I was thinking about this after word broke that Cliff Lee was done for 2015, and probably retiring- Cliff Lee and Chase Utley are both likely to get their buyout checks this Winter, and not be a part of the 2016 Phillies. Next season is the end of the infamous Ryan Howard deal, the Carlos Ruiz deal, and regardless of whether we trade him or not, Jonathan Papelbon's deal. In fact, beyond next season, the only contract we have on the books right now is Cole Hamels, who might be gone too. Next season's Phillies currently have just a shade over $83 million in guaranteed payroll on the books, and the 2017 version has just $22.5 million guaranteed. In other words, all the big, bad contracts are basically done.
The Phillies minor league system was basically in shambles a year ago, with just a few players that anyone rated very highly in the fold, and the teams all sporting bad records (in fact, the worst records). Today the Gulf Coast Rookie League Team, Williamsport, Lakewood, Clearwater, and Reading are contending for playoff spots, and even Lehigh Valley is sporting a winning record over the past few weeks. Names like Kilome, Altherr, Quinn, and Pujols are becoming signs of hope for Phillies fans. The system is still a year or two from providing major league depth, but the system is nowhere near the depths of a year ago. In other words, the myth of the awful Phillies system is in the past.
Even the bad baseball on the field should start to improve. The Phillies sent the likes of Jerome Williams, Sean O'Sullivan, Chad Billingsley, and others to the mound in the first half of the season, while putting out a line-up with a hurt, aging Chase Utley, a useless Dom Brown, and other underachieving names, and most of these spots are producing better now than they did earlier in this season, either by change in personnel or in approach. Next year's team won't trot out a rotation nearly as bad, a line-up nearly as broken, or have most of the issues this team had. They may not be contenders in 2016, but the Phillies should be closer to putting together a team to move forward with.
With all of this in mind, I view the next three days. I've called trading the likes of Hamels and Papelbon essential in times gone by, and I do think trading them for prospects is the best way forward, but even if the Phillies lay an egg at the deadline, things are better than they were a year ago at this time, or even two years ago at this time. This team bottomed out, and now has room to move forward, with money and an improved minor league system. I'm hesitant to give credit to Ruben Amaro Jr. and the front office (in part because I think this is Gillick's last year's work playing a big role, and in part because of their track record), in part because I think they didn't need to let four years (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) go to waste along the way here. Even so, the Phillies have reached a point where I am considerably more optimistic about the future than I am about the recent past.