Countdown to Clearwater: Will Mackanin’s contract be extended this spring?

Countdown to Clearwater: Will Mackanin’s contract be extended this spring?

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.

Among the issues facing the Phillies as they begin spring training, Pete Mackanin’s job status is a low-priority item.
 
He’s under contract for 2017.
 
The rebuilding Phillies improved by eight wins under his skippership in 2016.
 
He’s safe.
 
But what about 2018?
 
In some regards, it might be premature to bring this up, but in others it is not. It’s just that time of year. During spring training last year, upper management re-did Mackanin’s contract, made it a two-year deal covering 2016 and 2017 and added a club option for 2018.
 
So, will the front office address Mackanin’s contract again this spring?
 
Will it guarantee the option year?
 
At the winter meetings, general manager Matt Klentak deftly sidestepped questions on the matter by citing NBCSports.com writer Craig Calcaterra’s annual (and hilarious) ranking of baseball’s most handsome managers. Mackanin ranked a very respectable eighth on the list, which each year draws more and more cackles from the baseball establishment.
 
“If Pete had ranked in the top five …” Klentak said with a shrug and a laugh.
 
Klentak became more serious but remained noncommittal.
 
“We have time to do that,” he said. “Obviously last year we talked about his status in spring training and I’m sure the time will come when we’ll sit down and talk about it again.”
 
Mackanin, 65, would love to have the added year of security on his deal.
 
Who wouldn’t?
 
But he’s not about to obsess over it.
 
“I hope they pick it up but that's not up to me,” he said. “That's up to them. I feel that when it's time for them to let me know, they’ll let me know.
 
“But in the meantime, I'm not consumed by it. Hopefully it will happen, but it doesn't help me thinking about it.”
 
The concept of a lame-duck manager is often debated. Job security beyond the current season in some cases can give a manager authority in the clubhouse. It can be the front office’s way of telling the players this is the guy, we believe in him.
 
But length of a manager’s contract can be overrated. Hall of Fame Dodgers skipper Walter Alston managed 23 seasons and won seven pennants and four World Series, all on one-year contracts. Charlie Manuel won the first of five straight NL East titles as a lame duck in 2007. There aren’t many players who look at the term of a manager’s contract when deciding whether they will respond to him or not. It’s completely organic and it all comes down to trust. That is a manager’s greatest currency. The player has to trust that the manager knows what he’s doing. The player has to trust that the manager has his back. If this happens, respect grows and an environment conducive to success can develop.
 
The Phillies’ measurement of success these days isn’t what it was from 2007 to 2014, back when they were gunning for World Series titles with proven talent and big payrolls. The team’s current measurement of success is the growth and improvement of its young players, the energy, focus and commitment that those players show and the environment that they do it in. Mackanin has succeeded on all these fronts.
 
It won’t be a surprise if his option for 2018 is exercised sometime before opening day. But it’s not imperative. There’s plenty of time for this to play out.
 
And if it doesn’t play out the way Mackanin wants, well, he always has his good looks to fall back on.

Next: Day 10 – In the final installment of the series, we look at what would be a successful season for the Phillies

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

Phillies 7, Blue Jays 1: Vince Velasquez and Tommy Joseph show off their power

BOX SCORE

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies showed a little power in their 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday night.

Tommy Joseph provided some of it.

Vince Velasquez provided a lot of it.

Joseph crushed a two-run home run to left field and also lined a double off the center-field wall on his way to a four-hit game. The double came off his bat at 109 miles per hour. The homer was his third of the spring.

Meanwhile, Velasquez showed off his big fastball in striking out seven Blue Jays over five innings of work. Vinny Velo's final pitch of the night was a 97-mph dart past a swinging Jose Bautista.

"That pitch felt really good coming out of my hand," Velasquez said. "Sometimes my fastball slips a little bit and I yank it, but this one I got right behind and threw it right through the catcher."

Velasquez actually struck out the side in that fifth inning against three pretty good hitters in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Bautista.

"That last inning, he really let it go," manager Pete Mackanin said.

Pitch economy remains an area that Velasquez needs to improve on. He threw 87 pitches. But he was pleased with the way he attacked hitters in that final inning of work.

"I didn't attack in one inning," he said. "But in that last inning, I stopped fiddling around and trusted my stuff. I need to do that the whole time."

Velasquez gave up just one run, a homer to Martin. He allowed five hits and walked two.

Velasquez had a busy night. He drove home a run with a ground out against Aaron Sanchez. He also walked against Sanchez and scored a run on a dash home from third base after Freddy Galvis got hung up between first and second. Galvis waved Velasquez home. After crossing home plate, Velasquez, rather humorously, almost ran into the netted backstop.

"I just had momentum. I got excited," he said. "As soon as I saw Tulo (shortstop Troy Tulowitzki) make eye contact with Freddy, I booked it. He's going to think, 'Pitchers can't run,' so I showed off my athleticism."

After the outing, Velasquez pronounced himself ready for the regular season.

"I'm good to go," he said.

He made five Grapefruit League starts and gave up eight runs in 19 2/3 innings. He walked nine and struck out 25.

"It's been a strong, healthy, successful spring training," he said.

Velasquez will likely start the home opener on April 7. He will need to get some work in this weekend. The Phillies leave Florida on Friday. He could stay behind for a day and pitch at the minor-league complex if needed.

Offense clicks
The Phillies had 12 hits. They had 15 in Sunday's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays again on Tuesday night. That game will be in Clearwater. Aaron Nola will start against Marco Estrada.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old, he would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.