Forget growing arms and buying bats: Phillies now have to do the opposite

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Forget growing arms and buying bats: Phillies now have to do the opposite

The Phillies are probably going to have to adjust their organizational philosophy on the fly. Because the way they're set up now, "growing the arms and buying the bats" no longer makes sense.

That was the organizational philosophy Andy MacPhail brought to the Phillies, and it made sense because nothing can cripple a team worse than a couple albatross contracts to injured pitchers. Think about how bad it got for the Phillies when Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee were making close to $50 million combined to not pitch.

But all you have to do now is look at how the Phillies have performed since Rhys Hoskins arrived to realize that offense is no longer the main target. Where would a free-agent position player even fit with the Phillies? They could very well not sign a single hitter to a major-league contract this winter. 

The infield
The Phillies are set at every infield position; now it's just a matter of determining the odd men out. 

Hoskins is obviously the everyday first baseman moving forward. 

Then comes that five-man group of J.P. Crawford, Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis. Three of them will be starters for the Phillies, meaning at least one of them has to be traded. 

Who gets traded?
Galvis would appear to be the logical trade candidate because his contract ends before any of the others. Next year will be his final year of arbitration eligibility and then Galvis is a free agent.

But here's the thing: If the Phillies have enough offense elsewhere in the lineup, Galvis' bat is less of a liability. The Phils could just bat him eighth and use his Gold Glove-caliber defense to aid their pitching staff.

Plus, because of Galvis' contract status, the Phillies would get more in a trade of Franco or Hernandez than they would by moving Galvis.

There are financial reasons why keeping Kingery in Triple A for four to six weeks to begin 2018 would benefit the Phillies long-term, so you might see only one of those additional infielders traded in the offseason. 

A logical scenario would seem to involve opening next season with Kingery at Triple A and Franco at third. Then, after that month is up, making a decision on Franco. Best-case scenario, Franco hits eight homers in April and builds enough trade value to entice another team. Worst-case scenario, Franco doesn't hit, doesn't have trade value and the Phillies have to just move him to the bench. Then it's just a matter of whether Kingery or Crawford plays third.

In any event, the Phillies are set up for years in the infield.

The outfield
With Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr, the Phillies are finally set in the outfield and do not need to go out and pay a veteran an eight-figure annual salary. 

There are injury concerns with Altherr, who has missed a lot of time the last two years because of the wrist injury in 2016 and a few hamstring strains this year. But that doesn't mean the Phillies are going to pursue an outfielder who will command an eight-figure annual salary.

The only scenario in which I could see the Phillies paying for another outfielder is if they use Altherr as a trade chip to get a young starting pitcher. Say an offense-starved team like the Giants pursues Altherr. The Phillies could swap him for a pitcher and then use their oodles of payroll space to sign a more proven outfielder. They don't have to do it by any means, but it's an option because paying a position player for past performance often works out better than paying a pitcher.

Free-agent starting pitchers
This is where the Phillies absolutely, positively have to spend money this winter. I don't mean the top tier of Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Instead, I'm referring to the second tier of Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and perhaps Jhoulys Chacin.

The guess here is that Darvish gets at least $20 million to $22 million per year and Arrieta gets between $15 million to $17 million. It doesn't make sense for the Phillies to spend that kind of money for guys whose best remaining years will be in 2018 and '19.

But pitchers like Cobb (30 years old) and Lynn (31) will command less money. They might be obtainable for something like four years, $56-60 million. Or the Phillies could go for a three-year deal with a slightly higher AAV.

Right now, the Phillies have one starting pitcher they can feel completely confident in moving forward: Aaron Nola. Jerad Eickhoff and Ben Lively look like decent options as the Nos. 4 and 5 starters but not much more. Vince Velasquez is back to square one. All Nick Pivetta has done is look like a guy destined for a late-inning relief role.

If the Phillies were to sign Cobb and Lynn, they'd have their Nos. 2 and 3 starters. The rotation would look a whole lot better, and Pete Mackanin could feel comfortable that three out of every five days, he'll have a starting pitcher who can go at least six innings.

Cobb is 11-9 with a 3.59 ERA and 1.21 WHIP this season. He's not a big strikeout guy (6.4 per nine), but he does a very good job of limiting walks. And despite his penchant for being around the plate, Cobb has never allowed a hit per inning in a full season. He has a career ERA of 3.48 in 113 starts with Tampa Bay.

