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May 12, 2015

Asche backward move typical of Phillies’ lack of direction

The Philadelphia Phillies have found a fork in the road, and the way they have handled the choice of direction you might as well stick that fork in them because they are done.

The problem is that the Phillies want to go both ways, which is why Cody Asche has been sent back to the minor leagues and the right side of the infield is clogged up with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Rather than boldly step into whatever new frontier lies ahead, the Phils continue to take one step forward, then take a stutter step either sideways or back to their past.

Although the Phillies have made some attempts to revitalize their organization with new players, they still don’t appear to have a blueprint as to who will take them into that future. In fact, they don’t even seem capable of figuring out where the next generation of players is going to stand on the field.

The latest example is Asche.

There have been stretches where Asche appears ready to become an everyday major league player, but there have always been concern about his ability to play third base. At best, Asche was best projected as an “average” third baseman in terms of his play on the field. It was the same sort of scouting report the Phillies once had on both Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but those bats made up for any deficiencies defensively.

As it turns out, the management’s warning that this team would struggle was actually optimistic.

Asche does not have that kind of a bat. However, the latest spin on Asche’s development is that the plan all along had been for Asche to get moved into the outfield when Maikel Franco was ready to come to Philadelphia and take his spot at third base. Franco, 22, has a much higher upside than Asche, and he can also play some at first base.

But what about Asche?

It seems illogical that he has wasted this time at third base when he could have been learning to play the outfield. Asche is one of those good soldiers that the Phillies have counted on to bide their time for a chance to play and stick in the Major Leagues, but it has to be disheartening to be sent down to the minors when you have shown the ability to play with the big club.

Once again, the problem appears to center around Dom Brown, whom the Phillies continue to insist is a part of their future in the outfield. Brown gets chance after chance, and even now in the minor leagues he is a player blocking chances for Asche and others to get a chance at an everybody roster spot.

The whole situation is a mess, and it's even messier when you consider that general manager Ruben Amaro and the upper management is going to have to make the decision to pull the rug out from Utley and limit his plate appearances to under 500 this season.

The Phillies simply cannot allow him to reach that number and kick in a vesting option for next season in which Utley would earn $15 million. More than just the money, the Phillies have to open the path for either their own prospects or younger players from other organizations to take them into the future.

The disorderly dance of musical positions in the outfield has to stop, and the Phillies have to use this lost season as a way to find their way into the future. This will mean cutting ties with Utley, and probably catcher Carlos Ruiz.

Take a look at the New York Yankees. They had the ultimate “untouchable” in Derek Jeter, and now that he has finally retired they are playing far better baseball this season. The top of their order is far more productive, and the roster is not clogged with a legend.

The Yankees did right by Jeter and their fans to let the captain play through last season. He earned those ’Stripes, but good as they have been for the Phillies organization, neither Utley nor Ruiz, nor even Ryan Howard is anywhere close to Jeter status.

Now is the time to take a look at what you have in your system, and that does not include Brown, who has already run out of chances. If the Phillies get any sort of offer for Brown, they should take it and run to find whatever sort of catching prospect they can find to stock their minor league system.

The season is barely past Mother’s Day, and it is already clear the Phils will have a historically bad season. The only good part of this, if you care to call it such, is that the club’s honchos warned of this mess on the way to spring training.

It is starting to look like a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the clubhouse was told it would be a miserable season, and the players are living down to their boss’ expectations.

Well, actually this is below expectation. At the very least we were told this would be a Phillies team that paid attention to details and worked at the fundamentals. That was the mission statement when the club fired manager Charlie Manuel and handed the reins over to Ryne Sandberg.

Instead, we are witnessing a Phillies team with little life; a team unable to move players around the bases, and a team lacking in basics like bunting and simply throwing strikes.

As it turns out, the management’s warning that this team would struggle was actually optimistic. The Phillies are worse than advertised, and the struggle is for the fans that must watch an organization that won’t plot a clear path to the future.