Phillies Use of Prospects Has Been Costly

Cole Hamels

Since Mike Arbuckle abdicated from the Atlanta Braves scouting department in favor of the director of scouting and player development position for the Phillies, the ball club has promised fans a revamped farm system loaded with talent to one day drastically improve the Major League Club. Half of this promise has proven to be true.

So far under Arbuckle's watch, names such as Scott Rolen, Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal and Brett Myers have made impacts on the team. However, the handling of such prospects as Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd and Chase Utley by the powers that be within the organization is quite disturbing, especially when considering the yield these blue chippers could have brought through trades in recent years. Many question the value the team received in return for Rolen because of their reluctance to trade the star third basemen before he reached "must trade" status.

There is no question that in the thirteen years of his tenure, Arbuckle has assembled quite a talented home grown nucleus, possibly one of the top ten in all of Major League Baseball. However the fact that this team has had zero playoff appearances in that time brings into question the motivation of the organization's patience to deal certain prospects for the possibility of finalizing the lineup for a championship run in the short term. In fact, throughout the organizations 122-year existence, just one World Series trophy has called Philadelphia home, and that was 25 years ago.

A prime example of this reluctance occurred during the winter preceding the 2004 off-season, involving a certain former Phillies ace who went on to clinch his second World Series ring and obliviating the curse of the Bambino along the way. Curt Schilling all but got on his knees and begged to be traded back to Philadelphia before the start of last off-season. The Phillies seemed interested; the catch, however, was that the club would need to part with up and coming prospect Cole Hamels and possibly second basemen Chase Utley. While at the time the price may have seemed a bit steep, this front office clearly demonstrated it's wait and see attitude when it comes to player development. Since then, Hamels has pitched in exactly nine games and has struggled to stay healthy. It bares noting that Hamels even broke his hand during a bar fight this past off-season. Even Utley, who has long been billed the second basemen of the future, and has blossomed into a steady contributor when in the lineup, has struggled to emerge as a star because of this organizations continued loyalty to Placido Polanco. The Phillies easily could have traded Polanco last year at the trading deadline for a serviceable reliever or packaged him to acquire the team's most glaring need, a center fielder. These young players have yet to be given the opportunity to perform on a regular basis at the major league level. Contrast that with Schillings performance and you just have to scratch your head and wonder what this front office was thinking.

It is quite obvious that Hamels would not be ready for Philadelphia last season, even if he hadn't gotten hurt. It is also quite obvious that the addition of Schilling, along with the acquisitions of Billy Wagner and Kevin Millwood, Jim Thome and David Bell the year before, that this team would have easily made the playoffs last season and would be in a position to contend for post season play over the course of the next three to five seasons.

It would be nice to say that the Schilling debacle was an isolated incident with this organization, but just this past off-season a similar event had Phillies fans feeling de ja vue all over again.

The Oakland Athletics made a pitcher who could have proven to be even more valuable than Curt Schilling available when they dangled, and eventually dealt Tim Hudson. It's quite disturbing that the Phillies would once again pass on one of the elite pitchers in the game, and even more troubling when that same pitcher winds up in the hands of a division rival, the Atlanta Braves. Hudson's career numbers are absolutely fabulous. Throughout his nine-year career, Hudson has amassed a 92-39 record.

Now, why would the Phillies be interested in a pitcher who's winning percentage is no lower then .702? The cost for such a player would have been somewhere in the ballpark of Ryan Howard and yes, the underplayed Chase Utley. Simple logic states that if you aren't going to play a player, why not trade him? It is quite obvious that Howard does not have a place in the Phillies lineup for the foreseeable future and this would have been the perfect chance to deal the heavy hitting first basemen to an American League team where he can at the very least, be a serviceable DH for the rest of his career.

Just imagine what the makeup of this Phillies team would be had, General Manager Ed Wade simply parted with two of the jewels in the organization's farm system. Not only would the Major League team have acquired a premier top of the rotation pitcher that would anchor the pitching staff for the next three to five years, but also there would still be a solid list of blue chip prospects left in the minor leagues. No one is suggesting that the Phillies should have made both of these deals, but why neither one was completed is a question that will haunt the Phillies and their fans until the day Philadelphia finally makes a post season appearance at the very least.

And then, there is the case of Gavin Floyd. Floyd was the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft and has long been hyped as the next Curt Schilling type of pitcher, with a better curve ball than the former World Series MVP. Floyd has progressed through the minor league system with proficiency and has improved each season. He seemed more than ready to make the trip north following spring training last year, and yet he was sent back down to AA and later to AAA Scranton. Later, when injuries to the pitching staff left a huge void in early June with the club still in playoff contention, the Phillies brass opted against bringing Floyd up, even for a cup of coffee. If he truly wasn't ready, than it is understandable to let the youngster wait his turn and further develop, however when the GM of this franchise signed Paul Abbott to fill in, it showed cowardice on his part and sent the team into a downward spiral each and every time Abbott took the mound every fifth day.

Now, it seems that Floyd has the ability to be a middle of the rotation pitcher this season, with the potential to improve drastically over the course of his career. However, despite his magnificent seven inning gem against the Cardinals last weekend, it is still uncertain whether he will retain a roster spot on the big club. Not only should Floyd remain with this team throughout the remainder of the season, he should have a firm grasp on a spot in the rotation from here on out. He has the tools to dominate and his development has played it's course and the Phillies finally have a young pitcher who will inject life into the team every time he's on the hill.

The Phillies farm system could be playing an integral role in the success of this franchise if managed correctly. However, there have been way too many misjudgments in recent years by this franchise to put this club in position for post season success.

Arbuckle is not entirely to blame in this situation. Could the club have more high quality prospects than it currently does? Yes, but it is quite clear that Wade's priorities are skewed towards the future, and he has adopted a "wait and see" attitude when it comes to the organization's success. But after 122 mostly futile years and nearly 10,000 losses by this franchise doesn't a man as powerful as Wade owe it to the fan base to do whatever it takes to put the best lineup on the field each and every year? As of late, he has failed this test twice in the past two years alone, and has yet to prove that he deserves to take it again.

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