Phillies

5 Phillies-specific matters to watch during winter meetings

5 Phillies-specific matters to watch during winter meetings

ORLANDO, Fla. — Matt Klentak checked off the biggest item on his offseason to-do list when he hired new manager Gabe Kapler in late October. Other than that, it's been a relatively quiet offseason for the Phillies general manager, who is entering his third year on the job.

Things are expected to pick up for Klentak and the Phillies this week as baseball's winter meetings get underway at Disney. Heck, things should pick up for the entire industry now that the winter's two marquee talents — Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton — have found landing spots. Ohtani, the Japanese phenom, signed with the Angels. Stanton was traded from the Marlins to the Yankees.

As the meetings get going, here are five Phillies-specific matters to keep an eye on:

Middle infield
The Phillies have a young shortstop (J.P. Crawford) and a young second baseman (Scott Kingery) on the way and any clubs looking for a shortstop or a second baseman know the Phillies are willing to deal Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. In fact, the Phillies have already received offers for both of these players, though none worthy of pulling the trigger on. The Phillies could go into the 2018 season with Galvis and Hernandez on the roster and mix in Crawford at three positions while Kingery percolates in Triple A. But it seems more likely the Phils will move one (maybe both) of their incumbents. Hernandez has three years of contract control so he could have more value than Galvis (he'll be a free agent next winter) on the trade market. The Angels have long liked Hernandez and the Mets are looking for second base help. The Padres are looking for a stopgap shortstop as they wait for prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., but there are free agents out there (Zack Cozart, Alcides Escobar) that would not cost the Padres talent in a deal.

Bullpen
The Phillies' bullpen showed signs of coming together in the second half of last season, but the team would still like to add a veteran who knows his way around the late innings. A Pat Neshek reunion has been discussed internally. A reunion with free agent Juan Nicasio might make sense.

Starting pitching
At the general managers' meetings last month, Klentak acknowledged the need to add a starting pitcher. The Phillies will look to mine the second tier of the free-agent market and will also look to get pitching in a deal for Hernandez or Galvis.

A blockbuster deal
The Phillies' farm system has improved to the point where they have the depth to jump in full-force if the Orioles make Manny Machado available or the Marlins look to trade Christian Yelich. Both players have big fans in the Phillies' front office. The Phils could also bid for a pitcher such as Chris Archer or Gerrit Cole if they become available.

Rule 5 draft
The Phillies have the third pick in Thursday's event and will have room on their roster after outfielder Cameron Perkins and infielder Engelb Vielma clear waivers Monday. The Phillies sneaked outfielder Carlos Tocci through the Rule 5 draft last year. They could lose him this year.

First base coach
The Phillies still have one opening on their coaching staff. Juan Samuel, most recently the Phillies' third base coach, could still end up being retained on the staff and move over to first base. Kapler, in continuing to introduce himself to his new charges, recently met with Phillies players in the Dominican Republic. Front office man Jorge Velandia, a longtime member of the player-development staff, accompanied Kapler on the trip. The Phillies brass likes Velandia's impact in the front office, but he could be an intriguing possibility as the first-base coach. He interviewed for the managerial job before Kapler was hired.

Gabe the Babe
Craig Calcaterra, founder of the HardballTalk blog on NBCSports.com, unveils his annual list of baseball's most handsome managers during the winter meetings. This hilarious feature is hotly anticipated by many in the baseball establishment. Pete Mackanin ranked eighth last year and it was a big topic of conversation in the Phillies' war room. So where will the hunky Kapler land in his first year of eligibility? Keep an eye out for Calcaterra's fifth annual list.

Trades, a pennant race and maybe a big award await Phillies in 2nd half

Trades, a pennant race and maybe a big award await Phillies in 2nd half

Are you ready for a pennant race, Phillies fans?

Of course, you are.

It has been too long.

The Phillies get back to work Friday night and for the first time since 2011 find themselves in legitimate position to make a run at a postseason berth. They lead the National League East by a half-game over the Atlanta Braves and 5½ over the Washington Nationals.

As the players return to town for a weekend series against the San Diego Padres, let’s look ahead at a few of the important storylines that will unfold as the pennant race begins.

The Manny hangover

Fans are disappointed that the team did not land slugging infielder Manny Machado in a trade. The front office has to be disappointed. But the disappointment cannot seep into the clubhouse. This mostly young Phillies team has displayed resilience and toughness all season and that must continue as the intensity of the games increases.

Machado is still a great long-term fit for this team at shortstop for a while, then over to third base and ultimately at first base as he finishes a long contract. The Phillies had two windows to get him. One has closed. But one remains open as Machado will test the free-agent market in the offseason. The Phils were reluctant to empty their prospect vault for him, but you know they will write a big check this winter.

