The Phillies’ coaching staff will return next season, General Manager Ed Wade announced Monday. It also signifies the return of manager Charlie Manuel, who is under contract through next season.
Before I explain why I’m giving Charlie Manuel my endorsement, let me preface this piece by saying that Cholly’s bad tactical managing was the biggest cloud hanging over the team this season.
Weird, isn’t it, to take the good with the bad and not paint an issue with a broad stroke?
Why Cholly deserves credit
The good is obvious.
Under Manuel, the team improved over 2004 and had their best record since 1993, finishing 88-74, a higher mark than most people anticipated. They played confident, clutch and relaxed baseball at the end. In doing so, they overcame injuries to their highest-paid player and highest-paid starting pitcher.
Simply put, Manuel is a nice fit for these players, the previous manager was not. He milked solid production from veterans and got more from unheralded rookies and journeyman nobodies than anyone could have expected. Under Manuel, there was no unexpected collapse, unless you count Jim Thome, who was injured.
Manuel’s least recognized achievement is that he kept the focus on the field. Off-the-field situations and clubhouse spats never crossed his lips. The focus stayed on the diamond, and Manuel quietly took every bullet shot his way, handling a lose-lose situation with humility. Manuel also symbolized a long-overdue break from the 1980 Phillies, something players and younger fans like myself had been barking for.
If I’m Ed Wade, I’m not worried when I hear season ticket holders grumble because Manuel is coming back. When the smoke clears in a couple months, fans will look up and see Chase Utley’s face on the home page of ESPN.com and the title will say "Phillies poised for a playoff push."
If the Phils add a marquee pitcher, they'll be the early favorites to win the NL East. The part I’m looking forward to most is there should be no spring adjustment period. Did you like the way they played in September? I did. Keeping personnel as-is is the best way to maintain that. I’m expecting a hot start and a good spring.
The toughest challenge will be unloading Jim Thome. It’s going to be difficult. The urgency to dump Thome is two-fold. First, they would shed long-term salary to free up money for a need area like long-term starting pitching. Second, remember the weird uncertainty surrounding the club last season because Placido Polanco was hanging around? Keeping Thome would be even worse. Unloading him means they have a stable nucleus on offense, one year older, and wiser ...
... Manuel needs to be wiser, too. More on that tomorrow:
Here’s a bulleted list of things Cholly got right:
- Playing Placido Polanco enough to make him attractive to other teams. In 43 games, he batted .316 and hit better against left-handers than Chase Utley. (More on the negative side of this tomorrow.)
- Easing Ryan Howard into the big leagues by shielding him from too many mismatches against left-handed pitching. Howard never slumped this season, an incredible feat for a power-hitting rookie with his strikeout rate. Manuel used him exactly the right way.
- The center field platoon of Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels resulted in some of the best offensive production in baseball from that position. Manuel recognized that Lofton and Michaels were better strictly part-time, and he was 100 percent correct.
- Not giving up on Vicente Padilla mid-season, and not giving in to calls for Ryan Madson in the starting rotation. Padilla became the club's best pitcher in July, along with rookie Robinson Tejeda.
- Keeping focus on the field, and not on personal issues or clubhouse problems.
- Manuel’s mid-season move to shift Chase Utley into the No. 3 hole. And in the end, J-Roll batting leadoff wasn’t too shabby, either. For all the nonsense debate that went on this season about the lineup (including on this space), the reason the offense slumped mid-season was because the entire team wasn't generating extra base hits, not because J-Roll was the leadoff hitter.
- After taking Tim Worrell and Terry Adams out to pasture, Manuel established solid bullpen roles to allow pitchers to get comfortable in their spots. Pitchers like Aaron Fultz and Geoff Geary thrived knowing when they were going to be used. (More on the negative side of this tomorrow.)
- Under Manuel, the team didn’t fold in a tough September against Wild Card contenders.
- The biggest positive: results. 88-74 record is an improvement over last season and represents the team's best mark since 1993.