Truth be told, you never really know. Not in baseball. Shortstop Jean Segura was an All-Star at the age of 23 with Milwaukee, then one of the worst hitters in the majors for two seasons. Now with Seattle, he is an All-Star again.
As rookies, Will Middlebrooks and Dustin Ackley turned in performances of the type that many expected out of Scott Kingery this season. By the age of 28, both were major-league castoffs.
The reality of the sport does not get any less baffling with time. The longer you are around it, the more pessimistic you become with regard to anything that you think that you know.
In that sense, the trajectory of this Phillies season could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The sensible approach was always to regard it as a fact-finding mission. It was a chance for players like Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr and Nick Pivetta to show whether they would remain actionable pieces of the blueprint. It was a chance for players like Kingery and J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams to continue their development at the major-league level. The ultimate hope was that a majority of those players would turn in seasons that announced the Phillies' arrival as a burgeoning young powerhouse the way the Cubs and Astros did a few seasons ago. But the more realistic goal was an honest accounting of where things stand on the eve an offseason that has the potential to dramatically reshape baseball's competitive dynamic.
It's easiest to start with the things that we've learned, because it's a short list. We've learned that Rhys Hoskins is a hitter worthy of a spot in the top half of the lineup on any playoff contender. We've learned that Aaron Nola is a legitimate Game 1 or Game 2 starter in a playoff rotation. We've learned that Seranthony Dominguez has the stuff and the makeup to be a postseason closer. We've learned that players like Altherr and Zach Eflin and Andrew Knapp are, at best, depth pieces on a contending roster. And with that, we arrive at the end of the list.
The more interesting side of the story involves all the variables that remain unknown. Not only does this include questions that have yet to be answered, but also new ones that have gradually arisen. The sheer quantity of these questions sets the stage for an offseason that will test Matt Klentak's decision-making skills.
If this was a market other than Philadelphia, with an ownership group fronted by somebody other than John Middleton, there might be an argument for running it back. In Crawford and Kingery, the Phillies have managed to go an entire season without offering much evidence to further the belief that they can be fixtures in a playoff lineup. For Crawford, the best you can do is look at his numbers in his last 30 games, when he is hitting .270 with a .393 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage in 91 plate appearances. This, after posting a .177/.278/.333 line in his first 115 career plate appearances. But those 30 games date back to April and have come almost exclusively against right-handed pitching.
Kingery, likewise, has been out of the lineup more often than not since the trade deadline. As of Thursday, there were 189 hitters in the majors with at least 400 plate appearances. Kingery's .605 OPS ranked 186th.
None of that means that we know anything, mind you. In his first 162 games in the majors, Xander Bogaerts hit just .241 with a .299 OBP and .363 slugging percentage for a .662 OPS. Javier Baez was little better in his first 222 games, posting a .244/.289/.392 batting line with 227 strikeouts and just 34 walks in 759 plate appearances. This year, they are two of the best-hitting infielders in the majors, central cogs in the lineups of two World Series favorites. Crawford and Kingery are both under the age of 25, and both entered this season regarded among the top hitting prospects in the majors. You do not give up on talent like that without getting something legitimate in return.
But what about Williams? Since moving into the everyday lineup in mid-June, he is hitting .276/.350/.440. He turned 25 last week.
And then there is Odubel Herrera: 26 years old, signed to a bargain contract through the 2023 season, oozing with potential. For three months now, he has been one of the least productive hitters in the majors, sporting a .588 OPS in 255 plate appearances since June 23.
And Franco: He turned 26 two weeks ago and has a .291/.335/.522 batting line and 14 home runs since June 17.
The story right now is much the same as it has been the last couple of years. The Phillies have quantity and potentiality but need quality and actuality. They have made it clear that they will open up their checkbook this offseason, but that is no guarantee they can acquire a big piece with money alone.
Who stays? Who goes? What do we know?
For a team that spent most of the season in playoff contention, these are remarkable questions. In some sense, that's the nature of the sport. Watching Klentak and Co. navigate it will be a fascinating sight to behold.