Ryno gets his man, still needs pitching coach

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Ryno gets his man, still needs pitching coach

Ryne Sandberg has his 21st win as Phillies manager.

Sandberg wanted Larry Bowa as his bench coach.

He got him.

“We go back a long way,” Sandberg said after Bowa was officially named to the Phils’ coaching staff Tuesday. “I learned a lot from him as a young player. Now, as a young manager, with his experience and knowledge and information -- I think he'll be a terrific guy by my side. I have a high level of comfort with him, and he’s a top-notch baseball man.”

Bowa played 12 seasons at shortstop for the Phillies and was an All-Star and Gold Glover. He coached third base for the 1993 NL Champion Phils and managed the club from 2001 to 2004.

Bowa did not always leave the organization on good terms, but he always found his way back. This will be his fourth tour of duty with the club.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged the messiness of Bowa’s previous departures.

“It was something we certainly thought about,” Amaro said. “But at the end of the day, Ryne's comfort level and Larry’s ability as a baseball person -- his knowledge of the game -- really overrode any ill feelings.

“For us, it's about getting the best people for Ryne to support him in the best way. Baseball seems to be cyclical. That's part of baseball. The fact of the matter is Larry’s an outstanding baseball man. This is not about Larry Bowa, this is about building a staff around and with Ryne that's going to be most effective. Clearly, Ryne felt that Larry was someone important to him.”

Bowa is known for being emotional and fiery. He speaks his mind and is not afraid to ruffle feathers. Some people love that about him. Others hate it.

Sandberg spoke to Bowa about his demeanor and does not think it will be a problem.

“I like people to be themselves,” Sandberg said. “But he's coming on board to support me and be one of the coaches. Everybody works together. I've had good conversations with him and he's totally on board with supporting me and doing his job.

“A little bit of energy and excitement is something he can bring to the ballclub in a positive way. We've had discussions about that and he's totally on board with what's going to be asked of him. I'm excited to have him around.”

Pete Mackanin was named third-base coach. He and Sandberg go back to the days when Sandberg played for the Chicago Cubs and Mackanin was a minor-league manager in that organization.

Mackanin was former manager Charlie Manuel’s bench coach from 2009-12. He was let go after the 2012 season and spent 2013 as a scout with the Yankees.

The Phillies still have at least one opening on their staff -- and it’s a big one. They need a pitching coach. Rich Dubee’s contract was not renewed after nine seasons. The Phils have not officially named a first-base coach or a bullpen coach, but holdovers Juan Samuel and Rod Nichols are both under consideration for those positions.

While Sandberg was clearly the driving force behind the hirings of Bowa and Mackanin, he will only be part of the decision-making process in selecting a pitching coach. Amaro said Nichols, a former minor-league pitching coach with the Phillies and the team’s bullpen coach in 2013, is a candidate for the job. But Amaro is clearly looking for other candidates, as well. He said an interview process would begin shortly.

“We're vetting out the best candidates,” Amaro said. “It's going to be a process. It's going to take some time, we think, because we're not really sure about all of the possible candidates who will be available. Clearly, there is a lot of movement going on around the league. We have done a great deal of research on possible candidates.”

Amaro said the next pitching coach does not have to have big-league experience, but it would be helpful.

“As far as prerequisites, we're just looking for the best guy,” Amaro said. “We're looking for someone who can both handle the staff and someone we feel has the right philosophy to move this club forward.”

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."