Phillies

Phillies seek new voice, style in manager to replace Pete Mackanin

Phillies seek new voice, style in manager to replace Pete Mackanin

Matt Klentak could not spell out a hard and fast reason for firing Pete Mackanin as Phillies manager on Friday, but a theme did emerge in his comments during a news conference to announce the move.
 
Klentak, 37, mentioned several times the youth that the team had injected into its roster in recent months.

By the time the news conference was over, it was difficult not to draw the conclusion that he'd like to have a youthful presence in the manager's office.

"In my mind, we have reached a turning point in this rebuild," Klentak said as Mackanin sat stoically by his side at a dais in the same Citizens Bank Park interview room that has been the site of many notable comings and goings the last decade.

"As you all know, we have turned over this roster considerably over the last two years and especially in the last few months. We see our roster right now is littered with young players who look to have a very, very bright future. It’s time to look forward."

The Phillies won’t completely move on without Mackanin. He was still under contract for next season, thanks to an extension he received in May. He will manage the final weekend of the season then move into a front-office advisory role. He will be in that job for at least a couple of years as he received a separate contract extension to serve in that role for 2019 (see story).

Klentak said he would begin the search for a new manager immediately.

"Our goal for that search will be to identify a leader that can help lead us into the future and take us to where we want to go," Klentak said. "But I still trust Pete, I still want his opinion and I still want to be able to call him and run thoughts by him. Maybe as importantly as anything, I want to make sure when we’re tipping champagne over each others’ heads celebrating our next championship that Pete is still proudly wearing the ‘P’ because he deserves that."

Mackanin said all the right things during the news conference and afterward. He is 66 years old, secure financially after a long career as a player, coach, scout and manager, and was actually considering retiring a few years ago when he was asked by the previous management regime to lead the team on an interim basis when Ryne Sandberg resigned in June 2015. The team played well under Mackanin and he was hired on a permanent basis in September of that year, a month before Klentak was hired as general manager.

From the time he was hired, Mackanin was seen as an on-field caretaker of the rebuild while Klentak and club president Andy MacPhail oversaw the grand plan.

Klentak has been reluctant to put a timetable on the rebuild, to say when he believed the team could contend again. But his decision to fire Mackanin was an indication that expectations are changing.

"I don’t think we’ve reached the end of our rebuild, but I do think the worst part, the hardest part of our rebuild, is in the rearview," he said. "I think as we look forward, as we continue to balance the present and the future, that we are getting closer to the point where the present is going to become more important.

"I think now with the way the rebuild is unfolding and the way that some of our young players are graduating to the big leagues and the way that the outlook is shaping up, a new voice in the dugout and a new style is necessary," Klentak said. "It has nothing to do with me not liking Pete or being disappointed in him."

The Phillies played poorly in the first half of the season and were 29 games under .500 at the All-Star break. Klentak had brought in a number of veterans in the offseason, but really only reliever Pat Neshek had an impact. Injuries struck down Clay Buchholz for the season and Howie Kendrick for a significant chunk of the first half. Michael Saunders and Joaquin Benoit brought little, if anything.

The Phils have played much better in the second half thanks to the influx of young players that Klentak mentioned. Yes, he made the call to promote Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams — critics say he should have done it sooner — but Mackanin has guided those players. The Phils entered the final three games of the season Friday night with a 35-37 record after the All-Star break and a chance to finish over .500 in that span.

"There are only 30 of these jobs in the world and I had one of them," Mackanin said. "For that, I’m delighted and I’m just thrilled I had an opportunity to do that. Sure, you’d like to inherit the best team in baseball and just push the buttons. One thing I’m most proud of is I believe a lot of players have improved under my watch. They have played better, they have learned some things and to me that is just as important as winning."

Still, it wasn't enough to keep Mackanin in the manager's seat.

Clearly, Klentak wants a young perspective and a new style, as he said, to lead the team. He is one of a growing number of young, analytically-driven general managers in the game, and he may to want someone of his generation and ideology that he can grow with as the team moves closer to contending.

Klentak is not the first general manager to inherit a skipper. And he's not the first to want his own guy. That's more a reflection on him than Mackanin, who is and remains a sharp baseball man.

Klentak would not give a timetable for hiring a new manager. Dusty Wathan, frequently a manager of the year in the Phillies’ minor-league system, is a candidate to move up from the Triple A job, either as manager or a member of the coaching staff. Brad Ausmus, recently fired by the Detroit Tigers, could get a look. Like Klentak, he is a Dartmouth man.

At 61, Buck Showalter does not fit the youthful mold that Klentak seems to be looking for, but he would have to be considered a candidate if the Baltimore Orioles don't bring him back for the final year of his contract. Showalter worked with members of the Phillies' front office staff when they were in Baltimore. MacPhail holds him in high regard (see 10 candidates).

"I think it’s about finding a connection with the team and with the players and leading us on into the future," Klentak said of the team's managerial opening. "I think that is what this is about. It’s about looking forward."

Source: Phillies finalizing 2-year deal with Tommy Hunter

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USA Today Images

Source: Phillies finalizing 2-year deal with Tommy Hunter

Matt Klentak keeps adding to his bullpen.

The Phillies are finalizing a two-year deal with reliever Tommy Hunter, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury on Tuesday night.

The experienced right-hander will join veteran righty Pat Neshek, who is on the verge of re-signing with the Phillies, multiple sources said on Monday (see story).

