The Phillies Off-Season, Part One


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The season hasn’t been over 18 hours yet, and it’s time for Phillies fans to look ahead. The next week, and hopefully not more, will be tough to swallow, as the Mets play in the playoffs. There will be time to watch Chase and Jimmy for LA, or Cole for Texas, or Blanton and Happ for Pittsburgh. For now though, that’s little more than a distraction from the serious business the Phillies have at hand to take this team from 63-99 back to being competitive in 2016. While it doesn’t feel like it, the off-season is already under way for this team, and the action will actually be very swift.

Lots of things have to happen before free agency even begins. Andy MacPhail has to officially become President of the team, and then hire his own General Manager to take the team forward. The current roster of 47 players has to be cut back to 40 by the time free agency starts, and functionally has to be lower than 40 for them to be able to protect prospects, sign free agents, or use the #1 pick in the Rule 5 Draft in December. Then there is the annual right of house-cleaning, re-making the front office and hiring a new on-field coaching staff. Of course there is the annual parade of players going under the knife for surgeries early in the off-season. Finally, there is the start of Fall and Winter League ball, probably the most entertaining part of all of this.

First, the elephant in the room is the leadership. MacPhail will take over the team sometime this month, and he hopes to hire a new GM before the organizational meetings at the end of the month. Some folks want a young, innovative, numbers-driven new General Manager, while others want an older, experienced manager who can run a front office. Frankly, I want both. MacPhail is a veteran front office leader, but if he wants a sort of co-equal GM who brings experience and management skills, that’s fine with me. If he chooses that over a younger, analytics driven GM, I just hope that person is smart enough to hire a baseball staff around them that includes younger, analytics driven voices that will be a part of the process. Until we see who all is interviewed, I don’t have a strong preference either way on this. Perhaps a veteran voice from a front office that is analytics driven would make sense moving forward, someone who has some time in as an Assistant GM, or who was a GM for a successful smaller market club. Honestly though, until we see who all interviews, I’m not going to judge this part of the process too much. Just know that it will move fast and probably be done this month.

With Pete Mackanin re-signed to manage in 2016, there is his coaching staff, which will probably take shape fairly quickly. He’s already invited back Larry Bowa as his bench coach, Bob McClure as his pitching coach, Steve Henderson as his hitting coach, and Juan Samuel, though I doubt he’d stay at first base. Bowa has an outside shot of managing in Miami according to reports and Samuel may still be looking for other jobs, but Henderson and McClure are basically locks to come back. The bench coach job may or may not be open, at least one base coach is open, and the bullpen coach job is open. Jorge Velandia spent time on the bench as a coach this season, and he could be a candidate to fill something. The Phillies also have several intriguing people in the minor league system, from Pat Borders to Mickey Morandini. I’d expect most of this to be settled by the time free agency opens.

As for off-season surgeries, that process basically began yesterday, when we found out that former top pick Jesse Biddle will need Tommy John surgery. This basically rules him out of the 2016 plans, and clears a little more space in the AAA ranks for some of the talent in Reading. Biddle will have to remain on the 40 man roster, but will be transferred to the 60 Day DL at the end of Spring Training, opening a spot up on the 40 man if a non-roster invitee plays really well. Biddle is unlikely to be the only guy who gets a procedure done, but hopefully his is the most major. Even a seemingly minor surgery, like Carlos Ruiz shoulder one last year, can end up sapping you into the season.

Then there are the roster issues. The Phillies have too many guys on the roster right now. They will buy out Cliff Lee’s option for 2016 this week most likely, and he will join Aaron Harang, Chad Billingsley, Jerome Williams, and Jeff Francoeur as potential free agents. Francoeur is a guy that it would seem like they’d want back, but the others will almost certainly hit free agency. September call-ups from AAA like Erik Kratz, Chase d’Arnaud, and Brian Bogusevic would seem like likely players to be dropped from the 40 man roster during the Winter, even if the Phillies would like to have them back in 2016. Players on the 40 man who weren’t called up this September, specifically like Jordan Danks, Joely Rodriguez, and Severino Gonzalez would seem like candidates to be cut from this roster as well. Reliever Adam Loewen, and to a lesser extent Ken Roberts, could be cleared from a crowded pitching situation on the roster. Jonathan Pettibone will be dropped once his 60 Day DL designation ends, since he isn’t nearly healthy enough to actually pitch. Dom Brown and Justin de Fratus are both fairly strong non-tender candidates going into this off-season as well, though that deadline is a little ways away right now. If the Phillies cut all of these guys, they can get the roster as low as 31 players. I’d say it’s more likely they will get the roster down in the neighborhood of about 34 players, giving them room to protect a few prospects, draft a Rule 5 player or two, and sign a couple of free agents.

Finally, there are the Fall and Winter Leagues. J.P. Crawford will highlight a strong group of Phillies prospects in Arizona, which will include Paul Owens Award winner Andrew Knapp at catcher, stud athlete outfielder Dylan Cozens, promising Clearwater pitcher Yacksel Rios, Reading reliever Tom Windle of the Jimmy Rollins trade, and Reading starter Nick Pivetta from the Papelbon trade. Reading prospect Roman Quinn meanwhile will play in the Dominican Winter League, starting in about two weeks. There’s a decent chance that players like Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera will play Winter League ball, whether it’s in the Dominican, Venezuela, Mexico, or elsewhere. There is already a contingent of prospects playing in Instructional League in Clearwater, getting some extra reps in. If you look hard enough, there is baseball to watch.

All of this will get you through the off-season, from now up into mid-November. At that point, a second phase of the off-season that is highlighted by free agency and the Rule 5 Draft will open, and the team will attempt to transform itself. Looking ahead to that point, a free agent pitcher in the mold of Doug Fister or J.A. Happ, a veteran reliever that can set-up, and maybe an outfield bat on a short term deal would all make sense, but that’s still pretty far away.

For now, the focus is on hiring a new GM and letting him build his front office. The focus is on Pete Mackanin filling out his staff. The focus is on clearing out roster space. The focus is on health. The focus is on young guys getting into Winter leagues. There’s plenty of news for Phillies fans to watch.

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