The rebuild shall continue.
If there’s one certainty going into the Phillies’ 2017 season, it’s that we won’t see total destruction of this organization. No big changes up top, and probably no big changes on the roster. There are good players, decent players, developing players, and still plenty of questions that need further answering. The rebuild shall continue.
Last season we hoped to see the emergence of one or two core players, the guys that stick with the team for years, that we can write in ink without reservation. Maybe J.P. Crawford would emerge. Maybe Maikel Franco would become a sure thing.
We did, however, see Odubel Herrera grow just enough to get there. And while he has trade value – heck, any young player that comes with good numbers and a friendly payroll line has trade value – Herrera is the one sure thing we have right now. He feels like a part of the core.
After Herrera is a collection of questions, some closer to be answered than others:
Aaron Nola: Was the injury to blame for that late poor performance?
Vince Velasquez: Can he keep off the disabled list while improving his command?
Jorge Alfaro: Is the total package ready to take the leap?
Nick Williams: Will he falter in triple-A or rise above the poor 2016?
Crawford: Can he prove himself an all-star level hitter?
Franco: Can he improve his plate discipline and situational approach?
Then there are other near certainties, role players we now think can stick for a couple years, like Jerad Eickhoff, Cesar Hernandez, Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph. Maybe they’ll be here in 2019, maybe not. Either way, there’s a foundation, there are questions, and there’s a core, however small.
2017 will be about answering those questions. A core must emerge, whether it’s Crawford making his debut and developing throughout the season, or Nola silencing doubts and spinning gem after gem, or Velasquez pushing to the top of every league leaderboard, or Franco pulling his on-base percentage up while hammering nearly 30 home runs. And at least two of those things must happen. By the end of 2017, we need to know who will be leading this Phillies team into its next period of contention.
The offseason won’t answer those questions. It can’t. The best it can do is give us more Velasquezes, which would only raise more questions. But what is likely to happen is Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak will seek to supplement those questions with relatively sure things – players who have peaked, or are peaking – and while they won’t be major difference makers, and can’t be part of the core, they can at least take the burden off the young guys we’re so relying on to get it done.
What to (not) expect
So don’t expect multi-year contracts that take more than $15 million off the payroll next season. The front office will likely keep payroll small to prepare for two things: raises to young players who improve (say, a long-term deal for Franco after a great 2017), and the free-agent and trade market once the Phils are ready to spend big (say, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout). And don’t expect trades for star players whose impact wouldn’t be felt for three years (say, Andrew McCutchen, who is already 30 and is coming off a relatively average season).
It’s possible, if the market isn’t nice to him, that Josh Reddick comes to Philadelphia. But it’s more likely it doesn’t happen. The Phils still have questions in Aaron Altherr, Roman Quinn, Tyler Goeddel and Williams, let alone Dylan Cozens and Andrew Pullin. There’s no reason to go big on a multi-year contract for an overpriced outfielder. More likely is payroll and position versatility – think Steve Pearce.
And it’s possible that the Phils could jump into the Gio Gonzalez sweepstakes if he enters the market, maybe go after Jaime Garcia if he’s available. But it’s more likely that doesn’t happen, either. The Phils still have questions in Nola, Velasquez, Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson, let alone Ben Lively and Nick Pivetta. Again, there’s no reason for the multi-year deal for the overpriced pitcher. They should extend the qualifying offer to Jeremy Hellickson, but if the doesn’t take it, again, think about the payroll – think a return of Charlie Morton.
The same holds true for the bullpen, where it’s rarely smart to pay big bucks, especially if you’re rebuilding. Look for an established but cost-effective middle reliever or setup arm. Think Pat Neshek if he’s available, maybe Santiago Casilla.
If anything, pay more attention to the internal moves the Phils may or may not make this season. Will Hernandez get a contract extension that covers his arbitration years? Would the franchise look into offering Herrera a multi-year contract that sets him up as a low-cost, high-value core player? Those are the moves that’ll speak volumes.
The rebuild shall continue. And, unless the front office has designs of complete annihilation on its mind, it will move into a phase of internal development. We’ll see the true direction of things this offseason, and while it may not have you checking the hot stove every 20 minutes, it will – hopefully, at least – be a measured take on rebuilding a new type of Phillies team.