Saying that the Phillies' 2015 season was a raging dumpster fire would be the cliched baseball writer thing to do. It wouldn't necessarily be wrong, though, since the Phillies lost 99 games and allowed (or forced) Sean O'Sullivan to start 13 games. The Phillies were 29th in position player fWAR and 28th in pitcher fWAR.
It suffices to say that their season was bad, but it doesn't have to be bad again.
This is part of the rebuilding process, they say. The Astros were exceptionally terrible for several years as they accrued draft picks and traded veterans. They are now held up as the cliched example of the "bottom out to rebuild" philosophy. There are plenty of examples out there of teams rebuilding. The Braves might be doing it in advance of their new stadium. The Marlins are always on the cusp of rebuilding if they are not actually rebuilding. The Phillies now fit in that rebuilding process after trading Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, and other veterans.
During the rebuilding process, dreaming about the future is what keeps fans engaged. Though they may lay dormant in their living rooms consuming the team's content on television, the fans are only a few wins away from showing up at the gates. Let's dream a little about the Phillies' future, some of which is already here in the present.
In center field, the Phillies have Odubel Herrera, whose age-24 season will be in 2016. A Rule 5 pick acquired from the Rangers, Herrera's rookie season saw a 110 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR. A .387 BABIP drove a lot of that offensive value, and his walk rate and strikeout rate did not inspire much future confidence, but Herrera has another skill: defense.
His 10 DRS and 9.9 UZR are about as close to agreement as it can get, and Herrera made literally 100 percent of plays rated as "Likely" by Inside Edge (60-90 percent chance of making the play). Herrera has had only one season, but there is a lot of agreement here. Herrera is young, speedy, and skilled on defense. He has a nice floor as well as room to grow.
In left field, the Phillies brought up Aaron Altherr, whose age-25 season will be in 2016. A 9th round pick in 2009, Altherr has been with the Phillies for his whole playing career. His rookie season saw a 124 wRC+ (over 161 PA) and 1.7 fWAR. This was not a BABIP-driven anomaly - Altherr's BABIP sat at .301. He has a patient (or timid) approach at the plate (good walk rate and low overall swing rate), and he has grown into some power. His year started in AA with a .188 ISO in 260 PA; he went to AAA and had a .201 ISO in 229 PA; he finished his year in the majors with a .248 ISO.
Though his strikeout rate is a little high, seemingly a by-product of not swinging much in general and missing often when he does, Altherr also possesses defensive skill. He did not make an error in the outfield, and DRS and UZR liked him. It's a painfully small sample, so let's turn to a scouting report from Marc Hulet back in 2014. Hulet noted that Altherr is a "superb athlete" with "above-average speed" who plays "a good center field thanks to his solid range and strong arm". Notice the words "center field". Altherr spent a little more than half of his time in the majors in left field. With good range and a strong arm, Altherr can be moved around to any of the three outfield positions and hold his ground.
That scouting report also noted issues with making contact, which manifested in the 25.5 percent strikeout rate. If Altherr can continue walking at a solid rate, putting a charge into the ball when he does make contact, and playing solid defense across all three outfield positions, the Phillies will be able to live with the strikeouts.
So the Phillies have two decent-hitting center fielders playing the outfield. Why not get a third? It's heavily rumored that the Phillies are in on acquiring Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. Ozuna, who just turned 25, had a down year in 2015 amid drama with the front office, but the talent is there. He can put a charge into the ball when he makes contact; Altherr and Ozuna share some similarities in that regard.
Ozuna has also spent most of his time with the Marlins in center field, handling it capably enough. With Herrera holding down center, Ozuna would most likely find himself in right field with the Phillies were he to join. He has a solid arm and good enough range for center field; I think he would be fine in right.
Altherr in left. Herrera in center. Ozuna in right*. 24. 25. 25. Altherr won't be a free agent until, I don't know, never because it's not listed in Cot's Contracts. Herrera won't be a free agent until 2021. Ozuna won't be a free agent until 2020. Theoretically, that outfield would be the Phillies outfield for the rest of the decade. Those players would be in their primes for basically the whole time.
*I am completely ignoring the issue of what the Phillies would have to give up to get Ozuna because I am not familiar with their farm system beyond reading an article or two**, nor am I any good at speculating trades. This trade would also be within the division.
**This won't stop me from mentioning some prospects later on.
Perhaps it's time to douse the dream with some realism. Here are each player's Steamer projections for 2016:
The projections don't see Altherr and Herrera repeating their admirable performances from this year; there are plenty of examples of successful rookies struggling in their second year. Ozuna is projected to be somewhere in the middle of his down year and his good year. If you buy into Altherr and Herrera's 2015 season, and you think that Ozuna will be at his projection or maybe a bit better if he were outside the Marlins organization, then the Phillies would have three above-average outfielders.
To be more specific, the Phillies would have three above-average hitting outfielders, and three above-average defensive outfielders. This is good.
Putting the rebuilding package together, the rest of the Phillies position players includes Maikel Franco, a 23-year-old third baseman who had a 128 wRC+ in 335 PA, and Freddy Galvis, a 26-year-old guy who occupied shortstop for most of the year. Galvis' offense was a bit rough, and the defensive metrics did not agree on his skill. He at least had some good examples on the eye test. Cesar Hernandez at second base will turn 26 in 2016, and he was roughly acceptable in 452 PA. Ryan Howard at first. Cody Asche, a 25-year-old third baseman, might be seeing a fading star. Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz at catcher round out the position players. That's a pretty young core overall.
On the pitching side, Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff, 22 and 25 respectively, represent the next wave of starting pitchers. Ken Giles, who might be on the market himself, is a stud 25-year-old reliever. Severino Gonzalez and Alec Asher represent prospects of some note; their debuts did not go particularly well, but they are still young. Behind Nola and Eickhoff, the Phillies don't have much. Matt Harrison, who has pitched only 44 MLB innings since 2012, and Jeremy Hellickson, who has some work to do to return to relevance, are other starters on the roster. The Phillies could use another starter or two; Nola and Eickhoff did not pitch THAT much to be so confident in their abilities. Maybe the Phillies can be active in free agency. They have a lot of money available.
There are still some prospects down on the farm as well. Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, and Jake Thompson, included in the trade return for Cole Hamels, are prospects of some note. There is a lot of risk in what the Phillies have on the farm, but that could be said for any minor league system. Some of these players would undoubtedly have to go to get Ozuna, but there is some depth.
Overall, the acquisition of Ozuna would put the Phillies in a nice situation. They have plenty of money available in the budget, they are young, and a few decent breaks puts them in a competitive position. Indeed, the Phillies were vastly more competitive in the second half of the season - after going 29-62 in the first half, the Phillies started the second half scorching hot on their way to a ...34-37 record. Despite playing 20 more games in the first half, the Phillies scored 10 more runs in the second half. The Phillies increased their runs scored per game by a full run. Not bad.
It may be a dream right now, but the Phillies are an Ozuna, a few prospect breakouts, and a pitcher or two away from competitive baseball being a reality.
. . .