Motivated Phils ready to build something special
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.