In today's Daily News, I wrote about the Phillies' ongoing rebuild and the faulty notion that things "should" be better than they are right now. My intent wasn't to gratuitously rehash the failures of the previous front office but to offer a reminder of the depth of the hole Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak were hired to dig themselves out of.
As I noted in the colum, the Phillies' chief failure was a macro-level failure. You can look back on any one of the individual personnel decisions that Ruben Amaro Jr./David Montgomery/Pat Gillick orchestrated and rationalize them, but doing so misses the point that the MLB talent cycle is such that scale is an important factor.
A GM who drafts 10 picks inside the Top 40 in a three-year span has a better shot at hitting on one or two of them than a GM who drafts three picks inside the Top 40 in a three-year span.
Same goes for international signings, and free agent spending. Much of the attention on the Amaro regime focused on his series of trades for veterans like Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Hunter Pence. As an emailer questioned this morning: which of those trades actually hurt the Phillies? Which of the prospects they traded away actually ended up panning out?
Therein lies the illusion. Yes, there's an argument to be made that, even in hindsight, the Phillies gave up relatively little in these trades. At the time of each of the deals, if a magic genie had appeared and told you the future of each player involved in the swap, you might actually have been more likely to pull the trigger then you were at the time.
But when you look at the aggregate inflows and outflows of production and talent as a whole, a different story unfolds. While no individual player involved in these swaps has turned out to be as productive as the veteran for whom they were traded, as a group they've combined to nearly double the total production the Phillies received in return, and at roughly half the cost.
I actually didn't focus too much on the trades in today's column, but they do offer a good example of the point I was trying to make. Because future projection is so difficult on a case-by-case basis in baseball, maintaining a diverse and robust portfolio of developing players is essential toward keeping the odds in your favor.
Because it is so difficult to identify which player is in the 25 to 30 percent of prospects who will stick in the majors, the higher the quantity, the better your overall chances of finding the two or three you need to build around. And vice versa.
For five years, the Phillies' talent cycle essentially stalled. They were like a society that endures a period in which the birth rate plummets dramatically. Once that cohort reaches working age, output plunges, because there are fewer workers.
But it is even more complex than that, because the best organizations are constantly cycling young talent in and out. The Phillies reached a point where they had no young talent to cycle, and thus fewer option to create a halfway decent hand.
Take one of the players listed in the left column above. That Jarred Cosart has been one of the more successful prospects traded by the Phillies could serve as evidence that the trades they made really weren't all that detrimental. He's a No. 5 starter who has battled injuries. Would the Phillies rotation be better with him? Sure. Markedly better? Perhaps not.
But look at the dividends he paid for the Astros when they made him the centerpiece of a trade with the Marlins. In return for Cosart and a couple of low-ceiling minor leaguers, Houston landed Jake Marisnick and Francis Martes, the latter of whom entered 2017 as a consensus Top 30 prospect in the game, and the former of whom has six home runs and a .934 OPS in center field at the age of 26 this season.
They also received a draft pick in the compensatory round, which they used to select Daz Cameron, who was a Top 100 prospect prior to the 2016 season, though has yet to have a productive season and is currently 20 years old at Class A.
While the Phillies traded Cosart for a veteran with two-and-a-half seasons left on his contract, the Astros could end up getting 12 seasons out of Marisnick and Martes.
What are the odds that one of those 12 seasons gives them as much utility as the one season Hunter Pence spent in Philly? Or three seasons? Or eight seasons? Maybe neither one has a year like Hunter Pence had (or, for Martes, the pitching equivalent of it). But combine a bunch of odds like that and see what happens.