Philadelphia’s own and ESPN.com senior baseball writer Jayson Stark was in town at Shibe Vintage Sports to talk Phillies and all things baseball Tuesday. Baseball junkies gathered around Stark, listening intently on some of the endeavors the iconic writer has experienced over his career in baseball. Of course, the majority in attendance were Phillies fans and wanted some inside scoop on the direction of the team.
I was able to corner Stark for a one-on-one to ask exactly what you all want to know … where is this team going?
CS: The Phillies have brought in a lot of veterans since the offseason has started. Can you make sense of the moves so far and where this team is going?
Stark: They’re trying to compete as best as they can, but not block any of their young players when they’re ready. They’re all about developing their best prospects into big-league players at whatever pace those guys are ready to play. So, if they go out and sign veteran position players to multi-year deals, there’s no place for the young guys to play when they get here. Everything they’ve done has been geared toward the short-term – especially guys on one-year deals – they can trade in July if the Nick Williamses and J.P. Crawfords of the world are ready.
CS: When do you see them making that big move? Whether that’d be a trade or free agent.
Stark: This is a year that’s going to be a lot like last year, only players with bigger upside will wind up being promoted this year. But, I think if you ask them (the Phillies) they don’t think they’re going to be ready to contend until 2019. That’s a big free agent year; they’ll have a ton of money to spend and they’re hoping teams like the Red Sox, Dodgers and Yankees are trying to cut back at that point, not that it’s necessarily going to happen. It’ll be the perfect storm of money and talent for them to put the pieces in place that they haven’t developed. I think that’s a realistic scenario.
I thought they would try to push that to maybe 2018, but it actually wouldn’t shock me if they won fewer games in 2017 than they won in 2016. The people that run their team are more into the run differential and what the expected win-loss says than what the actual record says. They know they’re farther away than people seem to think.
CS: Maikel Franco certainly didn’t have the breakout year we or the Phillies envisioned in 2016. What’s the one thing he needs to do for us to realize, “Oh, yeah, he’s still the building block?”
Stark: All the tools are there, but what he needs to do is approach the season, approach every game with a different mentality. To be a star, which he should become, that’s about playing with energy and focus every inning of every game. He’s not there yet. So, he has to understand that to put up those numbers, it’s a process. It’s not about swinging as hard as you can. To be a Gold Glove third baseman, it’s about preparing and focusing and expecting every ball to get hit to you instead of saying “Let’s see how many great plays I could make.” He’s young and he’s one of the youngest players in the big leagues and third base is now a position of stars, so if he’s going to be one of them he’s got to take a big step.
CS: The Phillies have a lot of quality pitchers in both the rotation and bullpen. Do you think this staff could be in the top half in baseball?
Stark: They have tremendous depth and a lot of options. I don’t see the top-of-the-rotation upside in their group. That’s the one thing they lack. They’re in a division with Scherzer, Strasburg, Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard – on, and on … and who would the Phillies run out there against any of those guys and think “They’ll win tonight.” They lack that right now. They have to acquire that or develop that. They have some guys with big arms really low in their system, maybe one of those guys turn into one. They’re going to have to pay to get it or trade to get it. You’re not going to win without that.
Other than that though, they’ve done a tremendous job with the depth of talent in their system; compared with what they once had it’s incredible. They really have good players up and down their system, but they need star power and they need time. It’s timing when your young guys are ready and when you put those other pieces into place.
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