In October of 2014, with the Phillies home for the third consecutive postseason, Pat Gillick, then the Phillies interim president, made what was perhaps a refreshing admission: the Phillies were years away from returning to the postseason. At that time, Gillick estimated that the Phillies would return to contention "somewhere around 2017 or 2018."
The Phillies, of course, didn't return to contention in 2017, instead going 66-96 in Pete Mackanin's final year as manager. Gillick, who has helped oversee the hiring of the team's front office and selection of Mickey Moniak with the No. 1 overall pick since his initial prediction, now says he would like to push his timeline back slightly.
“I thought ’18 would be a year to compete and I think probably I was a little bit too optimistic,” Gillick told Stephen Gross of The Morning Call. “I think ’18 is certainly going to be an improvement over ’17, but I think to really get into the mix of it, give [Rhys] Hoskins, give [Nick] Williams, give the younger pitchers a chance to get their feet on the ground with another year’s experience. I think ’19 is a more, if you want to say, realistic time to compete as opposed to ’18.”
As Gillick noted, this will be the first full season that Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro have spent at the major league level. Top prospect Scott Kingery, perhaps at a position other than second base, is likely to join them at some point during the 2018 season. The Phillies have added Jake Arrieta to Aaron Nola at the top of their rotation, but Jerad Eickhoff is now sidelined for six-to-eight weeks with a lat strain. And though the Phillies hope that Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta will have breakout 2018 campaigns, it's anyone's guess as to what the Phillies will get out of the back-end of their rotation in 2018.
Gillick, who the Phillies will induct onto their Wall of Fame this summer, didn't say that the Phillies won't take a step forward in 2018. He seems pretty confident that the Phillies will improve upon the 66-96 record that they posted in 2017, which was the third worst record in the sport. PECOTA projects the Phillies will go 81-81 in Gabe Kapler's first season as manager, which would be their first non-losing season since 2012. That mark wouldn't be enough for the Phillies to sneak into the playoffs, but it would absolutely be a step in the right direction.
What will make the Phillies better in 2019 than 2018? On top of the development of the team's current young core, the Phillies are widely expected to be at the forefront of next offseason's free-agent class, which will likely be one of the best in the history of the sport. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew Miller, Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel are among the pieces that could potentially be free-agents after the 2018 season.
On top of any free-agent additions that the Phillies could make prior to the 2019 season, the team's second wave of prospects will be closer to the major league level. MLB Pipeline projects that Sixto Sanchez, Adonis Medina, JoJo Romero, Franklyn Kilome, Ranger Suarez, Seranthony Dominguez and Enyel De Los Santos will all reach the major league level in 2019. There are, of course, setbacks, and the possibility exists that even if some of those arms reach the majors in 2019, none of them are with the Phillies to open the season. Still, it gives you the sense that the Phillies shortage of starting pitchers will soon be a thing of the past.
Gillick built the early 1990s Toronto Blue Jays, who won back-to-back World Series titles. He helped build two playoff teams as the Baltimore Orioles general manager shortly after that. He built the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who won 116 regular season games. And while he isn't the only executive that deserves credit for the 2008 Phillies World Series championship, he's certainly at the top of the list. There's a reason Gillick was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. Now 80, Gillick is in a much less hands-on role as a senior advisor to the president and general manager. Still, Gillick's fingerprints remain on the Phillies current organization very much. And for perhaps his final act, he expects the next great era of Phillies baseball to begin in 2019.