2016 represented one thing for the Philadelphia Phillies organization — Transition. With the trading of veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz and opting to move on from former NL MVP Ryan Howard, the Phils officially lopped off the remaining parts of a nucleus which saw major success; culminating in a World Series Championship in 2008. The club fully committed to showcasing young talent after re-energizing a depleted Minor League system, and adopting a more stingy spending strategy at the free agent superstore.
One particular asset became center fielder Odubel Herrera (pronounced oh-DOO-bull, don’t come up in here with oh-duh-BELL)! The 2014 Rule 5 draft pick — with his jittery batting mannerisms, by-the-seat-of-your-pants ball tracking and plus speed — went on to establish himself as a fan-favorite and his praiseworthy play led to being named the Phillies’ lone All-star representative. Herrera’s development was clearly a bright spot in an otherwise mediocre 71–91 effort, finishing second-to-last in the NL East while missing out on postseason play for the fifth consecutive campaign.
Few on-lookers would say the Philadelphia Phillies markedly changed their fortunes for the upcoming season. There were no splashy moves. What they did, however was make some calculated low-risk acquisitions with an eye toward the near future, right in line with the game plan set forth by second-year General Manager Matt Klentak:
“Every decision that we make will be measured against the short-term implications and the long-term implications,” Klentak said. “We want to do everything we can to field the most competitive team on the field that we possibly can. We also want to make sure we continue to provide opportunities to our young players to develop. That’s the fine line that we’ll have to tiptoe all offseason.”
The aforementioned Odubel Herrera was signed to a five-year, $30.5 million extension including club options for 2022 and 2023, making the 25-year-old Venezuelan the only holdover signed beyond 2017. RHP Clay Buchholz will join the starting rotation after coming over via trade with the Boston Red Sox for Minor League infielder Josh Tobias. Buchholz spent ten uneven seasons in Beantown, but the Phillies have not committed long-term. In the category of trying to “field a competitive team,” the outfield received immediate upgrades with the additions of infielder/outfielder Howie Kendrick and right fielder Michael Saunders. The Phillies sent first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf and second baseman/outfielder Darnell Sweeney to the Los Angeles Dodgers wanting the veteran offensive skills of Kendrick (career .289 hitter with .749 OPS). Free agent Saunders, a 2016 All-star with the Toronto Blue Jays, was signed to a $9 million, one-year deal. Other signings of note were bullpen additions Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek, both of whom could act as trade chips or allow the flexibility to seek deals for relievers Hector Neris and or Jeanmar Gomez.
Expectations For 2017:
This segment of the preview has been written for me…by Philadelphia Phillies skipper Pete Mackanin:
“My goal is to play .500,” he said. “I don’t want to set the goal too high, because I want to be fair to everybody. I feel like if we can play .500 and bring it in to the first part of August where the guys start jelling and believing in themselves and getting those competitive juices flowing, I think we can be in the hunt if we get to that point.”
So regardless of what my (our) expectations were for the 2017 season, the manager of the club is only targeting a not horrible, but certainly not great .500 performance? That outward admission might not go over well, but realistic fans understand this group is going through a rebuild and wins will be difficult to come by. That said, 2017 should end up being just a continuation of the previous season as the team pivots into what will hopefully be the next great era of Phillies baseball led by young big league talents — some of whom look to rebound from regression (starting pitcher Aaron Nola, and third baseman Maikel Franco) — and up and coming prospects on the verge of assuming roles on the big boy squad (shortstop J.P. Crawford, outfielders Nick Williams, Mickey Moniak, Roman Quinn and catcher Jorge Alfaro).
From paper to being put into practice, the Phillies have begun their process — a term Philadelphia fans have become accustomed to over the years. Making a commitment to be non-committal, avoiding bad long-term contracts, deciding against wildly spending money during periods of thin free agency pools. All in the name of striking when their young players are further along in development and names such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and a whole host of other franchise-changing commodities head up the free agency list in 2018-19. Hang tight Phillies fans. This could be a more rapid turnaround than most are expecting.