Phillies

Phillies president Andy MacPhail weighs in on team’s rise to contention, cost of trades, attendance

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Phillies president Andy MacPhail weighs in on team’s rise to contention, cost of trades, attendance

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.”

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Jayson Werth always had a hunch his pal Bryce Harper would end up a Phillie

Jayson Werth always had a hunch his pal Bryce Harper would end up a Phillie

CLEARWATER, Fla. — On the one-year anniversary of his decision to join the Phillies, Bryce Harper received a visit from an old friend Friday. 

The visitor did not need directions to the Phillies' clubhouse. Jayson Werth spent four seasons with the Phils and helped the team win the World Series in 2008 before moving on to Washington, where he played with Harper for six seasons.

Werth became a mentor to Harper in Washington and as Harper's service-time clock ticked toward free agency, Werth always believed there was a chance his friend would find his way to Philadelphia.

"I always thought this would be a possible destination for him, even way back when, for a bunch of reasons," Werth said. "Kind of where the team was, the money was right, the owner was right, the town's right.

"But more than anything else," Werth added with widening eyes, "Citizens Bank Park is just an awesome place to hit. We always talked about that.

"I don't want people to think I was pushing him there. As players, you just have those conversations. We talked about every stadium while we were stretching in the outfield, while we were on airplanes. I couldn't even figure out how many hours I spent talking to this kid, so stuff like that comes up."

In his seven seasons with the Nationals from 2011 to 2017, Werth tormented the Phillies by hitting .291 with a .922 OPS, 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 52 games.

Werth's 16 career homers in Citizens Bank Park — he hit one as a member of the Dodgers — are second-most at the park by a visiting hitter. David Wright of the New York Mets hit 22 in the park.

Harper hit .260 with an .882 OPS, 35 homers and 114 RBIs in his first season with the Phillies last year. He had a .939 OPS, 20 homers and 63 RBIs at home.

Werth had a love-hate relationship with Phillies fans. They mostly loved him when he wore the red pinstripes and mostly rode him when he moved on to Washington.

He laughs about it now.

"As bad as they can be, they can also be really good," Werth said. "I took it with a grain of salt. It was kind of fun. I was getting booed off the field and at the same time, I was probably playing my best baseball every game I was there. So it was good. It raises everything."

By now Philadelphia fans are familiar with Harper's fiery, hair-flying style of play.

"I always thought that would be something Philadelphia would love," Werth said.

Werth retired in 2018 so both he and Harper were gone from Washington when the Nationals, after failing to make it past the Division Series four times in seven years, finally won the World Series last fall.

Harper watched the entire World Series on television and was thrilled for his old friends.

Werth actually attended the World Series games in Washington and was in attendance for the Nats' Game 7 clincher in Houston.

He felt he had to be.

"I was looking for closure," he said. "It felt like it closed the book on my career, like mission accomplished, job well done. 

"I signed there when nobody wanted anything to do with that place. Harper was a first-round pick when they were coming off 100-loss seasons. Me, Bryce, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and a bunch of other guys in 2011 and 2012 kind of turned the franchise around and the fruits of that labor were ripe for the picking last year, finally. So I was elated for those guys and the owners, the front office, (GM) Mike Rizzo, the whole thing."

Werth did not visit the victorious Washington clubhouse after Game 7.

"That wasn't for me," he said. "It was for those guys."

Harper is entering the second season of a 13-year, $330-million contract with the Phillies. The Phillies are banking on him leading the club to a World Series title one of these years.

It's something Harper, a former National League Rookie of the Year and MVP, badly wants.

"He wants to win," Werth said. "He's got everything. There's really not much on the list for him except that.

"He's the type of kid that grew up wanting to be a Hall of Famer. Most kids grow up wanting to be big leaguers. He grew up wanting to be a Hall of Famer. The ring, winning a championship, the parade, all that stuff comes with it. That's not a stretch for me to think those are things he wants."

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Phillies Talk podcast: Opinions on Bryce Harper after a year in Phillies pinstripes

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Phillies Talk podcast: Opinions on Bryce Harper after a year in Phillies pinstripes

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman got together for a lil' Phillies Talk on the one-year anniversary of the Bryce Harper signing. Aside from their opinions and big-picture takeaways from Harper's first year with the Phillies, the guys discussed Zack Wheeler's imminent debut, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen.

• Zack Wheeler debuts Saturday — what are we looking for?

• Some Phillies hitters thrilled to not have to face Wheeler anymore.

• Why so much Jean Segura at 3B early in camp?

• Defensive upgrades in the infield.

• Where is Andrew McCutchen? How does the knee look?

• Recalling the buzz in Phillies camp when Harper signed.

• The overlooked aspect of Harper's first season in Philly.

• How many Phillies records can Harper set?

• Honesty from J.T. Realmuto about Phillies pitchers, coaching changes and disrespect from the outside.

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