The Phillies don’t need any green alligators or long-necked geese.
They do, however, need a unicorn, preferably two.
The Phillies are about to begin their most important offseason in years.
Their top priority should be starting pitching.
“We get inundated with stories across the game about how everybody is looking for starting pitching,” team president Andy MacPhail said. “Just get two quality starters, and we’ll be all set. Well, you might as well look for a unicorn at the same time. It’s tough.”
It is general manager Matt Klentak’s job to turn the mythical unicorn into reality. If he doesn’t, the Phillies will have failed to build on the momentum they created in the season’s final two months.
Despite their 66-96 record, the Phillies roster has been rebuilt and now features talented young players with potential. The average age of the Phillies’ nine starters for their final game last Sunday was 24.7. That compares to an average age of 28.1 for the nine Phillies who started opening day.
The Phillies won 13 of their final 21 games and 19 of their final 34. They averaged 4.77 runs after the All-Star break, their best half-season offensive showing since they averaged 4.83 after the 2010 break.
Are the Phillies the next Minnesota Twins or Arizona Diamondbacks? Both teams made the playoffs in 2017 after losing 103 and 93 games, respectively, in 2016.
“I do think what we have seen over the last two months or so with a lot of these young players bodes very well for our future,” Klentak said. “How quickly that manifests itself and turns into a playoff team remains to be seen, but we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that happens.”
What follows is Klentak’s offseason checklist
Sign C.C. Sabathia
The Phillies ended the season with only one reliable starting pitcher – Aaron Nola (12-11 with a 3.27 ERA).
The 2017 free agent pitching class is filled with starters 30 or older. The Phillies don’t favor older pitchers but must make an exception.
Sabathia, 37, is a perfect candidate. He has pitched in plenty of big games for winning teams and can mentor the Phillies’ young pitchers.
And despite his age, he was 14-5 in 27 starts for the New York Yankees this season. He made 30 starts in 2016 and 29 starts in 2015.
Sabathia is worth a two-year contract. As for the second veteran starter …
Make a WOW trade
The Phillies have a glut of infielders with third baseman Maikel Franco, shortstops Freddy Galvis and J.P. Crawford, second baseman Cesar Hernandez and triple-A second baseman Scott Kingery.
The Phillies also have a deep minor league farm system, especially at the lower levels.
They need to trade an infielder — probably either Hernandez or Kingery — and some minor leaguers for a starting pitcher who is under contract for the next two to three years.
Think of Gerrit Cole (12-12 with 4.08 ERA) of the Pittsburgh Pirates or Chris Archer (10-12 with 4.07 ERA) of the Tampa Bay Rays. Both do not become free agents until 2020.
“This is as deep an organization that I’ve ever been associated with,” MacPhail said of Philadelphia’s farm system. “Is it possible that Matt uses those assets in the minor leagues to augment our major-league club in 2018? I think the answer to that question is definitely we’d consider it.”
If the Phillies add two starters, they could fill-in the back two spots of rotation with youngsters such as Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Mark Leiter and Tom Eshelman.
“From a numbers perspective, not only in the big leagues, but all the way down through A ball,” Klentak said, “we do have a lot of volume in the starting pitching department.”
Hire a manager
Klentak said he fired Pete Mackanin because the Phillies needed new leadership for the next phase of the rebuild.
But the next phase means 90-plus losses will no longer be tolerated.
“When Matt flipped that switch, he did change the expectations,” MacPhail said. “I think that’s a fair point.”
MacPhail said he wants a manager in place by the time the general manager meetings are held Nov. 7-10 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Klentak said he will interview external and internal candidates. Among the candidates mentioned in several media reports are Phillies triple-A manager Dusty Wathan, former Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and Chicago White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing.
Expect the new manager to be in his late 30s to early 40s and have a strong belief in analytics.
Figure out the infield
Who will start on the Phillies infield in 2018?
Third baseman Maikel Franco has had consecutive disappointing seasons but his 24 home runs led the team this season and at 25 he’s too young to give up on.
Crawford starts at shortstop and either Kingery or Hernandez plays second base. That makes Galvis a super-utility player. He can get three to four starts a week at either second or short and be a late-inning defensive replacement.
Sign Todd Frazier
The Phillies need a veteran to bolster their bench. Frazier (27 home runs and 76 RBIs) is perfect for that role. The Toms River resident can play both first and third base and has the power to tie a game or give the Phillies the lead with one swing of the bat as a late-inning pinch hitter.