Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Rumbling Has Already Started


A Little Too Close – The Phillies expect big things this season from Maikel Franco. They also expect him to be in camp Tuesday morning at Bright House Field, just in time to take a physical before the team's first full-squad workout at Carpenter Complex. Every player is in camp other than Franco and pitcher Yoervis Medina, who has visa issues. But Franco is not late, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "I'm not going to be critical of anybody who doesn't come early," Mackanin said. "If we wanted guys to come two weeks ago, we should have a longer Spring Training. He's in for a long season. He played winter ball. Whenever he gets here, as long as he's here when he's supposed to be, I'm fine with it. I'm not going to nitpick that. He's not that kind of guy, but if he turns lazy and he doesn't work like he always does, then I have an issue. But he's going to work hard." Franco is within his rights not to arrive until Tuesday's workout. In fact, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players are not required to report to Spring Training more than 33 days before the start of the regular season. That would make the deadline March 1. But Franco's absence Monday raised eyebrows among some in the organization, because he is a young player entering his first full season in the big leagues and because the Phillies have such high hopes for him. No player in recent memory has waited until the morning of the team's first full-squad workout to report to camp. Jimmy Rollins, Bobby Abreu and Ryan Howard were often the last players to arrive in camp, but always at least a day before the first workout. Howard dropped off a few things Saturday at Bright House Field and took his physical Monday. He worked out with the team afterward. "I'll be disappointed if during the season [Franco] doesn't hustle, or if during the season he does something where he doesn't show a great work ethic," Mackanin said. "He has a great work ethic. That's the one thing about him. He comes out early every day to take extra ground balls around 3 o'clock at home. He's willing to work and he has a strong work ethic. As long as he plays hard, hustles and continues to prepare for games properly, I have no issues." Franco, 23, hit .280 with 14 home runs, 22 doubles, one triple, 50 RBIs and an .840 OPS in 335 plate appearances last season.

Trying To Find Room – Pete Mackanin and Ryan Howard could have the "talk" Tuesday at Bright House Field. Mackanin is expected to tell Howard that he has a considerable challenge ahead of him. Howard still believes he should play every day, but he needs to hit left-handed pitchers much better to warrant playing time against them. If Howard cannot, Darin Ruf will see action. "He's read and seen and heard what I've said," Mackanin said about Howard on Monday at Bright House Field. "I think he's ready for it, and I think he's willing to show that he deserves to be in there every day." This is expected to be Howard's final Spring Training with the Phillies. He is entering the final season of a five-year, $125 million contract. He will make $25 million this season, plus he is expected to receive a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option. Howard is one of the more interesting storylines in camp. The Phillies have been trying to trade him for the past of couple years, but they've been unsuccessful despite agreeing to pay most of his salary. And one offseason after he was involved in a lawsuit with his family, Howard is suing the TV network Al Jazeera following a December report that linked him to performance-enhancing drugs. But Howard's fit on a rebuilding team will be a topic of conversation for some time. He posted an .802 OPS against righties, but just a .418 OPS against lefties last season. Howard's OPS against righties ranked 55th out of 140 qualified hitters, but his OPS against lefties would have been the lowest in the big leagues by 47 points, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. Conversely, Ruf's 1.107 OPS against lefties would have tied Nelson Cruz for the best in baseball, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. "Ryan might have a big year this year and get another contract for all I know," said Mackanin, when asked why Howard deserves playing time on a rebuilding team. "I'd like to see that happen, because if that happens, we're going to be a much better team." Howard showed up at camp Saturday to drop off a few things at his locker. He took his physical Monday and worked out with the team before its first official full-squad workout Tuesday. Howard could speak to reporters Tuesday afternoon. "It was good to see him," Mackanin said. "I knew he would come in in shape, and he had a big smile on his face as usual. He's ready to go. The thing I like most about Ryan is he posts up every day. He comes to play." Ruf's playing time: How much playing time could Ruf see this season? "At this point, knowing the personnel we're going to have on the field, his best chance right now would be against left-handed pitchers," Mackanin said. "I don't foresee any way to play him on a daily basis. However, with an injury, a trade, anything might happen. I'd like to get him 500 at-bats against all pitchers, but at this point, it doesn't look likely unless there is an injury." Another big talk: Mackanin will address the team before Tuesday's workout. It will be his first Spring Training address as a big league manager. "I'm formulating that right now," said Mackanin when asked about what he might say. "Try to win as many games as you can. Basically, compete and give it your best shot. The best man's going to win. ... You know, I gave a motivational speech one time and I got carried away and then the bell went off and I realized I forgot to practice. My speech went so long that we didn't do anything. It was a good speech though. So I'm going to keep it short and sweet." J-Roll signs: Former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins signed a Minor League contract with the White Sox. Mackanin said he was not "overly surprised" Rollins could not land a Major League contract. Chase Utley signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the Dodgers despite hitting .202 with a .654 OPS last season. Rollins hit .224 with a .643 OPS, but remains a better player defensively. "He's probably lost a step," Mackanin said about Rollins. "He's still a solid player. But, actually, other than saying I'm not surprised is all I can say."

Today In Phils History - While there isn't much to report, it is worth noting that on this day in 1979, the Phillies acquired a couple of key pieces in Manny Trillo and Greg Gross from the Cubs. 

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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