Paging Chuck Meehan! From the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury :

A series of trades, unsigned draft picks and forfeited draft picks have reduced the depth of prospects in the Phillies’ system, and you can see it in the records.

Entering yesterday’s games, Phillies affiliates had a combined record of 39-78.

So that would make it official. The Phillies are an early-season disappointment at the major-league level, and in the minors, too.

Organization officials were not planning on their $95 million big-league club sputtering out of the gate.

But the slow start at the minor-league level doesn’t appear to have surprised many. People in the system were braced for this. They know the system has been thinned by a series of decisions designed to help the big-league team win.

So far, there has been no championship in Philadelphia, and the losses suffered at the minor-league level in recent seasons will sting until there is.

The Phillies took a lot of heat for not parting with a big-time prospect at the trading deadline last summer. But in reality, they have given up some good talent, particularly pitchers, in recent seasons.

Taylor Buchholz (above), Ezequiel Astacio and Elizardo Ramirez helped the Phils get Billy Wagner and Cory Lidle. If they still were with the Phillies, they’d be in triple A, joining Gavin Floyd in a starting rotation you’d take your chances with.

Catcher Johnny Estrada was a minor-leaguer when he was traded to Atlanta for established winner Kevin Millwood in December 2002. At the time, no one blinked a critical eye over that trade, and if they say they did, they are lying.

But Millwood flopped, and catcher Mike Lieberthal, who is just a handful of plate appearances from guaranteeing his contract at $7.5 million for next season, is flopping.

Estrada was an all-star last year in Atlanta. He’d look good here in Philly. But the cold fact is, the Phils thought they were putting a big-league team ready to win over the top when they traded him. Didn’t happen. And, in retrospect, the trade looks bad. It’s the price you pay for trying to acquire what looked like a big-time starter.

The Phillies have acquired other pieces via free-agent signings. They all look great at the news conference, and even better when they have second halves like the one first baseman Jim Thome had in 2003.

But the flip side to a big signing is the hit an organization takes in the draft. Big free-agent talent costs draft picks. If the draft is the lifeblood of a minor-league system, then the Phillies should have no problem pinpointing a major reason for their prospect shortage.

Since 2000, no team has had fewer picks in the top five rounds of the draft than the Phillies, who had just 20, 17 fewer than the Braves and Athletics.

Thome cost the Phils a first-rounder. Mike Jackson, Rheal Cormier and David Bell cost second-rounders. Jon Lieber will cost the Phillies their first-rounder next month. As it stands now, the Phils’ first pick will be the 67th overall. The Red Sox and Marlins will have five picks before that. The Cardinals will have four. Ouch.