Phils have failed to get younger, better so far

120813_salisbury_pic.jpg

Phils have failed to get younger, better so far

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has already made some moves this offseason, but as baseball's annual winter meetings approach, the club still isn't any younger.

CSNPhilly.com Phillies insider Jim Salisbury thinks the offseason has been different, just not in the way one might have expected.

"I think, looking at this offseason so far for the Phils, it's been lackluster," Salisbury said on SportsNite on Comcast SportsNet. "Age has been a big issue with this team the last few years, everyone getting older and older and older. One of their stated goals was to get younger and they haven't gotten any younger.

"It's an offseason unlike previous ones in that they haven't gone after big names. They're conscious of where their payroll is, conscious of having so many guys making $20 million or more on their roster. And they're looking at that midrange free-agent market. And looking at it on the whole, they've kind of run in circles this offseason.

"They haven't gotten any younger, and I don't think they've gotten any better."

The Phillies re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million deal and brought Marlon Byrd in for two years, $16 million.

Both players will at least 35 years old by opening day. While the club hopes that Ruiz bounces back after a subpar 2013 season, Amaro has bet on Byrd's bat staying hot after setting a career high in slugging percentage last year (.847).

While the Byrd deal may have resulted in ridicule in some circles, the choice to tender a contract offer to John Mayberry Jr. earlier this week caused even more noise.

However, Salisbury suggests a contract wouldn't automatically guarantee that he will be on the roster on opening day.

"When you look at this team, the only two guys I can tell you that will be there on opening day are Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee," Salisbury said. "There was a big uproar when they decided to offer Mayberry a contract. Many of them felt like it was time to say goodbye. I think there could be more at work here. I don't think they wanted to worsen his value in the trade market. I think he could be traded before opening day -- sooner rather than later -- but there's a chance he will be traded. If not, he's a backup outfielder for this club."

While there are a number of players vying for spots in the outfield, the Phillies' bullpen still serves as a question mark, and Amaro has taken steps to add a strong arm to the bullpen.

By trading away catcher Erik Kratz and prospect Rob Rasmussen to the Blue Jays, the Phillies brought in Brad Lincoln, a former fourth overall selection. He has a live arm, and if he can get it under control, he will be an asset. But he has question marks surrounding him, just like the rest of the bullpen.

"They're still trying to rebuild their bullpen," Salisbury said. "They're keeping their fingers crossed that what they saw from Jake Diekman and B.J. Rosenberg late last season was a harbinger of the success to come. They're hopeful that they'll have Mike Adams back sometime in the month of April, maybe early May, and they're hoping Jonathan Papelbon rebounds. But they're still looking to add pieces."

The winter meetings begin in Orlando, Fla. on Dec. 9.

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Not enough offense to support Aaron Nola in loss

BOX SCORE

Aaron Nola’s likely final appearance of 2017 was another good one, but also his 11th loss. 

The right-hander allowed two runs and five hits and struck out nine in six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the NL East champion Washington Nationals on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park. 

With the Phillies using a six-man rotation and an off day Thursday, manager Pete Mackanin said Nola was “most likely” making his last start. He gave up a two-run home run on a 3-1 fastball to Michael A. Taylor in the second inning before getting into a groove with his curveball. 

Nola (12-11) retired eight of the final 10 batters he faced and left with a 3.54 ERA as the Phillies kicked off a season-ending six-game homestand with their fourth loss in five games. 

Odubel Herrera hit an 0-2 mistake fastball for a solo shot to right in the fourth for the Phillies’ lone run. They struggled against A.J. Cole (3-5), who allowed six hits over 5 2/3 innings and collected his first major-league hit.

• It marked the 18th time in 27 starts that Nola allowed two earned runs or fewer. He gave up only eight earned runs in four starts against Washington. 

• The Phillies have scored seven runs in the past four games. 

• Rhys Hoskins hit a nubber toward first in the fourth inning that Ryan Zimmerman fielded facing the mound and blindly flipped backward to Cole covering first for the out. Hoskins flied deep to center to end the fifth and finished 0 for 4. He’s 2 for 21 in the past four games and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14. 

• Nick Williams went 1 for 4 with a single and three strikeouts. 

• Maikel Franco popped out on the 11th pitch of his at-bat to lead off the ninth against Sean Doolittle (24th save). 

• Hoskins made two fine plays at first base. He made a nice scoop of Freddy Galvis’ low throw in the first and made a leaping grab of Cesar Hernandez’s high and wide throw and tagged Matt Weiters going by for the out in the fourth. 

