Phillies feel like they let Charlie Manuel down

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Phillies feel like they let Charlie Manuel down

The Phillies were expected to contend in the NL East when the 2013 season began. However, the team has completely fallen apart since the All-Star break.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. took action on Friday afternoon, announcing that manager Charlie Manuel was relieved of his duties and that Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg will serve as Manuel’s replacement effective Friday night (see story).

Perhaps this is the wake-up call the Phils need to snap out of their current funk.

“I sure hope so,” second baseman Chase Utley said prior to Friday’s matchup with the Dodgers. “It obviously shows that we are not playing good baseball.

“We all know we haven’t been playing great. We’ve had some stretches. We’ve played OK, but lately we haven’t been getting the job done. Whatever it takes to get us to focus more.”

Utley first played for Manuel in the 2004 season, when Manuel was hired as the club’s 51st manager. Utley was 23 then, playing behind Placido Polanco at second base.

Utley would go on to take over full-time duties at second in June 2005, when Polanco was traded to the Detroit Tigers. He then established himself as one of the best-hitting second basemen in the National League, and he credits Manuel for that.

“Charlie is the man that gave me an opportunity to play,” Utley said. “I owe a lot to Charlie Manuel. … I think we are all a little upset and a little sad. It’s not a usual thing to see that guy you played for not behind the batting cage watching batting practice.”

Manuel, the winningest manager in team history, won 780 games with the Phillies and led the team to the 2008 World Series title.

Cole Hamels, who was the 2008 World Series MVP, said Manuel served as a father figure to all of his players.

“All of us grow up in a certain way,” Hamels said. “We leave home and we come from all different cities and I think Charlie was kind of like our father to a lot of us. He was a fatherly figure. He really enjoyed watching us have success.

“When we weren’t playing at our best, he always came around and encouraged us. He never had anything negative to say. He always wanted us to be the best we could.

“Knowing that and every good game I had, every bad game I had, he always came up to me no matter what and really told me ‘go get 'em and keep doing what you’re capable of doing.’ So that’s kind of what you want to hear sometimes -- not all the time -- but I’ll really take that and notch that away as a really good memory.”

Third baseman Michael Young, who is in his first season with the Phils, was disappointed his time with Manuel was cut short.

“It’s unfortunate any time someone you really enjoy playing for, enjoy being around, is no longer with you on a day-to-day basis,” Young said.

“For us as players, I know me personally, I loved playing for Charlie. I have a ton of respect for what he’s done in the game and for what he can bring to a baseball team. Going forward, I’m look forward to playing for Ryne now.”

Sandberg will take over a Phillies team that has gone 5-19 since the All-Star break. He spent the previous two seasons as manager of Triple A Leigh Valley before joining the Phils’ big club as third-base coach this past September.

Sandberg said Friday that the Phillies have shown signs of “lackadaisical play” as of late.

“I’m as guilty as everybody else is,” Hamels said. “We have to focus a lot more in what we have to do out on the field because we have to do it the right way. Charlie preached that but we just weren’t doing it. We’re as guilty as everybody. We have to be responsible for being out there and playing the game of baseball the Philly way and the way that we know how. We have to pull for each other to do so.”

When asked if the Phils’ poor play contributed to the firing of Manuel, Utley didn’t pull any punches.

“Charlie didn’t strike out,” Utley said. “Charlie didn’t make any errors. All Charlie did was come to the park everyday and ask us to win.”

So now Sandberg will have to find a way to reinvigorate the Phillies over the final 42 games of the season.

Replacing Manuel will be no easy task. Manuel helped the Phils to five consecutive NL East titles from 2007-11 before the club took drastic steps back in 2012 and 2013.

“He (Charlie) said the game goes on, but that doesn’t make it any easier," Utley said.

Hamels feels the Phils let Manuel down and knows they have work to do moving forward with Sandberg at the helm.

“For a sense because of what he means to us and how he’s been around, yeah we let down not only him, but we let down the organization,” Hamels said. “We let down the fans, but ultimately we let each other down. That’s why we really have to get back up and discover who we are and what we are playing for and go out there and do it.”

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."