With less than six weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we're checking in to see how each team has fared thus far this off-season while acknowledging that there's still time for that evaluation to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2015. First up: the Philadelphia Phillies.
63–99 (.389), fifth place in National League East (Hot Stove Preview)
(*free agent, still unsigned; +Rule 5 draft pick)
The past year marked a turning point for the Phillies, who began a long-overdue rebuilduild effort by trading franchise hits leader Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers in December 2014. They continued that process by dealing away veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd later that month, then shipping out starting pitcher Cole Hamels, closer Jonathan Papelbon, outfielder Ben Revere and second baseman Chase Utley over a four-week span just before the non-waiver trading deadline. That process extended into the dugout and the front office with the resignation of manager Ryne Sandberg and the hiring of new team president Andy MacPhail in late June, followed by the firing of long-time general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. in September.
All of that, as well as the decision to extend long-time coach Pete Mackanin’s term as manager into the 2016 season, occurred before the end of the regular season. In late October, MacPhail, who most recently helped turn around the Orioles, hired former Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak as Amaro’s replacement. With their new management structure in place, the Phillies continued to move forward this off-season.
Declining Cliff Lee’s $27.5 million option for 2016 was a no-brainer given that the lefthander hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch in nearly two years. That move left the team with just one player under contract beyond the 2016 season: lefty Matt Harrison, who has pitched in only nine major league games over the last three years, primarily due to back problems. Harrison’s contract was the poison pill Philadelphia had to swallow in order to get the quality prospect haul it received from the Rangers in the Hamels trade. Harrison’s 2017 salary and buyout for '18 total $15 million—the sum total of the Phillies' commitments beyond the coming season, unless you count the $10 million buyout of Ryan Howard’s '17 option, which will be paid in November. That should provide tremendous financial flexibility in the coming years and allow the Phils to be active in the free-agent market once they believe they're ready to take the final step in their rebuild, as well as to try to lock up their own players beyond their scheduled free agency.
Far less expected than Lee's release was the December trade that sent 25-year-old closer Ken Giles to the Astros for a five-pitcher package headlined by rotation prospects Vince Velasquez and Mark Appel, who was the No. 1 pick of the 2013 draft. With that move, Philadelphia swapped one pitcher who is locked into a role in which he’s likely to max out around 70 innings a year for four pitchers with the potential to contribute to their starting rotation. Don't expect more than two of them to be a part of the next contending rotation in the City of Brotherly Love, but by the time that team arrives, Giles will be growing increasingly expensive in his arbitration years. Credit the Phillies' new front office for recognizing that an ace closer’s greatest value to a rebuilding team is as a trade chip.
Beyond that blockbuster, Philadelphia kept things small. Minor trades brought in walk-year righties Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton to flesh out the 2016 rotation, likely with the hope that a strong start to the season by either could yield trade-deadline rewards; the return for each was a single unheralded low-minors pitcher. Former Diamondbacks righty David Hernandez was inked to a one-year, $3.9 million deal to help replace Giles in the bullpen. A waiver claim landed the walk year of slick-fielding centerfielder Peter Bourjos, who could contribute in a corner outfield platoon. The Rule 5 draft, which netted Odubel Herrera the previous year, contributed outfielder Tyler Goeddel from the Rays’ system and lefty reliever Daniel Stumpf from the Royals' organization. No one mentioned above is likely to be an impact player, but none of them cost much and each adds potential depth to a major league roster depleted by rebuilding.
Unfinished Business: The No. 1 pick
Given that they’re at the bottom of a rebuild, the Phillies have no real hope of playing winning baseball in 2016, and having traded their moveable veterans, they didn’t have much of a to-do list this off-season beyond hiring a new GM. The next step in their rebuild will be evaluating the young talent they collected and making a wise pick with the top pick in June’s amateur draft.
Preliminary Grade: A
There are many reasons to be optimistic about Philadelphia. It has compelling young players in Herrera, third baseman Maikel Franco, righty starter Aaron Nola, shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford and the top prospects obtained in the Hamels and Giles trades, as well as almost complete financial flexibility and elite draft positions still to come. The Phillies' main goal this winter was to try to add to their stock of prospects and pre-arbitration players and resist the temptation to take on financial obligations by making immediate upgrades to the major league roster via free agency. They accomplished both and also added some depth at the major league level for the coming season.