The days of the fantasy powerhouse Philadelphia Phillies have long since evaporated, with Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth elsewhere, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard being not so good at baseball anymore, and Roy Halladay ... well, L.
This new era of Phillies teams will be more likely to battle for third in the NL East than even sniff a playoff spot. In short, where art thou, Mike Lieberthal?
Still, there is a no-doubt top-flight pitcher or two in Philadelphia, with some other potential. Let's look at the Phillies' top-five fantasy players for 2014, and do our best to forget where this team was five years ago:
1. Cliff Lee, SP
If you saw a pitcher's blind resume with 9 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 222.2 innings, you'd buy in to the billionth degree. We're used to that sort of thing out of Lee, though, as his K/BB ratio was 6.94 last year, down from a career-high of 10.28 in 2010. Still, that 6.94 led the league, and his K/9 was the second-highest of his career. If Lee had finished 2012 at, say, 13-5 instead of 6-9, he'd still be going as a clear-cut top-five or top-six starting pitcher in drafts. Lee is a step down from guys like Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish, but he has a legitimate argument for the No. 3 slot among starters. If you wanted to take Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright, or Felix Hernandez over him, I wouldn't really argue, but it's tough to argue that Lee belongs much lower than that at all.
2. Cole Hamels, SP
Just like Lee's fantasy reputation fell off because of his 6-9 record in 2012, Hamels' fell apart last year primarily because of an 8-14 record that didn't remotely reflect his actual abilities. His ERA+ of 106 was admittedly the second-worst of his career, and he didn't get his season ERA below 4 until August, but from the start of July through the end of the season, Hamels went 6-3 with a 2.68 ERA and had 103 strikeouts against only 17 walks. Yeah, sure, arbitrary endpoints, yada yada yada, all I know is I'm trusting seven and a half years of Hamels' career over the 2013 season through the end of June. He's an easy No. 2 fantasy starter, and you could do way worse than Cole Hamels as your No. 1.
3. Domonic Brown, OF
Honestly, I'm not sold on Brown. After a crazy-hot May (12 homers in 109 at bats, a .991 OPS) Brown's month-by-month OPS went .884, .765, .772, .670. Still, Brown's 27 home runs did tie him for fourth in the National League, and with no other Phillies hitter with much of a chance to lead the National League in any category, the fact that Brown has at least a chance in homers gives him easily the most upside. Still, Brown basically has to repeat his 2013 season to return value on the seventh- or eighth-round pick it will cost to own him in 2014, and asking that of a player who 12 months ago was considered a mega-bust is asking too much. If you can get Brown in the 11th or 12th round, great. If it's any higher, look elsewhere.
4. Chase Utley, 2B
Utley played 131 games in 2013, his most since 2009, and also had since-then highs in home runs, OPS+, total bases, hits, basically whatever stats you'd look for, with the exception of stolen bases. Utley's not that far removed from being the game's best second baseman, and at a shallow position, that level of upside is great. On the other hand, his BABIP was at its highest since 2007, and his performance came against a career-high in curveballs seen, coinciding with a low in fastballs. If I can see that Utley's bounce-back year came when his curveballs seen rose, other teams can, too; the only team that would miss that sort of sign is the Phillies, and, you know, that's Utley's team. With positional scarcity, Utley has his value, but you can't draft him expecting a return to everyday availability, so a pick spent on Utley is a commitment to a later pick on a starting second baseman, as well. That has to knock him to a low-teens round.
5. Jonathan Papelbon, RP
Papelbon had a career-low in saves in 2013 - though, to be fair, he also had his second-fewest save opportunities as well. His BABIP and K:BB ratios were right in line with 2012. But fantasy-draft Papelbon is likely to become the victim of a common phenomenon: A player gets seeded at a certain point based on disappointing production, then gets downgraded by drafters for the same reason. Like, Papelbon was a top-flight closer entering the 2013 draft, then underperformed dramatically. So going into 2014, he'll be ranked as the 15th-or-so reliever, which is a serious downgrade from his previous value. But then fantasy players will see him on the draft board and think "No, he was bad last year, downgrade him." So Papelbon gets unnecessarily double-downgraded in drafts. He'll be a top-14 or so closer next year. At worst.
Honorable mention: Marlon Byrd, OF
I just said a few paragraphs ago that Brown, with 27 home runs in 2013, had at least a chance to lead the league in the category, while basically dismissing Byrd's chances of doing the same after hitting 24. Maybe that's not fair, but Byrd is a 36-year-old journeyman outfield who has only one other 20-homer season on his resume. I'm happy Byrd had his best season at age 36, and a career that looked to be over in 2012 has now been extended, but expecting anything beyond that is pie-in-the-sky thinking on the same level as Ruben Amaro Jr. And no one wants that.