PHILLIES (OFF)SEASON OF CHANGE

The Phillies have had a busy off-season so far. As we start 2018, we have quite a few changes from this time last year, or even just the end of the 2017 season. In managing styles, the Phillies have gone from old-school Mackanin to new wave, Hollywood born, “Kap Lifestyle” blogger Gabe Kapler. The Phillies had one player appear in all 162 games last year, and he was traded for a hard-throwing AA prospect by the name of Enyel De Los Santos. They signed one of the top free agents, but at a position where they already had two players who hit a combined 40 homers in 2017. The Phillies also solidified their bullpen by bringing in two veterans to supplement the young arms currently stationed there. By all accounts, it’s been an interesting few months.

First, it will be fascinating to see how Gabe Kapler manages this ballclub. This will be his first MLB managing gig, and his only professional coaching experience came as manager of the single-A affiliate for the Boston Red Sox in 2007, who went 58–81. He is a sabermetrics guy, who will, reportedly, will play with his lineup quite a bit, as opposed to having players settle in to specific roles. If nothing else, it will be interesting to watch that play out, especially given the young roster full of players who can play multiple positions. I expect it will be a rare occasion, if it happens even once, that the Phillies use the same 1-8 on back-to-back days.

The big-name acquisition thus far is Carlos Santana. No, not the guy who performed, “Black Magic Woman”, or “Oye Como Va” (although I expect to hear some of these hits when he comes to bat), but the one who is a borderline Gold Glove first baseman with a career .810 OPS and .365 on-base percentage. He has hit 20 homeruns in 5 of the last 7 seasons, and it’s not a stretch to think he would hit more in the realm of 30 playing half his games in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. He fits Kapler’s style, given his high OBP, and addresses that need on a team that had a team .315 OBP last year, 24th out of 30 MLB teams. The problem is that the Phillies already have Rhys Hoskins, who hit 18 homeruns in just 170 at-bats and took the town by storm. Acquiring Santana means Hoskins goes to leftfield, which he showed he can do last year. That creates a logjam there as well, since Aaron Altherr, Odubel Hererra, and Nick Williams all seemed securely in place as the three outfielders in 2018. It’s possible one of them gets moved next year, or Kapler can be creative in resting guys and getting favorable matchups with that day’s opposing pitcher. At first, I didn’t like this move due to Hoskins having to move to left, but it has grown on me. I’m a big proponent of OBP, and the Phillies lack of ability to get men on base the past few years has been frustrating to watch. Santana should lessen that to a degree, and maybe help some of the younger (Franco – please) understand the important of patience at the plate.

The Phillies moved a fan favorite in to shortstop Freddy Galvis to San Diego in exchange for AA starting pitcher Enyel De Los Santos. He projects to be a back end of the rotation starter, and could see time in the bigs as early as this year. Was it a good move? Maybe it was, but I’ll miss Galvis, and I’m not sold on Crawford. He didn’t do anything in the majors to make me comfortable in handing him the keys to one of the most important positions on the field, especially one that has been so well manned by Galvis for the past few seasons. Galvis was arguably one of the best defensive shortstops in the league, and he held his own at the plate. Time will tell if this was a good move, but that will entirely depend on Crawford being an upgrade from Galvis. I know he is supposed to be, but I’m not convinced yet.

Pat Neshek was a fan favorite during his time in Philly last summer, and a bright spot on a team that really struggled for much of the year. While here, he compiled a 1.12 ERA in 40 innings, and then was dealt to the Rockies for 3 young minor leaguers who may or may not be part of the future (although the team is very high on all three). Neshek was a Bose stereo in a clunker, and the Phillies did the right thing in moving him. They did an even better thing in re-acquiring him. I expect Neshek to slide right back into that 7th or 8th inning role, and do a solid job there. The other reliever the Phillies acquired this off-season is Tommy Hunter, who posted a 2.61 ERA, 4.57 K/BB rate and 9.82 K/9 over 58 2/3 innings for Tampa. He will also serve as a back of the bullpen piece for the Phillies, who struggled for consistency there. With Neshek and Hunter acting as the bridge to Neris, the Phillies should hold on to more leads towards the end of games.

Are the Phillies done? There are plenty of rumors, but I hope the Phillies don’t go overboard. I’d hate to see them start unloading prospects for guys like Yelich, who you could argue isn’t much of an upgrade over their current outfield corps (but that’s an article for another time). They simply aren’t ready to get that aggressive. Next year’s class of free agents should be one of the best in years (Machado, Harper, Altuve, Kershaw, Hamels, just to name a few), and the Phillies aren’t really ready to make a whole lot of noise in 2018. They are out the rebuild, but 2018 should really be a “re-shaping” to see what stays and what goes in the following off-season, and who to target in that superior free-agent class.

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