Jim Salisbury

Phillies move closer to hiring hitting coach, but could they lose staff to Gabe Kapler and Giants?

Phillies move closer to hiring hitting coach, but could they lose staff to Gabe Kapler and Giants?

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies are looking to have a hitting coach in place in the next week or so, according to general manager Matt Klentak.

The field of candidates has been thinned with veteran hitting coach Chili Davis returning to the New York Mets. By all indications, that leaves Joe Dillon and Matt Stairs as the two finalists for the Phillies’ job, though it’s not uncommon for late candidates to emerge. The Phillies interviewed both Dillon and Stairs last week and were in contact with Davis, as well. Dillon has been Washington’s assistant hitting coach the last two seasons. Stairs was the Phillies’ hitting coach in 2017 and the Padres’ hitting coach in 2018.

Dillon might be the favorite because of his close connection to Kevin Long, Washington’s hitting coach. Long was hitting coach with the Yankees during Joe Girardi’s time as manager of that club. Girardi, the Phillies' new manager, has great respect for Long’s work and Long has called Dillon the best assistant hitting coach in baseball.

“I think we’re looking for the best possible candidate to work with our guys, and obviously with a new manager it’s going to be important that the person is on the same page philosophically with Joe,” Klentak said of the hitting coach job. “We’re interviewing people with a variety of backgrounds, some of whom this would be their first time as a hitting coach and others that have done it for some time. We’re just looking for the best possible candidate. We’re not going in with a specific resume that someone has to have.”

At the moment, hitting coach is the only opening on the Phillies’ coaching staff. However, it would not be surprising if another spot were to open now that the San Francisco Giants have named Gabe Kapler manager. Kapler was fired as Phillies skipper last month and could seek to take a member or two of the Phillies’ holdover coaching staff with him. Potential departures could include first base/outfield coach Paco Figueroa, assistant hitting coach Pedro Guerrero, catching instructor Craig Driver or bullpen coach Jim Gott. All are under contract with the Phillies for 2020 but the club might let one or two of them go so Girardi could have more say in building his coaching staff. Girardi oversaw the hiring of pitching coach Bryan Price and, obviously, has much say on the hitting coach hire.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

More on the Phillies

Despite risks, Phillies appear ready to plunge into high-priced free-agent pitching market

Despite risks, Phillies appear ready to plunge into high-priced free-agent pitching market

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — On Day 1 of baseball’s general managers meetings, Matt Klentak stood by his recent comment, you know, the bold one where he said it was time for the Phillies to win “right now, no questions asked.”

“That’s what I believe,” Klentak said as the meetings kicked into gear Tuesday. “Our roster is constructed in such a way that we have a core of talent on the club right now that is in the prime of their career. We have a dedicated ownership and organization that’s ready for it. We have a fan base that wants it. And it’s time.”

The Phillies entered 2019 with new toys (Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto) and high hopes of ending a playoff drought that has lasted way too long. But that drought grew to eight seasons when the Phillies went 81-81 and finished in fourth place in the NL East. Injuries hit the Phillies hard in 2019 but so did ineffectiveness in the starting rotation. The X-rays and MRIs will be clean when camp opens in Clearwater in three months. But will there be an infusion of talent in the rotation? It’s a must if the Phillies are to win right now.

“A lot of good teams in recent years have been constructed in different ways,” Klentak said. “The Washington Nationals just won the World Series largely on the strength of some horses in their rotation. Kansas City won a few years ago with kind of a bullpen-dominated team and speed and defense.

“I don’t think the next Phillies championship team has to be built in one way, but I do think as we look at some of our challenges last year and some of the areas where we can improve, I think placing a focus on the mound is definitely one of those areas. Now, it doesn’t mean that we have to go add multiple top-of-the-rotation starters, but the rotation is definitely an area that we are going to look into this winter.”

You can bet the Phillies will do more than look into improving the rotation this winter. They will get right in there and mix it up for some of the top free-agent arms. The class is led by Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. It also includes Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Jake Odorizzi.

There is already talk that Cole could command a multi-year deal worth more than $250 million and with the Los Angeles Angels and New York Yankees both expected to be strongly in the bidding, the number could rise high above that.

Strasburg opted out of the final four years and $100 million of his contract with the Washington Nationals. He and agent Scott Boras (he also reps Cole) would not have done that if they weren’t certain of a bigger pay day.

The Phillies have the wallet to make a play for a Cole or a Strasburg, as well as any other pitcher on the market. Signing one of these pitchers, however, would require the Phillies’ forfeiting their second pick in next year’s draft. Klentak is not a fan of losing draft picks — no general manager is — but for the right guy, he would part with the pick. He did it last year for Harper.

“You just have to operate case by case,” Klentak said. “Draft picks have a certain value and sometimes you might be willing to forfeit that value and sometimes you may not.”

Klentak’s boss, club president Andy MacPhail, has long expressed a general distaste for conducting business in the free-agent pitching market. Just too many risks. MacPhail is a proponent of buying hitters and growing pitchers. But the Phils haven’t grown too many pitchers lately — right-hander Spencer Howard is knocking on the door but Klentak on Tuesday reiterated his comments from September that Howard needs time in Triple A — and that forced them to sign Jake Arrieta two years ago and make a run at Patrick Corbin last winter. Arrieta has not lived up to his $75 million price tag. He is 18-19 in two seasons with the Phils and required season-ending elbow surgery in September. The Phillies offered Corbin a five-year contract last winter but would not go six years. Corbin got that sixth year in Washington and quickly paid off in helping the Nationals win the World Series last month.

