Phillies

Matt Klentak Q&A: Gabe Kapler's future, passing on Dallas Keuchel, more

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Matt Klentak Q&A: Gabe Kapler's future, passing on Dallas Keuchel, more

ATLANTA — From Gabe Kapler’s future to the deals he did and didn’t make to a potential contract extension for J.T. Realmuto and the chances of seeing pitching prospect Spencer Howard in April, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was asked about a number of topics by reporters before Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves.

Let’s go:

Question: Will Kapler return as manager next season?

Answer: “I mean this sincerely: We have 13 games left, we're four games out (in the wild-card chase), and one of the teams we're chasing, we play five times. Until we play the last game of 2019, we're not going to start talking about 2020 yet. We still have 13 very important games to play. They'll be plenty of time to talk about 2020 after this season.”

Klentak went on to credit Kapler’s handling of the team in the wake of numerous injuries. He mentioned the team’s improved defense and base running.

“The players are the ones who do those things,” he said. “They're the ones who deserve the credit. But I think a lot of that credit can be shared with a really impactful coaching staff that has spent a lot of time working on little things that over the course of a season turn into much bigger things. 

“I think Kap is doing a remarkable job managing the bullpen right now. We have had seven key members of our bullpen on the injured list.

“I think he's doing a very good job. Is he perfect every day? No. Are we all perfect every day? No. Have we had our share of challenges? Of course we have. But I think the group is playing hard down the stretch. We still have a chance. I think a lot of the subtle improvements we've seen this year have been the product of our manager and coaching staff.”

Question: So, is Kapler being judged on more than wins and losses?

Answer: “Winning is what matters. For his job, for my job, for anybody in this game. That's the cold-hard truth. I know that. We all know that. But not every season is the same as the one that came before it or the one that comes after it. The circumstances change. The player personnel can change. Expectations can change. There are a lot of things that are different year in and year out. 

“I highlighted a few areas where I think our manager and coaching staff have done a terrific job. Whether those contributions are enough to get us in the playoffs or not remains to be seen. We have 13 more games. But I think there have been a lot of positives.”

Question: Do you second-guess yourself for not signing Dallas Keuchel?

(Klentak said baseball’s tampering rules prevented him from discussing a player directly. He did offer an answer, though.)

Answer: “We will always go back and look at our decision-making and try to put ourselves back in the moment where we were making decisions and see in retrospect if there were things that we should have seen that we didn’t. Why did we make decisions that we did? Was there some improvement that we could make to that thought process to reach different conclusions?

“You’ve heard me say this, last year’s starting rotation was both healthy and effective. The effectiveness wasn’t linear. It was more effective in the first half than it was in the second half. But in the aggregate, that group of guys was pretty good last year. There’s no question that we bet on some improvement from some of those players based on what they had shown in 2018, based on their ages, their development curve, that we thought there would be more improvement than what we’ve seen. It’s hard to look back and second-guess that thought process. It’s easy to look back and second-guess the results, just like many Phillies fans have second-guessed. We made a lot of adjustments to our team last offseason in a lot of areas, many of those have worked out, some have not, but I think the best we can do is to look at the reasons we made or didn’t make decisions and try to learn from it.

“We’re evaluating every day whether it’s players or staff members or anything else.”

Question: Any second thoughts about being conservative at the trade deadline?

Answer: "You have to operate with the information that you have at the time that you were asked to make the decision. Given our place in the standings at the end of July, given the injuries that we had sustained and the likelihood that many of them would continue through the end of the season, that obviously impacts what our approach is going to be. Then you go out and you assess what the market is offering, what the cost is to acquire different players to make certain improvements and you make judgments. I will tell you that Corey Dickerson’s production for us was really impressive and, at times, Mike Morin and Blake Parker have pitched meaningful innings for us. I think Jason Vargas has done largely what we’ve asked him to do, which was take the ball every day and keep us in the game.

“The fact that we may not have traded away a lot of talent to acquire those players — I think what we should be evaluating is the contributions that those players made, and hopefully will continue to make, and less what we gave up to get them. I understand that sometimes what you give up can serve as a proxy for aggressiveness or intent but I think there’s also a value in reading a market and trying to make the best deals that you can. I know that some of the players that we brought in may not have been household names, but I think most of them have performed in such a way that they’ve delivered what we hope they’d deliver which is adding depth to our bullpen and keeping us in games in our rotation and in Dickerson’s case adding an impact bat.”

