A New Year’s Crashburn Roundtable
It’s the New Year, which means it’s either time to reflect on the year just was or look forward to the year that has begun. With our report cards, we’ve already suffered too much reflection of 2016. So, now it is time to look forward to what will hopefully be a brighter 2017 for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Assuming you unilaterally make decisions of the entire Phillies front office, what it your New Year’s resolution?
Tim Guenther: An ambitious goal with a reasonable likelihood of failure? Establish five regular position players for the next playoff bound Phillies’ team. This season will offer a healthy mix of young players looking to take a step forward and real prospects looking to force their way into a major league role. Finding over half your future lineup from that group would be a huge success heading into next offseason.
Eric Chesterton: Identify the wheat and the chaff in the outfield. There are four (maybe five) guys–Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, and (maybe) Tyler Goeddel–who could be starting on the next reasonably good Phillies team in 2018. Mickey Moniak is too far away to figure in that picture. Of those five, Odubel is a lock with his performance and recent extension. The other four each have different, but real, question marks. They need to get Quinn and Altherr as many first-half innings and Williams and Goeddel as many in the second-half as it takes to figure out whether the 2018 outfield can be populated internally or whether they need to go outside the organization.
Ben Harris: I’ll deem this resolution “Find a guy, flip a guy.” There are any number of things that the front office should wish for this season, like a bounce back season from Maikel Franco or some certainty surrounding Aaron Nola or Vince Velasquez’s role. But for me, a successful (and reasonable) expectation on a macro level for this season would be to flip a guy on a one-year deal – think Jeremy Hellickson, Clay Buchholz, or even one of the bullpen additions of Pat Neshek or Joaquin Benoit – and feel comfortable about a prospect filling in a previously uncertain spot in the order. Whether that’s an injury-free Roman Quinn in an outfield spot or J.P. Crawford at short, the combination of flipping an expiring contract while filling in a hole in the lineup would prove a rational and achievable goal for 2017.
Brad Engler: My resolution would be to use the pocket book to add upper-level talent to as many deals as possible, and to trade lower-level redundancies for bonus money in the International Market. The Phils are in a position to outspend a whole lot of big market and otherwise high-dollar July 2 clubs, as many of them have penalties from the last CBA that will restrict their high-end signings this year.
Michael Schickling: As the Phillies’ Front Office, my New Year’s resolution for 2017 is “Keep a level head.” This team has talent, but we’re not there yet. A strong start for the young rotation might tempt the team to call up JP Crawford and Nick Williams too early or look to trade prospects for a veteran upgrade mid-season. I think this would be a mistake. This team isn’t ready to challenge for a World Series, so it would be best to give the young guys a chance, see what they got, and if the team surprises this year, sign someone in a stacked free agency class and push your chips in for 2018.
Dave Tomar: Spend more money. Spend like a team with a $2.5 billion cable TV contract would spend. According to Philly Voice, the team’s current payroll is projected at just over $107 million. This is $73 million less than their opening day payroll going into 2014. Even if the Phillies aren’t yet likely to contend in 2017, they could at least play watchable baseball.
I think we can all agree that while it’s exciting to consider the enormous potential latent in a squad of young, hungry prospects, watching them collectively crater in July and August positively sucks.
Some veteran talent could make a world of difference, both on the field and at the ticket office. Let’s face it. As the team stared down 90 losses last year, sales for Maikel Franco jerseys weren’t exactly breaking the bank. The Phillies have the financial freedom and the dearth of outfield power to justify an expensive short-term signing like Jose Bautista or…nuts to that…just go get Jose Bautista.
I know what you’re thinking. This is obviously not going to happen. Klentak’s philosophy has clearly tilted toward spending low and saving for a bright future. At best, we should be grateful to get a Michael Saunders or a Brandon Moss. But this is about New Year’s resolutions. And honestly, how many have you kept?
Will this be Pete Mackanin‘s last year as Phillies manager? Should it be?
Guenther: Pete Mackanin’s primary job is to cultivate a good clubhouse environment. By all accounts, he has succeeded in that task. As long as the relationship doesn’t sour, and Mackanin is open to employing the strategic advice of the front office, there’s little reason to go on a new managerial search. It would be counterproductive to trade consistency for a small tactical advantage.
Chesterton: Mackanin was a breath of much-needed fresh air after the disastrous Ryne Sandberg tenure and he’s been a very pleasant surprise. By all accounts, he’s done a fantastic job of building a good clubhouse atmosphere out of the ashes of Sandberg’s destruction and done it while losing baseball games. Still, I feel he’s in a similar situation as Brett Brown is across the street wit the Sixers: He’s the perfect guy to oversee the rebuild, but no one is sure whether he’s the guy to handle the next step. So, I’m going to dodge my own question. This shouldn’t be his last year here, but it might be the last contract he has with the Phillies. I’d pick up the team option for 2018 soon to remove lame-duck status and use the next two years to assess his ability with more serviceable major league players.
Harris: Entering the 2016 season, we saw the Phillies extend Mackanin for that season and the now upcoming 2017 season. Eric very accurately summed up my most notable praises and complaints of Mackanin’s most recent season in his report card. I don’t see any benefit in not exercising Mackanin’s 2018 option at this point in the rebuild. For me, making a switch after this season would feel like change for change’s sake, and that doesn’t pass my sniff test.