Machado might end up loving Los Angeles and look to stay there. But, for now, he looks like just a short-term fit with the Dodgers, who lost shortstop Corey Seager to injury and are desperate to win a World Series with a ripe core. Machado is from Miami. He has told friends that he wants to play on the East Coast with a team that has spring training in Florida. He has “a thing” for the Yankees so they will be a team to watch. But the Phillies fill a lot of his criteria, too, and winning the division, or at least making the postseason, will help make Philadelphia attractive to Machado. The money will be huge wherever the guy goes. He wants to win and though he’s focused on winning with the Dodgers, he’s watching what happens the rest of season in other potential destinations.

What's plan B?

In pursuing Machado, the Phillies were trying to upgrade their offense. Yes, the team sees pitches, grinds out at-bats and walks, but the overall offense is below average. The team batting average is just .236 and the slugging percentage .390, both in the bottom third in the majors. The lack of offense hurt the Phils on their recent 11-game road trip. They surely could have finished better than 6-5 if they hadn’t averaged under three runs over the final 10 games and been shut out twice.

Improving the offense is a must. Shortstop might be the spot to do it as the pursuit of Machado confirmed. Minnesota’s Eduardo Escobar has been mentioned as a trade target and that would make sense. Landing a shortstop could improve the bench as Scott Kingery could be used in the super-utility role that was envisioned for him at the start of the season.

Message to Maikel

Maikel Franco sat. He was dropped to eighth in the batting order and that can be humiliating for a player no matter how much importance is placed on the spot in a carefully constructed lineup.

Whether the message was intentional or not, Franco seems to have gotten it. He is in the midst of his most productive stretch of the season, hitting .352 with a 1.106 OPS in 22 games since sitting out on June 22 in favor of utility man Jesmuel Valentin. Now, the possibility exists that Franco has, at least for now, played himself out of trade-bait status. If he continues to produce, he could be better than any of the third basemen on the trade market that are viewed as upgrades.

It’s still difficult to see Franco being part of this front office’s long-term plan, but in the short term he might be the best option.

Other ways to improve

Unable to improve the offense with the addition of Machado, the Phils could look for an overall upgrade by improving their run prevention. Bullpen is clearly an area the team would like to address with the addition of a top arm. The team pursued Zach Britton, the Orioles’ lefty closer, in a Machado package and will stay on him. Brad Hand was on the Phils’ radar before he was dealt to Cleveland. Pittsburgh’s Felipe Vazquez, another lefty, and Mets closer Jeurys Familia could also help shorten games.

Yet another way to help the bullpen would be to acquire Toronto’s J.A. Happ in a trade. That could conceivably turn Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta into a power-armed bullpen piece.

The importance of Jake

With an average age of 26 years and 7 months, the Phillies are the youngest team in the majors. They have arrived in a pennant race a year before most expected, but that does not mitigate the need to capitalize on that unexpected position. All of this makes it imperative that Jake Arrieta continue to produce quality starts. He has allowed just four earned runs over 19 innings in his last three starts and the Phils have won all three.

Arrieta is 32. He has pitched in pennant races and won a World Series and a Cy Young Award. Aaron Nola has emerged as the ace of the Phillies’ staff, but Arrieta’s experience and presence will be vital in the second half. Pennant races have a different intensity that much of this team has never felt. Arrieta’s been-there-done-that experience will be valuable. Carlos Santana’s, too.

From the day he arrived, Arrieta has said he wants to lead and is comfortable doing that. Fittingly, he gets the ball Friday night and the game will be a tone-setter.

Awards race

The Phillies will give Nola a few extra days of rest coming out of the All-Star break — he won’t face the Padres this weekend — and that is smart given his importance to the team’s postseason chances. When he was drafted No. 7 overall out of LSU in 2014, Nola was projected to be a quick-riser who could eventually be a quality mid-rotation starter. He has become so much more and has a legitimate chance to become the Phillies’ first Cy Young Award winner since Roy Halladay in 2010. With 2½ months to go, Nola is right there in the conversation with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, who has won the last two NL Cy Young Awards.

Nola is tied for the NL lead with 12 wins and is second in ERA (2.30), innings (129), quality starts (16) and pitchers WAR (5.9). He has allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings (0.42). He is third in opponent batting average (.199) and WHIP (0.98) and fourth in strikeouts (131).

Seranthony Dominguez, Gabe Kapler’s favorite bullpen kill shot, is on his way to garnering a serious look for NL Rookie of the Year, and Kapler himself is in position to get votes for NL Manager of the Year. The Phils won just 66 games last season. They are on pace for 90 under the first-year manager.

More on the Phillies

The making of 'World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies'

ap-brad-lidge-carlos-ruiz.jpg
AP Images

The making of 'World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies'

On this special edition of At The Yard, Jim Salisbury chats with Sean Kane and Brian Brennan, the makers of "World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies." They discuss how the documentary was put together, deciding which parts to keep and take out and their overall memories from that magical season.

1:30 - How did this documentary get started?
4:00 - Difficult decisions made producing the documentary.
7:30 - Favorite interviews conducted.
14:00 - Chase Utley's parade speech.
20:00 - Importance of the 2007 season leading up to 2008.
26:00 - Final out of the World Series.
30:30 - Favorite stories.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19