Commentary

Was 2016 a success for the Phillies?

After last season, before the Ken Giles trade but after the Matt Klentak hiring, I wrote this:

“I think Matt Klentak deserves a pretty good chance. Give him until the end of 2018 to be a playoff contender (now that I think about it, having a solid foundation with good role players and an upward trajectory by the end of 2018 is better).”

We’re one year through the Klentak Experience, one year through the MacPhail Experience, and one year into the Better Days Are Ahead part of the Phillies rebuild. We didn’t have to sit through a season of Aaron Harang in 2016, so that’s a start, right?

The goal for the 2016 Phillies – for Klentak and MacPhail – was to continue phasing in the young pitchers while starting to phase in the young hitters. We saw Aaron Nola, Adam Morgan and Jerad Eickhoff take their rotation spots in 2015, and we expected Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin to join them. That happened, but we didn’t expect the Giles trade, which gave us Vince Velasquez (and Mark Appel), and more ammunition for the 2016 campaign.

That worked. Though Nola injured his elbow (but may recover without serious problems), and both Thompson and Eflin suffered their own pains, the youngsters all came aboard at some point in 2016. Joining them was Velasquez, who flashed moments of superb, ace-level talent, highlighted by a 16-strikeout performance that was likely the team’s best single performance in 2016.

What didn’t happen, however, was the transition from retread to prospect in the starting lineup.

Hitting the skids

Klentak brought in veteran Peter Bourjos to add outfield depth, and he manned a corner outfield position for much of the season. The other corner outfielder was a combination of Aaron Altherr, Cody Asche and Tyler Goeddel, with a sprinkling of Jimmy Paredes, Cedric Hunter and David Lough. Nothing stuck. Roman Quinn (a history of injury) and Nick Williams (a disappointing season in triple-A) were supposed to get to Philadelphia in the summer; they didn’t. Quinn finally made it in September and thrilled over a short tryout, but that didn’t necessarily satisfy fans seeking a changing of the guard.

To be fair, other options failed. Altherr didn’t quite rebound after a wrist injury sidelined him early in 2016. Goeddel – fair shake or not – looked overmatched during much of the season. The others? Forget it. At least Odubel Herrera came to play.

The infield fared better. Little changed up the middle, with Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis combining for an ultimately good season – Hernandez turned into a top-of-the-lineup option and Galvis flashed an outstanding glove at shortstop. But J.P. Crawford never got here, also struggling in triple-A. It’s likely he makes it to Philly by midseason 2017, but we’re all a little anxious.

The best story, maybe on the entire team, was that of Tommy Joseph, who emerged from the scrap heap to become a 20-plus-home-run hitter and a potential everyday first baseman. He offset the seesaw season for Maikel Franco, who may make us a little crazy but still has the goods to be a middle-of-the-order threat.

Catcher remains static. Cameron Rupp played decently in 2016, but surely Jorge Alfaro will be ready to go at some point in 2017. Then things will change.

Looking for change

And that’s what we’re waiting for – things to change. Soon it’ll be Williams in a corner outfield spot, possibly playing alongside Herrera and either Quinn or some high-paid veteran bat (Mike Trout, anyone?). And soon it’ll be Crawford up the middle with either Hernandez or Galvis. Soon Alfaro will be behind the plate. And the rotation will be a combination of a healthy Velasquez, a healthy Nola, a healthy Eickhoff … you get the picture.

We’re not there yet. We knew we wouldn’t be there yet. We figured the Phillies would finish poorly in 2016, but not as poorly as in 2015. That’s what happened – 71-91 is bad but not really, really bad. The seventh pick in the first-year player draft is nice.

So, in that sense, 2016 was exactly what we expected. The Phillies finished with the right record. The pitching came together. The hitters didn’t quite make it up, but they’re close. We can see the future a little more clearly. For that, Klentak, MacPhail and Co. deserve a solid B- for a season that met expectations.

Does that mean we should expect the 2017 Phillies to finish 78-84, even 81-81, with reinforcements joining in midsummer to power the Phils to a surprise finish? What if the Phils remain a 71-win team?

The end of 2018 still seems so far away …

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