Lynn, aside from missing all of 2016 after Tommy John surgery, has been a model of consistency for the Cardinals since 2012. In 180 career games (158 starts), Lynn is 72-46 with a 3.30 ERA and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. He's a quality start machine.

Making the money work
The only player the Phillies have under contract next season is Herrera, who makes $3.35 million next year. The Phils are also on the hook for $2.5 million of Cole Hamels' money (still), bringing their total payroll commitments next season to just $5.85 million.

Then you add in the arbitration raises for Galvis, Hernandez, Franco, Cameron Rupp and Luis Garcia (even though the Phillies are highly unlikely to keep everyone from that group). Then you add in the rising minimum salaries for the 15 or so young players — the group that includes Nola, Eickhoff, Velasquez, Williams, Hoskins, Crawford et al.  

The figure you come to after adding all of that is just under $25 million. So the Phillies would have about $30 million committed to 20 players. They have so, so much money to spend.

If they were to add both Cobb and Lynn on contracts that pay $15 million per year, that would still put them at a very low payroll number of about $60 million. So they'd still have a ton of room to pursue high-level free agents in that star-studded 2018 class, which includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Charlie Blackmon, Josh Donaldson, Clayton Kershaw and others.

The standings
If Hoskins and Williams are indeed for real — and they certainly appear to be given the adjustments we've already seen them make — the Phillies could push .500 in 2018 with more pitching. If they add two guys like Cobb and Lynn and they both stay healthy, the Phils could crack 80 wins in a non-fluky manner next year.

With two wild-cards, teams that hover around .500 in July and August are still in the playoff race. I'm not ready to say the Phils can compete for the second wild-card spot next season, but they could be on the fringe of it with an eye still toward the future.

There's a lot to be excited about right now. What we're witnessing on the field in September is what Phillies fans have waited years for. It took longer than expected, but barring a catastrophic injury or two in the final three weeks of the season, it finally will give the Phillies and their fans a reason for offseason optimism.

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

Jim Salisbury/NBCSP

Charlie Manuel keeps his promise to Roy Halladay's son

DUNEDIN, Fla. – It’s not hard to find Charlie Manuel in spring training. In late mornings, he’s perched behind the batting cage watching Phillies hitters take their swings. During the game, he’s on the top step of the dugout, taking it all in and offering advice where needed.

Manuel didn’t stay for the game Saturday. He watched batting practice, showered and drove out of the parking lot 30 minutes before the first pitch.

Manuel, you see, had a promise to keep.

Back in November, Manuel was one of nine people to speak at Roy Halladay’s memorial service at Spectrum Field, the Phillies’ spring training home. Manuel stood at a podium near the very mound that Halladay trained on and spoke from the heart about what an honor it was to manage such a great talent and competitor. Manuel had jotted his words down on a paper, but he didn’t stick completely to his script that day. At one point, he looked down at Halladay’s two grieving sons, Braden and Ryan, and told them he’d be keeping tabs on their progress as young ballplayers. Manuel promised to attend their games. And that’s just what he did Saturday afternoon.

Braden Halladay, a lanky 17-year-old right-hander who bears a striking resemblance to his dad, on and off the mound, is a member of the Canadian Junior Team’s spring training roster. He was born in Toronto when his dad played for the Blue Jays, hence his eligibility to pitch for Canada.

On Saturday, Braden pitched a scoreless eighth inning against a Jays’ split-squad team on the very Dunedin Stadium mound where his dad began his career.

“I’m so glad I came over,” Manuel said after Braden’s perfect inning of work. “He did good. I’m glad he got ‘em out.”

This wasn’t the first time Manuel had seen Braden pitch. Braden pitches for Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater, where he is a junior. Manuel watched him pitch five shutout innings earlier in the week. And on Wednesday night, Manuel attended young brother Ryan’s practice in Clearwater.

Manuel has a warm spot for the boys for a lot of reasons. Obviously, there was the respect he had for their dad. “When I think of Roy, I think of the perfect game and playoff no-hitter first,” Manuel said. “Right after that, I think of his work ethic. It was the best I’ve ever seen.” 

But Manuel’s affection for the boys goes beyond the respect he had for their dad. Manuel was 18, the oldest son in a family of 11 children, when he lost his dad.

“I feel for those boys,” Manuel said. “I know what they’re going through and it isn’t easy. Not easy at all.”

It takes a lot of love to get through a tragedy like the one the Halladay family has gone through. The boys get it from their mom, Brandy, who is at all of their games. And they get it from people like Charlie Manuel.