Question: Some starting pitchers regressed or did not live up to potential in 2019. How do you evaluate first-year pitching coach Chris Young?

Answer: “I never think it’s just one thing. On the topic of CY, I think if we’re going to be critical of players taking a step back this year, which I understand, we also have to recognize that many of our players took a step forward last year and a big part of that was the changes that we made to our game-planning and CY had a major impact on the positive strides our players made last year. It’s a big reason that we felt comfortable sliding him into the pitching coach role when we did because of the gains that we made a year ago.

“The season hasn’t gone the way we thought it would in terms of the development of some of our starters, and I understand why the pitching coach will take a lot of the heat for that. I think much like with anybody who’s in their first year in any position, but particularly a prominent major league position, it’s reasonable to expect that that person is going to improve as the season goes along. And we’ve absolutely seen that. I think by the halfway point of the season we were on pace to potentially set National League records for home runs allowed. Part of that is the changing dynamic in the game and the ball itself, but that certainly was not a pace that we were looking to be on and our pitching groups made some key adjustments to address that. We’re not on the leaderboard of home run prevention, but it’s been considerably better in the second half. I think he and our group have made a lot of improvements along the way. But I understand why when a season has gone the way that it does his name is going to be in the paper.”

Question: J.T. Realmuto will be eligible for free agency after the 2020 season. Chances of an extension before then?

Answer: “I think J.T. has had a phenomenal season. When we acquired him, I declared him the best catcher in baseball. He’s been better than that. He’s been everything we could have asked for. I think it’s reasonable to expect that one of our offseason goals will be to address his contract situation and whether we line up or not remains to be seen. But he has done nothing to change our belief in him or our desire to make him a Phillie for the foreseeable future.”

Question: Will top pitching prospect Spencer Howard crack the opening day rotation next season?

Answer: “I think probably he’s going to need more time in the minor leagues. He had such an abbreviated season this year (because of a minor shoulder injury), as impressive as it was, we’re sending him to the Arizona Fall League to capture some of those innings that he missed when he was on the injured list this year to build up his workload in such a way that he can have a full season or even an extended season workload next year. One of the big challenges in baseball right now is the difference in the ball itself. I think it’s going to be important for him to get comfortable with the major league ball, whether that’s spring training or at the Triple A level, before we have confidence that he’s ready for the next step and that he has the confidence that he’s ready for the next step. None of that should diminish our confidence in him to be a very good pitcher at the major league level and hopefully in short order. We do think he has a very bright future ahead of him, but we also need to make sure we do the right thing for him developmentally and we’re hopeful that his positive progression will continue in the fall.”

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An idea that might get MLB players and owners closer to common ground

An idea that might get MLB players and owners closer to common ground

It's June 4, a month away from what would be a perfect opening day for baseball, yet on and on the financial negotiations go.

MLB unsurprisingly rejected the players' 114-game proposal and the latest reports are that the league is considering a season of 50 games.

Sounds silly, doesn't even sound like baseball, seems unlikely to happen. 

The league wants fewer games because each game will cost clubs money. Players want more games because they want a greater share of their prorated salary. The sides are at this standstill because the players thought the March agreement guaranteed them their full prorated salaries, but there was a caveat in the deal about a season without fans in stands. 

The league also wants the regular season to end by October to best avoid having to shut down amid a coronavirus surge later in the year. Postseason broadcast revenue accounts for $787 million, according to ESPN.

So, how can these sides reach a compromise? The players want their full prorated salaries. The owners could agree to that but not for 114 games, and seemingly not for 82. 

What if the league guaranteed players 75% of their prorated pay? It's not 100% like the MLBPA thought it was agreeing to in March, but is there any realistic path to 100%? A compromise is required.

Rather than pay it out over 82 games, just play 75% of that 82-game schedule. That would be 62 games of full prorated pay for players. That length, 62 games, represents about 38% of a normal 162-game season. 

For the highest-paid players, it's a big bump up from what they would have made under that designed-to-fail sliding scale proposal. Someone like Bryce Harper, with an annual average salary of $25.4 million, could earn $9.7 million. This would put Zack Wheeler in the vicinity of $9 million, Jake Arrieta $7.7 million, Andrew McCutchen $6.4 million, Aaron Nola, $4.3 million, J.T. Realmuto, $3.8 million, Rhys Hoskins $232,500.

