Phillies thumped again; GM preaches patience for 2017

ATLANTA - Matt Klentak joined the Phillies here for the final moments of the season, just in time to see his young team sputter to the unceremonious end. From a radio booth above the diamond at Turner Field, the first-year Phillies general manager watched two rain delays push Tuesday's game past midnight, heard his manager again issue a public plea for the addition of an established hitter, and endured a nine-run outing by Adam Morgan in Wednesday's 12-2 Braves blowout.

Klentak was hired by Andy MacPhail to oversee the Phillies' rebuilding process. He is wont to invoke patience, and that is how Klentak reacted to the latest inquiries into his potential winter strategy.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and the coaching staff believe one or two "professional hitters" could lessen the pressure on some of the lineup's young players. The Phillies have scored the fewest runs per game (3.79) in baseball.

"Pete is right," Klentak said Wednesday. "We need to work at improving our offense however we can do it."

The answer, however, may not be found in the form of a free agent.

The Phillies won 70 games because of their pitching, a unit that has failed them in September. They have allowed 63 runs in their last six games. After the latest shellacking, two of the roster's oldest players - Ryan Howard and A.J. Ellis - called a players-only meeting. The message: Don't quit. There are four more games, three of which are against the postseason-hopeful Mets, to prove something.

"This is the last time all these guys in this clubhouse will be together," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "Just go out and finish hard. A lot can happen in four days. We can ruin somebody else's season."

It is probable that the current lineup is what the one next April will resemble. Both MacPhail and Klentak have hinted at that in recent weeks.

"Free agency is an important market for us and every team to improve," Klentak said. "Just how strongly we invest in it is going to depend, No. 1, on the types of players that are available and, No. 2, on where the organization is at that moment. It depends on a lot of things."

This winter's free-agent market is not viewed as a particularly strong one. And the Phillies do not expect to contend in 2017. A hitter or two acquired through free agency will not morph a team that has been outscored by 180 runs this season into a winning one next season.

The organization's strength in the upper minors is in position-player prospects, most of whom should begin next season at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Some of them could develop into everyday major leaguers. Others will fail. A few could become trade chips.

The most prime spot for an outside upgrade is in the outfield. Odubel Herrera is the lone lock for 2017. Aaron Altherr and Roman Quinn have yet to prove themselves as big-league regulars. So a free agent would fit in one of the corners. Money is not an issue for the Phillies; they will have their lowest payroll since the days at Veterans Stadium.

But if there is no quick fix to sign while the Phillies have intriguing internal options and better free-agent choices in future winters, the front office could decide against an investment now in a high-priced corner outfielder.

Take Ian Desmond, for example. The 31-year-old, long an infielder with Washington, has performed well as an outfielder for Texas. He has a .784 OPS; the league average in 2016 for outfielders is .750. Desmond should command a multiyear deal with an average annual salary north of $10 million. He is regarded as a strong clubhouse presence. But he strikes out at a high rate and is not known for his on-base skills.

"We want to do everything we can to field the most competitive team on the field that we possibly can," Klentak said. "We also want to make sure we continue to provide opportunities to our young players to develop. That's the fine line that we'll have to tiptoe all offseason."

mgelb@philly.com

@MattGelb