NEW YORK -- A little more than seven months ago, Phillies president Andy MacPhail sat at a table in a Bonita Springs, Fla., hotel and said he expected the 2016 season to reveal if the club is on the fast, medium or slow track to postseason contention.So where are the
NEW YORK -- A little more than seven months ago, Phillies president Andy MacPhail sat at a table in a Bonita Springs, Fla., hotel and said he expected the 2016 season to reveal if the club is on the fast, medium or slow track to postseason contention.
So where are the Phils with six games remaining?
"I would say somewhere between medium and fast," MacPhail told MLB.com this weekend at Citi Field. "We certainly had measurable progress in a lot of areas."
MacPhail mentioned the Phillies' farm system. Every affiliate finished better than .500 for the first time since 1953. Philadelphia's domestic affiliates had a .595 winning percentage, which ranked first in baseball. Four of those six teams made the postseason.
"An outstanding year in our farm system, no matter how you want to measure it," MacPhail said.
• Phillies' Top 30 Prospects
MacPhail said he saw progress in the big leagues, too. The Phils' rotation finished 29th in the Majors in 2015 with a 5.23 ERA. After Sunday's games, they were 18th with a 4.39 ERA. The Phillies are in decent shape entering next season with Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Alec Asher, Adam Morgan, Ben Lively and others in the mix.
Of course, Nola might be the best of the bunch and he sustained a season-ending right elbow injury on July 28. MacPhail, like many in the organization, is concerned about Nola's health and recovery.
Eflin is set for his second knee surgery in the coming weeks, too.
But then there is the Phillies' offense, which is last in the Majors with 3.79 runs per game and 29th with a .300 on-base percentage.
"Our offense here didn't improve that much, if at all, but that's not a surprise, because frankly we pretty much ignored it in the offseason," MacPhail said. "We focused more on trying to get a foundation of pitching established. But I would say we had measurable progress, outstanding years in a lot of ways throughout the system. But we still have a lot of work to do."
Could the Phillies acquire a free agent or two in the offseason to support the team's young hitters? It is possible -- a corner outfielder seems most likely -- but it is not a fait accompli. In fact, it would not be a total stunner to see the 2017 Opening Day lineup include catcher Cameron Rupp, first baseman Tommy Joseph, second baseman César Hernández, third baseman Maikel Franco, shortstop Freddy Galvis and outfielders Odúbel Herrera, Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr; especially because the upcoming offseason's free-agent market is considered relatively weak, and future ones are considered much stronger. That particularly includes the 2018-19 offseason, which might feature Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
"I don't think you want to make a long-term commitment to a player that is not a game changer in your mind, if you think you have an internal option that might be better," MacPhail said. "You want to keep the flexibility there. At the same time, nobody has too much pitching. Any time an opportunity arises in pitching, I think we have a responsibility to pursue it. But there's no, 'We're going to be dormant for a year and in two years, watch us.' That's not the way it should be. The way it should be is we're always open.
"But I think we have enough promising kids in the system that some of that offensive fix will come from within. And we have enough financial flexibility going forward that those areas where we don't have internal solutions, we're going to have the wherewithal to find external solutions."
That could mean trades.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak will be making those potential trades. He is coming up on his one-year anniversary with the organization, and MacPhail said he is very pleased with what he has seen from Klentak.
Klentak made one big trade in the offseason, shipping closer Ken Giles to Houston for Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, Mark Appel, Thomas Eshelman and Harold Arauz. Velasquez looks like a key piece of the Phillies' future. Klentak also acquired Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton in deals. Hellickson worked out extremely well, stabilizing the rotation. The oft-injured Morton did not, succumbing to injury.
David Hernandez, who Klentak's only Major League free-agent signing, was signed to be a back-end bullpen piece, but he will finish the season as a middle reliever. There were mixed results with other smaller acquisitions, such as Peter Bourjos, Jimmy Paredes, Michael Mariot and Andrew Bailey.
But the Phillies improved upon last season's record, which was the worst in Majors, and they certainly look closer to contention than they did a year ago.
"I think the years he spent with the Angels made him grow more than I really recognized," MacPhail said about Klentak. "He's got a great background for it. He's got a good feel for it. He understands the importance of scouting, international scouting and player development. He likes to make trades, as he's shown. He's not afraid to pull the trigger on what could be a high-risk trade like Giles. But he's not going to be make a trade for trade's sake.
"We didn't do anything at the [Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade] Deadline. I'm sure everybody thought we would. But he also has the discipline that if he doesn't like what's coming back, he's not going to feel pressure to do it."
MacPhail said the Phillies plan to expand their analytics department in the offseason. They also will add to their international scouting department and add personnel in player development.
"You really have to be as good as you can be in a variety of different ways," MacPhail said.
So what's next for 2017?
"Progress doesn't need to be linear," MacPhail said. "If you look at teams that went through a real rebuilding program -- whether it's Baltimore, Pittsburgh or the Cubs -- they didn't stair-step their way to the postseason. They lay flat in the 60s and maybe creep up to the 70s, but then boom, it's 90 [wins]."
It might be more than a year before the Phillies go boom, but MacPhail is confident they are on the path to eventually make it happen.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.