Has money been well spent for the Phillies?

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Has money been well spent for the Phillies?

Sports Illustrated recently released its “Fortunate 50." Four Phillies are very fortunate indeed -- which, as it turns out, isn’t quite the same thing as the Phillies being fortunate.

The rankings factor in salary as well as endorsements. There weren’t any Eagles on the list. Or Sixers. Or Flyers. Cliff Lee came in 17th. He’ll make $25.28 million this year. Ryan Howard was 25th. He’ll earn $23.2 million. Roy Halladay was 39th. He’ll collect $20.21 million. And Cole Hamels was 44th. He’ll pocket $19.9 million.

Again, those totals include income from outside concerns, but not as much as you might think. According to baseballreference.com, $25 million of Lee’s money comes courtesy of the Phillies. Howard gets $20 million from the club. Halladay gets another $20 million from the Phillies. And Hamels gets $19.5 million.

The math experts among you no doubt added up the total and concluded that those four players will cost the Phillies $84.5 million this season. That’s more than the Mariners, Twins, Brewers, Royals, Rockies, Indians, Pirates, Padres, Rays, A’s, Marlins and Astros budgeted as of Opening Day, according to Yahoo! Sports.

The Phils had a total opening day payroll of $158 million. Only the Los Angeles Dodgers ($214 million) and New York Yankees ($211 million) had bigger budgets.

The Phillies, as we know, are spenders. But are they getting a solid return on their investment?

The Indians beat the Phillies, 10-4, at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday (see story). The Fightins are 19-22. Not terrible. Not great. After Wednesday's loss, they were four games behind first-place Atlanta (which also had a day game). Again, not terrible. But not great, either.

No. 44 on the Fortunate 50 list took the mound for the Phillies on Wednesday. Hamels threw five innings, allowing six hits, five earned runs, two walks and two homers. He also struck out four. He got the loss again, dropping his record to 1-6 this season. There have been quite a few games this season in which Hamels didn’t get adequate run support and the loss really wasn’t his fault. Wednesday wasn’t one of those days. He simply didn’t pitch that well.

“You wake up and get ready for the game and you know you’re facing a tough team and you have to go out there and execute pitches, and I wasn’t able to do that early on,” Hamels said. “Anytime you go 3-2 [pitch count] to pretty much the whole lineup, over and over, you’re not putting yourself in a good spot.

"Pitching myself into situations where, most likely, they’re going to get hits, they’re going to get walks, they’re going to score the runs. That doesn’t keep my team, obviously, on their toes and ready for the ball if it is hit to them. It just makes for a really boring game. And, obviously, a losing game because that was the effort it entailed. That’s the really unfortunate part of how it went [Wednesday]. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Despite the unsightly record (again, not his fault for the most part), Hamels has been OK this year (though his 4.61 ERA puts him just 79th among starting MLB pitchers). Lee (4-2, 2.86) has been very good. And Halladay -- well, you know how things have gone for Halladay.

Together, the top three pitchers on the team have combined for a 4.83 ERA and 7-12 record. Those numbers are obviously skewed by Halladay’s less-than-stellar/pre-surgery output. Even so, the numbers are the numbers. And when you measure those numbers against some other numbers (mainly the pitchers’ combined $64.5 million price tag), none of the numbers look great.

Then there’s Howard. He went 0 for 4 against the Indians on Wednesday. He entered the day hitting .252/.291/.446 with six home runs and 22 RBIs. That’s not exactly $20 million man production. (Somewhere, Lee Majors is shaking his rebuilt robot head at the price of inflation.)

In fairness, they’re only four guys. Four out of 25 on the roster. But they’re also four of the highest paid professional athletes in the country -- as well as four of the most important Phillies. Sports Illustrated is right. They’re fortunate men. Wonder if the Phils feel the same way.

Pete Mackanin talks Phillies' need for more offense, contract status

Pete Mackanin talks Phillies' need for more offense, contract status

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As the 2016 season was winding down, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin surveyed his low-scoring club and made public an offseason wish list that included “two professional hitters.”

So far this winter, he’s gotten one – Howie Kendrick.

Is that going to be enough to satisfy the skipper?

“You know what, I'm happy that we acquired Kendrick because we needed a solid, professional hitter,” Mackanin said at the winter meetings Tuesday. “Howie Kendrick is one of those guys. He knows how to give you good at-bats, grind out at-bats.

“We have guys like (Maikel) Franco and Freddy (Galvis), to name a few, who really need a better plan at the plate. I think Howie is going to help them out just by watching him take at-bats and go about his business. I think that's going to help a lot of our guys improve.

“I would like to get another guy. You can always use more hitting, more pitching, better players. But I'm pretty happy with Howie.”

There’s no doubt that Mackanin would like to add another hitter to an offense that ranked last in the majors in runs scored (610) and second to last in batting average (.240), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging (.385).

