Mackanin expects improvement... but where to start?
PHILADELPHIA >> The Phillies were three games shy of having stumbled through another unacceptable baseball season Friday when Pete Mackanin and his coaching staff were dragged upstairs for four hours of conversation.
“Very frank conversation,” Mackanin said. Very. And about time. Not that it is franchisedefining for a front office to order a staff meeting around the final homestand of a season, but if ever a team needed a sit-down, it was the Phillies. Not only were they about to complete their fourth consecutive losing season, but they had been doing it with a flourish. They’d just gone 1-6 on a road trip that included a 17-0 loss to the Mets and an 0-for-3 series against the last-place Braves. Their bullpen had collapsed. Their defense had turned leaky. They had a closed-door, playersonly meeting and lost anyway. They were done. Now what? “We’re planning for next year,” Mackanin said. “We’re evaluating what we had and what we need. I went over every player individually and talked it over and came up with a plan. Somewhat of a plan.”
Not that the secrets were going to be revealed, but there were hints. One was that the coaching staff is not going to see Monday morning, at least not as it was assembled this year. Another is that there will be another veteran, or as Mackanin called it a “professional” bat injected into the order. Also, it’s possible that some players could move positions to accommodate newer players acquired in trade.
There were going to be changes in 2017, if only through the natural rebuilding process. The Phillies never pretended their 2016 roster was anything but a placeholder for something better, and that by 2018 they would have a team capable of contention. But the Phillies were particularly exasperating this season, never showing prolonged improvement after springing to a 16-11 start. And that was despite some of them having excellent seasons. Freddy Galvis would hit more than 20 home runs. Tommy Joseph, too. Cesar Hernandez would be a consistent on-base threat later in the year. Odubel Herrera was an All-Star. Jerad Eickhoff showed a certain tough streak. Hector Neris worked himself into a laterinning value.
Collectively, though, the Phillies typically failed. They ran the bases poorly, made errors at the most inconvenient times and struck out. Often. They struck out 1,349 times heading into a game Friday against the visiting New York Mets, seventh most in baseball. Mix in injuries, youth and an absence of front-office pressure to win, and that baseball outfit would have been a handful for any manager.
“We have too many strikeouts,” Mackanin said. “Far too many strikeouts. We have to address that issue. We need better on-base percentages. We need better plate discipline. Those are areas of concern for us and we certainly have to improve in that area. But where we do that on the field? Which players? That’s the important factor. We have to pinpoint which guys we may trade or may keep. We may try to add to a certain position and add to another position. Where we do that is what it’s all about. And by doing that, we have to find the best fit from who’s available out there.”
Emerging from that meeting, Mackanin talked about a deeper bullpen and about a more accomplished collection of major-league hitters.
“I would like to get a good, solid, proven hitter somewhere on the field,” he said. “Where that is right now will be determined by who is available and what kind of a deal, if any, they could make. And if not, we’ll try to find something from within that we think can help us. Or somebody could make a great impression in the spring. There’s so many ways to do that. There might be somebody we never even thought of at this point that might enter the picture and give us a boost.
“I’d like to lengthen out the lineup and get a professional in there,” he added, “to take some heat off of the other guys.”
Thinking out loud, Mackanin used moving Maikel Franco to first base as an example of the pieces-inmotion approach to changing the look of the roster if, for example, a third baseman would come available in trade.
Andy MacPhail has been around about a year and Matt Klentak has been the general manager for about 11 months. They were handed a weak team and a mandate to show improvement. So it is their time to leave the on-deck circle and start to hack.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’re going to win the division next year,” Mackanin said. “Hopefully we will. You never know, with one or two more additions, how much they’ll help. But we certainly want to get better. I, for one, want to win more games. It’s more fun to win. It’s more fun for the fans and everybody. But there’s nothing set in stone. We just have to wait and see.”
The changes will begin with the coaching staff, with Mackanin promising more information before the end of the weekend. From there, if he watched what everyone else watched this summer, Klentak will go through the clubhouse with a power-washer and start removing the debris.
“Yeah, I expect us to be better next year,” Mackanin said. “That’s the best way I can put it.”
That’s what 159 games suggested. That’s what another four hours screamed.
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Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, left, and manager Pete Mackanin were part of a brain trust that convened Friday to discuss the direction the team will take before heading south for spring training in 2017.