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On the Phillies Hitting Rock Bottom: Why It’s Not So Bad

Jul 2, 2012, 12:59 PM EDT

The Phillies have finally hit rock bottom, but that means there's nowhere left to go but up.

A few weeks back on Lunch Break, Rhea Hughes asked me if the Phillies had hit rock bottom, to which I responded with something to the effect of No way. Clearly I was waiting for them to get swept out of Miami by a free-falling Marlins club as the 2012 season reached its midpoint before making that declaration.

We’ve arrived. In case you haven’t been beaten over the head with the standings enough already, this is where the Phils stand after their most recent debacle: five-game losing streak; 3-7 over their last ten; 9-19 for the month of June; nine games under .500; 7.5 back of a Wild Card, eight teams ahead; 11.0 back in the NL East, all alone in the basement; GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gauging interest in a potential Cole Hamels trade.

Does it get any worse?

Well, yeah, it does — just probably not for the Phillies, at least not any time soon. That’s sort of the definition of rock bottom: no place left to go but up.

Which is not to say this year’s squad will make a run at the postseason, or even start winning more games. On the contrary, while technically possible, even the most optimistic fan must concede the playoffs are in fact a longshot, and the remainder of this summer is likely futile. Not trying to be the earliest to call it — and I certainly wasn’t — but what we’ve seen out of the previous half confirms suspicions dating back before the campaign ever got underway, that the road back to the World Series is not paved in pennants earned between ’07 and ’11.

Once you accept this is shaping up as a lost season though, you should be able to see beyond the miserable results to the sweet horizon. Other than their record, what has changed on the Phillies from nine months ago, when they were setting a franchise record with 102 wins? A few more miles on the odometers of a collection of classics, for sure, along with injuries that may very well leave behind shells of once-great players.

Still, back in February or March, most of us imagined this team would be in the hunt at the All-Star break regardless. They’re really not, so I suppose congrats are in order if you called the Phils’ out-and-out demise far earlier. However, the current state of the club, which we’ll describe as a distant last place, was not quite mainstream thinking.

So if this truly is rock bottom, if missing the playoffs is now our expectation for this year, the worst is already over. Blame it on Amaro, blame it on Charlie Manuel, blame it on the freight train of sportswriters who supposedly forced management’s hand on the moves they made. Out of the tournament is out of the tournament, and how many out doesn’t count for much.

But how about next season?

The Phillies have so much talent, the general population allowed themselves to believe the team could withstand half the year without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and at least hang in the race. That obviously wasn’t the case, especially as injuries continuously crippled them along the way, but it speaks to the bigger picture.

Somewhere beneath this 36-45 record is a core that can, and has, won a large number of ball games — guys who are proven to have what it takes to deliver the hardware. Maybe a bunch of them have fallen out of their primes, but Utley, Howard, Jimmy Rollins — contracts the Phils are likely stuck with — have some form of production left in the tank. Put the right pieces around them, and they can be an integral part of something special.

And thanks to your overwhelming support, it’s not like the front office doesn’t have the money. Folks get the impression that because the organization is having trouble getting Hamels locked down, they either can’t afford him or don’t want to go over budget, when there is no indication that is the root problem. Heck, the expiring pacts of Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton alone almost covers it. Another year down the road, there are decisions to make on Utley and Roy Halladay, too. Between Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton, Kyle Kendrick… there’s a lot of loose change under the Phillies’ couch cushions. They can more or less sign who they want.

Even losing Hamels would not be the end of the world, it wouldn’t even be rock bottom because you’ve been warned. Yesterday’s report on Amaro calling would-be suitors is rock bottom — now we’re prepared when the day comes.

I’m not a proponent of trading away a World Series MVP, for reasons both performance-related and sentimental. Having said that, if it ever comes to pass, between the haul they would get in return, and the cash it frees up, the Phils should have no trouble landing on their feet. They would gain the financial flexibility to retool as early as this offseason, while simultaneously replenishing their farm system, or perhaps coming away with a player or players who could help immediately.

Based on the level of expectations, and the degree to which the Fightins have underachieved, the only way this could feel any more hopeless is if the franchise was headed back to the Dark Ages. Clearly they are not.

While there have been missteps along the way, there isn’t a contract or contracts that are preventing them from winning, nor is there a prospect they’ve traded along the way yet who is coming back to haunt them. The Phillies have constructed a powerhouse franchise that is capable of putting a powerhouse product on the field in any given year. It’s going to take a hell of a lot more than one awful season to undo that.

Today things are bleakest; tomorrow is a new day. The Phillies may not be able to salvage this season, but there are plenty of ways to fix this mess. With the resources that are available, how can they possibly make matters worse?