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Phillies opt for patient rebuilding job, but there are other ways

When Phillies president Pat Gillick and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. began charting the organization's course for rebuilding, they set forth to acquire as much young, controllable talent as possible.

Phillies president Pat Gillick and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)
Phillies president Pat Gillick and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)Read more

When Phillies president Pat Gillick and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. began charting the organization's course for rebuilding, they set forth to acquire as much young, controllable talent as possible.

There is no step-by-step guide indicating exactly how best to rebuild a major-league baseball roster. The key, to boil it down to its simplest terms, is to hit on the young players acquired in both the trades of veteran players and in June's first-year player draft.

Recent examples illustrate various models of rebuilding efforts.

The Boston Red Sox, for instance, adopted more of a rebuild-on-the-fly strategy after their last-place finish of 2012 and won the World Series in 2013. Just a year later, they found themselves back in the American League East cellar.

The Chicago Cubs, on the other hand, have taken a much more patient approach since hiring Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations after the 2011 season. They are finally poised to contend this season in the National League Central.

The core of players that helped the San Francisco Giants win three championships in five years - catcher Buster Posey, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, lefthander Madison Bumgarner among them - was homegrown.

The Phillies model of rebuilding will likely fall somewhere between these examples, leaning more toward the styles of the Cubs and Giants. This process shouldn't take as long as that of the Cubs, who have not made the playoffs since 2008, but it will not be remotely close to the Red Sox' unprecedented turnaround a couple of years ago.

Gillick has been on record since November as saying he does not expect the Phillies, coming off consecutive 89-loss seasons and still strapped with a half-dozen veteran contracts, to contend until 2017 or 2018. The architect of Philadelphia's only world championship in three decades has preached patience.

"It's a little bit more difficult when you're dealing for unproven talent," Gillick said in a recent interview. "The thing is you just want to make sure [you take into account] as much information as you possibly can about each player, not only what he does physically but what he can do mentally and what kind of makeup he has and what kind of person he is.

"All of these things go into the mix. This information has to be put into the hopper and then we can make a decision."

The Cubs have built mostly through the draft, and after a combined 286 losses over the last three seasons, finally have the pieces in place to contend. It appears the best is yet to come, though, as their organization features four of baseball's top 19 prospects, according to Baseball America.

In the last four drafts, they have drafted potentially half of their future infield in power-hitting third baseman Kris Bryant (second overall, 2013) - widely regarded as baseball's top prospect - and second baseman Javier Baez (ninth overall pick, 2011). They drafted catcher Kyle Schwarber fourth overall last June and the next month they acquired shortstop prospect Addison Russell when they dealt ace Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics.

They also dipped into the international market in 2012 by signing Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler. That's all on top of first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whom the Cubs acquired from the San Diego Padres in 2012.

With a slew of young talent, the Cubs gave their young position player prospects time to grow and mature before making a big free-agency splash this winter in signing lefthander Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal. Even then, among the aforementioned young players, only Rizzo and Soler are locks for inclusion on Chicago's opening-day roster.

Epstein's successor in Boston made rebuilding look easy. Ben Cherington, the Red Sox' general manager, took a 69-win team and a year later hoisted a World Series trophy. He rebuilt the team via trades and free-agent signings.

The August 2012 trade of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers provided payroll flexibility. Signing the likes of Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, and Mike Napoli helped turn things around.

But it wasn't long-lasting, as last season the Red Sox returned to last place. Given the number of touted prospects in their system, the Cubs' model is designed for more long-term success. The trick, of course, is drafting and trading for the right players, which is far from an exact science as baseball fans in the Philadelphia region know all too well.

The Phillies are still in the early stages of acquiring young talent. They think they have their shortstop of the future in 20-year-old J.P. Crawford, who will start this season back in high A or double A. Third-base/first-base prospect Maikel Franco is a potential middle-of-the-order mainstay. The speedy Roman Quinn is an intriguing future center-field option.

But otherwise, the Phillies lack bona fide position-player prospects. They've considerably bolstered their pool of pitching prospects - they drafted Aaron Nola in June and acquired Zach Eflin, Tom Windle, and Ben Lively in December trades - but will seek potential offensive reinforcements in future deals. A return in a trade involving ace Cole Hamels could be a key to the length of the rebuilding process.

The volume of high-caliber position-player prospects the Phillies inject into the system between now and September could go a long way in dictating when the team will jump back into the big-time free-agent market.