PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Rebuilding time is over for the Philadelphia Phillies.
When free-agent ace Jake Arrieta arrived at spring training on co-owner John Middleton’s private plane, it signaled the start of a new era for this franchise.
Stocked with young talent on the major-league roster and prospects in the minors, management sent a clear message that it will do whatever it takes to start winning after five straight losing seasons and 96 losses last year.
“I intend to come in here and win right away,” Arrieta said.
Even before the 2015 NL Cy Young award winner joined the Phillies, players were confident this team could contend this season.
“We’re ready to win right now,” third baseman Maikel Franco said. “We have a lot of talent here. We’re on the same page.”
The Phillies signed veteran slugger Carlos Santana away from Cleveland in December and bolstered the bullpen by adding right-handers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. They waited on Arrieta and got him at their price — million over three years with options that could take it to million over five seasons.
They already have a lineup that could be dynamic with young slugger Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr, Jorge Alfaro, J.P. Crawford, Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera and Franco.
“I don’t think there’s a wait here,” said agent Scott Boras, who represents Arrieta. “There’s talent in here that needs experiential refinement, attitude and confidence. When you bring in players like Jake, you probably put the cream in the coffee when it’s ready to drink.”
New manager Gabe Kapler has instilled that confidence with his “Be Bold” attitude and new-school philosophy.
“The thought process is to create an environment where people feel they can be bold and comfortable,” Kapler said. “We can win. We’re fighting for the NL East in September.”
If they don’t win this season, more help could be on the way. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson highlight the list of potential free agents who could be the next superstar to get a ride on Middleton’s plane.
“We’re going to do things in the best way we can possibly do it — first class,” Middleton said “I want everybody in our organization to understand what our mission is and how we’re supposed to go about it. We’re serious about winning and we’re going to do what it takes to win.”
Here’s some things to know about the Phillies:
BEST CASE: Arrieta lives up to his contract, Aaron Nola and other young starters follow his lead, the bullpen is lights-out and the young hitters fulfill expectations, pushing the Phillies into the postseason.
WORST CASE: Arrieta disappoints, the rotation falters and the lineup is inconsistent, sending the Phillies to their sixth straight losing season.
ROOKIES: Crawford, the team’s first-round pick in the 2013 amateur draft, is taking over at shortstop after Freddy Galvis was traded to San Diego. Crawford might not be the defensive wizard Galvis was but he has an excellent glove and is expected to be a run-producer who gets on base often. Infielder Scott Kingery, a top prospect, could force his way to the big leagues quickly if he keeps producing and any infielders get hurt or struggle.
NEW BOSS: Players love Kapler and his energy and positivity. Kapler is a new-school manager who relies on analytics and does things his way.
“He’s an amazing guy,” Franco said. “The positivity he has is all over the place. He has good communication with us, makes you feel comfortable and makes you feel all you have to do is go out there and play baseball.”
THE ‘PEN: Neshek, an All-Star for the Phillies last season before he was dealt to Colorado, returns and joins Hunter and closer Hector Neris to give the Phillies a strong 7-8-9 setup.
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