MIAMI - The Phillies have a manager for the 2016 season in place after extending Pete Mackanin's contract yesterday. But will Mackanin have a better collection of players to deal with come February, in an effort to avoid a third straight last-place finish?
While acknowledging that some talent could rise through the minor league system, incoming team president Andy MacPhail said the Phillies "absolutely feel like [they] need to be active this offseason."
Of course, before they enter the free-agent market, the Phillies need a general manager to replace Ruben Amaro Jr., who was fired two weeks ago. MacPhail said he has interviewed only one candidate so far, but expects the process to intensify in the week after the regular season ends (beginning Oct. 5).
MacPhail hopes to have someone in place for the annual organizational meetings the last week of October.
"That's our goal," MacPhail said. "I think it probably would be ambitious, but that is definitely still the goal."
The Angels, Mariners and Red Sox also have vacancies at GM and Milwaukee hired one Monday. Some of the Phillies' candidates could come from those on the market, including Matt Klentak, an assistant GM of the Angels who is up for the job in Anaheim and who worked with MacPhail previously in Baltimore.
"I know there are some teams out there have openings, and they're actively interviewing," MacPhail said. "But I'm pretty confident that there is a lot of talent out there."
MacPhail, on the road trip because he wanted to make a final decision on Mackanin this week, still hasn't officially taken over as club president from Pat Gillick. But that is only a formality, as the soon-to-be president answered questions on a variety of topics inside the visiting dugout at Marlins Park.
Since the Phillies aren't expected to contend in 2016 and instead continue to rebuild, is it unlikely that MacPhail approves the pursuit of a high-caliber free agent or two this winter? Among some of the names available: David Price, Zack Greinke (likely to exercise a buyout option), Jordan Zimmermann, Yoenis Cespedes and Jason Heyward.
"I'm going to give you a Dwight Eisenhower quote," MacPhail said. "He found when he went to battle that plans were useless, but planning was indispensable. So we do plan. We have our planning, and our planning at this point is recognizing where we are. There is some talent that we have we think is viable talent, but it needs to come percolate and demonstrate that it's real. And after that period, you might go forward.
"But do you really want to commit after you've just been in that pool and suffered from it? Do you really want to commit at this stage? The only caveat I give you is that if there's a unique opportunity out there, I wouldn't want to preclude it from happening . . . particularly when you consider that once we get to '17, we are really pretty foot loose and fancy free."
So MacPhail won't be taking a run at a deep starting pitching market, given his own team's need for pitching?
"There are going to be other opportunities," he said. "I know everyone can say, oh, my God, next year's class isn't as good as this year's class. Let's see a year from now. And it may come in the form of making a trade. You don't know. But I think the important thing is to do it when that foundation is there that merits it and supports it."
And what about Ryan Howard? The first baseman turns 36 in November and has hit .232 with a .721 OPS in the last four seasons.
He's also owed a minimum of $35 million after this year ($25 guaranteed next season, a $10 million buyout for 2017).
"I anticipate he'll be in Clearwater," MacPhail said. "We'll see where we go there. I don't know what's going to happen over the course of the winter, what opportunities may be available for us and for him. We just have to cross that bridge when we get there, but right now he's somebody we have a vested interest in getting back healthy and getting him to Clearwater."
There's a strong possibility that both Maikel Franco (left wrist) and Howard (left knee) have played in their last games of the season.
Franco, who took his rehab to Clearwater, Fla., last Thursday, still feels some discomfort in his wrist, according to Mackanin. The newly crowned full-time manager added that it "doesn't look good" for the likelihood that Franco would rejoin the major league lineup this season.
Franco was hurt when he was hit by a pitch on Aug. 11 in Arizona. The Phillies have said all along they wouldn't bring their 23-year-old slugger back unless he was 100 percent healthy.
Howard, meanwhile, hasn't swung a bat in over a week. He left the Phillies game on Sept. 14 after taking a short-hop throw off his knee while playing first base.
Since he's been out of action for more than a week, Howard might have to see live pitching, and, at the very least, take regular batting practice for a couple of days, before he could expect to be major league game-ready again.
"It's hard to tell. His knees aren't in the best shape in the first place," Mackanin said. "If it takes very much longer, it doesn't look good for the rest of the season."
Aaron Nola will make his 13th start with the Phillies on Sunday in Washington and not be shut down for the final two weeks of the season.
Between the minor and major leagues, Nola has thrown 182 innings in 2015. Phillies management has said throughout the season that it planned to hold Nola to somewhere between 170 and 190 innings in his first professional season.
"He was gung-ho, he wants to start again," Mackanin said. "He said, 'I feel great. I'm to get back out there.' So he's going to get another start, and then we'll go from there."
Fellow rookie Adam Morgan, who underwent shoulder surgery in January 2014, was shut down Sunday, after throwing 152 2/3 innings this season.