Phillies

Pete Mackanin's 2018 season wish? A 'stabilizer' at top of Phillies' rotation

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Pete Mackanin's 2018 season wish? A 'stabilizer' at top of Phillies' rotation

Pete Mackanin’s wish last September for the 2017 season? The manager wanted to sign an established hitter to insert into his lineup after the Phillies finished second worst in the majors with a team batting average of .240.

For the 2018 season? Mackanin said Wednesday he wants an established arm to help stabilize the front of his rotation alongside right-hander Aaron Nola.

“We could always use more pitching, more hitting, more everything,” Mackanin said. “Managers always want more. We want to do better than we have the last couple of years. I think it would behoove us to get a bona-fide starting pitcher. We have a lot of guys who showed some good signs — (Ben) Lively, (Jake) Thompson and (Nick) Pivetta. To move forward, we need a stabilizer at the top.”

Mackanin said Pivetta had impressed him with his growth throughout the season after being a “nervous wreck” for his first few starts.

Mackanin gave the example of major-league veteran Matt Kemp. At the trade deadline in 2016, the Padres dealt him to the Atlanta Braves, who finished the season batting .255 as a team. Entering Wednesday's action, they were hitting .263 this season, the sixth-best mark in the majors.

The Phils have acquired veterans with sizable salaries to support their rotations in the past. It’s not difficult to imagine the club doing it again — either by trade or free agency — this offseason because it has only one player, Odubel Herrera, secured to a long-term deal.

“Having a proven starter would help,” Mackanin said. “That was the reason that we got guys like (Aaron) Harang, (Jeremy) Hellickson and even (Clay) Buchholtz, who got hurt, was just to have someone that is proven at the top of the rotation somewhere. I think it is important that we take a step forward next year. Having a guy you can look up to and count on takes a lot of pressure off of the other guys.

“At this point, I would prioritize a pitcher. I am not talking about a slew of pitchers but I am talking about a stabilizer. I’d like to see someone you can count on. For various reasons, mainly injuries, no one has been that guy other than Nola.”

Nola leads the team with 12 wins, a 3.54 ERA and 184 strikeouts, a reliable arm in this Phillies rotation.

While Mackanin is interested in bolstering the top of the rotation, he is unsure of the intentions of general manager Matt Klentak this offseason. He will soon find out.

“We are having a meeting on Saturday with the staff to discuss what the plans are moving forward,” Mackanin said. “After that meeting, I will understand more about what the plans are. I would like to move forward and enhance the team.”

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even though the Grapefruit League schedule starts on Friday and opening day is less than six weeks away, the Phillies are still hungry to improve their pitching.

In an interview with John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia on Tuesday, Phillies owner John Middleton said the team was “very” active in pursuing potential upgrades. Middleton went on to say that he would “love” to do something on that front.

Middleton made the comments as a number of attractive free-agent pitchers, including Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, remain unsigned.

“We’re having talks every single day with different people,” Middleton said. 

Middleton gets updates on those talks regularly from general manager Matt Klentak.

“Matt kind of now knows me, when we walk in the office and see each other for the first time he basically says [since] the last time I talked to you, John, at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon nothing happened or this has happened,” Middleton said with a laugh. “Then I’ll see him at lunch time and still nothing has happened or this has happened. We have a lot of conversations about that.”

Middleton is eager to win, but he remains committed to seeing the rebuild through. Klentak has often said he won’t make a shortsighted move that would jeopardize the future. He has said his goal is to play in October for a decade, not just one year. That’s Middleton’s goal, too.

If the Phillies were to make an upgrade on the pitching side in the coming days or weeks, it would have to be on their terms. They have been in continuous contact with Arrieta’s representatives all winter, but won’t go to five or more years to sign the right-hander who turns 32 in March. If Arrieta were willing to sign a deal in the two- to four-year range, the Phillies would definitely have interest (more on all that here).

Stay tuned on that one. Camps are open. Free agents Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez have signed in recent days. Like Arrieta, they are represented by Scott Boras. The pitching logjam looks ready to break and could have an impact in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are methodically striving to become playoff relevant again.

“We wouldn’t be out talking to people the way we are if we didn’t think that we could get that little extra push,” Middleton said. “I think we all feel this way. [It] just has to be done in an intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable way.

“But, yeah, I’d love to do something."

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Longstanding rumors linking the Phillies to free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta continue to percolate. On Tuesday morning, baseball reporter Jon Heyman tweeted that the Phillies and Arrieta were engaged in "dialogue."

Here’s what we know: At the winter meetings in December, Phillies officials met with Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, to go over a number of Boras’ clients. At the time, Arrieta was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of seven years and $180 million to $200 million. Those parameters were not a fit for the Phillies, who have placed a premium on short-term contracts while they move their rebuild forward.

The Phillies have remained engaged with the Arrieta camp throughout the winter and they have made it clear that if the pitcher’s price tag comes down, they would have interest in a union. It is believed the Phillies would be willing to sign Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, to a two- or three-year contract, at a significant salary and possibly with some creative structure such as an out after one year.

Earlier this winter, the Phillies had reservations about meeting free agent Carlos Santana’s original contract demands of upwards of five years. When Santana’s demands were lowered to three years, the Phillies pounced and signed him for $60 million. Such a lowering of demands could make Arrieta a Phillie. Of course, there are other teams interested. Arrieta has long been linked to the Cardinals and Nationals.

Arrieta would come with some risk. All pitchers of his age and odometer reading do. He won the National League Cy Young Award in 2015 while going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA the following season and slipped to 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017. That trend downward has coincided with a slight drop in velocity and that has given teams pause at signing Arrieta to a long-term deal. It would seem that even the Cubs had reservations about Arrieta as they let him walk and signed free agent Yu Darvish.

In the last few days, a couple of big-name Boras clients have signed. Eric Hosmer went to the Padres and J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox. Arrieta might be next. If he would come at the Phillies’ price, he might end up being a Phillie.

Signing Arrieta would cost the Phillies a second- or third-round draft pick in June.