Charlie Manuel on Phillies: 'We're a ways off'

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Charlie Manuel on Phillies: 'We're a ways off'

It’s funny how quickly things have changed.

Once, the Phillies held one of the longest postseason droughts in all of baseball. From 1994 through 2006, the Phillies did not have one playoff appearance. And mostly, they weren’t even close. In team history, the five straight division crowns from 2007 to 2011 are unprecedented as the club has made just 14 postseason appearances in 129 seasons.

So as the Phillies limp into the dog days with a 48-56 record and a ready-to-move roster, it appears as if the old days are back with the Phillies.

Barring an unforeseen late-season surge, the Phillies will miss the playoffs for a second straight year. With a payroll that ranks up with the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers and spoiled by the recent success, a two-year drought takes some getting used to.

But according to manager Charlie Manuel, recapturing the not-so-old glory is going to take some work.

“I think we’re a ways off,” Manuel said before Tuesday night’s game against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park.

Take your pick as to why this is the case. The aging core, a roster loaded with starting pitching but not much experienced bullpen help, injuries and a dearth of prospects ready to contribute in the big leagues. As Manuel says, watch the game.

“I’ve known what we’ve had for the last two years,” Manuel said.

Manuel knew it, but there isn’t much he’s been saying. During the lost weekend in Detroit where the Phillies were swept by the Tigers and outscored 24-5 in three games, Manuel pointed out how managers aren’t asked for much input when the front office puts together the roster.  

Before Tuesday’s game against the Giants, Manuel lamented the lack of bullpen talent.

“We have a young bullpen that needs experience and it takes a top-flight team to win the division and be able to go to the World Series,” Manuel said. “That's what we're talking about here, right?”

Certainly, that’s one part of it. But it’s tough to pin the entire woebegone season on the relievers. During the current eight-game losing streak, the Phillies have batted just .202 and scored 14 runs. That comes to 1.75 runs per game, which, combined with the 6.19 ERA by the pitching staff, shows just how tough it’s been.

Plus, Manuel’s lineup in Sunday’s loss featured just three players that were in the opening day starting lineup. Where’s the consistency?

“Age goes into it, injuries go into it, that's what I've been talking about,” Manuel said.

Age and injuries. Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay stand out in that regard. Meanwhile, outfielders Ben Revere and Dom Brown have been out as well. However, even if the Phillies had been healthy all year, Manuel still isn’t sure if it would have been enough to keep the Phillies in contention.

“There's a lot of ifs in there,” Manuel said. “We’ve got Brown coming (back), we’ve got Howard, if we can get him well. He's gotta get well, he's gotta get healthy and then he's got to get into top-notch shape. We've got Halladay -- if we had Halladay, then yeah, we’d get better. But there's a lot of ifs there.

“Now I have to (ask), if we can we count on people? Count on the issues that we had getting better, and also performing at their peak. When the year starts, I like every one of our players. I've always said that and I still like our players. But I also see how we play. Let's don’t fool ourselves. How we play is how we play.

“Now if we play like we did on the road trip, we're not going to be very good. We have to play better.”

How to accomplish that is the big question. Manuel says the Phillies need to get better “at a lot of positions.” He also said that the Phillies need to improve beyond what anyone is talking about.

Perhaps Manuel is suggesting that the Phillies need to get better at positions that aren’t seen in the box score?

“What do I think when I watch our games? What do you see? You tell me what you see every day, day in and day out,” Manuel said. “I see that we have to get better.”

It’s hard to disagree with that. Going into Tuesday’s game, the Phillies were in third place in the weak NL East, 11½ games behind the Braves. So yes, the Phillies need to get better.

How to get better is a different issue.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."