While the Phillies will no doubt be in the market for starting pitching this offseason, they won’t be chasing after any mythical creatures.
“We get inundated with stories across the game about how everybody is looking for starting pitching,” team President Andy MacPhail said at a Tuesday morning news conference at Citizens Bank Park. “Just get two quality starters, and we'll be all set. Well you might as well look for a unicorn at the same time. It's tough.”
Since on MacPhail and General Manager Matt Klentak arrived in Philadelphia, tasked with seeing the current rebuild through, their focus has centered around pitching, specifically starting pitching. Yet, when it comes to that area, they are no closer than they were 24 months ago. Aaron Nola is the only reliable piece and he was already here when MacPhail and Klentak were hired.
The outfield seems to be set now that Nick Williams has joined Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera. Rhys Hoskins and J.P. Crawford should populate half of the infield. Jorge Alfaro is catching in Philadelphia. Scott Kingery is on the way. Prospects have suddenly overturned the lineup as far as position players go.
The Phillies may really only need one more upgrade there.
That’s why topping Pete Mackanin’s wish list, before he was informed that he would not be back as manager in 2018, was pitching. A top-of-the-rotation pitcher or two in addition to Nola would push a team that showed great improvement in the second half to a new level.
However, as MacPhail said, it’s not that easy and his philosophy hasn’t changed on trying to avoid long-term deals with pitchers.
MacPhail would rather not take a risk on players who are getting paid far into the future for what they have done previously in their career, with no guarantee of what’s to come or how long it could last. Sometimes you have no choice, although if he can help it, he doesn’t want players who are on “the wrong side of 30.”
The Phillies will be open-minded this offseason. That means if an opportunity presents itself, they will use prospects for more known assets.
It won’t be through free agency. Once a top-five payroll team, and one that very well could be a big spender again in the near future, they won’t be anywhere close in 2018.
The roster will still be very young and MacPhail clearly doesn’t want to test the free-agent market for pitchers. The fan base may not be content with that answer but ownership, according to MacPhail, understands.
“They did not react extraordinarily well in the beginning,” MacPhail said. “Ultimately, they're OK with it with one proviso: that if an opportunity presents itself, we do not exclude it.”
MacPhail spent nearly a third of the 38-minute news conference answering questions with long-winded explanations from prepared notes, which largely explained where they would be spending money next year.intended to get across.
Instead of spending money on the roster, MacPhail said money will be used for ut where a majority of the money will likely be spent – ballpark improvements, sports science and, most importantly, analytics.
“If you are not dedicating resources toward payroll, then put it toward finding every competitive advantage you can find and exercising your strength in a different way,” MacPhail said, explaining the message management received from ownership.
Next up the agenda for the rebuild is to find a manager. MacPhail said he discussed the Mackanin move with Klentak and made sure Klentak understood that the scrutiny on the GM would increase in making a managerial change. General managers only get so many managers, MacPhail told Klentak.
“I probably spent more time with Matt talking to him about sort of the ramifications of his decision as anything,” MacPhail said. “I told him that this is going to confuse people. You just extended the guy when we stunk four months ago and now we're getting better and you make a change. You're going to have to explain that.”
But MacPhail supported Klentak’s decision, saying he always believed the time would come for another manager. Mackanin’s job was to clean up the mess he inherited and get them to the “turning point” Klentak feels the team has reached.
A new manager will likely be selected before the GM meetings in mid-November. While the payroll will not be high for at least one more season, wins and losses now mean more than they have over the past few seasons.
The manager will be held to a higher standard by management. The GM will be thrust further under the microscope.
“I do think, when Matt flipped that switch [with the manager], he did change the expectations,” MacPhail said.
The Phillies aren’t ready to compete just yet, but with expectations rising, it means they’re getting closer.