“Yeah, it would be nice,” Mackanin conceded. “We have to improve offensively.”

General manager Matt Klentak has spoken often this winter about the quandary he’s facing. He would like to add another bat in a corner outfield spot, but not necessarily at the cost of taking away an opportunity from a young player such as Roman Quinn or blocking the ultimate ascension of Dylan Cozens or Nick Williams. This is the tightrope that the GM of a rebuilding club must walk.

There are several corner outfield bats (J.D. Martinez, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier) available in potential trades and others (such as Michael Saunders) on the free-agent market.

“It’s about striking the right balance between adding a veteran bat or veteran free agent to make our team better, but again, not taking playing time away from players that need the playing time,” Klentak said.

Mackanin understands all this. But he’d still love to have another bat.

Does he think he’ll eventually get one?

“That's hard to say,” he said. “Obviously I would like to have a solid hitter for the team, for the fans, for everybody. We would like to win more games. I think it would be very important, obviously, to improve our offense. … I think we owe it to the pitchers to create more offense so that they are in more games. Everything is still up in the air. It's early. Deals may be made in January or in spring training when things happen. So one move might create an opening in another. If we trade a pitcher, we get a position player. A lot of things can change, so it is a little too soon to think too much about that.”

Contract talk
Mackanin is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2017. He has a club option for 2018.

Will the Phillies pick up Mackanin’s option before spring training to prevent a lame-duck situation?

Klentak was noncommittal on the subject Tuesday.

“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.”

In March, the Phillies gave Mackanin a two-year contract with a club option for 2018.

“I hope they pick it up but that's not up to me,” Mackanin said. “That's up to them. I feel that when it's time for them to let me know, they 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.”

Phillies set stage for a spring-training closer competition

Phillies set stage for a spring-training closer competition

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Phillies on Tuesday announced the signing of veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit and with that set the stage for some spring-training drama.

Who will be this team’s closer in 2017?

Benoit figures to be one of three candidates, joining Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez. Heck, you could even throw Edubray Ramos into the mix because he has the stuff to close, though his time might come further down the road when he's gained more experience.

“As we sit here today, I think we’ll probably enter spring training with a competition,” general manager Matt Klentak said of the closer role.

Phillies relievers had a 5.01 ERA last season, which ranked 28th in the majors. Klentak is trying to build a complete bullpen, not just find a closer. However, the closer role is the headline grabber in the bullpen and it’s difficult to settle upon other roles until a closer is anointed. So this will be one of the more interesting storylines in spring training.

Gomez fell into the job after others failed early last season and had a very nice five-month run. He recorded 37 saves before struggling badly down the stretch and giving way to Neris, whose fastball-splitter repertoire allowed him to strike out over 11 batters per nine innings last season. 

Neris could be the favorite coming into camp with Gomez sliding back into a seventh-inning or even multi-innings role. Ramos and lefty specialist Pat Neshek, picked up in a trade with Houston earlier this offseason, will be in the mix to pitch in the late innings and it would not be surprising to see Benoit emerge as the eighth-inning guy. Of course, this is all subject to change. There’s a lot of offseason left and it would not be a shocker to see Klentak trade one of his relievers in the right deal. But for now, Klentak believes he has an improved bullpen.

“We feel better today than we did a few days ago,” he said. “We have several players in our bullpen that can compete for the ninth-[inning job], the eighth, the seventh, the sixth. We’ve made our bullpen better.”

The Phillies are Benoit’s seventh big-league team. The 39-year-old right-hander has been one of the game’s workhorse relievers for more than a decade, recording a 3.79 ERA in 712 games in his career. He saved 25 games for Detroit in 2013 and had a 2.81 ERA in 51 games as a setup man for Seattle and Toronto last season. He struggled with the Mariners but was brilliant after a trade to Toronto in July. With the Mariners, he had a 5.18 ERA and 1.438 WHIP in 26 games. He walked 5.5 batters per nine innings and struck out 10.4 per nine. With Toronto, his control improved — he walked 3.4 per nine — and so did his ERA. He had an 0.38 ERA in 25 games with the Jays, allowing just one run in 23 2/3 innings.

“He really was two different guys,” Klentak acknowledged. “But as we drilled down into the data — strikeout rates, walk rates, batted-ball tendencies — there are some underlying things that he’s always done in his career that we think make him a pretty good candidate to have another good year. This guy has been really consistent for the better part of a decade.”

Over the last seven seasons, Benoit has posted a 0.98 WHIP. That ranks third among major-league relievers during that span behind only Kenley Jansen (0.89) and Craig Kimbrel (0.98).

Benoit will make $7.5 million in 2016. The Phillies are still a rebuilding club and they are not expected to contend in 2017. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see them turn Benoit into a prospect through a trade in July. This is contingent on Benoit pitching well, of course.