Improved defense a theme in the Phillies' 2016 outfield construction

120315-Odubel-Herrera-1200
Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera.

Spring training will determine which Phillies outfielders open next season in which positions. But at the very least, new general manager Matt Klentak believes the team now has the means to construct a strong defensive outfield regardless of alignment.

Improving run prevention is a focus for the rebuilding Phillies, who as baseball's worst team last season surrendered the second-most runs in the majors. With Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and newly acquired Peter Bourjos, they are set to enter spring training with three above-average defenders in their outfield mix.

Offensive production from their collective outfielders is a different story.

"Typically, when we talk about run prevention, we talk about the pitching. But I think having a strong defensive club is a way to help your pitching," Klentak said Thursday. "Having the plus defenders that we have in the outfield now, I think that's going to help our pitching. It may come at the cost of scoring fewer runs, but I think in the long run, it's going to help us."

The Phillies pitching staff's 4.69 ERA last season was better only than that of the Colorado Rockies, but the team also struggled defensively. The Phils' minus-92 scoring in the defensive runs saved metric, according to Fangraphs.com, was by far the worst in baseball. The Seattle Mariners were next-worst, at minus-60.

A full season of Herrera as an everyday player figures to help in that department. Altherr, sure-handed at any of the three outfield positions, should at least begin the season with a chance to play regularly.

Then there is Bourjos, claimed Wednesday off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals and signed to a one-year, $2 million deal to avoid arbitration. The 28-year-old is an excellent defender with speed but has been an everyday player for a full season in only one of his six major-league campaigns, in 2011 with the Los Angeles Angels.

Bourjos, who hit just .200 over 195 at-bats last season with the Cardinals, has played only centerfield as a big leaguer but is apparently open to shifting to a corner outfield spot.

"My understanding is Peter wants to play. Peter wants to be on the field," said Klentak, who knows the outfielder from his time as an assistant GM with the Angels. The two spoke on the phone Wednesday. "He, too, views this as an opportunity, and he wants to be out there in any way that he can."

"It's never a bad thing to have multiple centerfielders in your outfield," Klentak added.

Cody Asche, Darnell Sweeney and Darin Ruf are other players on the Phillies' 40-man roster with big-league outfield experience, although all are more natural infielders. (Ruf is likely to platoon with Ryan Howard at first base. Sweeney, it should be noted, has minor-league options remaining.) The Bourjos acquisition does not preclude the Phillies from adding another outfielder this offseason.

"We're still going to be open-minded," Klentak said. "We still have a few spots open on our roster. We're still trying to get better."

Continue Reading