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October 17, 2017

#PhilsQuestions: On the managerial search, biggest offseason goals, and pitchers who aren't unicorns

It’s been a quiet offseason so far for the Phillies, which is to be expected in October. Free agency doesn’t begin for another few weeks and baseball teams that aren’t in the postseason are frowned upon making news that could overshadow the playoffs.

Of course, the Phillies still need to hire a manager, and are expected to do so before next month’s General Managers Meetings in Orlando (Nov. 13-16) so they could still make some news at some point during the World Series if not shortly after its conclusion. The Phils will want a manager in place before those meetings, and most likely, before free agency opens early next month.

Since it has been rather quiet, and because we haven’t run through this exercise in some time, we figured it was good as a time as any for #PhilsQuestions, that thing where we turn to Twitter to see what’s on the mind of the average, social media-connected Phillies fans. As always, participants qualified by including the hashtag #PhilsQuestions in their … Phils question.

Off we go.

Josh Liss (@josh1701) asks: Thanks for doing this! Any idea when Spring Training schedule will be released? Concerned there’ll be fewer ST games? #PhilsQuestions

Well, according to my trusty social media feed, I posted the spring training schedules for each of the last two years on Nov. 4 and Nov. 3, respectively. So expect the 2018 spring training schedule to be released in about two weeks. Again, after the World Series.

As for the concern that spring training could be shorter in 2018, well,  it will be shorter, as per the new collective bargaining agreement. But not that much shorter. And unless you’re a retired Florida resident that simply can’t get enough exhibition major league baseball in March, this is a good thing.

Spring training is only as long as it is (six to seven weeks) so pitchers can get properly stretched out and ready for the six-to-seven month season. But the modern athlete (including the modern pitcher, who often arrives at camp having thrown off a mound at least 2-3 times) is almost always in shape a lot earlier in camp than, say, 20-30 years ago. That’s not to say spring training should be cut in half, but slicing off a few days or a week isn’t going to affect anyone negatively.

Tom Robson (@ThomasMRobson) asks: Any sense if more manager interviews have been going on quietly? #PhilsQuestions

Barry Ford (@ScoopBarry) asks: #PhilsQuestions Why wouldn't the Phils consider Mike Sarbaugh rather than Cleveland's pitching coach?

Steven Lampert (@StevenLampert) asks: Are Phillies serious about Buck Showalter? #PhilsQuestions

Gary Schneider (@garys10120) asks: Will they wait for (Joe) Girardi to make a decision on his future before hiring anyone? #PhilsQuestions

Ok, so, yes, surely expected the majority of the #PhilsQuestions to be related to the aforementioned managerial vacancy. So let’s attack these one-by-one, shall we?

The Phillies interviews have already begun “quietly,” if that’s the word you want to use to say it’s not exactly being done as it was 13 years ago when Charlie Manuel emerged as the victor (over popular fan choice Jim Leyland). The Phils already interviewed three internal candidates last week and were expected to interview some external candidates this week.

No, Buck Showalter isn’t involved. He remains under contract with the Baltimore Orioles for another year and the O’s ownership isn’t interested in letting him out of his contract (even for some kind of compensation). And, to be honest, Showalter doesn’t exactly fit the prototype (read: younger) that general manager Matt Klentak is likely seeking out in his candidates.

Joe Girardi (in his last year under contract with the Yankees) surely is an interesting name, but I’m not entirely sure why the Yankees (currently in the American League Championship Series) wouldn’t bring him back. Money is hardly ever an issue up there in the Bronx.

As for choosing to interview one Cleveland coach over another (Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway was expected to interview this week, and we haven’t seen Sarbaugh’s name linked), that’d be like trying to figure out why your son always orders vanilla or mint chocolate chip ice cream instead of chocolate. Surely they just have their own preferences, and Callaway would seem to have a pretty strong resume as the man who has helped mold one of the major league’s top pitching staffs (getting former top prospects Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco to tap into their respected talents) in recent seasons. The Phillies have plenty of young pitching (both on the major league roster and throughout the farm system) and the ability to get those pitchers to reach their respective potential will be paramount in the franchise’s transformation from rebuilders to contenders.

2008 Phillies (@2008Philz) asks: When are they going to make the official #CoachChooch announcement? #PhilsQuestions

JB (@BurkusMaximus) asks: Any chance Chase Utley is the manager next year? #PhilsQuestions

It’s difficult to tell how serious these queries are but we should probably point out that both of these players are still active players on major league rosters. And, yes, they’re also two of the most respected players to come through the Phillies organization in the last quarter century.

For reasons similar to why Utley wasn’t a candidate to return to the Phillies last winter, and a part of the reason that Ruben Amaro Jr. rumor was so ludicrous, neither will be the team’s new manager. We could definitely see Carlos Ruiz getting a job somewhere in the organization, though, if he decides to retire this winter.

