Starting in December, we’ll have three new contributing writers at Phillies Nation. Here’s one of them, Michael Sadowski, writing about why we should be thankful as Phillies fans this year.
Welcome Michael to Phillies Nation!
When your team has won an average of 70 games for the last four years, it’s hard to be thankful for anything.
But for the first time in almost a half-decade the Phillies emerged with a pulse in 2016. It was faint, it was barely noticeable and if you didn’t know any better, you might have mistaken it for the pitter patter of a mouse slowly walking across a carpeted floor.
However faint it was, it was there. We knew it. We felt that pulse, and in 2016 we saw something we hadn’t seen in years – progress.
So now we can be thankful. We can even admit it to friends. So when you’re sitting around the Thanksgiving table this week thinking about what you can be thankful for as a Phillies fan, here are five good reasons:
1. Matt Klentak. We can all agree it’s been a pretty putrid recent era of Philadelphia general managers, right? Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly did everything but throw down in the parking lot of the NovaCare Complex, Sam Hinkie’s efficacy was exposed with some nutty behavior, and Ruben Amaro’s ignorance of statistical analysis turned a world championship team into a laughing stock.
But with some form of order restored everywhere, Klentak stands out as possibly the best of the new bunch. He hasn’t made a bad move yet, or at the very least, nothing that’s going to harm the franchise. Sure, there is a Will Venable thrown in there every now and then, but he’s been the definition of low-risk, high-reward for his Phillies tenure, and he’s hit on a few of the high rewards already. He’s the anti-Amaro, which is exactly what the Phillies needed.
2. The plentiful farm system. It was more than evident to Phillies fans that the team’s farm system was on the rise thanks to some shrewd trades and good drafting. Then the franchise was named the best minor league system in baseball after a breakout 2016 season at almost every level, and then everyone knew. Who knows how many of the prospects will hit in the big leagues, but no one says they have to. Free agents are becoming less and less of a thing, as teams rightfully lock up their stars at younger ages and take a few years of free agency away, leaving later-career question marks the prizes of the free agent crop.
If you want a star in today’s baseball world, you either have to trade for it or draft it. With the loaded system the Phillies have, they’re in position to do both right now.
3. Ryan Braun (or someone like him) is not on the Phillies. Perhaps the best move Klentak made so far was one he didn’t. When the Phillies were 24-17 and even sat briefly in first place in mid-May, the whispers started that maybe the Phillies should take a run at a star on the trading block, like Braun, who would have fit in beautifully in the middle of a Phillies lineup desperate for offense. But Klentak knew what the fans were scared to admit amid the wave of sudden, surprising success: The Phillies still weren’t very good. Every metric available showed the Phillies had gotten very, very lucky in those first seven weeks, and a regression period was right around the corner.
To chase Braun at that time would have been silly in the long-term view, but it had to be tempting to a rookie GM on the job for half of a year to dive into his pool of prospects and trade for a guy who likely wouldn’t be under contract the next time the Phillies are actually good. Thankfully he didn’t, and now the Phillies remain stocked with prospects to either groom or use to acquire someone who will be around when the Phillies are good again.
4. Odubel Herrera’s defense. We’re talking about a guy who spent his entire career at second base. Then he’s told before his first major league season that he’s being moved to center field. There wasn’t even an expectation he’d be good, let alone be one of the five best defensive center fielders in baseball (per Fangraphs).
What’s scary is he’s still learning routes, still learning where to hit cutoff men and learning the feel of the one of the most important defensive positions on the field, giving him the legitimate potential to claw closer to the top of the list.
Even if we never see him hit again like he did those first seven weeks of 2016, Herrera’s glove will allow him to play as a No. 2 hitter on a playoff-contending team. With any luck, that will be the Phillies.
5. Citizens Bank Park. We’ve been spoiled in the last 12 years since CBP opened. We’ve taken the stadium for granted, partly because we’re so used to it now, and partly because the recent product on the field has been about as good as the turf at the Vet.
But for a second, just think about a Saturday afternoon in July sitting at the Vet, where the stadium’s medical staff was looking over your shoulder to take you to the infirmary when you passed out from heat stroke. Citizens Bank Park is a joy to visit, and you can still find something new every time you go there. Even if we’re going to be going there for the next two years watching a frustratingly inferior product, at least we’re going to one of baseball’s best stadiums.