Engler: Yes and no. I think Mack has earned the right to try to guide this young club into contention in 2018, but can he and Klentak stay on the same page? It’s fraught with generational differences, so I’ll guess the honeymoon ends in the midst of a bad losing streak in August or September.
Schickling: Mackanin has done a good job as manager of the Phillies, at least as far as I can tell from the outside. After taking over for Ryne Sandberg in 2015, fielding more or less the same team (minus Cole Hamels), he managed to lead the Phillies to a significantly higher winning percentage. Under Sandberg, the Phillies were a 57-win team; under Mackanin, they were a 68-win team. Yes, his bullpen usage and player deployment may not have been ideal, but he certainly showed enough in his handling of the clubhouse to earn himself another couple years at the helm. If he doesn’t clean up his shortcomings when the games really matter, that’s a different story.
Tomar: There really aren’t too many concrete metrics for evaluating a manager across a single season of play, particularly on a team with so many on-field limitations. Mackanin is the skipper for a boat that’s still in the shipyard. (I’m really sorry for that whole nautical metaphor. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.) Anyway, the point is that it’s still to early to assess Mackanin based on wins and losses.
On the surface though, Mackanin appears to relate well to his players, has demonstrated patience as young prospects work through their struggles, speaks frankly to the press, and in general has a more engaging demeanor than his immediate predecessor. Whereas Ryne Sandberg struggled to understand and get the most from a mishmash of aging veterans and low-grade prospects, Mackanin seems capable of driving his young squad to its greatest potential. (Realistically speaking, last year’s 4th place finish was definitely the team’s greatest potential.)
At the end of the day, there’s no compelling reason to make a change at the top. With enough holes to fill and prospects to develop, the easiest and most sensible course of action is to pick up Mackanin’s contract for 2018, possibly even extend him this summer if they like what they see.
What’s your off-the-wall prediction for the Phillies in the next year (could be their 2017 record, a big trade, free agent signing, player performance, whatever)?
Guenther: Tommy Joseph emerges as one of the premiere power hitters in the league. This past season was not a one-off fluke. There is a distinct combination of big power and contact in that bat, and the only thing holding it back was his middling plate discipline. But consider, Joseph spent the prior three years accumulating fewer than a season’s worth of total plate appearances. In his first full year of baseball since 2012, he made notable strides in his pitch discernment. First half BB% and K%: 3.7% and 24.7%. Second half: 8.6% and 18.9%. A breakout is coming. The only problem with this prediction is it doesn’t feel very off-the-wall.
Chesterton: Maikel Franco makes his first All-Star team. Emotions make it difficult to view Franco’s 2016 as anything short of a failure, but he did hit 25 home runs, kept his strikeout rate in check, and hit at a nearly league-average level despite a probably-fluky .271 BABIP. He did this in his age-23 season. He’s shown the ability to adjust to pitching at each of his minor league stops and that won’t change in the majors. He’ll have a big season and an injury or early-season slump from Nolan Arenado or Anthony Rendon—Kris Bryant is a lock for the ASG–should do the trick to get him into the game.
Harris: Predictions are fun, aren’t they? Maybe this isn’t so off-the-wall, but I can see Franco’s attempt to remedy his down 2016 season with the same tendencies that caused him to struggle. I have imprinted in my brain those over-swinging, helmet-flying hacks that stole away his power and patience in his first full season. Realistically, I feel that those may resurface as he presses to make sure this season is not a repeat of last regular season which, coming off nine homers and 23 RBIs in spring training (both highs across the league), was a disappointing step towards solidifying third base for the franchise. A second less-than-stellar full major league season would bring into doubt what many perceived as one of the more certain cornerstones of the franchise in the years to come.
Engler: Last year I boldly predicted Tyler Goeddel would be a Top 5 ROY vote getter, so maybe I shouldn’t jinx anyone, but I’m going to predict that Roman Quinn leads the NL in stolen bases.
Schickling: The Odubel Herrera extension will look even better in retrospect. I was a huge fan of the move to begin with because Herrera, after being forced to the MLB early due to his Rule 5 draft status and deployed in the outfield after spending six minor league seasons in the infield, has done nothing but impress. He’s had two years to get his bearings in the outfield and to adjust to Major League pitching. This year could be a huge break-out year for the surprisingly effective centerfielder. That’s not much of a bold prediction though, so I’ll (O)double down and say he’ll hit 25 homers with a walk rate over 10% on his way to a 5+ WAR season. He’ll be in the discussion for best non-Trout CF in baseball.
Tomar: Odubel Herrera will hit 20 homers and steal 40 bases next year. This would, indeed, be an off-the-wall step forward for the talented Rule 5er. As the Phillies have nursed flashier prospects both in the minors and at the major league level, Herrera has done nothing but excel. In two full seasons with the club, he’s slashed .291/.353./.419 across 1193 plate appearances. It also bears noting that he made tremendous leaps forward in both speed and power between his rookie and sophomore years, collecting 25 stolen bags after grabbing just 16 in 2015, and knocking 15 balls out of the park, as compared to 8 the year before.
I like this trend. At 25 years of age, there’s every reason to be excited about what Herrera might yet accomplish. Last year, he made the All-Star game. Imagine what he’ll do in a lineup with a few bats around him (*See New Year’s Resolution above).