Saturday’s first pitch at Dunedin Stadium, just a few miles from the Phillies’ ballpark, was scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Manuel wanted to hustle over so he could wish Braden luck before the game. Manuel made his way down to the bullpen area and spotted one of his former Phillies players, Pete Orr, who is a coach with the Canadian team. Orr called over to Braden. A huge smile crossed the kid’s face when he saw Manuel. He sprinted over and gave Manuel a hug. Orr, who grew up near Toronto, slapped Braden on the back of his Team Canada jersey and said, “He looks good in red and white.”

He sure did.

Braden chatted with Manuel for a minute or two, and Manuel wished him luck. A reporter from Philadelphia asked Braden what it felt like to have Manuel keep tabs on his baseball career.

“It’s pretty sweet,” Braden said with a big smile. “It means a lot to me.”

The reporter wished him luck and told him that all of Philadelphia was rooting for him.

“I appreciate that,” the young pitcher said before trotting off to join his teammates.

Braden Halladay is 6-3 and 150 pounds. He entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning with his team down, 11-3, at first to a smattering of applause. That grew into a big, beautiful round of applause after the PA man announced his name and everyone in the crowd realized the magnitude of the moment. Braden knelt behind the mound and wrote his dad’s initials in the dirt before delivering his first pitch. His pitching delivery is smooth and fundamentally pure.

“You can tell Roy worked with him,” Manuel said.

Braden mixed his pitches nicely in getting two pop-ups and a ground ball. He hit 83 mph on the stadium radar gun. A few months ago, Braden announced that he had committed to Penn State. Manuel sees a lot of promise in the kid.

“When he’s 21, he’ll pitch at 205 pounds,” Manuel said. “He’ll get stronger. You watch, he’s got a chance to be real good. He has a good, quick arm, command of the ball and mechanics.”

Where the game will eventually take Braden Halladay is a story for another day. Back in November, he sat in the middle of a baseball field and listened to people eulogize his dad. It was an excruciatingly difficult experience and the look on his face that day said as much.

So on Saturday, it was just great to see Braden Halladay back on a baseball field with a smile on his face. And it was great to see Charlie Manuel there, taking it all in, just as he had promised.

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

AP Images

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spectrum Field was sold out, filled with fans clad in green and smeared with sunblock for a game against the Atlanta Braves on a festive St. Paddy’s Day.
But the main event Saturday took place several hundred yards away at the minor-league complex, two hours before the big-league game even began.
Five days after signing a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies, Jake Arrieta climbed atop a mound and threw a 31-pitch (two-inning) simulated game. Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Logan Moore and Andrew Pullin were the hitters. Andrew Knapp was the catcher. Players, coaches, minor-league instructors and manager Gabe Kapler all peeked in. Dozens of fans hugged the chain-link fence to get a look at the newest Phillie. They applauded when Arrieta took the mound and again when he finished.
“It was great,” the 32-year-old pitcher said moments after the workout ended. “There’s a lot of people out here. A lot of people are excited for the Phillies in 2018. We’ve got a lot of good things going on here. A lot of guys are healthy and competing, there’s a lot of youth. It’s a really fun time to be in this organization.”
Arrieta said he felt “really good physically,” not a surprise because he came into camp in terrific shape and had gotten to over 60 pitches in bullpen sessions back home in Austin, Texas. He threw all his pitches, including a couple of knee-buckling curveballs. He broke two of Alfaro’s bats, one with a sinker, one with a cutter.
“My goal was to throw everything in the arsenal for strikes and throw my off-speed pitches in and out of the zone where I could get some chases,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta did allow some contact, mostly ground balls.
Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award with the Cubs. He won 22 games and had a 1.77 ERA that season.
A deceptive delivery is one of Arrieta’s strengths. He throws across his body and that crossfire action makes it difficult for a hitter to pick up the ball.
“It’s extremely deceptive,” Kingery said. “Every pitch is extremely deceptive. That’s what hit me. His curveball looks like it’s coming at your head then it drops.”
Arrieta is still hoping to be ready for the first week of the regular season, but the Phillies have not formulated a firm game plan. One thing is certain: They won’t rush him. They want him for the long haul. They could hold him back 10 days or so, allowing him to build more arm strength, and he’d still make 30 starts.
Arrieta expects to throw a bullpen session in the next day or two and try to get up around 60 pitches in his next outing. That could be in a minor-league game or in another simulated game.
“As long as we continue to get my pitch count up, I think I’ll be fine going into the season,” he said.