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.
Pete Mackanin got his wish.
Back in September, he talked openly about his desire to add two veteran bats to the Phillies’ feeble lineup.
When asked at the time about Mackanin’s wish list, general manager Matt Klentak acknowledged that the skipper was right — the Phillies needed to upgrade their offense.
But Klentak went on to caution that he, as steward of the present and future, would remain committed to a long-term, youth-based rebuild of the club. The implication was pretty clear: Yeah, the Phillies would get a hitter in the offseason, but two? Not at the expense of blocking the path of a young player who would need the chance to show he has staying power and impact potential.
Klentak struck quickly and added a veteran hitter, Howie Kendrick, in a November trade with the Dodgers.
A month later, the winter meetings arrived. Mackanin gave the Kendrick addition a public thumbs-up and once again expressed his desire to add another hitter.
Klentak, meanwhile, remained on the fence, citing his responsibility to balance the future with the present.
Two weeks into the New Year, the Phillies signed left-handed-hitting outfielder Michael Saunders, an all-star with the Toronto Blue Jays last season.
Mackanin got his wish.
But so, too, did Klentak.
Saunders, 30, came on short-term contract — one year with a club option. He won’t be a long-term blockade to a young player and he should help the Phillies have a more productive offense in 2017. Lord knows they need one after finishing last in the majors with 610 runs and a .685 OPS last season, and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301.)
“We had been monitoring both the free-agent and trade market for a hitter and ultimately felt that signing Michael Saunders made sense for us,” Klentak said. “He’s a player who has shown at times to be an impactful middle-of-the-order bat with athleticism and upside who is still relatively young. And he comes on a short-term deal with the flexibility of a club option.”
Saunders hit .253 with 24 homers, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS in Toronto’s thundering lineup last season. He lines up to start in right field for the Phillies. The Phils had considered going with rookie Roman Quinn at the position but ultimately decided on a more proven bat while giving the speedy Quinn some development time at Triple A.
Quinn will still get a bunch of playing time in big-league camp as the team prepares him for a full-time jump that could come later this season.
“Roman is coming into camp with a chance to compete and be on the big-league club,” Klentak said. “What we saw in September was a really exciting player with a lot of promise who has a chance to be an impactful big-leaguer. But we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for him developmentally. He’s never had an at-bat at the Triple A level and we don’t believe some additional time in the minor leagues will stunt his development.”
In addition to Quinn, the Phillies plan to take a good look at shortstop J.P. Crawford in spring training. He will play a lot as starter Freddy Galvis competes for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Crawford, ultimately, will open at Triple A in a prospect-studded lineup.
Saunders, a Canadian, has decided to skip the WBC so he can adjust to life with his new club. That will afford Mackanin time to figure out where to hit him in the lineup. The early guess is that Saunders would bat fifth, behind Maikel Franco.
The Phillies landed upon a leadoff man last season when Cesar Hernandez reached base at a .413 clip in the second half.
So now that we have a place to start, let’s take a peek at what Mackanin might ultimately decide on for his lineup:
2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
LF Howie Kendrick
CF Odubel Herrera (L)
3B Maikel Franco
RF Michael Saunders (L)
1B Tommy Joseph
C Cameron Rupp
SS Freddy Galvis (S)
Of course, this is just a guess. This lineup would give the Phils some on-base strength in the top-third and some pop in the middle — and even at the bottom. Galvis had 20 homers last season, but his on-base percentage was just .274, the worst in baseball. He needs to get on base more, even if it requires sacrificing some home runs.
Franco, 24, also needs to improve his plate discipline.
Mackanin believes that the addition of Kendrick and Saunders will take some pressure off Franco. No longer will he think he has to be the man in the Phillies’ lineup and that could help him be The Man and push 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Last year, he had 25 homers and 88 RBIs.
“I think there were times last year when Franco felt like he had to carry the team, and he didn’t have to do that,” Mackanin said. “Hopefully Kendrick and Saunders will help in that respect.
“Franco just needs to continue to progress and mature as a player and understand the need to just relax, know the situation, know the pitchers, know the score, the inning, and hit accordingly, and I think he’ll do that.
“Saunders will definitely help in all of that because he gives us more balance in our lineup. I’m hoping all our young guys learn something by watching the approach that Kendrick and Saunders take into every at-bat. A good bat is a good bat and I’m happy to have them both.”
Next: Day 9 — Will Pete Mackanin's contract be extended?