The laws of the 162-game grind dictate that baseball players and coaches not focus beyond the day’s game. They are conditioned to embrace the day-to-day struggle, but when general manager Matt Klentak entered manager Pete Mackanin’s office at Citizens Bank Park last week, the two discussed something larger.
It’s a difficult conversation to have right now. Executives and coaches may have reached conclusions about many of the players on the current Phillies roster, but that group will remain in place for at least the immediate future.
“I understand the big picture,” Mackanin said. “I don’t have an issue with what Matt wants to do. We’ve discussed things. I’m, basically, on the same page as him — for the most part. We have to find out, once and for all, if we’re going to go forward with some of these guys.
“It’s tough to go through another year like that. But I’m in charge of doing it. And I’m going to do it. I’m sure at some point we’ll see some of the young guys.”
The reality is this: Very few of the players on the current roster will be on the next good Phillies team. Recent rebuilding processes prove that. If the Phillies have two or three major-league contributors on the 2017 team that will be contributors in 2020, then it follows the path of the Cubs and Astros — two teams that underwent a similar teardown.
The Cubs’ best hitter in 2016 was a player drafted in 2013. Their best pitcher was a free agent who signed before the 2015 season. Two-thirds of their outfield was acquired in 2015.
The 2013 Cubs lost 96 games. They featured Anthony Rizzo at first base for 160 games. Jake Arrieta, known then as a failed top pick, started nine games. Hector Rondon, Travis Wood and Pedro Strop were pieces of the pitching staff.
As for the rest of that roster? It was gone before the Cubs won the World Series. That 2013 team used Darwin Barney at second, with Alfonso Soriano and Nate Schierholtz in the outfield corners. Edwin Jackson started 31 games. Kevin Gregg was the closer.
The Astros’ transformation is similar. The 2014 version lost 92 games. They used 20 position players, and just two are regulars on the 2017 team that has raced to the best record in baseball: Jose Altuve and George Springer. Eleven pitchers started a game for them; only two, Dallas Keuchel and Brad Peacock, are in the current rotation.
Altuve, Springer and Keuchel were stronger guarantees in 2014, for sure, than what populates the current Phillies’ roster. Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, two players viewed before the season as strong bets to stick through the rebuild, have regressed this season. The young rotation arms have underperformed. There is time to change those statements.
It is hard to admit that most of what happens this season does not matter. But that is the path chosen by Klentak and his boss, Andy MacPhail. It worked in Chicago and Houston.
Projecting the ‘Pigs
A component of player development, Klentak said, is understanding which young players are equipped to handle the initial failures that usually come with a promotion to the majors. That will influence how the Phillies decide who to summon and when.
But, really, no prospect at triple-A Lehigh Valley has forced Klentak’s hand. J.P. Crawford has not hit at triple A, and Klentak acknowledged for the first time that expectations must be adjusted.
“He’s still 22,” Klentak said. “He may not be quite on the fast track that he had been publicly anointed over the last few years. But as far as a long-term concern for his ability to contribute to this club, we are not concerned.”
Consider someone like Nick Williams, who entered the weekend with an .812 OPS at Lehigh Valley. It was boosted by decent slugging numbers. He has accumulated 772 career plate appearances at triple A now, with a .745 OPS. He has a 27.3 percent strikeout rate and 3.5 percent walk rate in those 772 plate appearances.
No player in the majors over the last seven seasons has enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title with those strikeout and walk rates as a baseline. Three outfielders who qualified with a 4 percent walk rate or lower were: Adam Jones (four times), Ben Revere (2014) and Ichiro Suzuki (2012).
The best outfielders who qualified for the batting title with a strikeout rate higher than 27.3 percent were ones who were able to reach base with some walks and flashed prodigious power numbers.
If Jones is Williams’ best comp, it still could be a leap. Jones, in 885 plate appearances at triple A, posted a 7.2 percent walk rate and 20.8 percent strikeout rate. His strikeout rate remained level when in the majors, but his walks dipped. He’s been a productive player for years.
Is there an argument for bringing Williams to the majors with the hope that something clicks and he becomes a more disciplined hitter against better pitching?
“He’s had a really good month and come into his own offensively,” Klentak said. “But he’s not a finished product. We’d like when players come up here they have a decent chance of staying, and that’s the thing.”
Updates on three
1. Cameron Rupp: Is it more than coincidence that his offensive numbers plummeted after pitching coach Bob McClure’s critical comments about his catching abilities? Maybe. Being a starting catcher in the majors is so hard; a player’s ability to separate his defense from his offense is critical. Few in the clubhouse care as much as Rupp.
2. Austin Davis: He’s lefthanded. He’s a reliever. He’s 24. He has struck out 49 batters and walked eight in 41 2/3 innings this season at high-Clearwater and double-A Reading. Remember his name.
3. Adam Haseley: He’ll start his professional career at short-season Williamsport, perhaps as soon as next week. The Phillies will keep him separated, for now, from Mickey Moniak. They want both top picks to stay in center field. Haseley might eventually move to a corner; both could be at Clearwater to start 2018.