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June 25, 2021

Kevin Cooney: Phillies know what they are — they just have to figure out how to fix it

Unfortunately for Dave Dombrowski, that's easier said than done, as Bryce Harper pointed out earlier this week.

The comments on Bryce Harper’s Zoom call on Wednesday were striking in their nature and telling about the state of the franchise.

The question had arose about what the Phillies had to do in order to convince President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski to make one of those earth shaking moves at the deadline that rattle clubhouses across America.

But Harper — less than one-quarter of the way through a 13-year contract — gave his own state of the franchise address.

“We have to be able to go [to New York this weekend] and win the games that we need to,” Harper said. “We’re kind of depleted in the minor leagues and can’t really trade anybody, and we don’t really have anybody to trade down there to get guys who are really, really good. Dave Dombrowski needs to have faith that we can go out there and win games if he goes out and adds somebody and if it’s worth it when that time comes.”

We’re kind of depleted. We really don’t really have anybody to trade down there to get guys who are really, really good.

Maybe that’s not the way that Harper meant it. But Harper’s a sharp guy and you have to think he understood how the usage of those words would play out. And he understands that the Phillies franchise that he was sold on or believed existed when he came here from the Nationals in 2019 – one with some prospects in the system and a ready-made lineup ready to contend — is not the reality of the situation right now.

If the Phillies and Dombrowski wanted to make that monster, go-for-it move, ask yourself this: Who would be traded to accomplish that feat?

Spencer Howard, who has revealed himself as a long man with arm issues? Mick Abel, perhaps the only top flight pitching prospect in the system? Bryson Stott, who could be needed here sooner rather than later to fill shortstop if Didi Gregorius doesn’t fully recover?

Dombrowski isn’t dealing with the shallow end of the pool, he’s stuck with a desert that’s absolutely dry. It is the greatest indictment of the Matt Klentak/Andy MacPhail Era that two Top-10 picks — Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley — would essentially be throw-ins in any deal and not legitimate buying points for teams to take him.

And, because of that, Harper’s point becomes more amplified and the question more muddied for the 2021 Phillies than ever. 

They may be in contention, but they are nowhere near good enough to truly contend. The situation they are in has been propped up by the failures of others, not the success they have achieved. And with Washington and Atlanta starting to figure things out, this race looks like a three-horse one that will not include Philadelphia.

Rebuilding is never an easy word to mention, and it provides no guarantees. And when you are now 10 years without a playoff berth and no immediate end in sight, there is an understood hesitancy to go along with it for another time.

However, not understanding where you are and what the risks are for the long-term health of the franchise by trying to force contention that is not there is a far worse proposition for the Phillies. It means having to be honest with yourself, your fan base and your players.

That’s what made Harper’s comments so interesting on Wednesday. It wasn’t a cry for help that some players make when they see things slipping away. It was an understanding of where things are and where they could be going. It was a tacit acknowledgement that the system is broken. (And for the record, it wasn’t the sound of a guy who wants the next ticket out of town either.)

Kevin hosts the “Working The Beat” podcast with Mike Kern, available on iTunes, Google Play and everywhere podcasts are heard. A regular on WIP, Kevin loves to interact with readers on Twitter. Follow him there at @KevinCooney.

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