It’s a question that, for a few years now, has had no legitimate answer: who is the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse leader? Or which players comprise the leadership group?
Past generations would have answered that question with names such as Pete Rose, Larry Bowa, Darren Daulton, and Jimmy Rollins. Players who excelled on the field. Players who were willing to stand up in the locker room to help motivate their peers when difficult challenges loomed.
For me, a truly legitimate clubhouse leader needs to embody two major characteristics.
First, they need to be someone who is performing at a standout level in Major League Baseball terms.
Second, they need to be someone who is foundational. They need to be someone who is going to be around for at least the next few years.
There is a third characteristic that becomes vital, assuming the player can meet those first two basics. That would be that the individual needs to have the respect of, and preferably the affection and admiration of, his fellow players.
CURRENT POSITION PLAYER POSSIBILITIES
In examining the current, it is difficult to find anyone who fits the role as I have defined it.
There is only one player who has performed at a standout level in MLB while also having the team make a long-term commitment to them. That would be center fielder Odubel Herrera.
However, ‘El Torito’ has been with the team for just two years. These have been two losing years in which his own performance has been inconsistent. For me, Herrera simply doesn’t fit the bill – at least not yet.
A trio of position players have been with the team for multiple years now, and have established themselves as starters. This group includes catcher Cameron Rupp and infielders Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, and Maikel Franco.
While some mixture of this group may indeed be filling the role for the time being, the fact is that none fits my definition. None of them has established themselves as truly standout MLB players. Franco has that kind of talent, but needs a full season of health and greater consistency to begin reaching his potential.
Beyond Franco, none of the others can lay claim to a future role as a fixture with the Phillies as the team begins to re-emerge as a contender over the next couple of years.
VETERAN NEWCOMERS AND THE PITCHING STAFF
There is already talk of Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, and Chris Coghlan helping to supply that leadership. They are all veterans, which is all well and good. But the fact remains that each is brand new to the clubhouse, and none fits the requirements of having standout talent or an anticipated long-term role with the team.
The pitching staff is not the place to look for an answer. The rotation and bullpen are each loaded with youngsters trying to solidify their role, and a few veterans on short-term deals.
Could Herrera and/or Franco emerge as clubhouse leaders in the coming years? Perhaps someone such as first baseman Tommy Joseph? Those are possibilities.
The more likely fact is that the leader or leaders of the next truly contending Phillies team are either not with the team at this point, or have not emerged as yet.
The Phillies will be bringing in a number of talented prospects at some point this season who could one day fill such a role. This group includes outfielders Roman Quinn and Nick Williams, infielder J.P. Crawford, and catchers Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro.
LEADERSHIP IN THE SHORT TERM
GM Matt Klentak recently addressed the issue, mentioning Saunders as someone who could become at least a short-term mentor to these youngsters.
“Learning how to win and, for this franchise, learning how to take that next step, that’s going to be critical,” Klentak said recently per the AP. “And Michael has a unique perspective, having been a highly touted prospect coming up with Seattle and then certainly a young team when he was there. And then transitioning to a Blue Jays club over the last couple years that was dominated by experience and very talented veterans and seeing it from both sides.
“I think that, candidly, that perspective that he can bring drew us to Michael Saunders. He can relate to both sides of the coin on that. Bring that to our clubhouse and some of our younger players. What does it mean to take that next step and play winning baseball? That’s part of the reason he’s here.”
Saunders recognizes, however, that he is a newbie: “There are a few guys in this clubhouse that have been around. If (there’s) something that needs to be said, it will be said. But I learned from my first few days in the big leagues that you lead by example.”
For 2017, it would appear that true big league contending-caliber leadership is going to have to be supplied by manager Pete Mackanin and his coaching staff.