Now that spring training is officially underway, it’s time to do a complete review of the off-season moves made by the Philadelphia Phillies, which should ultimately give us a good idea of what to expect this season.
Record for the 2016 MLB Season: 71-91 (fourth in the NL East)
Noteworthy Departures: Cody Asche (LF), Peter Bourjos (RF), A.J. Ellis (C), David Hernandez (RHP), Ryan Howard (1B), Charlie Morton (RHP), Darin Ruf (1B)
Noteworthy Off-season Additions: Joaquin Benoit (RHP), Clay Buchholz (RHP), Howie Kendrick (LF), Pat Neshek (RHP), Michael Saunders (RF)
Review of Off-season
In 2016, the Phillies surprised many fans and critics by earning a record of 22-15 through the first six weeks of the season. The success was short-lived however, as the Phillies quickly fell back to earth, as the team ended up in an all too familiar place; the bottom of the NL East rankings. On the bright side, the team did end the season with an eight-win improvement over their previous record of 63–99 season in 2015, which was not only the worst record in the majors, it was also the franchise’s worst performing season since 1972. Even though 2016 was never meant to be the Phillies’ year, many are anxious to see the level of improvement in 2017.
When it comes to the Phillies starting rotation, many are surprised by the fact that recent pitcher acquisition, Clay Buchholz is not the team’s biggest question mark ahead of opening day. The biggest question mark in the starting rotation is none other than Aaron Nola, who after multiple strong performances in the beginning of the 2016 season, ultimately fell victim to an injury, which resulted in him needing Tommy John surgery. Though Nola has said he expects to be back to full-health by the first spring training game, the team will definitely treat Nola and his usage on the mound with caution.
Right-handed pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson became the fourth player to accept a qualifying offer since the system was first introduced in 2012 If Hellickson had declined and signed with another team, the Phillies would have been rewarded with a high draft pick. In the end, he will complete a rotation that will also see returning righties, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez, who combined with Nola for a 440/116 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year.
In addition, the Phillies acquired two more veteran right-handed pitchers, Joaquin Benoit (signed in December to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million), as well as Pat Neshek (traded from the Astros in November for a player to be named later) will help bring stability to the bullpen, at least until the team is able to ship them elsewhere, in exchange for more pieces, prior to the trade deadline.
As far as the infield goes, the only change will come at first base, where Tommy Joseph will take over full-time, due to Ryan Howard’s departure. Last season, the two shared the position.
Despite earning over a dozen excellent seasons in Philadelphia, in addition to his role as a cornerstone of the 2008 World Series champions, the team did not have to think too hard about declining the $25 million option on Howard, who posted a career-low 87 OPS+.
In regards to the outfield, Odubel Herrera is ingrained in centerfield, however the team made it a priority to acquire a corner outfielder, due to the went lack of players to play around him. The Phillies succeeded, as they were able to acquire left-fielder, Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as right-fielder, Michael Saunders, who the Phillies signed to a one-year, $8 million deal.
A Glimpse into the Future
The Phillies could definitely use another left-handed starting pitcher. As of right now, the best option would be to go with Adam Morgan, however, at best, Morgan is eighth or ninth on the depth chart, as far as starting pitchers go. Over anything else, what Philadelphia needs most is time. Even though many are anxious to see what the 2017 season brings, the team is already built to be a main contender in 2018.
Report Card Grade for the Off-season: A-
Phillies general manager, Matt Klentak kept his biggest promise in the off-season. He stayed away from big commitments, and pursued small additions instead. Furthermore, besides the players who are not yet eligible for free agency, only Herrera (who signed a five-year, $30.5 million extension in December) and Saunders (who has an $11 million club option) are signed past this season. That will likely free up the team, allowing them to take advantage of a decent free-agent class after this year. In the end, even though the Phillies are likely to field a team on Opening Day in 2017 that will make less than $100 million, do not get used to that; more change and more improvements are coming.
Photo: Darrin (via: Flickr)