Phillies

Phillies

The calendar has flipped to 2017 and if you cup your ear you can hear the distant sound of mitts a-popping as spring training inches near.
 
Over the last three months, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has taken a stab at improving his bullpen with the addition of veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit. He rolled the dice and traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz in hopes that the veteran right-hander can get outs and provide innings in the present on his way to becoming a July trade chip that might ultimately aid the team’s future.
 
The Phillies’ offense in 2016 was one of the worst in baseball, scoring a majors-low 610 runs and finishing next-to-last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385). These numbers contributed to this sad statistic: At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
At the moment, the Phillies are looking to the experience gained by a young group of hitters in 2016 and the addition of veteran Howie Kendrick as reasons their offense can improve in 2017.
 
More help will probably come before the Phillies arrive in Clearwater next month.
 
For months, Klentak has been weighing the merit of adding another veteran outfield bat against giving an opportunity to youngster Roman Quinn. When the dust settles on this offseason, Klentak likely will have opted to add another bat to help in the outfield. He almost has to because while the 23-year-old year old Quinn is an exciting talent and while the rebuild gives the Phillies the chance to turn him loose and see what they have, there’s no hiding the fact that Quinn’s professional career has been defined as much by injury as it has by his electricity on the field. Klentak probably has to add some insurance behind Quinn and Aaron Altherr, another unproven outfielder who has had injury issues.
 
Every move that Klentak has made this winter has been done against the backdrop of the team’s rebuild. To wit: All of the players that have been brought in are on short-term contracts that won’t be roadblocks to young prospects as they get ready to rise to majors.
 
There are still plenty of available bats that would fit this model as Klentak looks for offense in his outfield. Jose Bautista remains on the free-agent market and could take a one-year deal. But a union between the Phillies and the 36-year-old slugger is extremely unlikely. The Phillies are committed to building through the draft and it’s difficult to see them giving up a second-round draft pick to sign Bautista. They’d also be reluctant to give up top young talent for someone like Jay Bruce, though he could still be a name to watch if the Mets look to dump his salary (like Boston did with Buchholz) for little return.
 
Hanging on to young players is a major goal for this front office. That’s why the Phillies’ late-winter infusion of offense will likely come from the remainder of the secondary free-agent market.
 
Primary names to watch:
 
Brandon Moss.
 
Michael Saunders.
 
Rajai Davis. (Update: Davis reportedly agreed to a deal with the A's Tuesday night.)
 
There are others out there, including Colby Rasmus, but at the moment, Moss, Saunders and Davis are the names that seem to fit best.
 
Moss would add some left-handed pop and could help at first base as well as at a corner outfield spot.
 
Saunders would also add left-handed pop as he tries to regain the stroke that made him an all-star with Toronto in 2016 then vanished in the second half of the season. Saunders is a Canadian and is close with new Phillies hitting coach Matt Stairs. Gambling on that chemistry might make some sense.
 
Though the Phils would prefer to add a left-handed bat, right-handed-hitting Davis would make some sense because of his versatility and speed. He might be a nice complement to the outfield mix that would allow Quinn a break-in period.
 
It’s not clear when the Phils will add another outfield bat. The market remains crowded and that could allow the team time to sit back and sign a player on its terms.
 
But as the New Year begins and the new season inches toward us one this seems clear: The Phillies aren’t done adding yet.