Hunter, 31, has played for five teams over parts of 10 seasons. In 61 games (58 2/3 innings) with the Rays in 2017, Hunter posted career bests with a 2.61 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and .202 opponents' batting average, to go with 64 strikeouts and 14 walks. He started his career as a starter after he was taken in the first round of the 2007 draft by the Rangers. Since 2013, he has come out of the bullpen, compiling a 3.12 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

In 2011, Hunter was traded to the Orioles from Texas when current Phillies president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was in Baltimore. MacPhail left the Orioles after the 2011 season.

Hunter and Neshek will complement an already promising group of Hector Neris, Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos and Hoby Milner.

"I think if we can run out a bullpen of seven or eight guys that are all high-leverage type arms, then we can start matching up in the fifth or sixth inning," Klentak said Monday at the winter meetings. "If there are days when our young starters throw 100 pitches to get us through five or six innings, we shouldn't be in a position where that’s taxing our bullpen because we have the ability to carry an eighth bullpen member next year. We shouldn’t be in a position where we lose our competitiveness in the sixth inning because we should have a deep bullpen where we start throwing really good players out there early in the game. If it turns out that’s the best way for us to improve our run prevention, then that’s the way to do."

Phillies seem content to wait on Manny Machado, pursue him as free agent next year

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Phillies seem content to wait on Manny Machado, pursue him as free agent next year

Updated: 9:50 p.m.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles are shopping Manny Machado for a trade.

The Phillies love Machado.

So the Phils will do the deal, right?

It's not that simple.

Machado remained a hot topic on Day 2 of the winter meetings Tuesday and the lobby buzz made it all the way to the Phillies' war room. General manager Matt Klentak would not take questions about any specific players — that would be a tampering violation — but he was posed with a scenario that would reflect Machado's situation.

Machado, 25, will be a free agent after the 2018 season. Therefore, he is under contractual control for just one more season.

So, Klentak was asked whether he would be willing to give up a slew of young talent — that's what it would take to get Machado — for a player under control only for a short period of time.

Klentak mulled the question. He covered all sides in his answer. But in the end, it sure sounded as if he would not be willing to pay the price to trade for a player like Machado. It sounded as if he'd rather roll the dice that Machado became a free agent in a year then try to get him for just money and not prospects.

"It obviously becomes more attractive to us if a player is under control for future years, plural," Klentak said. "If it’s a one-year contract before free agency, it’s less attractive. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t do it. I realize these are less notable players than what you’re suggesting, but we’ve done that with some bullpen and starting pitcher additions the past couple years to acquire a player on a one-year deal. It really depends on what the return is, what would we have to give up in exchange for that player, whether that makes sense to acquire a player on a short-term contract. The years of control matter.

"I think we have to be open-minded to those scenarios, but the scenario you outlined presents some challenges that make it less likely. But we’re open-minded to just about everything."

Any team that acquires Machado, a slugging left-side infielder, this winter would have to be granted a 72-hour window from the Commissioner's Office to hammer out a contract extension before the deal is consummated. Even then, the deal would cost a team prospects and money. Look for the Phillies to stay in touch with the Orioles and monitor their asking price throughout the winter. But clearly, the Phillies prefer to hold on to as many of their young core players and prospects as they can as they seek to acquire players who would propel them closer to the top of the National League East.

This doesn't mean the Phillies would not be willing to subtract a young player or two for the right talent. The Phillies are looking for starting pitching and sources say they've investigated the possibility of acquiring young, under-control pitchers such as Chris Archer of the Rays and Michael Fulmer of the Tigers.

The Phillies are likely to add starting pitching through a trade, possibly one that involves shortstop Freddy Galvis or second baseman Cesar Hernandez. A person with a club from a team seeking a second baseman was asked about Hernandez on Tuesday. The person said the Phillies were being more aggressive in their efforts to move Galvis than they were Hernandez. That does not mean Hernandez will not be traded. The Phillies have set an extremely high price on him because he has three more years of contractual control and that is very valuable.

The Phillies' need for starting pitching and their deep pockets have led to a connection to free-agent Jake Arrieta. The Phillies, as is winter meetings custom, met with Arrieta's agent, Scott Boras, but it's highly unlikely they would sign the pitcher because he will be 32 next season and word is he is seeking a deal that could approach $200 million. The Phillies don't believe they are far enough along in their rebuild to commit those dollars and the years it would take to get Arrieta. So don't hold your breath on that one (see story). If Arrieta is still out there in February and his price tag came way down, well, check back then.

"We've spent the last day and a half meeting with most of the prominent agents in the industry — a lot of agents represent players we're targeting and players we're not targeting — and I can understand why sometimes the connection will get made that may not be perfectly accurate," Klentak said. 

"We're very cognizant of the fact that we're a large-market team that has carried large payrolls in the past and does not have a lot of future commitments. We know this about ourselves, the agents know this about us, the fans know this about us. I think it's natural to connect the Phillies to players who are going to command a lot of money. 

"I've said this before: There will come a time where those connections will be accurate and we will spend again. For where we are right now, we are very committed to giving the reps to our young players and it would take a pretty special set of circumstances for us to deviate from that."

Klentak wants to improve the Phillies' "run prevention." It would be nice to add a starting pitcher — you can pretty much bet the Phillies will — but run prevention can also be addressed in the bullpen. Klentak suggested it was likely that the team would add another veteran reliever beyond Pat Neshek in the coming days (see story), and it is as the Phillies are finalizing a two-year deal with right-hander Tommy Hunter, according to a source Tuesday (see story).