by Clark Groome
From opening day through the end of August, Major League teams’ rosters are limited to 25 players. On Sept. 1 teams are allowed to bring up minor league prospects to see what they might offer the big club in the future.
Almost since opening day the Phillies have been looking at a lot of rookies. Declaring themselves in a rebuilding mode, the Phils traded several veterans (Marlon Byrd, Jimmy Rollins, Antonio Bastardo, Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, Jake Diekman, Ben Revere and Chase Utley) for well-regarded prospects that could form the core of a contending team in two or three years.
Some of those newly acquired prospects and some from the Phillies farm system have already moved to the big club. Particularly impressive additions include pitchers Jerad Eickhoff (obtained in the Hamels trade), Adam Morgan and Aaron Nola (from the Phillies farm system), position players Aaron Altherr, Maikel Franco and Darnell Sweeney (from the Utley trade), and Rule 5 draftee Odubel Herrera.
What these kids have brought to the team is a sense of excitement and energy that was lacking through the early part of the season. From a fan’s point of view, the Phillies now are much more fun to watch then they were earlier in the year.
Much of the credit for this should go to General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. who made the trades and Interim Manager Pete Mackanin who took over when Ryne Sandberg quit. He has created an open and positive atmosphere in the clubhouse, something lacking under the dour Sandberg.
Is the team ready for Prime Time? No way. The youngsters often make rookie mistakes that keep the team from being as offensively effective as they might be. They sometimes allow the opposition to succeed when they really shouldn’t.
But they are fun to watch. They’re scoring runs. They never give up. Even the uneven pitching has shown signs of improvement. Aaron Nola (5-1, 3.26 ERA) has been eye-opening and both Jerad Eickhoff (1-1, 2.25) and Adam Morgan (5-4, 4.03) have had some really fine starts.
All of this energy, and some would say improvement, leads to a major question about the team’s future: What happens to Amaro and Mackanin when this year is over?
Sometime in early October, Andy MacPhail will succeed Pat Gillick as team president. At the same time Amaro’s contract and Mackanin’s term as interim manager will end.
If a vote were taken right now, fans would likely ask for Amaro’s head on a platter. He’s blamed, rightly, for some of the contract and personnel problems the team has faced for the last couple of years. He has also been credited, again rightly, with the positive trades made over the last year.
My guess is that MacPhail will replace Amaro. He’ll want his own man as GM and is wise enough to know that keeping Amaro would make his first official move as president a public relations disaster. He’s too savvy to let that happen.
The Mackanin issue is trickier. Certainly any general manager, whether Amaro or his replacement, will want to have a say about who the field boss should be. My hope is that Mackanin stays. He has done a yeoman’s job under almost impossibly difficult circumstances. The kids in his locker room feel comfortable, respected and in sound baseball hands. This is a perfect example of not fixing something that isn’t broken. He’s earned another year, and I hope he gets it.
As the current campaign winds down, the Phillies changing personnel have gotten more than the normal quick look that most teams give prospects in September.
Not everything is perfect. What’s to be done with Cody Asche, Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf? Can you afford to bring back veterans Andres Blanco and Jeff Francoeur, two of the most positive influences on the younger players? Can you afford not too? What about Chooch Ruiz and Ryan Howard? It’s very complicated.
But things are looking up. There are clearly some positive signs and some positive additions to the 25-man roster.
All in all, the Phillies’s upcoming off-season could be – no, should be – one of the most interesting in the last 15 years.