February 13, 2017
CLEARWATER, Fla. –– On the eve of the first sanctioned workout of the 2017 season, Phillies team president Andy MacPhail arrived at his scheduled press conference with a small sheet of paper as a prop. There were only a few words scrawled onto the sheet.
MacPhail was honest and frank: he showed up to work this morning at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla., unaware he was the subject for the late morning press conference. He brainstormed a few bullet points and met the media anyway.
MacPhail, a third generation baseball executive who is two months away from his 63rd birthday and on a career track to Cooperstown, where his father and grandfather are enshrined, didn’t much need a script on Monday morning in Florida. Since arriving two summers ago as the heir apparent to Hall of Famer Pat Gillick (who was sitting in for David Montgomery), MacPhail has remained steadfast in his position of chartering the Phillies’ rebuild.
He didn’t need ample notes on Monday because, since the day he was hired in June of 2015, he’s cited examples of teams that underwent similar rebuilds and were rewarded for their patience. But where are the Phillies in their own rebuild – still slowly working their way up or closing in on returning to contention in the near future?
“I’m not falling for that,” MacPhail said with a laugh.
With that said MacPhail, entering his second full season as the Phils’ team president, was content with an offseason that saw general manager Matt Klentak supplement his roster with veterans, which should improve the team in 2017, while also keeping the payroll options very flexible for 2018 and beyond, too.
“We made a considerable investment in the offseason, adding $60 million but essentially one-year contracts, no commitments beyond Odubel beyond 2017,” MacPhail said. “You know, a lot of our year is going to depend upon how our performance at the major league level this year, what percolates up from below over the course of the 2017 season, keep our options and go from there.
“I’m very satisfied with the way Matt was able to apply our resources. We could have had a year where we let our payroll slip way down. Quite frankly our ownership doesn’t have a great appetite for that. One year with the worst record in baseball was enough for them. And they were interested in making sure, that while we didn’t do anything to block anybody who we think might be a part of our long-term future, we should add stabilizers where it made sense, and Matt was able to do that.”
Here are some other highlights of MacPhail’s Monday morning meeting with the media in Clearwater:
Given where the team is at now, adding one-year veterans to supplement young core, what’s the next logical step of the rebuild?
MacPhail: “This is baseball, we’re going get some pleasant surprises. We’re going to have some injuries and we’re going to have some disappointments. We’ll sort through (all of that). I think Cesar Hernandez had a great year for us last year and showed us that he looks like a piece. Freddy Galvis showed power and great defense. I mean, the complexion of where you think your team is, it's going to change with their performance. What we feel very strongly about is the level of our position player prospects at the higher levels of our system, particular with what might be the Triple-A team. Virtually every position is manned by someone who we think might have a major league future. That’s rare. Often you’re signing 6-year free agents to fill in. We’re not at that place, fortunately.
“We think our starting pitching, we have a lot of depth through the system. Not necessarily front-end rotation types, but, honestly, I would rather take numbers of solid prospects over the higher valued few. Give me numbers because we know the attrition rate. So I think we’re in good shape there. Our expectation is that we’ll be better than we were a year ago and our expectation is that we’ll continue to introduce new talent onto our major league team not unlike we did last year.”
Pete Mackanin mentioned this winter that playing .500 baseball should be the goal heading into 2017 – do you agree with that?
“I leave that ... I've been around too long to get involved with that. That's more the manager and general manager's –– I'm focused not so much on a number for next year. I'd like to see improvement. That can demonstrate itself in a lot of ways. So I'm looking for improvement, measurable, meaningful improvement. That could just be in the number of players that look like they can be pieces for the future. I think that's my goal for 2017. … I actually was pretty happy with Pete and the things I was trying to get across from my level to both Pete and Matt. If you show energy, effort and enthusiasm, if you do those things and some them to our fans, they're going to be a great deal more forgiving of what happens on the field. I think we got that by and large last year. I'm hoping we can maintain it and get it again this year.”
Then what would you consider to be a success in 2017?
“The fans and the media are pretty sophisticated. They're going to know improvement when they see it. I wouldn't put a number by it. Sometimes you can move the win number up but not really have a good year. We're trying to create a foundation for a baseball franchise. The more players that demonstrate on our current team that they belong and are part of the future and the more players that percolate up from our system that demonstrate they can be part of our future, that's a good year.”
You mentioned all the future major league talent at Triple-A. When can we expect to see these guys arrive to the major leagues?
“Representing the great city of Philadelphia, those things will become self-evident.”
You talked a lot about building pitching depth, what’s next?
“After improving the pitching, the next thing we should do is improve the pitching, and then after that, we should improve the pitching. Because look at what we did this offseason. Matt signed two corner outfielders. My experience has been that you can find the hitters. Particularly in our ballpark. And we have resources. When you have to sign pitchers through free agency, they’re fragile, they’re expensive. There’s times when you’re going to have to do it, but the more you can avoid it, the more you should. To me, it’s about pitching.”
You mentioned ownership wanting to spend this winter. Do you expect the Phillies to be back in the top half of MLB payrolls next year (in 2018)?
“It’s possible, absolutely. I would tell you and this may be more than I should say, but when we went through our offensive planning and got ownership involved and talked about different strategies and ways that we could go. We could’ve not invested the $60 million that we did in those contracts, and the payroll would have been too low for that. Too low.”
You’ve talked about your realm, in relation to not being the general manager and letting Matt do his own job. What’s your realm?
“I think you try to act as and this is probably aggrandizing my role but as a quality control coach. Let’s stay on track. Buck Showalter said something once that got my attention right from the beginning, you gotta know who you are and what you are trying to do. You can get seduced into trying to get away from that occasionally. Somebody’s gotta make sure from the overview that we stay on track and not do something that might look attractive at the present time but that’s not really what we’re about.”