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September 30, 2016

Mackanin after meeting with front office: 'We're definitely going to upgrade' roster

Shortly before 5:30 p.m., nearly 90 minutes after his normally scheduled time to meet with the media before a game, Pete Mackanin emerged from a conference room at Citizens Bank Park and found a seat in the home dugout.

For more than four hours, Mackanin and his coaching staff met with the front office, led by team president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak, and underwent a comprehensive review of the 2016 roster. It was an effort for everyone to put their best opinions forward – or in Mackanin’s words, have “very frank conversations” – as the Phillies brass attempts to improve for 2017.

The most important takeaway?

“Everybody was pretty much on the same page,” Mackanin said. “We know what we need, and hopefully we’ll get that done over the winter or in the spring.”

The Phillies, losers of seven of their last eight games, may be limping to the finish line as they prepare for their final weekend of the 2016 season, but they have already won seven more games than they did in 2015. A win-loss record isn’t necessarily the best way to evaluate the progress of a rebuilding team, though.

Instead, it’s more important to look at the individual progress of each player, which is exactly why Friday’s meeting took place. On the whole, there were a lot of mixed results, players to get “excited about” and others who “disappointed.”

“The whole idea of last year and this year, it’s a fact-finding mission,” Mackanin said. “Who is going to fit in and who's not. We exhausted every effort to get as many players as possible a veritable chance to show they belong here. And some did and some didn’t. … I think we saw a good improvement in the starting pitching. We’ve got some young guys that we’re really happy about, some of the position players. And we’re just going to move on from there.”

As the Phillies' rebuild presses forward, they have some promising starting pitching and they have a few position players who may be competent complementary players. The most glaring need is for offense, and specifically, hitters with power and plate discipline that can fit into the middle of a lineup.

Surely each of the other 29 teams in baseball would like to add those kinds of hitters, too. But it’s difficult to come up with a team that needs those kinds of hitters more than the Phillies.

Heading into Friday night’s game with the New York Mets, the Phillies ranked last (30th) or second-to-last (29th) in baseball in several major offensive categories, including runs scored (601, 30th … and 39 fewer runs than the next closest team), hitting (.240, 29th), OBP (.301, 29th) OPS (.686, 30th), walks (419, 30th), extra-base hits (423, 29th), and total bases (2,056, 30th).

Mackanin has repeatedly expressed his desire to see the front office acquire one or two proven, dependable veteran hitters this winter. But it’s unclear if the front office, aware of the big picture that might not end with the team contending until at least 2018, is on board with spending the money or prospects it would take to acquire such veteran talent.

“Well, I know we’re definitely going to upgrade somehow, whether it’s from within or go out and get somebody via trade or even a free agent, depending on who’s available and if it makes sense,” Mackanin said. “So, you know, we’re going fulfill our needs. We have to get better next year. We have to show improvement. And hopefully, the moves we do make result in more wins.”

With top prospect J.P. Crawford not far away from the big leagues, Maikel Franco entrenched at third base (although he could potentially slide over to first base, too), several promising young catchers, and some center field depth in Odubel Herrera and oft-injured but uber-talented Roman Quinn, the Phils best avenue to improve the offense would likely come from acquiring a corner outfielder, or, perhaps, someone to share first base with Tommy Joseph.

An upgrade could come through a trade (it was just two months ago that Vince Velasquez’s name was a hot trade rumor). There are also several free agents that could fit that description this winter, including Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Desmond, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Bautista. The Phillies will have the payroll flexibility (currently just $24.2 million committed to 2017) to acquire a hitter or two, and the motivation, too, with the aforementioned offensive numbers and sagging attendance (only six teams have a lower average attendance in 2016).

But whether the front office decides adding a bat or two is sound decision in line with the timeline for the Phillies to contend, that’s another story. For example, you could overpay to get a high power, high on-base guy like Bautista this winter, and he could play both right field and the corner infield spots, but will Bautista (who turns 36 next month) still be a high power, high on-base player in, say, 2019?

Those are the ruminations the front office must sort through in the next six weeks, before the free agent period begins. But, following a lengthy meeting with the coaching staff, at least they’re aware of what their manager wants.

“I would like to get a good solid proven hitter somewhere on the field,” Mackanin said. “Where that is right now will be determined by who is available and what kind of a deal, if any, they could make. And, if not, we'll try to find something from within that we think can help us or somebody could make a great impression in the spring. There's so many ways to do that. There might be somebody we never even thought of at this point that might enter the picture and give us a boost.”

But, again, outside help is probably necessary. Just consider the way Mackanin answered the question of whether he put his best lineup on the field on Friday, when the Phillies were standing in the way of the Mets clinching a postseason berth.

“I think so,” Mackanin said. “At this point, yes. I put as much offense as I could in there. …That’s the best we have, yeah.”

Mackanin’s Friday night lineup included Jimmy Paredes (.218/.246/.361) starting in left field.

• When asked if his entire coaching staff would be returning for 2017, Mackanin's comments were telling: “At this point, we'll know that by tomorrow or the next day.”

• It's unlikely that Roman Quinn (oblique) will be back on the field this season. Quinn left Tuesday night's game in Atlanta with the injury, which had already caused him to miss significant time at Double-A earlier this season.

• On this day in Phillies history nine years ago (2007), Jimmy Rollins hit a two-out RBI triple in the sixth inning against Luis Ayala to become the fourth player in major league history to record at least 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in a single season, joining Curtis Granderson (also 2007, Tigers), Willie Mays (1957, Giants), and Frank Schulte (1911, Cubs).

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