons over the top.
It didn’t play out that way. Millwood was miscast as an ace. Bell was a basically a replacement-level player for most of his tenure. Thome was spectacular but eventually served as a Ryan Howard roadblock. As important, the talent around them was not as good as the front office originally hoped. It took another four years and an almost entirely reworked core to get the Phils back to October.
Admittedly, Harper and Machado are significantly younger than Thome was when he signed with the Phillies. They also have higher ceilings. There’s no doubt that adding one of these players makes the team better immediately. But neither player solely bridges the gap between the Phillies and top teams in Major League Baseball.
Yet, making the commitment necessary to land a Harper or Machado changes the expectations. A team that makes that type of splash almost instinctively has to take on the mindset of a contender. That will certainly be the way the fan base sees it. And that can be dangerous.
Icing is delicious. But it tastes best on a fully baked cake with all of the ingredients. Similarly, free agency works best when used to add a finishing touch.
You’re ready when you’re ready. And the Phillies aren’t ready for that yet.
That might change next offseason. 2019 could call for boldness. But right now, the Phillies might be better served to sit this one out.
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