The Philadelphia Phillies baseball club and their fan base have now experienced seven consecutive non-winning seasons, six straight losers.
The front office is now in the midst of a pivotal off-season. GM Matt Klentak and his staff work the phones for potential trade partners. Owner John Middleton has promised to provide “stupid” amounts of money for them to shop in the free agent market.
It is all an attempt to return the Phillies to a consistent winner, something that became commonplace in the previous decade. The Phillies fielded a winning team in 10 of 11 seasons from 2001-11. That included five consecutive National League East Division crowns, back-to-back NL pennants, and the 2008 World Series championship.
As they make their plans, the Phillies brain trust is keeping at least one eye on their NL East rivals. The defending division champion Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, both of whom finished ahead of the Phillies in 2018, have already made big moves to improve their clubs.
The New York Mets and Miami Marlins finished behind the Phillies in the NL East standings this past season, and the Marlins are in a rebuilding program that may have them years away from contention.
Up in New York, the Mets have a new general manager who is on the verge of his own first big move. The Mets finished just behind the Phillies in 2018 and were coming up fast from behind when the season ran out on them.
But should the Phillies management actually be worried about the Braves and Nationals at all as they plan for the longer term?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has spoken with a number of individuals in recent years about expansion and realignment. The goal has been rumored to be the dissolution of the two-league system with unity of rules, including a universal DH rule.
The result of expansion, with Montreal and Portland emerging as the two leading candidates, would come a 32-team league. Those teams would then be divided by geography into eight four-team divisions.
And here comes the potentially tough part. In many of the rumors the Phillies would be placed into a division with three other teams: the long-time division rival Mets, along with both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Respected baseball writer Maury Brown of Forbes and formerly of Baseball Prospectus and USA Today was on this topic again today at Twitter as part of a discussion regarding the Portland efforts to build a ball park.
Could see NYY, BOS, NYM, PHIL. https://t.co/JIfqvZBJgd
— Maury Brown (@BizballMaury) December 1, 2018
How does that sound to you, Phillies fans? The Phillies organization would have to be up to the competition provided by two behemoths from the Big Apple, and the traditionally powerful Bosox.
Each year, Forbes does a piece on “The Business of Baseball” in which they rank the value of each team in Major League Baseball. The Yankees ranked #1, the Red Sox were at #5, and the Mets were right behind as the sixth-most valuable. Among their current rivals, only the Mets rank higher than the Phillies, who finished as the ninth-ranked club.
That all matters when you consider the ability of those organizations to go after top talent. The overall allure of the Big Apple and all of the marketing opportunities that come with it always make the New York teams attractive.
Same goes for the lengthy winning traditions of the Yankees and Red Sox organizations. The combination of money and tradition make those two clubs perhaps the toughest in the game to compete against on a consistent basis.
Any plans for expansion, realignment, dissolution of the two-league setup, and major rules changes such as to the DH will likely come during the 2020’s. The Basic Agreement between MLB and the MLBPA will expire on December 1, 2021.
As baseball eventually comes to a new agreement with its players regarding the first-half of the new decade, many of these changes are sure to be addressed. By that point we should be getting a much clearer picture of the Phillies having to adjust to a much more difficult long-term competitive situation.
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