In a 62-game schedule, the Phillies could play three series of three games against each NL East foe (36 games). They could face each of the other 10 NL teams in one series, with four of those series being two-gamers. The Phils could play two in Colorado and two in Arizona back-to-back, two in Los Angeles and two in San Diego. 

Or teams could avoid long, cross-country trips and remain on their own coast, with the Phillies playing the Yankees, Orioles, Red Sox and Rays instead of the NL West.

It also could be even more division-heavy than that. For what it's worth, teams play 47% of their games inside the division in a normal season.

If the season is going to be shorter than 82 games, it also means these negotiations could extend. If you're playing 20 or 30 fewer games, that's a few more weeks to gauge the other side's willingness to bend. 

Hopefully, that is not the case and the sides act with urgency. It would do baseball a world of good to have an agreement in place in the next week or two. Build some excitement. Stir some intrigue beyond the financial discussions nobody wants to hear, think, read or write about, especially in 2020.

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Phillies hitters were 'tight as bleep' until Jimmy Rollins calmed things in 2008 NLDS clincher

Phillies hitters were 'tight as bleep' until Jimmy Rollins calmed things in 2008 NLDS clincher

The Phillies had a powerhouse offense in 2008. They ranked first in home runs (214), second in runs (4.93 per game) and third in OPS (.770) in the National League that season.

But through the first three games of the NL Division Series that fall, they'd hit just .234 and scored only nine runs. They had won two of those first three games against the Milwaukee Brewers on the strength of their pitchers, who'd held the Brewers to a .198 batting average and seven runs, and a couple of quick-strike big hits, one being Shane Victorino's grand slam against a fatigued CC Sabathia in Game 2.

Looking back, there was some noticeable anxiety around the Phillies before Game 4 of the series, which will be re-aired Thursday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia. The Brewers had won Game 3 in their home park. Another win in Game 4 would make it a whole new series where anything could happen in a winner-take-all Game 5.

In a hallway outside the clubhouse at Miller Park that October day in 2008, a Phillies team official captured the team's anxiety.

"Our hitters are tight as (bleep)," the guy said.

He was right. Phillies hitters needed to relax.

Enter the human chill pill, Jimmy Rollins.

The man who would eventually become the Phillies' all-time hits leader, led off the game with a full-count home run against Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan. Miller Park, previously pulsating with excitement, got so quiet you could almost hear a collective exhale in the Phillies' dugout.

"I can't tell you how big that was to put an early number on the board,'' general manager Pat Gillick said after the game.

The Phillies went on to win the game, 6-2, and the series, three games to one, to earn a spot in the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After the game, a champagne-soaked Rollins basked in the victory and charted a course forward.

"This is one step in the right direction," he said. "We don't think we should be looking at anything less than a World Series. And that's a World Series win. We're geared to win."

Power fueled the Phillies' clinching win in Game 4 of that 2008 NLDS. All six of their runs came on four homers. (They had hit just one homer in the first three games.) In addition to Rollins, the Phillies got a homer from Jayson Werth and a pair of them from Pat Burrell.

Burrell's first homer was a game-changer. It came with two outs in the third inning after the Brewers and Suppan walked Ryan Howard intentionally with a runner on second and first base open. Howard led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBIs that season so walking him was standard play. Burrell made the Brewers pay for the move and his three-run shot gave the Phils a 4-0 lead. Werth immediately followed with a haymaker solo homer and the Phils went up 5-0. Burrell homered again in the eighth to complete his four-RBI day.

Burrell was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft and 2008 was his last season with the club. Though rising stars like Howard, Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels got much of the attention on the '08 club, Burrell was an important complementary player and he went out in style, riding down Broad Street as a World Series champion.

"I couldn't be more thrilled," he said in the clubhouse after his two-homer day in Milwaukee all those years ago.

Another important complementary piece, Joe Blanton, pitched six innings of one-run ball that day for the victory. His contributions, and Burrell's, would continue in the weeks to come. The Phillies punched their ticket to the NLCS with their Game 4 NLDS win in Milwaukee and it all started with Jimmy Rollins's chill-pill leadoff homer.

"That series got our postseason going in '08," Rollins said years later. "We lost the night before and the stadium was so loud with the roof closed and those boom-boom sticks. We didn't want Game 5. We didn't want to face CC Sabathia. Being down 1-0 in the first inning wasn't in their plans."

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