To get a top starter in this market — and maybe even a second-tier starter — the Phillies will probably have to be willing to go more than five years. Will their profound need for pitching and their desperation to win push them to do that?

For the right guy — probably.

“Pitching is fragile and if you’re relying on free-agent starting pitching to build your organization, you go into that knowing you may be left disappointed at some point in that contract,” Klentak said. “Even the Phillies during their great run from ’07 to ‘11, some of the more notable pitchers (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) that they brought in were really good at the front end of those contracts and not healthy at the back end of those contracts.

“So, you just have to know the pitfalls, know what you’re getting into. I don’t like to operate in absolutes, to say that we would or would never do something. I never thought we’d sign a position player (Harper) to a 13-year contract but we did it. You want to be open-minded and operate without absolutes, but at the same time you want to go in understanding your realities and some of the risks.”

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Throw a log on the hot stove.

Major League Baseball general managers will assemble in Phoenix for their annual meetings on Monday. The event, which ends Thursday, serves as the de facto starting point of the offseason and this will be a busy one, locally and industry wide.

The free-agent market is led by three stars of the recently completed World Series — starting pitching studs Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and hard-hitting third baseman Anthony Rendon. Strasburg and Rendon were part of the World Series champion Washington Nationals club and Cole starred for the American League champion Houston Astros. All three players are represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who a year ago used the general managers meetings as a pulpit to announce that “Harper’s Bazaar” had opened for business. Three and a half months later, Bryce Harper signed a mammoth, 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.

Harper led the Phillies in OPS (.882), homers (35) and RBIs (114) in his first season with the club, but the Phils, who led the NL East at the end of May, faded in June and again in September to finish in fourth place in the National League East, 12 games behind the second-place (and wild card) Nationals and 16 behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies have not had a winning season (they finished .500 in 2019) or made the playoffs since 2011 and impatience is raw from the fan base to the ownership level. Managing partner John Middleton ordered the ouster of manager Gabe Kapler, proven winner Joe Girardi is now at the helm and normally guarded general manager Matt Klentak is on record as saying, “No questions asked, it is time to win right now.” That statement makes this a crucial offseason for Klentak and the Phillies because this team must fill some serious holes if it is going to win right now.

The most glaring hole — or holes — reside in the starting rotation where the Phillies currently have just one dependable starting pitcher on their roster. After Aaron Nola, the Phils have reason to believe that a healthy Jake Arrieta (he had elbow surgery in September) and an inconsistent but promising Zach Eflin can contribute in 2020, but neither are a sure-thing and even if they make an impact, the Phils will need a lot more starting pitching than that, from the top of the rotation to the back end.

You can bet the Phils will be in on all the top arms on the free-agent market. Boras, who during Harper’s Bazaar built a chemistry with Middleton, will make sure of that. 

The Phillies will at least start the offseason in the sweepstakes for Cole and Strasburg and see where it takes them. Cole seems to have his eye on the West Coast and Strasburg could end up back in Washington, but the deep-pocketed Phils cannot be ruled out, especially this early in the offseason. The Phils will be in on other top starters such as Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler. Signing any one of these four would require the Phillies to forfeit their second pick in the 2020 draft. The Phils, with a new scouting director (Brian Barber) and a need to add talent to their prospect pipeline, are not keen on losing high-round selections, but their need for starting pitching is so acute and their thirst to win so desperate that it would not be surprising to see them sacrifice a pick for an impact arm.

Given the lack of depth in the rotation, the Phillies will cast their net in the lower end of the free-agent pool, as well. Cole Hamels has long spoken of a desire to finish his career in Philadelphia. Rick Porcello and others could also boost the back end of the rotation.

As nice as Rendon’s bat would look at third base — where there is a need — the Phils probably have to allot the bulk of their financial resources on starting pitching, not to mention locking up catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension. The Phils have been linked to third baseman Mike Moustakas, yet another Boras guy, the last two winters and this might be the time to try to grab him on a one- or two-year deal. He won’t cost nearly as much as Rendon and shouldn’t cost as much as free-agent Josh Donaldson, who is also expected to cost a draft pick after being extended a qualifying offer.

With Andrew McCutchen set in left field and Harper in right field, the Phils could pursue a short-term fit like Brett Gardner in center field, but they also could look to re-sign corner man Corey Dickerson, a good lefty stick, and try to get enough out of a McCutchen-Adam Haseley combination in center field. 

As for Odubel Herrera, it’s too early to tell if he will ever suit up for the Phillies again. The guess here is that he will not, but the Phillies still have several months to make that call. Only the need for a roster spot (the team currently has five openings) or the arrival of spring training will create urgency to make a decision on Herrera, if it already has not privately been made.

It’s kind of fitting that the GM meetings are being held in the Phoenix area. That is Scott Kingery’s hometown and he sits in the middle of this Phillies offseason. Depending on how the team maneuvers its way through the winter, Kingery could open the 2020 season at third base, shortstop, second base or center field. He could play third if the team does not bring in someone from the outside, shortstop if Cesar Hernandez moves on and Jean Segura moves to second base, as has been discussed internally, or second base if the team wants to play him at his best position. He also improved greatly in center field last season and could fill that spot, depending how this offseason shakes out.

There are many possibilities for this team that says it's time to win now.

Throw a log on the fire. The hot stove is warming. Baseball’s offseason gets chugging this week.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

More on the Phillies