Monday, February 22, 2016

Phillies Looking To Fill A Multitude Of Roles


Who Will Get The Call In The 9th? – The Phillies opened last season with Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman in the back end of the bullpen. Fast forward one year. Nobody can say with any certainty who the team's closer will be Opening Day, much less hit the trifecta and name the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning guys. "We've talked to half a dozen potential closers for us," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Sunday afternoon at Bright House Field. "Without naming names, one guy said he would probably be more comfortable as the seventh- or eighth-inning guy. So that tells you right there that might eliminate him." There figures to be six legitimate candidates to pitch the ninth inning for the Phillies this season. There is right-hander David Hernandez, who signed a one-year, $3.9 million contract in December. There is right-hander Luis Garcia, perhaps the only returnee with closer's stuff. There also are four non-roster invitees with extensive experience closing or pitching in the back end of the bullpen: right-handers Andrew Bailey, Edward Mujica and Ernesto Frieri and left-hander James Russell. "Some guys want to be in that high-leverage situation," Mackanin said. "They thrive on it. You've seen enough closers. They're kind of an odd duck. They're all a little funny those guys. They have to have a certain type of attitude that gets them through those last three outs." Mackanin said plenty of factors will go into the decision to name the Phillies' next closer, but Hernandez has an edge to pitch the eighth or ninth because he is the only pitcher on a guaranteed contract. "It helps," Mackanin said. "It certainly helps. Once again, we're going to evaluate everybody and see how they play here. Not specifically Hernandez, but if somebody doesn't play well, we're going to try to keep the guy who's better. But it certainly helps. It would give him an edge, I would say. "I certainly won't base everything on how well a guy pitches here. Because we've seen guys have great springs. I always hit great in the spring. I always hit four or five home runs and tore it up and I was a .226 lifetime hitter. So I'm smart enough not to go by that." But there seems little question the back end of the bullpen is the team's biggest question with the Grapefruit League opener just nine days away. "We traded Diekman, Giles and Papelbon. There went the seventh, eighth and ninth," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said. "We did that to strengthen every other area, but the good news is it's an area that's very erratic and you can find guys out of nowhere to perform at a high level."

Looking For A Leader – Pete Mackanin has talked a little bit about the importance of leadership in the Phillies' clubhouse this season. Do they have any vocal leaders in there? "If you have a young team, it would be nice if we had that guy," Mackanin said. "We don't know if there's anybody in-house that can be that guy." The front office said it values the importance of a good leader, too. "There is no greater influence on players than their peers," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said. "I think the coaching staff and manager can be immensely helpful, but the guys that often have the most impact on players are their teammates. Kirby Puckett made everybody around him better just by Kirby being Kirby." Mackanin cited Darren Daulton and Jimmy Rollins as former leaders in the Phillies' clubhouse. Jeff Francoeur served that role remarkably well last season, guiding a young team through a 99-loss season. Francoeur said he wanted to return to Philadelphia, but he got squeezed out once the Phillies signed Peter Bourjos and selected Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel in December. Francoeur remains unsigned. "Having good players is more important than having that [leader], but in the long run, especially when you get down to the nitty gritty, it's nice to have that guy like Dutch [Daulton] who can rally the troops," Mackanin said. Freddy's the guy: There is plenty of interest in top prospect J.P. Crawford, who is in big league camp for the first time. But Phillies fans should not hold their breath and expect Crawford to challenge Freddy Galvis to be the Opening Day shortstop. Galvis has the job locked up and Crawford will open the season in the Minor Leagues, either at Double-A or Triple-A. "I feel like he deserves that chance," Mackanin said about Galvis. "I'm real high on J.P. Crawford. I haven't seen him a lot, but I know he's highly touted. I want to concentrate on our big league guys. If Freddy Galvis is hitting .280 and everybody is playing like we hope they can, then it gives us more time for the Crawfords and the [Nick] Williamses and so on and so forth, so we won't have to rush them." Of course, if Galvis struggles, Crawford could push the issue with solid play in the Minors. Crawford is the No. 5 overall prospect in baseball, according to Extra bases: Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff remains day to day with a non-displaced fracture on his right thumb, which he injured bunting last week. Eickhoff said he believes he has plenty of time to get ready for the beginning of the season; Right-hander David Buchanan took a line drive off his right triceps during a live batting-practice session. Buchanan seemed to think he should be OK.

