Worst to First
How does a team go from the worst franchise in baseball history to the best, even for a short stretch? That question arises because of the Philadelphia Phillies. They are the first team to go to consecutive World Series since the 1998-2001 Yankees. As Chris Jaffe noted at The Hardball Times, they were one of only three pre-expansion franchises not to win consecutive pennants. This year, they left the Indians and White Sox alone in their ineptitude. However, they still have the distinction of being the only professional franchise with 10,000 losses in its history. Nevertheless, now they are one of baseball’s premier organizations. How did they do it?
1B – Ryan Howard – 5th Round Draft Pick (Phillies), 2001
2B – Chase Utley – 1st Round Draft Pick (Phillies), 2000
SS – Jimmy Rollins – 2nd Round Draft Pick (Phillies), 1996
3B – Pedro Feliz – Signed as Free Agent from San Francisco, 2008
RF – Jayson Werth – Signed as Free Agent from Los Angeles Dodgers, 2006
CF – Shane Victorino – Rule 5 Draft Pick (Dodgers), 2004
LF – Raul Ibanez – Signed as Free Agent from Seattle, 2008
(The 2008 team had Pat Burrell in LF. He was a Phillies 1st Round Draft Pick in 1998.)
C – Carlos Ruiz – Amateur Free Agent (Phillies), 1998
SP – Cliff Lee – Traded by Cleveland, 2009
SP – Cole Hamels – 1st Round Draft Pick (Phillies), 2002
SP – J.A. Happ – 3rd Round Draft Pick (Phillies), 2004
SP – Joe Blanton – Traded by Oakland, 2008
SP – Jamie Moyer – Traded by Seattle, 2006
CL – Brad Lidge – Traded by Houston, 2007
(Brett Myers started Game 2 of the 2008 World Series. He was a First Round Draft Pick (Phillies), 1999.)
What does this tell you? The Phillies successfully combined every area of player evaluation to build this team. They acquired 6 players through the draft, 1 player through the Rule 5 Draft, 1 player as an amateur free agent, 4 (all pitchers) through trade, and 4 through free agency. Notably, their best players, with the exceptions of Lidge and Lee, were all Phillies draft picks. How did this franchise turn around? Primarily, thy drafted exceptional players. They then supplemented those players with a judicious use of trades. They only picked up complementary parts in free agency. In 2008, they did all of this while having only the 12th highest payroll in baseball. In 2009, they have ticked upward to 7th.
The turnaround of the Phillies teaches us that the draft is the heart of a total rebuilding plan. Throwing money at established players, at least in the case of the Phillies, works better when you are complementing your core than when you are building from scratch. If they face the Yankees in the World Series, you will see a similar team, with homegrown talents like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and others.