It's official: the Philadelphia Phillies will miss the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. Though the streak is not an indictment of general manager Matt Klentak -- he's been on the job for roughly two years -- the Phillies' drought will likely include at least one more October.
Of course, wins and losses are an irrelevant footnote for a rebuilding team that isn't ready to leave the proverbial dock. What matters is how the organization's young players develop. Unfortunately, the Phillies didn't have a banner season in that respect, either.
Consider that third baseman Maikel Franco, who looked the part of a middle-of-the-order fixture as recently as 2014, struggled through another hefty drop in production. Consider that pitchers Jake Thompson, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Jerad Eickhoff, and Nick Pivetta -- all acquired through trades -- each failed to establish a foothold in the majors. Consider that those woes carried over to the minors, too. Consider that top shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford's uneven year delayed his promotion to the majors, while the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, Mickey Moniak, who was picked in part for his offensive prowess, hit .236/.284/.341 in his first full pro season. Oh dear. (The less said about Mark Appel, another former No. 1 pick, the better.)
Don't get it twisted -- the Phillies' season featured some bright spots as well. Aaron Nola and Odubel Herrera are keepers. Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, and Jorge Alfaro have warts that fuel skepticism about their long-term viabilities, but all performed well in cameos. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez and outfielder Aaron Altherr deserve praise for solid-to-good efforts. On the farm, minor-league pitcher Sixto Sanchez positioned himself as a top prospect, and second baseman Scott Kingery put on a power display that caused heads to turn.
Overall, the Phillies seem like they're a year away from being a year away. The question, then, is whether the Phillies will try to expedite the process by making a splash this winter. Philadelphia has been tied to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton due to their payroll flexibility (they have just $6 million guaranteed in 2018 salaries) and ability to link together an intriguing prospect package. According to Fan Rag's Jon Heyman, they also have their sights set on a player like Christian Yelich. More from Heyman:
They seem to have money to burn, thanks to a huge TV deal and loyal fan base. They also have some serious upper-tier prospects to form a deal. Plus, they seem to be itching to spend. But they also may be a tough one to get an approval from Stanton, as they appear headed for at least one more year of rebuilding and are no closer to Stanton's native West Coast. There is also some belief they'd like just as much Christian Yelich, whom they are said to love.
It's obviously worth noting that just because they're interested doesn't mean they will pursue such a deal -- just that it's worth pondering if Klentak will take liberties and try to jump-start the upswing.
It's also possible the Phillies will bide their time and focus on the free agent class of 2018 -- you know it as the winter where Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Clayton Kershaw are all set to hit the open market. Obviously competition is certain to be fierce, and there's no guarantee the Phillies would be able to land any of the three. But the flexibility is there to do something big.
We'll see if the Phillies decide the time is right to strike -- or if they'll risk exposing their fans to another slog of a summer.