MIAMI — Phillies president Andy MacPhail is surprised by the team’s success.
“I was hoping for and expected that we would have meaningful, measurable progress and I think what we’ve done to this point exceeds meaningful, measurable progress,” he said before Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins. “Just the fact that we’re a game-and-a-half in first place exceeds my expectations.”
With the team’s window of contention opening a year before many expected, club officials are reacting.
“We’re in a different situation than we anticipated and we have to act accordingly,” MacPhail said. “I know (general manager) Matt Klentak and his group is doing exactly that. We’re in a position where we need to try to augment our current group to try to preserve our place in the standings for as long as we can.”
Klentak and his lieutenants are busy pursuing trade opportunities. The Phils would love to land slugging left-side infielder Manny Machado and lefty closer Zach Britton from the Baltimore Orioles (see story). Competition for the two players is intense. The Phillies have built some good depth of quality prospects in their minor-league system and are willing to part with some of it to land Machado and/or Britton. There are even indications that the Phils would do a deal for Machado without immediately signing the free-agent-to-be to a contract extension, though Machado’s contract status would certainly affect the price the Phillies were willing to pay.
It’s all a complicated balance of present vs. future because as much as the Phillies want to win this season they want to sustain the winning for a decade.
“It’s an inexact science,” MacPhail said. “You try to ascertain as best you can what is immovable and where you have areas where you are giving up talent but you have enough in the system to absorb that. It’s what you can afford to do and what you can’t because our stated goal and our directive from ownership is to be in a position where postseason potential isn’t just a one-and-out type of thing.”
John Middleton, the Phillies managing partner, is aggressive and eager to win. But he is also levelheaded. He has been portrayed in some media reports as looking to make a splash.
MacPhail scoffed at that.
“John wants to win,” MacPhail said. “John wants to sustain winning. But John is not an ‘excite the town at any cost’ guy. My view is that he’s smart and he’s realistic. I think I’ve done a good job of explaining the importance of an organization and progress and he’s seen that. He’s not willing to give up too much of that just to make a splash. Someone wrote the other day that ownership wants to make a splash. Let me tell you something about John Middleton. He’s not a ‘splash’ guy for something that doesn't make sense. I can promise you that.”
MacPhail is fond of saying that in the baseball business, the fans will let you know how you are doing with their choosing to buy tickets or not.
Despite their success, the Phils rank fourth from the bottom in the National League in average attendance at 26,740 per game.
MacPhail said he was not surprised by the attendance and he believes there are factors behind it. First, the team was not projected to be a top contender. Second, there is competition for the entertainment dollar.
“Philly is a good sports town and you have to make some allowances,” he said. “These are not excuses, but you have to make some allowances. There’s only so much disposable income that people have. Let’s be honest, the Eagles and the Sixers sucked some of that out before we even threw a pitch.
“I need to build an organization on the baseball and business side that is going to sustain success and make us a competitive product for years to come and an attractive place to come for years to come.”