• Nationals slugger Bryce Harper’s return from a left knee injury was delayed by illness. Manager Dusty Baker said Harper, out since Aug. 12, woke up feeling sick. He was at the park early to get treatment and could play Tuesday. “He probably doesn’t like to hit here,” Mackanin joked. Harper’s 12 home runs at Citizens Bank Park are the most he’s hit in any road stadium. 

• Nola twice came up with runners at first and second and two outs. He grounded to first in the second and fanned in the fourth. 

• Mackanin planned to give his team a pep talk. “If they think they’re tired and ready to go home — it’s been a long season — I’m going to remind them, ‘If you want to go to the World Series, you’re going to play another entire month,’” he said. 

• With Nola likely finished for the season, it’s lining up for Henderson Alvarez to start Saturday and Nick Pivetta to go in the season finale Sunday. 

• All players from both teams on the field before the game stood for the national anthem. Baker, who is black, said he opposes kneeling, but understands the frustrations of those athletes who do it. “We’ve been talking about the same problems I had when I was 18 or 19 years old, so have we made progress or have we regressed?” Baker said. “It’s up to us to try to figure out how to come up with a solution.” 

• The Phillies dropped to 33 1/2 games behind the Nationals. They must win one of their final five games to avoid 100 losses. The Nationals must finish 5-1 to win 100 games. 

• Right-hander Jake Thompson (2-2, 4.14 ERA) will make his fourth start against the Nationals this season when he faces lefty Gio Gonzalez (15-7, 2.68) on Tuesday night. 

Pete Mackanin: 'I still don't know if I'll be here next year'

usa-pete-mackanin-phillies.jpg
USA Today Images

Pete Mackanin: 'I still don't know if I'll be here next year'

Pete Mackanin may have received a contract extension in May, but the Phillies' manager has yet to receive assurances from general manager Matt Klentak that he’ll return in 2018. 

“I still don’t know if I’ll be here next year,” Mackanin said before Monday’s game against the Washington Nationals.

Mackanin took over midway through the 2015 season and has presided over the Phillies’ rebuilding project. He went 37-51 to finish 2015, 71-91 last year and was 62-94 heading into the final week of the season. 

Does Mackanin hope Klentak tells him his fate soon? 

“Of course,” Mackanin said. “I’m signed through next year and I assume I’ll be here. But you never know what they’re going to do.”

Mackanin said he’s set to meet with Klentak on Saturday to evaluate players. The season ends the next day, with the Phillies needing one victory over their final six games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1961. 

“Do you need better coaches? Do you need a better manager? The answer to all these questions is you need better players,” Mackanin said as he quizzed about his future. 

Despite the dismal record, the Phillies have made progress in many areas. They may have found their future star power hitter in Rhys Hoskins. Fellow rookie Nick Williams has shown flashes. Cesar Hernandez is hitting .296. Freddy Galvis is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. Adam Morgan has pitched like a permanent setup man (see story). Mackanin believes Aaron Nola has established himself as a “solid No. 3 starter.” 

But the rest of the rotation is uncertain. They still need more offense. And while the Phillies have played well down the stretch, it’s come with no pressure in a sea of meaningless games.

Mackanin was asked if the team made a step forward this season. 

“I think individual players have made a step forward. As a team, of course not. We’re down at the bottom,” Mackanin said. “On the other hand, there are teams with similar records with much higher payrolls that were expected to do much better and haven’t. And when you look at the makeup of the team with all the pitchers that we’ve used and injuries, we’ve had a lot of unproven players.”

Mackanin revealed the angriest he’s been was back in May, when the Phillies went 6-22. He said while he's trying to keep an “even keel,” he gave his team a tongue-lashing after a home loss during that stretch. 

“I just went down the list of players,” Mackanin said. “Every one of them, I pointed out all the good things they’ve done to get here. And I asked after I got done naming every player how good they’ve been and what they’ve accomplished to get here, I asked, ‘How come we’re so bad?’”

Despite injuries and having to rush players to the majors, the Phillies were 33-36 since the All-Star break before Monday’s game. 

Mackanin acknowledged 2018 will be different, when the record will matter much more. He believes it’s time for the franchise to start winning in order to lure the potential free agents needed to become a contender again. 

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Mackanin said. “We’ve got players who have to prove they’re for real. Next year will tell us an awful lot.”

The 66-year-old Mackanin hopes he’s around to see what happens. 

“Blame the managers and coaches. How about if the players perform better?” Mackanin said. “Now, could we get the players to perform better? Everybody tries hard to do that.”