How the rebuilding Phillies could become MLB postseason contenders in 2018

They knew 2016 wasn't going to be kind to them in the standings, these Phillies. The rebuild was going well, but it was still going. As such, they'd be kicked around by contenders and wind up registering their fourth straight losing season. That's what happened.

Yes, Pete Mackanin's club defied expectations in the early going, as they boasted a winning record as late as May 30. They'd been outplaying their run differential and even deeper indicators, though, and that usually mean time is borrowed. So it was, as the Phillies since May 30 have gone a more fitting 41-58. The chief culprit has been an offense that ranks last in the National League in OBP and runs scored and 14th in slugging percentage.

It's too much to say the 2016 Phillies were built to lose, but you may say they were assembled without any structural impediments to losing in 2016. So the rebuilding continues apace, and the Phils find themselves in line for another top 10 overall draft pick.

When it comes to the road ahead in Philly, much flows from the young core already in place. In Aaron Nola (provided he stays healthy), Vincent Velasquez (provided he isn't traded), and Jerad Eickhoff could form the meat of a promising rotation. There's also depth, as Adam Morgan, Jake Thompson, and Alec Asher are also age 26 or younger. Maybe something comes of Mark Appel.

On the position player side of things, Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera each showed some promise for a second straight season. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Jorge Alfaro and/or Andrew Knapp should have catcher pinned down for years to come, and Nick Williams profiles as an impact outfielder. Speaking of outfield prospects, let's not forget about 2016 top overall pick Mickey Moniak. And Cornelius Randolph. And Dylan Cozens. And Roman Quinn, of course.

When it comes to young talent, the Phillies -- thanks to trades and recent drafts -- have lots of young talent. They also, of course, have money. This is all leading up to something, you know. That something is 2018. Let's take a look at this table showing the Phillies' Opening Day guaranteed contract commitments for this season through 2018 ...

YearOpening day guaranteed contract payroll obligations
2016$94.3 million
2017$24.2 million
2018$2 million

After this season, GM Matt Klentak will buy out Ryan Howard's 2017 option for $10 million. There's another $15 million or so slated to come off the books via expiring contracts. Maybe the Phillies choose to work out something with, say, Jeremy Hellickson, but they'll clear some space. The issue, though, is that the upcoming free agent class figures to be one of the weakest in recent memory. While the Phillies will have room in the budget, there's not many optimal routes for that money to take. The 2017-18 offseason, however, is a different story.

For that offseason, yes, the Phillies have just $2 million locked up (that's the buyout on Matt Harrison's contract). Yes, a couple of players likely to stick around will be due arbitration raises, but there's a great deal of room to take on payroll. They play in a sizeable market, have an engaged fan base, and can leverage one of the most lucrative television contracts in the game.

There's a season in between the current one and 2018, as you're aware, and the Phillies don't project to be terribly relevant in it. Forward progress is a reasonable expectation, but contention probably isn't. By 2018, though, those prospects name-checked above will likely all have arrived and in many cases adapted to the challenges of the highest level.

Pair them with a Phillies team with cash to spare and a 2017-18 free agent class that potentially includes the likes of Jonathan Lucroy, Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, Masahiro Tanaka, Johnny Cueto, Jake Arrieta, Carlos Gonzalez, Alex Cobb, Danny Duffy, Marco Estrada, and others. Suffice it to say, the Phillies will have the resources and available options necessary to plus holes around that impressive young nucleus. Then maybe the Phillies bank enough to be players the following winter, when one of the most lucrative FA classes ever hits the market (Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado, Jose Fernandez, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, A.J. Pollock, and David Price are the potential headliners).

So the Phillies, thanks to the fruits of their deep rebuild and their financial resources, are probably a little more than calendar year from becoming serious players on the market and -- not long after that -- serious players in the standings. The Phillies aren't back yet, but they'll be here soon.

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

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