THE ASSUMPTION that the Phillies needed to win this season or be disassembled is flawed.
It makes more sense that the Phillies need to win this season or next season.
Mainly, the assumption is flawed because the franchise lacks ready replacements. Even if the Phillies could get rid of the weighty contracts and heavy personalities of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, they could not replace any of them with anything close to a comparable peer.
The only move they could make and hope for equal output is if they moved first baseman Ryan Howard and inserted Darin Ruf.
The fire sale of 2006, which dispatched Bobby Abreu, Corey Lidle, David Bell and Ryan Franklin, opened up playing time. Not every beneficiary panned out - the Phillies couldn't hold on to outfielder David Dellucci, and Abraham Nunez didn't exactly win the third-base job - but Shane Victorino blossomed further, Ryan Madson settled into the bullpen full time and Michael Bourn got a late look.
More than anything, though, the removal of oversized personalities - Bell and his hard-nose pedigree, Abreu and his Hollywood blasé, Lidle and his comic swagger - created a vacuum. Rollins, Howard, Utley, Victorino, Madson and Hamels immediately filled that vacuum.
Remove Rollins, Howard, Utley, Lee, Hamels and even oddball Papelbon now.
Who fills the vacuum?
No one, that's who.
Phillies fans wouldn't be looking at a 1-year rebuild.
They might be looking at a one-generation drought.
Third basemam Cody Asche isn't ready to be the next Utley; the next sheriff.
If Ruf replaced Howard, Ruf wouldn't see another fastball strike for a calendar year.
Cesar Hernandez, once a middle infielder whom the Phillies now hope will be a utility plug-in wherever they need him, is a man without a position and is vastly overmatched at the plate.
Top prospect Maikel Franco might need another year to figure out Triple A pitching.
Top pitching prospect Jesse Biddle can't make it past Double A; for that matter, he cannot make it at Double A. He has been shut down, a perpetual healthy scratch.
And, so, to what end to the Phillies selling the crown jewels?
Which supposed gem is worth a blue-chip prospect?
None. Not the way the finances work.
Lee, now injured?
Howard, overpriced at half his salary?
Rollins, ever-fading at the plate? He'd be more valuable in the middle of next season, when his contract would expire.
Same with Papelbon.
Utley, with chronic knee issues and eroding defensive skills?
Maybe Hamels, who also will cost money to trade.
No, it simply makes more sense to hang on to the assets, hope they remain healthy and have faith that the pieces around them will begin to produce.
No player means more to the lineup and the future than enigmatic outfielder Domonic Brown, whose long swing was rendered ineffective after last year's All-Star Game appearance. Brown loses focus in the field, too.
Lately, Brown has been benched.
Play him every day. Play him as much as possible. No one gets "taught a lesson" by not playing. He needs reps. He needs to fail. He needs to be frozen out by pitchers and teammates when his inattention during a game costs them three runs.
He needs to be humbled to change, and, since he hasn't changed, he has not been humbled.
Winning this year cannot matter.
Not with so many questions in the everyday lineup: Brown, centerfielder Ben Revere, Asche. Not with so much youth in the bullpen. Not when Roberto Hernandez and David Buchanan have to pitch .500 ball to make you a .500 club.
The dream of refilling an empty farm system with a talent auction is just that: a dream. If one in three top prospects pan out, a team has done a fine job. That means a fire sale might net the Phillies three players who contribute. They still don't have the resources in the minors or the potential in the majors to make a run through the playoffs in 3 or 4 years.
They have the talent now.
They have a first-time major league manager, Ryne Sandberg, who has had less than 1 year to do his job with this talent. Sandberg and his staff haven't been together for a full season.
This infield could return intact.
The outfield could return intact.
The bullpen, finally congealing and pitching with confidence, could be a force.
The rotation, with Lee healthy and Hamels sane, could be viable.
It is an overpaid team that is underachieving now.
It might be an overpaid team next year, too, and it might underachieve again.
Really, the Phillies have no choice.