The 2015 Philadelphia Phillies finished at 63-99, the worst record in all of major league baseball. During the season, manager Ryne Sandberg resigned, leaving Pete Mackanin in charge to run the team for the last 88 games. Before the season ended, general manager Ruben Amaro was relieved of his duties with new team president Andy McPhail making the decision on who the next GM would be. He chose Los Angeles Angeles assistant GM Matt Klentak for the post after the season was concluded. The Phillies are in the second year of what seems to be a full rebuild. 2015 was frustrating as it saw them trade a couple of players who had been fixtures during their recent glory years which landed them a World Series Championship and another National League Pennant. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins was traded the prior off season and before the 2015 season was concluded, second baseman Chase Utley and ace starting pitcher Cole Hamels were dealt to contenders.
The positive minded Phillies fan would point to the impacts of center fielder Odubel Herrera (.297 batting average, 8 home runs, 41 runs batted in, .762 on base plus slugging) and third baseman Maikel Franco (.280, 14, 50, .840). The Phillies used the first pick in the Rule 5 draft to select Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Tyler Goeddel. Hope is that Goeddel can duplicate 2014 Rule 5 pick Herrera's success of a year ago. Klentak traded for a couple veteran pitchers on the last year of their contract, picking up Jeremy Hellickson (9 wins, 12 losses, 4.62 earned run average, 121 strikeouts in 146 innings) from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Charlie Morton (9-9, 4.81, 96 Ks in 129 IP) from the Pittsburgh Pirates. They also selected outfielder Peter Bourjos (.200, 4, 13, .623) off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals. Outside of that, they had a rather quiet off season leading many to believe the new team president and general manager would like to get a sense of how much talent the team already possesses.
Before Amaro left, he did land a pretty good haul from the Texas Rangers in the deal for Hamels. The Phillies hopefully acquired their catcher of the future in Jorge Alfaro. In 2014, Alfaro hit 17 home runs and drove in 87 runs, numbers the Phillies hope he can duplicate in AAA and then the majors. Left hand hitting outfielder Nick Williams hit .303 with 17 home runs in AA last season. Pitchers Jerad Eichoff (3-3, 2.65, 49 Ks in 51 IP) and Alec Asher (0-6, 9.31 in 7 starts) made their MLB debuts last season. Right hander Jake Thompson was 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in Double- A Reading after the deal was made. The talent the Phillies got in the trade was worth taking on the contract of left hander Matt Harrison, who is owed over $26 million over the next two seasons but has made just nine starts over the past three years.
Outfielder Aaron Altherr (.241, 5, 22, .827) will get every opportunity to lock down the starting spot in left field. It seems as if Goeddel (.279, 12, 72, .783 in Double- A Montgomery) will compete with former third baseman Cody Asche (.245, 12, 39, .689) and Bourjos for starting supremacy in right field. 36 year old first baseman Ryan Howard (.229, 23, 77, .720) is in the final year of his contract, likely his last in Philadelphia. Right hand hitting Darin Ruf (.235, 12, 49, .714) has struggled to identify himself as a consistent impact bat, so if he does not improve, the Phillies will move to find their first baseman of the future. Asche has taken a first baseman mitt to Clearwater to add to his versatility. Shortstop Freddy Galvis (.263, 7, 50, .645) returns looking to improve a little bit in his second season as a full time player. Franco has 30 home run potential but outside of Howard, who is a shed of his old self, there is likely to be little to protect him in the order. Cameron Rupp (.233, 9, 28, .675) showed a little pop last season and will be the starting catcher until Alfaro is ready. That makes veteran backstop Carlos Ruiz (.211, 2, 22, .575) a $8.5 million backup catcher. In all honesty, there probably is no room on the Phillies roster for Ruiz once Alfaro is ready for the big leagues. Cesar Hernandez (.272, 1, 35, .687) is the projected starting second baseman.
I am going with a Phillies outfield of Altherr, Herrera, and Goeddel. The lineup I would start the season with would go like this: Herrera CF, Altherr LF, Galvis SS, Franco 3B, Howard/ Ruf 1B, Goeddel RF, Rupp C, Hernandez 2B. Second baseman Darnell Sweeney, acquired in the deal for Utley, will battle with Hernandez for playing time but is likely a backup. Andres Blanco (.292, 7, 25, .863) had a great 2015 as a utility player and has a lot of value. Bourjos and Asche give the Phillies a bench full of players that can cover the entire diamond in case of injury. However, if Sweeney makes the team, that will leave the Phillies with six bench players so a move would have to be made unless the Phillies decide to go with 11 pitchers to start the season.
Without an ace with the talent of Hamels, the Phillies will look to Hellickson and Morton to provide quality innings for the team. If effective, it will take some of the pressure on the younger pitchers like Eichoff and Aaron Nola (6-2, 3.59, 13 starts). The trade of closer Ken Giles (6-3, 1.80, 15 saves, 87 Ks in 70 IP) to the Houston Astros netted the Phillies pitchers Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and Mark Appel. Velasquez and Oberholtzer will compete with David Buchanan and Adam Morgan for a spot on the opening roster rotation. Severino Gonzalez and Asher will be in the mix as well, with Appel probably starting the season in the minor leagues until he is ready.
The Phillies bullpen is a jig saw puzzle consisting of major league baseball's list of remaining free agent pitchers during an average March. The Phillies have signed Edward Mujica, David Hernandez, Ernesto Frieri, James Russell, Andrew Bailey, Yoervis Medina, Frank Herrmann, Chris Leroux and Greg Burke- all of whom have been part of a major league bullpen before. Hernandez will likely serve as the closer with Luis Garcia (4-6, 3.51, 72 games) serving as the primary set up man. Jeanmar Gomez, Elvis Araujo and Hector Neris will all compete with the laundry list of relievers brought into camp. If things work out, a couple of the has-beens will show a little left in the tank and the Phillies can put together a bridge to get to Hernandez- himself the furthest thing to a sure thing.
2013 first round draft pick JP Crawford will likely make his MLB debut this season in Philadelphia. Roman Quinn is a former shortstop learning the outfield also projecting to debut this season. Williams, Alfaro, Thompson and Appel are all among the list of top Phillies prospects. Right hand pitcher Ben Lively, picked up from the Reds in the 2014 off season in a deal for Marlon Byrd, has a number of plus pitches and has a quirky delivery that is deceptive to hitters.
I think the Phillies have the ability to improve a little bit in 2015. Perhaps if players like Franco, Goeddel, Crawford and Alfaro can all be established as regular big league players by the end of the season, the team could be much closer to competing in 2017. Las Vegas has the Phillies win total at 66.5 and I will take the over. I have the Phillies at 70-92, forth place in the National League East division.