The 2016 Phillies exceeded (very low) expectations to win 71 games, an eight-game improvement from the year before. Did that prompt the team to embark on a spending spree to take the team to the next level?
No, they were still rebuilding, so there weren’t going to be any marquee signings. However, the team did acquire some major league veterans who would theoretically improve the team on the field, while not hampering future plans.
The big moves
- Signed pitcher Jeremy Hellickson as a free agent (one year)
- Signed outfielder Michael Saunders as a free agent (one year)
- Signed reliever Joaquin Benoit as a free agent (one year)
- Traded for starter Clay Buchholz
- Traded for infielder Howie Kendrick
- Traded for reliever Pat Neshek
How did they do?
The Phillies attempted to add some legitimate Major League players, albeit cheap ones. Hellickson was brought back to provide innings for a rotation that was young (and at the time, thought to be loaded with potential). He gave them passable enough innings and was eventually traded to the Orioles for a couple of prospects. They also took a chance on two-time All-Star Buchholz coming off a down season, but injuries limited him to just two starts on the year.
Kendrick and Saunders were touted as “professional hitters,” but neither worked out. Kendrick was injured for much of the season - although they were able to trade him at the deadline for a lottery ticket prospect and some international pool money. Saunders, who had slumped badly in the second half of 2016, continued to slump. The team released him in June.
I think my favorite Matt Klentak quote of all time is this one, when he explained how Michael Saunders was going to carry the Phillies for a month. https://t.co/ZFacD7ohID— Jonny Heller (@JonnyHeller) November 25, 2019
The bullpen arms worked out well enough. Benoit was fine in middle relief before getting flipped for a prospect, and Neshek actually served as the team’s token All-Star before being traded for prospects at the deadline. He’d then return to the team as a free agent the following year.
Once again, the Phillies learned that paying less-than-premium prices gets you less-than-premium results. Most of the veterans were busts, and instead of building upon the overachievement in 2016, the team took a step backwards. But I can’t grade them too harshly, because they were brought in on either short-term deals or low-risk trades, and no lasting harm was done.
This would be the final season for interim manager Pete Mackanin who was let go in favor of GM Matt Klentak’s own pick. Which meant that the following year was when things finally began to get interesting for the Phillies.
Final grade: C-