Offseason

How will the Phillies get better?

Citizens_Bank_Park_May_2009.jpgThe 2016 season has ended. The Phillies finished 71-91, an eight-game improvement on last season (though they finished with the same Pythagorean record as 2015: 62-100).

Much of that improvement came from pitching, which started strong but tapered off down the stretch. The staff finished with a team ERA of 4.63, toward the bottom of the National League, though their 1,299 strikeouts were smack in the middle of the league.

The offense stunk. The team’s .240 average, .301 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage were each 14th in the league; its .685 OPS was dead last. Runs? Dead last. Walks? Dead last. The Phillies’ aggressive approach didn’t work, and as a result, the team fired hitting coach Steve Henderson.

But the rest of the coaching staff, barring any other moves, will be returning in 2017. General Manager Matt Klentak has expressed a need to stay young, so it’s likely much of this team will return in 2017. So the first question as the team’s offseason begins: How will the Phillies get better?

Pitching upgrades?

For one, a healthy pitching staff should help. Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez and Zach Elfin each missed considerable time in 2016. If Nola’s struggles were mostly due to his injury, we can hope he will join a stretched-out Velasquez and the steady Jerad Eickhoff to form a solid core in the 2017 rotation. Eflin and Jake Thompson will certainly be in the discussion to fill out that rotation, and prospect Ben Lively is ready to contribute in the majors, but don’t be surprised if Klentak scours both the free agent and trade markets for starting pitching help.

Your pitching free agents (without club options) include Ivan Nova (12-8, 4.17 ERA. 127 K, 28 BB), Doug Fister (12-13, 4.64 ERA, 115 K, 62 BB), Andrew Cashner (5-11, 5.25 ERA, 112 K, 60 BB), Mat Latos (7-3, 4.89 ERA, 42 K, 30 BB), Rich Hill (12-5, 2.12 ERA, 129 K, 33 BB), Jered Weaver (12-12, 5.06 ERA, 103 K, 51 BB) and Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 3.71 ERA, 154 K, 45 BB).

Hellickson may be the best option. The Phillies could offer him a qualifying offer of $16.7 million for one year, which if accepted, would keep the Phils from handing out any multi-year deals that could hamper the future payroll. (If he doesn’t accept it, it’s an extra early draft pick.) Hellickson – who probably would get around $15 million per year over three to four years in free agency, would be worth the one-year risk.

If Hellickson is not an option, a one-year flier on a veteran like Hill or Weaver may be in order.

It’s the offense …

But, again, it’s the offense that needs the real work. Maikel Franco had a decent sophomore season in the heart of the order, suffering a bit with his patience but still cashing in with a co-team-leading 25 home runs. Despite tossing aside his early patient approach, Odubel Herrera finished the season with a good .361 on-base percentage. And Tommy Joseph surfaced as a power threat, knocking 21 home runs and 15 doubles in 347 plate appearances. His .505 slugging percentage led the team.

Beyond them, it’s anyone’s guess.

Cameron Rupp stumbled late and finished as a comfortably average catcher (.252/.303/.447). Jorge Alfaro could very well break the club out of spring training, pushing Rupp to the bench. Cesar Hernandez’s outstanding second half pushed him to a .294/.371/.393 mark, but the second baseman remains a poor baserunner. Freddy Galvis may have hit 20 home runs, but he really wasn’t good (.241/.274/.399). And without Herrera, the Phils’ outfield was atrocious. Neither Aaron Altherr nor Tyler Goeddel played well, and despite Roman Quinn’s exciting work in September, his injury problems remain a major question.

But don’t anticipate any major offensive additions. For one, there aren’t many good offensive players out there. If he opts out of his contract, Yoenis Cespedes (.280/.354/.530) will command the biggest deal of any free agent. Edwin Encarnacion (.263/.357/.529) will get some cash, too. Josh Reddick (.281/.345/.405), Ian Desmond (.285/.335/.446) and Jose Bautista (.234/.366/.452) are out there, as well.

But it’s hard to say what the Phillies may do. They could stick with Herrera, Quinn and Altherr in the 2017 outfield, preparing for a likely Nick Williams emergence by May or June. But they could also determine Altherr is too much of a question mark, and Williams isn’t necessarily a sure thing, and sign Bautista (a patient hitter and clubhouse leader) to a two-year deal that wouldn’t deeply hurt the future payroll.

The infield seems a little more clear-cut. Joseph and Franco are likely to hang on as the corners, and it’s even possible both Hernandez and Galvis return to start in the middle. J.P. Crawford looks most likely to reach the majors by mid-season 2017 (his 2016 in triple-A revealed more time was needed), and by then the team can make its decision on Hernandez and Galvis.

One thing is for certain: A more patient approach is necessary. The young hitters were too aggressive in 2016, and while that’s expected, it needs to be rectified. We know from experience: Good teams are patient teams.

With that, one thing seems to be certain for this offseason: We will have to be patient ourselves.

*****

As the offseason gets underway, we’ll be previewing the various markets the Phils may be tapping into (outfield, starting pitching, relief). Watch for more of our offseason preview coverage over the next month.

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