James Cook (@thisJamesCook) asks: (Is) Rhys (Hoskins) gonna be the starting 1B? #PhilsQuestions

Undoubtedly. The Phillies current regime values outfield defense (as they probably should) and although Hoskins handled himself OK out there, he’s not covering ground like Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, or Aaron Altherr. And Tommy Joseph (.721 OPS and .289 OPS both ranked 23rd out of 23 qualifying major league first baseman) would appear to be the odd man out, regulated to either a bench role in 2018 or a candidate to be packaged in a trade for pitching.

Cameron Flynn (@Cameron_Flynn15) asks: Biggest target for offseason? #PhilsQuestions

Dan May (@dannmaal) asks: Do you think the Phillies will go after a big name starting pitcher or two via free agency or trade in the off-season? #PhilsQuestions

Greg McGreg (@Gregrock) asks: Hey @ryanlawrence21 - odds that either/both of (Freddy) Galvis and (Cesar) Hernandez are packaged this winter for a pitcher or prospect(s)?

Again, we’ll group some questions together if they fall under the same basic query. And the latter two kind of answer the first one, right?

It should be fairly obvious that the Phillies have no need greater than adding additional starting pitching to the roster before Opening Day 2018. Former first-round pick Aaron Nola enjoyed a breakout season, but the rest of the young starters on the staff either regressed or are still too young and inexperienced to count on to populate the top half of the rotation. So it’s a priority to add at least two veterans arms to the staff.

How will Klentak and Co. go about that? Well, they won’t be chasing unicorns.

And that’s probably wise, since the best free agents pitchers are often north of 30-years-old and commanding $150 million-plus contracts. And biology and math tell you that aging, expensive pitchers aren’t your best bet, particularly when you might not even contend until 2019. (We’ve seen Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee all break down in their mid-30s, right? Not that those were bad deals: the Phils are absolutely contenders when all arrived.)

The Phils can still go the one-year route, perhaps in identifying the next Charlie Morton/Jeremy Hellickson type. Most people would rather have the front office locate a more permanent solution, and that could be accomplished in a couple of different ways, too.

You could take a chance on a shorter, multi-year deal for someone like Alex Cobb or you could package some of your position player depth on the major league roster (and some minor league arms) for a younger, experienced starter under club control. Or you could do both.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of trade value Galvis would have to a (likely rebuilding) team unloading young pitching, since he’s a free agent after the season. But Cesar Hernandez (or Scott Kingery, or Maikel Franco) is an interesting name to start a 3-or-4 player package around.

Would a run at Gerrit Cole (two more arbitration years, a free agent following 2019) make sense? How about calling on Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman, or Julio Teheran? A word of warning: none of those pitchers will come cheap, as young, controllable starters are gold in the current climate and would take more than, say, Cesar Hernandez and an A-ball pitching prospect, to acquire.

But the thinking here is trading for pitching (even a more expensive veteran on the backend of a long-term deal) is a better play than throwing all your money at one. Save that money for the much more attractive/worthy free agent class of 2018-19 next winter.

Brian Rosenwald (@brianros1) asks: #PhilsQuestions As the other young teams in Philly flourish, does ownership start pressing Klentak to use resources & try to be relevant?

It’s an interesting question because managing partner John Middleton is aware of perception in this sports-crazed city and there could be an interesting push-and-pull behind the scenes at One Citizens Bank Way after the team’s second bottom-three finish in the last three seasons and the constant sea of empty blue seats that have come as a result.

Ownership undoubtedly wants to increase payroll (president Andy MacPhail said as much two weeks ago) but the baseball operations department is trying to be smart about when they’ll take that plunge, timing it for when the current young core is a proven young core and when the best fits on the open market are available (again, see the ridiculously-rich free agent class of 2018-19).

But no, I don’t think that just because the Eagles are off to a hot start or that the Sixers’ young (and unproven) core is all the rage that the Phils’ front office will be pushed into making moves they’re simply not comfortable making (signing expensive free agents just to sign expensive free agents). Middleton hired MacPhail who hired Klentak in order to bring a smart, calculated approach to complete the rebuild. Unlike a Yankees team holding Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman as trade deadline bait 2 1/2 years ago, there really doesn’t appear to be a wise shortcut or two here for the Phillies to make to speed up the process.

Jersey Josh (@MrJerseyJosh) asks: do you foresee the Phils taking ownership over any of their MiLB franchises like the Mets did with Syracuse? #PhilsQuestions

For one, the Phillies do have some investments in their farm system teams: they own the Reading Fightin' Phils and the Clearwater Threshers. But the larger point here is, with the New York Mets specifically, the Mets obviously wanted to get out of the very inconvenient Triple-A relationship they had with Las Vegas, and the Syracuse franchise was bankrupt not that long ago, so we’re not sure the same scenario exists for the Phillies.

Sure they have more money and could use that money for other resources other than the composition of their major league roster this winter, but the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, for example, have been one of the most profitable minor league operations in the last half-dozen years or so. And team owners Craig Stein and Joe Finley have made quite the profit in the last decade (buying the team for an estimated $14 million and seeing the value rise to $26 million in just six years). So I’m not certain why they’d want to sell when business is booming.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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