Are The Phillies On A Good Path? – The Phillies are not expected to challenge for a National League East title anytime soon, but it does not mean team president Andy MacPhail doesn't expect to see some improvement in 2016. He does. MacPhail mentions the Phillies' 34-37 record following the All-Star break last season (with Maikel Franco missing 46 of those games) as evidence they are on a good path. The Phillies entered the break 29-62, easily the worst mark in baseball, but the arrival of young talents such as Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Aaron Altherr, and the continued development of others like Franco and Odubel Herrera put a more competitive team on the field. "In my view, there are a lot of positive things going forward," MacPhail said. MacPhail is entering his first full season as team president. He returned to the game after a 3 1/2-year hiatus to focus on his personal life, where he traveled the world (China, Vietnam, Thailand, Turkey, Greece, Ecuador, Honduras, Brazil, etc.) and did the things everybody does in the summer when they don't work in baseball. "I never grilled when I was a GM," he said. "I had a beautiful grill. It was still clean. You can grill all summer in your shorts. It was a lot of fun. I had 3 1/2 years to get that out of my system." But now MacPhail is back at work, entrusted to lead the Phillies' rebuild. The Phils followed arguably their greatest run in franchise history (one World Series title, two National League pennants and five consecutive NL East titles from 2007-11) with a .500 finish in 2012 and three consecutive losing seasons, including the worst record in baseball in '15. "You can't get better unless you take a good hard look at where you are," MacPhail said. "We're going to make some mistakes. But we're going to keep our eye on the prize and we're not going to deviate. The teams that get themselves in trouble are the ones that try something for two years, it doesn't work, let's try something totally different. Name a team that embarked on a legitimate, honest attempt at a rebuild that didn't in the end profit from it? Kansas City. Pittsburgh. Tampa Bay. Baltimore. You name it. As long as they stay with it, they are going to be rewarded in the end." But that doesn't mean the Phillies don't want to win this year. They do. They just don't believe being in the market for high-priced free agents makes sense for them right now. "This year we spent $15 million on [Charlie] Morton and [Jeremy] Hellickson," MacPhail said. "That's $15 million to stabilize the rotation. If we wanted to lose 120 games, we wouldn't have spent that $15 million. But we want Nola and Eickhoff and whoever else comes along to be able to play in an environment where it's not all on their shoulders." MacPhail hired Matt Klentak to be his general manager, and by all accounts MacPhail has let Klentak run his show. They talk, obviously, but Klentak is not calling MacPhail every time he wants to claim a player on waivers or sign somebody. Together they already have made some changes to the front office, most notably building an analytics department. "But it goes so far beyond that," MacPhail said. "It annoys me when people think you've just got to go in one world or the other. Old school scouting or it's analytics. Show me the team that just doesn't have any more scouts, that has no scouting department. They don't exist. They all have scouts. Even whatever team you want to say is the most analytically inclined, they've got 20 or 30 scouts on the payroll. Why do you think that is?" The Phillies hired amateur scout Luis Raffan, who will handle South Florida and Puerto Rico. They hired a strength and conditioning coach for Class A Williamsport, and they are talking about possibly hiring another for the Minor Leagues. The Phillies made Ray Burris their pitching rehab coordinator in Clearwater. They added high definition cameras at Citizens Bank Park to improve their video coaching. The Phillies added TrackMan, the radar system that tracks pitched and batted baseballs, and CoachMePlus, which is a data management system that provides predictive performance analytics to help monitor players' health status. "Our payroll is down because we don't have [Cole] Hamels. We don't have [Jonathan] Papelbon. We don't have Ben Revere," MacPhail said. "We don't have a lot of guys we used to have. So we tried to take some of that money and reinvest it." If that combination of scouting and analytics continues to uncover good young talent for the Phillies, they could turn their fortunes quicker than maybe anybody expected. (MacPhail and Klentak have been careful not to predict when they expect to be contending for titles again, because they don't know how their top prospects will pan out.) "A market like Philadelphia, we're going to have more revenue at our disposal than we would say, in a small market where you're really scraping nickels together," MacPhail said. "Hopefully you don't stay down as long in a negative cycle."

Today In Phils History - With expectations high heading into the 1965 season Jim Bunning and Bo Belinski appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The following year, the Phillies parted ways with Dick Stuart. 4 years ago the Paul Owens bronze bust was revealed outside of the Phillies training facility in Clearwater. However, the most notable item of the day is the birthday of former Phillies player and Hall of Fame manager Harry "Sparky" Anderson who was born on this day in 1934.  

With the Phillies having finished the 2015 season with a spectacularly awful record of 63-99 it will be interesting to see what kind of team new President Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak put on the field. At the same time I am definitely looking forward to the games against Boston with former GM Ruben Amaro on the field. Given the departures, lingering contracts, a history of injuries, bipolar performances, and unproven talent, it should, at the very least, be an interesting season for the Phillies. Who knows, maybe they can avoid 100 losses... hopefully by more than one game!

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