The Phillies entered Friday night's game against the Nationals at Nationals Park with the worst record in baseball, but with some reasons to be optimistic about the future. Rhys Hoskins has been a huge bright spot. Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams have helped the outfield have its most productive season since 2010. Jorge Alfaro has impressed in limited action. And the Phils have a nice problem on their hands in the infield with Freddy Galvis, J.P. Crawford, Cesar Hernandez and Scott Kingery either producing in the big leagues or knocking on the door.
But if the Phillies plan to improve next season, they will need to upgrade their pitching, particularly in the rotation. Its 4.92 ERA is 25th in baseball. Its .813 opponents OPS is 27th. Philadelphia has plenty of arms, but there are concerns with some about health and with others about performance.
"In its simplest terms, I think the areas for us to make [offseason] investments and make upgrades are probably going to come more on the pitching side than the position player side for next year," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. "Again, that's largely a product of personnel. But you never know.
"We're going to continue to place a focus on adding as many pitchers as we can to our system, letting them matriculate up through the system and when we have opportunities to go outside, whether it's short-term veteran arms, trades for players with longer years of control or even more marquee pitchers, longer contracts in free agency, those are all avenues that we're going to pursue. Not just this offseason, but for the foreseeable future."
Perhaps the Phillies' search for pitching takes them somewhere in between the one-year rentals they acquired the previous two offseasons (Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz) and the big fish like Yu Darvish, who will be a free agent this winter and whose best years in any megadeal are likely to come before the Phillies are ready to contend.
The Phillies could solve their infield logjam by trading Galvis, Hernandez or Maikel Franco for pitching help. It would open opportunities for Crawford and eventually Kingery, who is unlikely to open next season with the team.
"I know there's been a lot of speculation about our infield specifically, and how do you make room for all these players," Klentak said. "We're continuing to gather information right now to help us make that decision. I'm sure we'll field plenty of inquiries throughout the offseason.
"We'll just have to see where that takes us. It's certainly not the end of the world to go into next year with all of these infielders we currently have in the organization. We can make that work. But if there's an opportunity to utilize that depth to help us in other areas, then we'll consider that as well."
Franco is finishing a highly disappointing season, so it is unclear how much trade value he might have. His .656 OPS ranks last among 23 qualified third basemen. His -0.9 WAR is 148th out of 152 players, according to FanGraphs.
Does he deserve to go into the offseason as the Opening Day third baseman?
"I absolutely believe in Maikel Franco's future," Klentak said. "I think there's too much talent there. He has the bat speed, the strength, his defense has taken a step forward. All the components are there for Maikel to still be a really good player. I know his numbers right now aren't what a lot of people expected or hoped, but we still believe strongly in his future.
"What the future holds next year and beyond for Maikel and the rest of the infield and how the rest of that plays out, we have time to figure that out. By no means have we given up on Maikel Franco or lost confidence in him."
Of course, that does not mean Franco will be at third base on Opening Day. The Phillies have needs. They have players to trade. Anything can happen.
• Klentak said a chance remains that right-hander Zach Eflin (strained right shoulder) pitches again this season, although it is not definite.
• Catcher Andrew Knapp (broken right hand) is pain-free and could rejoin the Phillies late next week.
• Outfielder Aaron Altherr (strained right hamstring) could be back in the lineup no later than Tuesday in Philadelphia.
• Right-hander Jesen Therrien has a UCL injury in his right elbow. He will get a second opinion. Surgery is a possibility, but at the very least, his season is likely finished.
• Infielder Pedro Florimon (dislocated right ankle) is expected to be ready by Spring Training.
• Right-hander Vince Velasquez had surgery earlier this week to repair a vascular issue with his right middle finger. He will begin throwing in November and have a normal offseason.