by Adam Hayes
A 71-91 record was not the outcome in mind heading into the 2015-16 season. The Phillies finished 4th in their division, with only the Braves trailing the team. Two tough competitors remain in the National League East, the Mets and the Nationals, and their successes have come at the hands of their players. Each team features top-of-the-line pitching talents and has ridden these folks to the postseason the last few seasons.
The Phillies had this mindset when entering the off-season last year: grab some talented arms without having to sacrifice their younger studs. The team was able to accomplish this by bringing in Jeremy Hellickson from Arizona and giving up a minor league player to do so. This transaction paid dividends for the team, but a division is not won of the premise of one pitcher.
The Phillies are back at it again this offseason with their recent acquisition of pitcher Clay Buchholz. Buchholz, who is 32, had a rough go of it last year with the Red Sox. Posting a .500 win-to-loss ratio, Buchholz found tension between him and the team when it came to how he was being utilized. He was featured out of the bullpen, came in for short relief stints and even was called on to close out some contests when short-handed. His mindset is set in the starting role and he will now be able to meet that goal by joining the Phillies. Philadelphia pounced on the opportunity to obtain Buchholz and only sacrificed a former 10th round pick to do so.
Now the team gets to feature two veteran arms to help deviate between the younger guys they have either waiting in the wings or on the 40-man roster. Both Buchholz and Hellickson will provide a voice to two of the younger pitching talents the team is high on: Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Both Velasquez and Nola saw some decent run in the 2016 season and Velasquez has proven himself as one of the league’s best. Bringing in the mere presence of these two veterans will bode well for communications and consistency among a rotation that could really use this boost. Jerad Eickhoff is another guy who will benefit from the addition of Buchholz. The rotation has finally taken shape and if these 5 can model consistency, they could make a run in the 2017 season.
A second area of concern is the addition of position players at places that may be lacking consistent play. There are two younger guys who have locked down their positions on the team: Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Odubel holds it down in the outfield and Maikel has the third base position locked up. These 20-something-year-olds still have something to prove at the plate, but their defensive premises have been as consistent as they come.
This turns the discussion to potential players that would fit well with the team. Two names that have gotten a lot of attention are Yoenis Cespedes and Ian Desmond. Desmond is a more likely candidate for the team than Cespedes, but both seem like a reach. Focusing more on players like Josh Reddick, Michael Saunders and Carlos Gomez would be more beneficial to the team. These combo outfielders and infielders provide the necessary relief the team will require to develop their younger players.
The final area of focus relies in developing younger talents. Guys like Roman Quinn, J.P. Crawford and other such top-100 talents have some pressure on them this season. These guys have been mulled around through all the classes of minor league ball and have either faced a roadblock or some adversity at each level. Responding to these adversities and overcoming them will be a necessity for the team this year. The team is still going through a rebuild, but the plan has already been set; the time for action is now. Expect the team to make some early call-ups and work with these players on hot starts.
The team has no room for failure, so if maturity is shown by these young talents, we could see other guys facing the same circumstances as Herrera and Franco come the close of the season. If the team can find their pieces and groove early, they have the pitching to carry them, and they could contend near the top of the division come the 2017 season.