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In Rebuilds, Philadelphia following Small Market Success

The Phillies and Sixers haven’t been good over the past few years. You could argue that there were some years when it seemed like the teams were so bad, that they might as well have not shown up to play. Hindsight is 20/20 and we should have seen that either through age or injury, a perennial title contender like the Phillies, and an up and coming team like the Sixers would collapse.

Roy Halladay seemed to lose his ability to compete overnight, Cliff Lee’s body eventually fell apart, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins were no longer everyday players, and the Phillies moved on from their 2008-2011 core. Ill-advised trades sent the Sixers to the cellar, as new acquisitions like Andrew Bynum (who never played a game) and Jason Richardson (who played on 52) lead to the team falling completely apart. It was clear that both teams needed a switch as soon as possible, and they took the lead of both small market teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Astros.

THE PHILLIES

Nearly everyone remembers the Astros as the cellar dwellers of both the National and American leagues when they recorded three straight 100-loss seasons from 2011-2013, but it was what they were doing during that time that made them so interesting. Houston drafted an extraordinary amount of young talent that included now stars Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Dallas Keuchel. They went through four managers in four seasons, and they looked lost as an organization. Now entering the 2018 season, the Phillies will have their fourth manager since 2011, and while their road to success seems to be a little longer than the Astros’, they are nearly mirroring Houston’s growth as a team.

The Phillies have been acquiring young, extremely promising talent ever since they drafted J.P. Crawford and Andrew Knapp in the first two rounds of the 2013 MLB Draft. They also traded for the number one overall pick in that draft, Mark Appel. Now, Crawford, Knapp, Hoskins, Nick Williams, and Aaron Nola have made it to the Majors in one way or another, and the Phillies farm system is still stacked with young talent like Mickey Moniak, Dylan Cozens, Scott Kingery, and Sixto Sanchez. The biggest similarity to the Astros rebuild at this point, is that the Phillies aren’t spending ridiculous sums of money like they were under former GM Ruben Amaro Jr. 

In fact, if you don’t count the players that the Phillies basically paid to go away, their 2017 payroll was under $50 Million (closer to $100 Million including money owed to Ryan Howard, Matt Harrison, Jeremy Hellickson, Michael Saunders, and Howie Kendrick). This is a far jump from when the Phillies had an active payroll in 2012 of $170 Million. The Phillies have learned that they don’t need to spend big to create a possible playoff team, and it seems like it could be possible that they turn the corner sooner than later.

THE SIXERS

The Sixers, on the other hand, have convinced their fans and some of the national media to buy into “The Process”. The Process started when then-GM Sam Hinkie bought into the idea that tanking for draft picks and having a bad team for a few seasons would be the way to go. Initially, it didn’t seem like anyone supported the Sixers in their endeavor, and Philadelphia became criticized league-wide for this strategy. That is until Joel Embiid showed up as a potential superstar, and that’s where the similarities with the Thunder begin.

The Sixers now have an extremely young, physically talented group of players, with 3 players that people think could be standalone stars in Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz. Looking back, when the Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) drafted Kevin Durant, they were one of the worst teams in the league, finishing 14th in the Western Conference the year before. Durant’s rookie year wasn’t a walk in the park either, as they finished dead last in the West.

The next two years, GM Sam Presti got Durant help through the draft in Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden. The Thunder built that young, über-talented core through the draft only, and made it to the NBA Finals against Miami. Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka were all 23 or younger in that series, and an unfortunate situation arose where the Thunder owners were notoriously stingy with their money and forced Harden to be traded to Houston for nearly nothing in return. While the Sixers front office doesn’t seem as unwilling as the Thunder to spend money, there were for a few years when they refused to sign any big name free agents, and now that the Sixers have their core 4 (including Dario Saric), they might be able to make a run similar to the Thunder in 2012, if they can stay healthy.

Teams in almost any sport have begun to prove that you don’t need to spend money like the Yankees anymore to be successful, rather, it takes better players and better strategies to win championships. The Phillies and Sixers have begun to play their own versions of Moneyball, and at least on paper, it seems like both teams might be ready to make the jump to a true contender in the next few years. Be ready, Philadelphia could be back sooner than any of us thought.

Author: Elijah Tatgenhorst (Email: elijah.mysportingedge@gmail.com)

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