The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 14. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.
Time moves on.
Players come and go.
The Phillies report to spring training in Clearwater, Florida, in less than two weeks and for the first time this century there will not be a player in the clubhouse that has a link to the 2008 World Series championship team.
Pat Burrell attended his first big-league camp in 1999, back when the team still called cozy, old Jack Russell Stadium its spring home, and Jimmy Rollins came through the door a year later.
The Phillies moved a few miles down Drew St. to gorgeous Bright House Field in 2004, and Burrell and Rollins were eventually joined by the likes of Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard in what became the core of the 2008 championship team.
They have all moved on now, first Burrell not long after the World Series parade and then Rollins, Hamels and Utley a few years later. The exodus continued when Ruiz was traded in August and concluded when Howard tipped his cap as his contract expired in October.
So, for the first time in 19 seasons, there won’t be a player in the club’s spring-training clubhouse — new hitting coach Matt Stairs doesn’t count — that was part of the 2008 title team.
Maybe it’s fitting that even the ballpark has a new name. Bright House Field has become Spectrum Field after a corporate transaction.
The sense of newness actually shifted into high gear a year ago when club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak presided over their first spring training as leaders of the rebuilding club.
The Phillies made a solid improvement in 2016, winning 71 games, eight more than they did while racking up baseball’s worst record in 2015. But this club remains an active construction site and playoff relevance/contention is probably at least a year away, maybe more depending on the progress of young players. Klentak spent the winter making modest additions designed to support a core of young players that has already arrived in the majors and inch the win total upward without requiring lengthy contract commitments that would block the next wave of young players that the rebuild and the goal of long-term sustainable success hinges upon.
Klentak offered a look at his offseason playbook in the fall.
“We want to make the 2017 Phillies better than the 2016 Phillies,” he said. “It’s important that we continue to move the ball down the field and show progress. Simultaneously, we need to be very cognizant of not blocking the development timeline of our players, some that are in the big leagues and some that are on the cusp of reaching the big leagues.”
The embodiment of Klentak’s plan will be visible in spring training as five well-known veterans begin what figure to be short stints with the club.
Klentak added a pair of veteran relievers in Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit, a starting pitcher in Clay Buchholz and two outfielders in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. Neshek, Buchholz and Kendrick came in trades. Benoit and Saunders were free-agent signings. All are signed for just 2017, though Saunders’ contract has a club option for 2018.
Neshek, Buchholz and Kendrick all were essentially salary dumps by their previous clubs. Throughout their rebuild, which began under previous general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies have been willing to take on money to get players that fit the club’s purpose. They did it in the Cole Hamels trade, which netted them several potential building blocks, including rotation rock Jerad Eickhoff, and they did it in acquiring Jeremy Hellickson last winter. He had a solid season in 2016 and returns in 2017.
Like Hellickson a year ago, each one of these new Phillies veterans is seeking a rebound of some sort.
Kendrick, who lines up to start in left field, is looking to bounce back from the worst offensive season of his career.
Saunders, who will start in right field, is looking to show he is the guy who hit .298 with a .923 OPS in the first half of 2016 and made the American League All-Star team, not the guy that hit .178 with a .638 OPS after the break.
Buchholz seeks consistency after pitching his way in and out of Boston’s rotation last season.
Benoit and Neshek have both experienced highs and lows in their careers. The Phillies would gladly take the best these two relievers have because this team’s starting rotation has some talent and depth and that could give the club a puncher’s chance heading into the late innings a lot of nights.
There will be other new faces in the clubhouse. Veterans Daniel Nava, Bryan Holaday, Chris Coghlan, Ryan Hanigan, Pedro Florimon and Sean Burnett will all be in camp on minor-league contracts and there will be a host of first-time prospects on board to get their first taste of big-league life before heading to the minors for more seasoning.
But Kendrick, Saunders, Buchholz, Benoit and Neshek are the most notable new names, players who’ve had success in other places and are now making mid- or late-career stops with a rebuilding team in Philadelphia.
Say hello to them all but make it quick. If they play well for four months, Klentak will surely look to trade them for young players that will help the club’s long-term rebuild.
That’s in his playbook, too.
“We’re trying to make our team as competitive as we can and the hope is that we will be playing meaningful games when we get to the end of July,” Klentak said. “But it certainly isn’t lost on us that if the standings are looking the other way at the end of July, we have a lot of meaningful players in the last years of their contracts that could be trade chips.”
Next: A look at pitcher Aaron Nola as he returns from an elbow injury.