The Philadelphia Phillies will begin fully implementing their offseason plan as soon as the World Series ends.
The Philadelphia Phillies improved in 2016. While hardly a banner year, team president Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin can point to marked improvement in some areas as they collectively look ahead to next season. A major buyout will be one of the first notable acts that ends one era in team history, as Philadelphia’s ongoing building program enters its next phase.
Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph formed a decent first base platoon this year. They combined to hit 46 home runs, drive in 106 runs and score 82 runs. Mackanin played to their strengths, as Howard hit mostly against right-handed pitching and Joseph generally faced southpaws. The season-ending ceremony that was held for the ‘Big Piece’ provided a fitting farewell to the second-greatest home run hitter in franchise history.
Klentak’s August trade of Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers allowed the beloved backstop to work into the playoffs this fall for the first time since 2011. The package obtained for ‘Chooch’ included veteran catcher A.J. Ellis and two minor leaguers. Ellis quickly took on a leadership role with the team and worked well with Cameron Rupp. Klentak noted at the time of the deal that he was “adamant” about obtaining Ellis.
Klentak’s feelings, Ellis’ age as of April 9 (when he’ll turn 36) and the Phillies’ seeming need for a veteran to assist Rupp, or possibly prospect Andrew Knapp, creates an interesting decision. Ellis can become a free agent this offseason. He only earned $4.5 million in 2016. So he would likely be an inexpensive keep for a year. With chemistry already demonstrated and Ellis’ sound defense still intact, it would seem reasonable to retain his services if he’s interested.
Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis should be the Phillies’ Opening Day double play combination, unless J.P. Crawford outperforms in Spring Training. If that happens, both men could still remain on the roster. Hernandez could stay at second base or Galvis could take over. Of course, a trade would make sense at that point as well. But if Crawford continues developing his skills in Triple-A when next season starts, then the aforementioned projected trade of Hernandez or Galvis would be pushed back.
Maikel Franco is set at third unless the Phillies feel that Joseph isn’t a strong long-term option. If Joseph is dealt, Franco could switch to first. But that type of transaction would also involve a new third baseman being acquired through a trade or free agency. It’s always possible that Galvis could shift to third, again assuming Crawford’s early arrival. But that switch doesn’t seem overly appealing.
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Odubel Herrera earned a somewhat surprising Gold Glove Award nomination recently. The likable center fielder was inconsistent at the plate this year, but surely he has a hitter’s eye. Someone significant would have to be included in any potential trade for Herrera, if the Phillies decide to sell high. Otherwise, he will patrol center or one of the corner outfield spots for awhile.
There are plenty of other outfield names that could be mentioned now. But no one who performed with Herrera this season, or any so-called prospect on the farm, can be cited as certain to fill a slot full-time heading into next season. So left and right field will provide open opportunities starting in late February. Klentak may also opt to fill at least one of those positions through trade or free agency, or slotting said acquisition(s) into a platoon role with existing inventory.
Klentak will obtain a veteran replacement if Jeremy Hellickson rejects the Phillies’ expected qualifying offer. Hellickson, or his successor, will front a staff that includes encouraging Jerad Eickhoff, Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola (if healthy), along with other returning young arms in April. The bullpen offered positive performances last season. Heading into the new year, Jeanmar Gomez should perform consistently somewhere in the late innings and Hector Neris could take over as closer. Plus, Edubray Ramos and Joely Rodriguez have hot arms that could fit equally well after the sixth inning. A veteran arm or two should be added to the relief corps as well.
The Phillies are a number of years away from performing near to the levels that the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians already are. But MacPhail appears to have picked the right protege in Klentak.
Klentak is working well with Mackanin so far. Mackanin and his staff are building a competitive culture. It might take until the end of this decade, but the Phillies will contend for the playoffs again because they are building smartly.