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.

Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

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Nick Williams talks up Phillies to a free-agent Cy Young winner

It's not clear whether the Phillies will add a starting pitcher before opening day, but surely they would like to.

General manager Matt Klentak “is busting his ass every single day looking for every possible opportunity to upgrade our team from every perspective,” manager Gabe Kapler said on Tuesday. “That includes looking at every option possible for the rotation.”

Klentak has kept a close eye on the trade market, but has found the prices (i.e., the young talent that must be surrendered) for top, controllable starters to be prohibitive.

He has kept a close eye on the free-agent market, but the length of contracts that top pitchers are looking for has given him pause.

For months, the Phillies have distanced themselves from speculation that has connected them to elite level free-agent pitchers Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.

But with spring training less than a month away and both pitchers still unsigned, the Phillies would at least have to consider both pitchers if their asking prices experience a January thaw.

Six or seven years? No way.

Three years? Hmmm. Let's talk.

The Phillies are hosting a number of their young players this week. Rhys Hoskins, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter and Nick Williams were all in town on Tuesday.

Williams has set his sights on making the National League All-Star team in 2018.

“That's what I'm shooting for,” he said at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday. “I think I had a pretty good year last year. I'm shooting for more now. I don't think being an All-Star is shooting too high.”

Williams, 24, hit .288 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and an .811 OPS in 83 games, mostly in right field, with the big club as a rookie last season.

To give himself the best chance of surpassing those numbers — and achieving his goal of making the All-Star team — Williams has spent the offseason in Austin, Texas, working with personal trainer Jeremy Hills, a former University of Texas football player.

Williams is working hard on agility, which will help him in the outfield and on the base paths.

And guess who one of his daily workout partners is?

Free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Back in Austin, between reps and protein shakes, Williams has occasionally talked up Philadelphia as a potential landing spot to Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner who will turn 32 in March.

“He loves it here,” Williams said of Arrieta, who, as a free agent and a Scott Boras client, is astute enough not to rule out any team, particularly one as deep-pocketed as the Phillies. “He has told me he likes working with young guys. I'm like, ‘All right, come on up.’ But I'm not writing the check. I don’t know what he wants. I don’t really dig into that because I'm not really in his position.”

Williams smiled.

“I hope to be one day,” he said.

Williams marveled at Arrieta's work ethic in the gym.

And he expressed gratitude for the kindness and generosity Arrieta has showed him.

“He's bought a lot of my protein shakes,” Williams said.

Time will tell if the Phillies add a starting pitcher to the group that already consists of Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and other youngsters. The hunch is they will, though it's unclear what the magnitude of that talent will be. Klentak's search for an arm likely won't stop with the addition of one pitcher and it will likely continue through July. And beyond. The quest to build a championship-caliber staff never stops.

“The pursuit is very real,” Kapler said of Klentak's search for pitching. “I have a lot of trust that we'll either go in [to spring training] with a new toy or we will pass on the opportunity because we're better off giving this collection of pitchers a really healthy look because we thought that we could go acquire that piece a little bit later on this season or in the offseason next year.”

Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

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Rhys Hoskins on 'surreal' rookie year, position switch, expectations

For a couple of weeks in August, Rhys Hoskins might have been Philadelphia's most popular athlete. Fans marveled at the nightly power display that the young slugger put on in the middle of the Phillies' batting order. Carson Wentz and the Eagles had not yet begun their magnificent season. Hoskins was the man in town.

It hit him one night after a game. He stopped in Center City for some late-night eats. A man and his young son approached. They offered their congratulations and asked for an autograph.

"That's when I was like, 'OK, this might be something that's about to be part of my life,' " Hoskins said. "But it was cool because I used to be that kid."

Hoskins was back in the area Monday night for the 114th Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner. He was honored with a special achievement award for a torrid major league debut in which he clubbed 18 homers and drove in 48 runs in just 50 games last season.

Hoskins was raised in Sacramento, California but moved to San Diego this offseason. His 18 homers in 2017 were the most ever hit by a player who did not make his season debut until after Aug. 1. Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who hit 13 homers after returning from the Korean War in 1953, was the previous record holder.

Williams was a San Diego native.

"Surreal," Hoskins said of that 50-game stretch last season and the buzz that has followed him into the offseason. "Indescribable."

He is now a recognizable face, a signature talent, in a sports-crazy town.

And he's ready for it.

"Enjoy it," he said. "Take it by storm and enjoy it. It's supposed to be fun and that's probably the best approach to take. I think my thought is what happened may never happen again. Tomorrow something might happen. Tomorrow I might never be able to step on a baseball field again. So I think you have to take it by storm and enjoy it.

"If you had asked me a year ago if I would be walking down the streets of Philadelphia and would people recognize me I'd probably laugh at you. But that’s where we are now.

"It's just a testament to how passionate the people of Philadelphia are and how much they love their sports."

Hoskins will report to Clearwater for spring training at the end of this month. He wants to get a head start so he can ramp up his workouts in left field. A first baseman by trade, he began playing the position occasionally last season. He will move there full-time in 2018 as newly signed Carlos Santana takes over at first base.

Hoskins got a 30-game taste of left field last year. He is OK with the move.

"Having Carlos is exciting for the city and exciting for the team," Hoskins said. "We add a guy who has proven himself in this league for five or six years at a very high level so to kind of insert that into the lineup and into the clubhouse, especially with such a young team — I think we're going to feel that exponentially throughout the year.

"Left field is a challenge. It's a challenge that I'm definitely excited about. I started to feel more comfortable out there toward the end of the year.

"I think I can be just fine out there. I'm not necessarily going to be a Gold Glover. I just don’t have the speed that some guys out there do, especially in today's game. But I think I'll be just fine and contribute to the team defensively as much as I can and make the plays that I'm supposed to."

Hoskins will turn 25 on March 17. He projects to bat cleanup in new manager Gabe Kapler's lineup.

"He's energized, intense and thorough," Hoskins said of the new skipper. "He can captivate a room. I'm curious to see how that dynamic works in the clubhouse. I think he's going to be a pretty exciting guy to work with."