Phillies president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak will get on an airplane this weekend and fly to Nashville for the winter meetings. As if four-plus days confined inside the hokey Opryland Hotel were not punishment enough, the two men charged with rescuing the Phillies from baseball purgatory also begin their journey devoid of any electricity surrounding their broken-down baseball team.
We realize this is not your fault, gentlemen, but it's difficult for the dwindling fan base to feel even lukewarm about the hot stove moves you have made this offseason. This was the team that a half-decade ago went to the winter meetings with its eyes on the best pitcher in baseball. Shortly after the meetings concluded, the Phillies did, in fact, acquire Roy Halladay.
A year later, the Phillies quietly kicked the tires on bringing back Cliff Lee at the winter meetings before pulling it off in mid-December.
Now, we are supposed to be excited about the Phillies' having the first pick in the Rule 5 draft?
The Phillies made the most noteworthy of their unassuming offseason moves Wednesday, when they claimed outfielder Peter Bourjos off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals. Klentak fielded questions about Bourjos and the winter meetings during a conference call Thursday, which at the very least made him more accessible than Silent Sam Hinkie, the 76ers' general manager.
Klentak raved about Bourjos as a person and his clubhouse presence. He said the hope is that the 28-year-old outfielder known for his defensive prowess can recapture the offensive skills he flashed with the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, when he hit .271 with 26 doubles, a league-high 11 triples, and 12 home runs.
"It was a breakout season," said Klentak, a former assistant general manager with the Angels. "He was one of the better players in the American League that year."
In the four seasons since then, Bourjos has hit .231 with 27 doubles, 11 triples, and 14 home runs.
"He really hasn't had the full-time opportunity that he had in 2011," Klentak said. "Part of that has been some nagging injuries. Part of that was the development of Mike Trout ahead of him. Part of that was a trade to the Cardinals, who had a really strong outfield every year that he was there. Part of it was that Pete struggled when he was given an opportunity. I don't know if there was any one reason that has occurred."
What matters is that it did occur, which is why the Cardinals let him walk free as a non-tendered free agent. The Phillies had first dibs on him because they finished with the worst record in baseball last season.
"We view it as an opportunity to add players and make ourselves better and we have an advantage this year in that we select first, so if there is a player that we like, we get that player, which will be nice," Klentak said when asked about the waiver process.
Being able to say "We are No. 30" does have its perks. The Phillies already have made four waiver claims this offseason and you can find good players in that process.
The deep-pocketed Phillies, however, should be doing a lot more than making waiver claims and studying the list of players available in next Thursday's Rule 5 draft. They also should be involved in this free-agent market with their primary focus on one particular player.
Another benefit of being the worst in baseball is that you don't lose your first-round draft pick when you sign an elite free agent. It would be silly for the Phillies to go after a 30-something player when they are in the midst of a rebuilding plan, but Jason Heyward, who was Bourjos' teammate in St. Louis, is only 26.
Klentak and MacPhail, like most baseball men, are focused on pitching depth and improved defense. Putting Heyward in right field, Bourjos in center, and Odubel Herrera in left would not only give the Phillies one of the best defensive outfields in baseball, it also would provide a much brighter outlook for the offense.
The Phillies are taking a $2 million chance on Bourjos' regaining his stroke, so they also should be willing to take the gamble that Heyward can go from being a solid offensive player with great defensive skills to a spectacular offensive player in the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.
If you're not enamored with Heyward as an offensive player, consider this: His .784 career OPS is higher than every Phillies player who had at least 300 plate appearances last season except Maikel Franco. His .797 OPS last season ranked 47th in baseball. Add the fact that he is 43 of 50 on steal attempts the last two seasons and that's another dynamic that would help improve the Phillies.
Yes, the price for Heyward is going to be high, the length of contract is probably going to be long, and the sales pitch will be difficult for the worst team in baseball. It should not matter. If the Phillies are truly exhausting all avenues in their efforts to get better, then this is the guy worth targeting.
Overpay for him. Remind him what Citizens Bank Park was like those first couple of years when he came to town with the Atlanta Braves. Tell him that the Phillies have the means to accelerate their rebuilding project and would love for him to be the foundation of that process.
Make that bit of hot stove news happen and the feelings about the baseball team would suddenly be a lot warmer.