Mo­ti­vated Phils ready to build some­thing spe­cial

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - To con­tact Jack McCaf­fery, email him at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­; fol­low him on Twit­ter @Jack­McCaf­fery

PHILADEL­PHIA >> The Phillies’ sea­son was over and so was an era, and there was Freddy Galvis, just off to the side, aware of a new re­al­ity.

“I was talk­ing a lit­tle bit with the team,” he said. “I just said, ‘Let’s get on the same page now. Let’s work from here.’”

Galvis, still just 26, had just com­pleted his fifth sea­son with the Phillies, and it was a good one, with 20 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .987 field­ing per­cent­age. And as Ryan Howard was turn­ing for the club­house exit, there the short­stop was, the dean, the long­est-serv­ing Phillies player. For that, ready or not, he was the Sherpa to lead the next climb to the top? The ques­tion: How?

The Phillies had just gone 7191, an eight-game im­prove­ment from 2015, one that could have been bet­ter had not Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin sus­tained sea­son-end­ing in­juries and Vince Ve­lasquez not been given an early-out af­ter reach­ing a pre­cau­tion­ary in­nings limit. But that stride was rel­a­tively small, still good only for fourth place in the N.L. East. For that, the front of­fice re­cently called a four-hour base­ball-staff meet­ing, from which one theme

would leak: The Phils are go­ing to be se­ri­ous this off­sea­son.

“I’m not go­ing to sit here and tell you we’re go­ing to win the divi­sion next year,” Pete 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.”

What­ever else hap­pens, the im­prove­ment will be built upon an im­pres­sive, young start­ing pitch­ing staff. Even with free-agent Jeremy Hel­lick­son un­likely to ac­cept the Phillies’ one-year qual­i­fy­ing of­fer, the Phillies’ strength-in-num­bers ap­proach showed it can work. From it, they found Jerad Eick­hoff, Ve­lasquez, Nola, Eflin, Jake Thomp­son and Alec Asher, all of whom, at one point or more, flashed the abil­ity to dom­i­nate. All are young. All will im­prove. If they do so to­gether, the re­sult should be sud­den and re­ward­ing.

The Phillies are not say­ing they are through with pitch­ing de­vel­op­ment. That is eter­nal. But their rel­a­tive quiet about it, along with their raised voices about a lack of hit­ting, was a clear hint at their off­sea­son agenda. So was their de­ci­sion to fire just one coach: hit­ting in­struc­tor Steve Hen­der­son.

Bil­lion­aire John Mid­dle­ton, whose ini­tials are on the club wal­let, has said he wants to spend at some point. Andy MacPhail and Klen­tak are ex­pected to tell him that 2018, not 2017, is that point. But the Phils need cor­ner out­field­ers, and they need them overnighted. Out­fielder Ian Des­mond of the Rangers, who has shown con­sis­tent 20-plus home-run power, is a free agent and could be had at a price the Phillies can af­ford.

This will be Klen­tak’s first full off­sea­son as a gen­eral man­ager. Early in­di­ca­tions are that he has deep pa­tience. The next five months will re­veal his true dis­po­si­tion. But he knows that an­other .240 team bat­ting av­er­age and 1,376 more strike-threes are un­ac­cept­able.

“Im­prove­ment in that area is go­ing to be crit­i­cal for us,” Klen­tak said. “And whether that comes in the form of pro­mo­tions from the mi­nor leagues, in the form of trades, or in the form of free agents, I think we’re go­ing to have to con­sider all of that in or­der to make our team bet­ter. Adding vet­er­ans to a rather young club, more of­ten than not, is go­ing to be a good idea.”

The Phillies have ex­pend­able play­ers who could be in­ter­est­ing in the trade mar­ket. And ever since that four-hour meet­ing, the word “trade” was be­ing tossed around the ball­park, if that’s a telling sig­nal. Cameron Rupp just had a ca­reer of­fen­sive year and there is al­ways a mar­ket for good, start­ing catch­ing. Odubel Her­rera was an All-Star, but he was prone to slumps. He could have ap­peal. And if the Phillies are even more im­pa­tient than they are hint­ing, they can be­gin to trade from their im­proved farm sys­tem.

There is of­fen­sive help in the pipe­line. In a brief Septem­ber au­di­tion, Ro­man Quinn showed the kind of speed that can­not be bought and that can make a dif­fer­ence at the top of any lineup. Power hit­ters Dy­lan Cozens and Rhys Hoskins just com­bined for 78 mi­nor-league home runs. One could seep through Clear­wa­ter and onto the ros­ter, adding more clout.

But how­ever they do it, it is time for the Phillies to take a long step for­ward.

“It’s hard to see him leave,” Galvis said, of Howard. That was the mood in the room. So was the re­al­ity that it was time for an­other group of Phillies to have, as Howard said, “some good runs.”

Their poor record aside, the Phils have a foun­da­tion on which to do that. And they have the mo­ti­va­tion, the tools and the money. That’s their new re­al­ity, too.


Phillies short­stop Freddy Galvis will have to take his game to an­other level as the team con­tin­ues to ma­ture and grow.

Jack McCaf­fery Columnist

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