Voila_Capture1048I’ve been trying to make sense of what has been a terrible and strange Phillies offseason. And I think I finally have.

In short: The Phillies don’t expect to contend. They’re not trying to contend. And therefore, we should reset our expectations for the franchise as a whole.

After finishing an embarrassing 73-89, their worst record since 2000, here’s what the Phillies have done of note this offseason:

Signed known PED user and former Phil Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal.

Re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a three-year deal.

Acquired mediocre reliever Brad Lincoln in exchange for Erik Kratz.

Signed 33-ish-year-old Roberto Hernandez, who used to be Fausto Carmona, to a one-year deal. Herndona’s ERAs the past four seasons spanning two teams and two names: 3.77, 5.25, 7.53, 4.89.

Signed Chad Gaudin, who was once accused of groping a woman on a hospital gurney when he was drunk, to a minor league contract.

Signed 406-year-old Bobby Abreu, who tore up Venezuelan pitching last year, to a minor league contract.

Avoided arbitration with Kevin Frandsen, Kyle Kendrick, John Mayberry Jr., Ben Revere and others.

And then there’s Miguel Alfredo-Gonzalez, whose expectations are already being frantically reset by the Phils’ brass.

Ruben Amaro has redefined low-risk, high-reward, because his acquisitions these past few months have been so low-risk that the best reward would be if none of these players got arrested, suspended or deported. The best outcome isn’t a World Series… it’s avoiding the legal paperwork that would come with a 50-game suspension or another illegal name-change.

It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that this hardly improves a team that finished 16 games under .500 last season. In fact, these are the sorts of sub-run-of-the-mill moves that the mid-oughts Sixers performed in their exhilarating chase for the eighth and final playoff seed. But I think that’s because the Phillies aren’t trying to content in 2014, and maybe even in 2015.

Supposedly a big market team, the Phillies weren’t truly involved in talks for the top 16 players (in terms of contract size) available this offseason— guys like Robinson Cano, Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann, Curtis Granderson, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Garza and Ricky Nolasco. Number 17 was Carlos Ruiz, whom the Phillies overpaid.

Surely you could argue that spending upwards of $150 million on any of these players would’ve been foolish given the current state of the Phillies’ roster. But you could also argue that kicking the tires on someone like Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) would’ve been worth it. Or even taking a run at Tanaka (seven years, $155 million), who is only 25, may have been a win-now and later move.

The Phillies were merely in the due diligence stage with most of these guys. So instead of an impact player or two, we got selections from a heaping scrap pile of baseball and Phillies yesteryear who might just have enough left in their respective tanks to help guide the Phillies to a five-games-under-.500 record and Postseason delusion into September. That will keep some butts in the seats and people tuned in. It will prevent the Phillies from totally bottoming out. But they’ll still mostly stink.

And it’s not necessarily a bad business plan. The Phillies already have their TV deal. Ratings and advertising revenue is important, because they have a stake in that, too, but the urgency to set ratings records and make the playoffs at all costs is no longer there. The Phils can still rebuild for the future by restocking the farm system, signing the right free agents down the line, and waiting for select contracts to expire. They don’t need to completely bottom out to do it. So, we get low-risk veterans who may help keep the team relevant throughout the season.

Phillies executives, and Chase Utley, will tell you that the team can contend in 2014. But they can’t, they won’t. It would require:

Ryan Howard finally recovering fully from his Achilles injury and playing a full season with a slugging percentage of around .500 (it was .423 and .465 in 2012 and 2013, respectively).

Chase Utley playing another full season and replicating an improbable 2013 in which he somehow overcame the effects of a chronic knee injury.

Jimmy Rollins, who was frustrating to watch even when he was good, not stinking.

Two from the group of Cody Asche, Darin Ruf, Domonic Brown and Marlon Byrd having better than expected seasons.

Cole Hamels pitching like the Ace he’s paid to be.

Cliff Lee putting up yet another near-Cy Young caliber season.

Jonathan Papelbon not killing his teammates.

Two from the group of Jake Diekman, Roberto Hernandez, Brad Lincoln and Chad Gaudin having better than expected seasons.

And Bobby Abreu morphing into a Jaromir Jagr-like figure by reinventing himself to become a mentor to younger players and an on-base machine after a year out of the league.

That’s all. Just a few things need to fall in line.

This isn’t the franchise we’ve known for the last six years, the team that supposedly flipped the switch from perennial loser to powerhouse. Nope. Right now, they’re closer to the free-tickets-in-a-hot-dog-package team from the 90s than they are to the Yankees or Red Sox. They just don’t want you to know it.