Jonah Keri, SABR guy and author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First (a good book at the Tampa Bay Rays), wrote an article for Grantland today about the declining Phillies. Much of what’s in there are things we already knew: the Phillies traded many young prospects to get their current assortment of aging stars, the lineup has been declining every year since 2007, and expensive starting pitchers might wind up being valuable trade chips.
I’d say Keri added little to nothing to the conversation other than pointing out, to a national audience, stuff like this about how successful teams become unsuccessful teams: [Grantland]
It starts with low draft position. Win five division titles in a row and you're certainly not lamenting drafting 27th and 28th every year, at least not in the moment. Developing a top prospect into a major league–ready player can take a while, too, especially if that prospect came out of the high school ranks. But at some point, you'll look up at what you've got in the high minors and, barring a run of supernaturally good later-round draft picks, find that the cupboard's pretty bare.
As a team's success continues, the urge to sacrifice the future in favor of the present only intensifies. Need to sign a big free agent to shore up your bullpen? That'll cost you a potentially valuable draft pick. Need to plug your leaky outfield at the trade deadline? It might cost you multiple high-ceiling prospects to do it. Punting long-term upside in favor of win-now commodities like college closers in the draft? That happens. Offer way too much money to a star and fan favorite, long before such a decision even needs to made? That happens, too. We can squawk all we want about building a great farm system or earning praise by making inspired and unorthodox moves. A general manager's job is to win the World Series. If and when he gets there, his job is to keep it up. Everything else is, and should be, secondary.
All of that applies to the Phillies and Ruben Amaro. Problem is, they’re now left to do battle with aging stars and mediocre young talent. Could the Phillies win this year? Probably, if they’re very healthy. But all of what you just read has certainly caught up with them.