MacPhail seeks improvement across the board

Phillies president pleased with GM Klentak's free-agent signings

MacPhail seeks improvement across the board

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Everybody still wants to know the timeline.

When will the Phillies contend again? 2018? 2019? Beyond?

"I'm not going to fall for that," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said Monday morning at Spectrum Field, where pitchers and catchers hold their first workout Tuesday.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

MacPhail has been careful not to make any ironclad pronouncements about the Phillies' rebuild because that leads to headaches. If he says 2018 and there are a few injuries to a few key players this season, then the timeline is pushed back, but folks panic because the team is not on schedule. But if he says 2020, folks still panic because it means the Phils are not as close as they should be.

"I'm focused not so much on a number for next year," MacPhail said about the 2017 win total. "I'd like to see improvement. That can demonstrate itself in a lot of ways. I'm looking for improvement, measurable, meaningful improvement. That could just be in the number of players that look like they can be pieces for the future. I think that's my goal for 2017."

MacPhail on rule changes

The Phillies stuck to their plan this offseason. They spent a little more than $66 million on veterans Jeremy Hellickson ($17.2 million), Clay Buchholz ($13.5 million), Howie Kendrick ($10 million), Michael Saunders ($9 million), Joaquin Benoit ($7.5 million), Pat Neshek ($6.5 million) and Andres Blanco ($3 million) to complement the group of young players that includes Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Each veteran will become a free agent following the season, which gives the club roster and financial flexibility.

"I'm very satisfied with the way [general manager] Matt [Klentak] was able to apply our resources," MacPhail said.

The roster flexibility will come in handy because the Phillies have a slew of prospects in Triple-A who could push for playing time. The most notable is shortstop J.P. Crawford, the Phils' No. 1 prospect, who will be competing for Freddy Galvis' job.

"Representing the great city of Philadelphia, those things will become self-evident," MacPhail said when asked when fans could see those prospects in the big leagues.

The financial flexibility will come in handy because the Phillies are expected to be bigger players in the free-agent and trade markets beginning next offseason.

Phillies truck arrives

"It's possible, absolutely," said MacPhail, asked if the Phils could be in the top half or top third in payroll next year. "I would tell you and this may be more than I should say, but when we went through our offensive planning and got ownership involved and talked about different strategies and ways that we could go -- we could've not invested the $60 million that we did in those contracts, and the payroll would have been too low for that. Too low.

"Quite frankly, our ownership doesn't have a great appetite for that. One year with the worst record in baseball [in 2015] was enough for them."

Projections from places like FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus have the Phillies winning about 74 games, which would be a marginal improvement from last year. So what actually constitutes a good year?

"This is baseball, we're going get some pleasant surprises," MacPhail said. "We're going to have some injuries and we're going to have some disappointments. We'll sort through [all of that]. What we feel very strongly about is the level of our position player prospects at the higher levels of our system, particularly with what might be the Triple-A team. Virtually every position is manned by someone who we think might have a Major League future. That's rare.

"We think our starting pitching, we have a lot of depth through the system. Not necessarily front-end rotation types, but, honestly, I would rather take numbers of solid prospects over the higher valued few. Give me numbers because we know the attrition rate. So I think we're in good shape there. Our expectation is that we'll be better than we were a year ago, and our expectation is that we'll continue to introduce new talent onto our Major League team, not unlike we did last year."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.