Phillies

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).

Despite loss in finale, Phillies finish with successful road trip

Despite loss in finale, Phillies finish with successful road trip

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies won four out of six games on their road trip through the South and manager Gabe Kapler was happy with that. He said so in word after Wednesday night’s trip-ending, 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park (see first take). He said so in action in the eighth inning.

“All in all, you go on the road and you go 4-2, you feel good coming home,” Kapler said. “That's the biggest positive from this. We're going to go home stronger than when we left on this road trip. It's not an easy thing to do in baseball. I'm proud of our guys for doing that.”

Kapler’s satisfaction with the trip was evident even before the game ended. Lefty specialist Hoby Milner entered the game with one out in the eighth inning and the Phils down by two runs. His job, ostensibly, was to retire lefty hitters Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. He retired neither. Up came right-handed hitting Kurt Suzuki. The situation screamed for a right-hander but Kapler stuck with Milner and he allowed an RBI single as the Braves pulled away with three runs in the inning to salt the game away.

Entering the game, Milner had allowed a .375 batting average (21 for 56) to right-handed hitters and a .158 (12 for 76) average to lefty hitters for his career. Despite this, Kapler did not even have a right-hander up in the bullpen. In fact, no one was up. Kapler indicated that he had faith that Milner could get the job done.

But there was more to it, as well.

“At that point it was time to look, in part, to save our bullpen,” Kapler said. “That was the right time to save our bullpen and put them in a good position to succeed going forward.”

Kapler’s thinking was not unheard of. Ask any manager and he’ll tell you, some nights you have to give the bullpen a break, take one step back for the chance to take two forward in subsequent days, and that’s just what Kapler did. After all, the ‘pen did pick up five innings the night before. But the flip side to this was the Phils were down only two runs with the middle of the order due up in the ninth. Keep the difference at two runs and maybe you can rally. Five runs — different story.

All this made one wonder if Kapler didn’t believe his offense could pull it out in the ninth.

“We always have full confidence that the guy on the mound can get outs,” Kapler said. “So this, at least, was as much about our belief in Hoby to be able to get outs in that situation, and, also, preserve arms in the bullpen. And, also, we believe in our offense to be able to come back and put a big number up. Always.”

The Phils ended up scoring a run in the ninth, but it wasn’t enough. Vince Velasquez gave up a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth when he allowed a walk, a single and a three-run homer to new Phillie killer Ryan Flaherty. The Braves were in control the rest of the way. They have beaten the Phillies in four of six meetings this season.

Phillies end road trip with loss to Braves

Phillies end road trip with loss to Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Ryan Flaherty spent spring training with the Phillies on a minor-league contract. He hit .351 with three doubles, a homer and eight RBIs. He played in the infield and the outfield. Flaherty did enough to win a spot on the Phillies’ opening day roster, but was a victim of a numbers crunch so the team granted him his release in the final week of camp. 

In need of some help at third base after Johan Camargo went down with an oblique injury, the Braves signed Flaherty to a big-league deal and installed him as their opening day third baseman.

All Flaherty has done since joining the Braves is hit. He entered Wednesday hitting .354, fifth best in the majors and .130 points better than his career average. He’s been especially tough on the Phillies. He swatted a three-run home run Wednesday night and the Phillies never recovered in a 7-3 loss at SunTrust Park. Flaherty also had an RBI single in the game.

In six games against the Phillies this season, Flaherty has 11 hits, including three doubles and a homer. Despite Flaherty’s strong start, the Braves appear to be making other plans at third base. Camargo came off the disabled list on Wednesday and the team also signed veteran Jose Bautista with the intention of looking at him at third base when he’s ready to go.

Flaherty’s three-run home run came against Vince Velasquez in the fifth inning.

Velasquez had helped himself with an RBI single in the top of the fifth to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. But the right-hander let the lead get away quickly when he allowed a leadoff walk, a single and Flaherty’s three-run homer all with no outs in the bottom of the inning.

Flaherty hit a first-pitch fastball that registered 94 mph.

Those were the only runs that Velasquez allowed in six innings of work. He struck out seven and walked one. That walk became a run.

Braves starter Brandon McCarthy held the Phillies to one run over 5 1/3 innings.

The Phillies ended up losing two out of three in the series and are 2-4 against the Braves on the season. The Phils did not do a lot of scoring in this series. They lost the opener, 2-1. They won the second game, 5-1, but scored four of their runs in the 10th inning. They scored just three runs in the finale.

They probably would have had one more run if it weren’t for Ender Inciarte. The Braves’ defensive whiz centerfielder rose above the wall in left-center to steal a home run away from Scott Kingery in the first inning. Inciarte, like Flaherty, was once Phillies property, a former Rule 5 pick that the club chose not to keep around.