Philadelphia Phillies (66-96), 5th in NL East
Notable free agents: Clay Buchholz, Hyun-Soo Kim, Daniel Nava, Andres Blanco
Remember when the Phillies ruled the NL East? You have to dig deep into the memory bank, but there was a time when the Phillies wore the division crown for five straight years en route to two straight World Series appearances in 2008 and 2009.
Nowadays, the Phillies have consistently found themselves in the basement of the NL East as they continue their rebuilding efforts. Now six straight seasons into playoff-less baseball, the Phillies faithful are getting anxious to see their agonizing patience be rewarded.
The first and most important order of business has officially been taken care of, as the team is expected to announce Gabe Kapler as their new manager later this week. Kapler, one of three finalists for the job, comes from a player development background since the end of his playing career, which should result in a nice fit for a team that desperately needs to develop their young talent. There is potential, but Kapler will certainly have his work cut out for him.
There were both encouraging and discouraging signs about the state of the Phillies’ rebuild throughout the 2017 season. Young bats Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams showed flashes of greatness at the plate, particularly Hoskins, who was a home run machine for the first month of his young career. Hoskins struggled for much of September, but the Phillies hope he will adjust and become a legitimate bat in the middle of the order.
Maikel Franco was considered to be a future force in the middle of the lineup when he arrived in 2014, but 2017 saw his production at the plate continue to decline. If that continues into 2018, do the Phillies reach into their deep pockets that are now filled with cash after shedding old contracts, and go after a Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson?
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, the Phillies have to worry about this offseason first, and try to build on a second half that looked much improved than their awful first half. Looking at their pending free agents, it’s hard to imagine Clay Bucholz or Hyun-Soo Kim being brought back, while Daniel Nava’s back injury prevented the possibility of a trade in 2017, so the Phillies will likely say goodbye to him as well.
Aside from Aaron Nola, the rotation will need a lot of work as well. It seems likely the Phillies and Matt Klentak will recognize where they are as a franchise and wait one more year to get a better look at their young talent and await a much more coveted free agent class. As R.J. Anderson from CBS Sports said, the Phillies seem to be “a year away from being a year away.”
The Phillies were named in potential suitors for a trade for Giancarlo Stanton, should Derek Jeter decide to trade the face of the Marlins’ franchise. That might not go over well with Stanton, who wants to go to a team that is ready to compete. The Phillies are not there yet, but are making strides and will have money to spend. They have the prospects to pull off a deal, but if younger bats like Franco and Hoskins don’t pan out, a trade that depletes the farm system could come back to bite them.
So, what do the Phillies do this winter? Most of their changes figure to happen internally as they sort out what they have in their abundance of young talent. Shortstop J.P. Crawford could emerge from the minor league ranks and threaten the job of Freddy Galvis in 2018.
There’s plenty of outfield options to sift through, with Odubel Herrera leading the way. Aaron Altherr will likely remain in the outfield after a decent season, and second baseman Cesar Hernandez figures to be in a similar spot. The starting rotation behind Nola will also likely be a culmination of young arms that will be making their case to be a part of the team’s future plans.
The Phillies will likely end up in the NL East basement again this year as they begin to organize their youngsters and prepare to spend, but their struggles will be for a higher purpose.
The Phillies’ lineup and starting rotation will be awfully young, so the first order of business will be to see just what they have, and react accordingly. Kapler and the Phillies will enter the 2018 season hoping there are pieces in place to return the team to the top of the division in the coming years.