People often ask Pete Mackanin how his winter is going, and the Phillies manager said he usually answers the same way.
"I mostly try to relax and play golf," Mackanin said.
But it is on those scenic Arizona golf courses that Mackanin's mind sometimes wanders to the heat of summer and how the manager will construct his lineup. Where will he bat new acquisitions Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders? Is Freddy Galvis a better fit at the top of the order or the bottom? Is Odubel Herrera a leadoff hitter? How can Maikel Franco take his career to new heights?
The answers to those questions could improve the Phillies offense - which Mackanin described as "last in the world" in runs - and power the team toward Mackanin's goal of a .500 record, an objective that sounds modest but would require an impressive 10-win improvement.
The Phillies ranked last in the majors last season in runs. They had baseball's second-worst batting average, the fourth-highest strikeout total in the National League, and the fewest extra-base hits in all of baseball. Mackanin's goal will be no easy task.
"I'm going to let the guys know that my expectations are higher," Mackanin said. "I feel we need to improve because the guys that had some success, I expect them to get better, and I think they expect to be better. Based on what I saw last year, knowing the character of the players we have, they're going to work hard to show that improvement. I'm looking forward to big years for some of them."
The first improvement to the sagging offense is a stronger middle of the lineup. Mackanin asked for two "professional hitters," and general manager Matt Klentak delivered with Saunders and Kendrick.
It remains to be seen what the two veterans bring to the Phillies, but it is hard to believe they could make the offense worse. Kendrick, 33, batted better than .290 for three straight seasons before dipping to .255 in 2016. The 30-year-old Saunders hit 24 homers last season with Toronto and had a torrid first half to insert himself into the All-Star Game. His lefthanded bat should bring balance to the righthanded-heavy lineup.
Mackanin will fit in the new players with Tommy Joseph, who enters his first season as a full-time starter, and Franco, who the manager believes can drive in more than 100 runs with a simple tweak to his approach.
"We talk so much about having veteran starters in the rotation to help younger pitchers," Mackanin said. "Likewise, it's nice to have a veteran hitter, who can share his thoughts, who has had success, like Kendrick. Just to put something in somebody's ear and have them say, 'I never thought about that. I never looked at it that way.' "
Herrera will likely be at the top of Mackanin's order, paired with either Galvis or Cesar Hernandez. Mackanin sounds as if he sees Herrera as a better fit as a No. 2 hitter, and Galvis - who had the worst on-base percentage among qualified hitters in baseball last season - could be moved to the bottom of the order alongside catcher Cameron Rupp.
"I feel pretty good about the lineup in the respect that I think we're improved from last year," Mackanin said.
The manager is running out of tee times before the start of spring training, but he has an entire seven-week camp to find his optimal lineup. And Mackanin believes he will find the answers.
"I will have the perfect lineup starting on day one," the manager deadpanned.