The Philadelphia Phillies haven't made the playoffs since the end of their mini dynasty in 2011, the second-longest active playoff drought in the majors. And they've been spending gobs of money in free agency the last few years to try and get back there, to no avail. This offseason they added two sluggers -- Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos -- for a combined $179 million, pushing them over MLB's luxury tax for the first time.
How's it going so far? The Phillies are four games under .500 this season, 11.5 games behind the first-place New York Mets in the National League East, and they fired their manager on Friday.
It's true, they're undefeated since replacing Joe Girardi with Rob Thomson (3-0), averaging almost nine runs per game, but changing managers *again* is not going to fix everything for this ballclub. The Phillies' issues go back at least a dozen years, while they were in the middle of their five-year playoff run that included two World Series trips and a world championship in 2008.
Missing on first-round picks
Since drafting Cole Hamels in 2002, a span of 19 MLB Drafts starting in 2003, the Phillies have made have made 20 first-round picks. That includes a No. 1 overall pick, five straight top-10 picks, and nine consecutive picks in the top 16.
Those 20 players have combined for 38.5 Wins Above Replacement in the major leagues, by far the lowest of any team's first-round picks in that span. And 66% of that WAR belongs to one player -- starting pitcher Aaron Nola, the seventh pick in 2014.
Fewest WAR From First-Round Picks Since 2003
*25.4 WAR from Aaron Nola
In a five-year stretch from 2008-12, when they should've been drafting the players who would fill the roster after the Jimmy Rollins/Chase Utley/Ryan Howard group, the Phillies took six players in the first round. Only one of those players made the major leagues and he never suited up for the Phils.
Only four of those 20 picks have even put up a positive WAR in the majors. Nola leads the way by a large margin, with the other three players combining for 16.5 Wins Above Replacement. But the issue there for the Phillies is that J.P. Crawford, Travis d'Arnaud and Aadm Haseley have combined for just 2.4 Wins Above Replacement *for the Phillies.*
Crawford (1.0) and Haseley (1.4) were traded after just a few seasons in Philly, and d'Arnaud never wore red pinstripes before he was included in a deal to bring Roy Halladay to Philadelphia.
Most WAR – Phillies Last 20 first-Round Picks
*Only 2.4 WAR combined for the Phillies
Developing their own players
Of course, the draft isn't the only way to find young players to stock the farm system, but the Phillies have struck out with international and minor-league free agents as well.
Their recent stretch of signing major-league free agents to big contracts has certainly paid dividends, but they have yet to snap the playoff drought. Bryce Harper has won an MVP award, Zack Wheeler finished second in last year's Cy Young voting, and J.T. Realmuto has been one of the best catchers in baseball in his time with the Phillies.
But since that homegrown dynasty last made the playoffs, the Phillies have had very few *real* contributors come up entirely through their system.
Since that last playoff appearance in 2011, the Phillies have developed three positions players, two starting pitchers and three relief pitchers who have hit the pretty low bar of 3 Wins Above Replacement.
Most WAR since 2012 – players developed by Phillies
- SP Aaron Nola: 25.4
- 2B Cesar Hernandez: 10.1
- 1B Rhys Hoskins: 8.5
- RP Hector Neris: 7.4
- SP Ranger Suarez: 6.1
- RP Ken Giles: 3.7
- SS Freddy Galvis: 3.4
- RP Seranthony Dominguez: 3.1
Hope on the horizon?
Everything is not a lost cause, however.
Nick Maton, a seventh-round pick of the Phillies in 2017, homered on Wednesday to start the game-winning rally and kick off this current four-game winning streak.
Seranthony Dominguez has been dominant out of the bullpen and Ranger Suarez has pitched well in 10 starts this season. And last year's first-round pick, high school right-hander Andrew Painter, was just promoted to High-A after dominating Low-A this season.
If the Phillies can supplement their big-ticket free agents with more homegrown talent, they could be playing baseball in October soon enough.