Opinion

Timing of Mackanin extension just a little curious

On one level, there’s a sense of relief that the Phillies inked Pete Mackanin to a two-year contract extension that may include 2019.

From what we’ve seen and heard, the young players in the clubhouse like Mackanin. He’s affable, fair and speaks multiple languages. He learns. He has some new-age qualities, but retains some old-school traits, somewhere in between Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon on the spectrum of baseball managing skills. That’s not bad.

But the timing of the extension is curious.

See, Mackanin is going through arguably his worst stretch as both a game manager and communicator. His handling of the bullpen hasn’t been great, though one can argue it’s early in the season, the arms themselves aren’t optimal, and the Phils have been victimized by really good hitting (Bryce Harper, Yoenis Cespedes, et al.). But how he’s communicated his handling of the bullpen has been suspect, at best. After Wednesday’s thrashing of the Phils by Seattle, reliever Joaquin Benoit called out “the people that run” the pitching staff for a lack of consistent leadership in setting roles.

Now, I’m not the biggest bullpen role guy. Relievers are fungible, and only in rare cases does the traditional setup-lefty-setup-closer structure work for an elongated period of time.

But Benoit has a point. Mackanin stripped Jeanmar Gomez of the closer role in the mega-early part of the season, handing the ball to a baffled but accepting Benoit. Then, after Benoit blew one game (thanks to said Harper), Mackanin started using Hector Neris as his closer. But, as this Benoit seems to be suggesting, he wasn’t told that he lost the job.

Since, the bullpen has been “throw darts at the board and see what sticks.” Which is weird, because the bullpen hasn’t been *that* bad statistically.

But here’s the problem: If Mackanin simply told his guys that the first two months (or whatever) would be a feeling-out period with the ‘pen, a chance to see who has the best stuff for the high-leverage spots, then fine. But seemingly, again going off Benoit’s comments, this didn’t happen. Instead, guys are in the dark about when they’re entering games, who they’d be likely facing, and how they should prepare.

That’s not a recipe for success.

So why now, when Mackanin for the first time has been called out (though not by name) by one of his players that he gets a two-year extension? Is this just quirky happenstance, as the two sides ironed out something before Wednesday’s game and it took this long to cross Ts and dot Is? Or can we put on our not-so tin-foil hats and wonder if the Phils (while happy overall with Mackanin’s body of work) are sending some message to the clubhouse with the timing of this announcement?

Big deal? Not necessarily. But why didn’t the Phils extend Mackanin during spring training? Nothing has changed since then; Mackanin has done nothing in the first month and a half of 2017 to prove he deserves an extension any more than before the season. In some ways, he’s actually worsened his case.

But he’s the guy. Matt Klentak, Andy MacPhail and Co. believe he can steer a ship of Odubel Herrera and 24 other guys toward the Phils’ first playoff berth since 2011.

Fine. I’m okay with that. But don’t make me raise my not-so tin-foil hat again.

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