Blue Jays: Are they the next Philadelphia Phillies?

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 22: A young Toronto Blue Jays fans shouts for her team in the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 22: A young Toronto Blue Jays fans shouts for her team in the game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 22, 2017 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Blue Jays are currently one of the oldest teams in Major League Baseball and they have enjoyed some success during recent seasons. That description could be applied to the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies. What lesson can the Blue Jays learn from that version of the Phillies?

I have written before about the need for the Blue Jays to hit the reset button. In some ways, I feel like Sisyphus with the expression of this opinion. Nevertheless, let’s roll on with the story of the Philadelphia Phillies and their relevance for the Blue Jays during the upcoming offseason.

When people suggest that the Blue Jays should hit the reset button, a common response will include a reference to the Astros and the Cubs. Those two teams endured many losing seasons during a long rebuild. As a result of that process, the Astros and Cubs became premier teams. On the other hand, people should consider the post-2013 Philadelphia Phillies, an older team that held onto the hope of contending in the following season. Does that sound like the plans of the Blue Jays?

What is the Philadelphia story?

No, not that one! This one.

The Phillies finished first in the National League East Division for five consecutive seasons starting in 2007. The Philadelphia club won the World Series in 2008; the Yankees defeated the Phillies in the 2009 Fall Classic. In 2011, the Phillies won 102 games and captured their last division title of this period. In subsequent seasons, the Phillies win totals were as follows: 2012 – 81; 2013 – 73; 2014 – 73; 2015 – 63; and 2016 – 71. The Phillies are one of the worst teams this season.

Between 2011 and 2013, the top two position players in terms of bWAR were Chase Utley (10.4) and Carlos Ruiz (9.0). Cliff Lee (20.4) and Cole Hamels (15.8) were the pitching leaders in bWAR for Philadelphia.

The game of what-ifs?

"Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.Branch Rickey"

What if the Phillies, who were the oldest National League team in 2014, had decided to hit the reset button after the 2013 season? For the record, Hamels and Lee had limited no-trade clauses in their respective contracts; Utley had a full no-trade clause

If the Phillies had decided to rebuild after the 2013 season, I doubt that they would have re-signed Ruiz to a three-year contract before the 2014 season. For the record, the Phillies traded Ruiz in August 2016 for little value (Tommy Berjans and A.J. Ellis). Hence, trading or not trading Ruiz before the 2014 season is not relevant to this what-if analysis.

The stories of Hamels, Utley, and Lee

More from Toronto Blue Jays News

Hamels was traded on July 31, 2015, to Texas and the Phillies received pretty good value (Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, et al). With the Phillies, Hamels produced a 6.6 bWAR in 2014 and followed up with a 2.7 bWAR in 2015.

The Phillies received little (John Richy and Darnell Sweeney) for Utley in August 19, 2015, trade with the Dodgers. Utley produced a 3.7 bWAR and a negative 0.5 bWAR for the Phillies in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Consequently, I think Utley had more trade value before the 2014 season.

Cliff Lee, who had a 7.3 bWAR in 2013, pitched well in his first 10 starts of 2014: 68 innings, a 3.18 ERA, and a 2.69 FIP. Lee developed arm troubles in late May 2014 and never pitched again after July. Philadelphia did not trade Lee before the 2014 season and therefore missed an opportunity to acquire prospects and/or players.

What are the similarities between the Blue Jays and Phillies?

The 2017 Blue Jays and the 2013 Phillies share similar characteristics, namely:

  • Both are/were one of the older teams in their respective leagues;
  • There are/were veteran players with trade value (Donaldson, Happ, Hamels, Lee, and Utley);
  • There is/was a need to get younger and more athletic;
  • Toronto and Philadelphia are/were in divisions with younger rivals on the rise (Blue Jays-Red Sox and Yankees; Phillies – Nationals and Mets);
  • Both clubs have/had a need to replenish their prospect pool (the Phillies ranked #21 per Baseball America); and
  • The Blue Jays (Troy Tulowitzki) and the Phillies (Ryan Howard) have/had large financial commitments to veterans in decline.

One of the key factors to the future of the Blue Jays is where Josh Donaldson will be playing in 2019. If Donaldson decides to test the 2018 free agent market and ultimately departs, the Blue Jays run the risk of not optimizing the Bringer of Rain’s trade value.  Particularly given the reduced value of the compensatory pick under the current collective bargaining agreement. The J.A. Happ situation is akin to that of Donaldson.

Accordingly, given the example of the Philadelphia Phillies and their failure to retool before the 2014 season, the Blue Jays and their fans should ask the following questions:

  • Are there too many holes on the 25-man roster to address if the goal is to contend in 2018?
  • What is the probability that the Blue Jays can contend in 2018?
  • How long will it take to rebuild the minor league system if Donaldson and Happ are not traded for maximum value?

Next: Blue Jays: 5 Positive Takeaways from the 2017 Season

The Last Word

In brief, the 2017 Blue Jays and the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies share similar characteristics, particularly in terms of age profile and declining performance. Prior to the 2014 season, the Phillies failed to capitalize on the trade value of their veteran core players. Thus, partly due to that error in judgment, the Phillies remain a poor team to this day. Will the Blue Jays travel the same path?