ATLANTA - Sometime Friday, before the Phillies start their final home series of the season, the team's coaches will meet with Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak, and others from the revamped front office tasked with the challenge of rebuilding a franchise. This kind of meeting is not unusual; it is a time for all sides to express their opinions before a winter of transactions.
Pete Mackanin, nearing the end of his first full season as Phillies manager, knows his agenda.
"Basically, having talked to the rest of the coaching staff, we're all pretty much in agreement with what our needs are," Mackanin said Tuesday before the Phillies' bullpen blew yet another game, 7-6, to the Braves. "I'm anxious to hear from Matt and from Andy and if there's an owner there, we'd like to hear what he has to say. We're pretty much in agreement on a lot of what we need."
And that is a proven hitter. Or two.
As this season sputters to its unceremonious conclusion, the Phillies' bullpen wilts. The relievers allowed six more runs Tuesday to raise their September ERA to 8.03. David Hernandez surrendered the eighth-inning lead after midnight.
The Phillies' most tenured hitter, Ryan Howard, has five more days in a Phillies uniform. His finest days have passed, but he can still mash an elevated fastball. Howard clobbered a towering, first-inning grand slam Tuesday night in a game that featured two rain delays. It was his 15th career grand slam, the most of any Phillies hitter ever, and his 381st career homer.
Howard, even with a sub-.200 batting average for much of the season, periodically provided a power presence in the middle of the lineup that opposing teams respected. When the Phillies decline Howard's $23 million option for 2017, the player on their roster with the most major-league plate appearances will be Freddy Galvis.
That is why Mackanin has advocated for the acquisition of some established hitters to complement a young lineup that has posted the lowest on-base percentage in baseball. But the Phillies are somewhat in limbo: They do not expect to contend until at least 2018 or maybe beyond, and the best free-agent hitters will hit the market after the 2017 and 2018 seasons. They have a smattering of position-player prospects slated to begin next season at triple-A Lehigh Valley. A top free agent will command a multiyear deal.
Does Mackanin think his bosses will gift him a hitter?
"That's going to be the hard part," he said.
No one promised a fast rebuilding process. It is not hard to envision the lineup next April looking much like the current one, with perhaps a veteran corner outfielder added to the mix. The front office has hinted at free-agent restraint.
"I know I don't want to block a prospect that has a chance to be a big part of it," Mackanin said. But the manager wondered how many of those prospects - such as J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Dylan Cozens, and Rhys Hoskins - will have an immediate effect on 2017.
Mackanin pointed to the sharp uptick in offensive production by Atlanta's lineup since the addition of veteran Matt Kemp. And last season, the Mets' fortunes changed with the midseason trade for Yoenis Cespedes. Those could be coincidences, but Mackanin said he believed in one experienced hitter's ability to relieve pressure on the younger ones.
The most logical place for an upgrade is in the outfield or at first base, for a potential Tommy Joseph platoon partner. The best available outfielders are Cespedes, Jose Bautista, Josh Reddick, Ian Desmond, and Mark Trumbo. Those players, in a thin market, should command multiyear deals. The Phillies have loads of money to spend. But the length of any deal will be the sticking point.
They could, instead, look at bounce-back candidates such as Colby Rasmus, Jon Jay, or Chris Coghlan. Klentak, earlier this month, said the organization's hitters must better their plate discipline.
"Improvement in that area is going to be critical for us," Klentak said. "Whether that comes in the form of promotions from the minor leagues, in the form of trades, or in the form of free agents, I think we're going to have to consider all of that in order to make our team better."
Those deliberations have already begun, and Friday will crystalize the offseason road map.