Phillies

Matt Klentak says Phillies will remain patient in pursuit of Manny Machado, Bryce Harper

Matt Klentak says Phillies will remain patient in pursuit of Manny Machado, Bryce Harper

Jim Thome signed his big free-agent contract with the Phillies just after Thanksgiving.

Cliff Lee signed his before Christmas.

Now, here we are, in Super Bowl week, two weeks before mitts start popping in Clearwater, and the Phillies still don’t know if their pursuit of mega free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will hit pay dirt.

Fans are getting antsy.

But Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is not.

Even as spring training comes into sight, he is committed to being patient.

“And, by extension, so is our front office and ownership,” Klentak said Wednesday (see story). “We're pretty aligned on that.”

Klentak got a taste of what he called “the new normal” of free agency last winter when he waited out Jake Arrieta and finally signed him to a three-year, $75 million contract on March 11.

Who knows how long it will take for Machado and Harper to make up their minds. The Phillies have had face-to-face meetings with both players. They have had continuing dialogue with the representatives for both players. The Phils would love to land one of these players.

“I tend to keep the information about the status of negotiations pretty guarded,” Klentak said. “I don't think it's in our best interests to disclose much about that.

“The fans are well aware that we're pursuing the top end of free agency. When that's going to resolve itself, we don't really know. To reach a deal, it really takes multiple parties coming together to do that.”

And Klentak is willing to wait for that to happen. Sure, there are circumstances, he said, in which he’d walk away from his pursuit of a free agent. But those circumstances relate to money and term of contract. Timing is not a parameter that will affect his pursuit of top free agents in this market. So the Phillies will multi-task: They will look to sign Machado or Harper even as they prepare for spring training, even as they head south, even as they begin workouts and games, if that’s what it takes.

“Our job as management is to be patient and understand the ebbs and flows of the free agency process and be ready to strike whenever that time is,” Klentak said. “What we try not to do is have the timing push that.

“What we did earlier in the offseason (adding Jean Segura, David Robertson and Andrew McCutchen) has allowed us to be in the position to where we're not letting the time pressure us into doing something. We're still open-minded in contract term and structure and working with the representatives on that, but I don't think the start of spring training, for example, serves as any deadline. We learned that last year with Jake.”

Klentak is well aware of how antsy fans are getting to see the Phillies land Machado or Harper. Though he does not personally engage in the use of social media, he felt some of the shockwaves that overtook Philadelphia on Tuesday when word spread that the team had struck a deal with Harper.

That was news to Klentak.

“I'm definitely amused by it,” he admitted. “I see a lot of it secondhand. I try to stay out of the fray. I woke up yesterday morning to a bunch of congratulations texts. I was like, ‘What are you congratulating me for?’ Then I figured it out. I'm plenty aware of it, whether it's my friends or family or colleagues, everybody's talking about it. It's an exciting time for the Phillies.”

Harper or Machado? Rhys Hoskins recently expressed confidence that the Phillies would land one of them.

Klentak’s level of confidence?

“I have confidence we've put our best foot forward with these guys and in the subsequent dialogue we've had,” he said. “It's impossible to predict where someone's going to land or how much money they're going to make. I don't know the answer to that. But I'm very confident in our approach and in our communication style with these guys.”

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Bryce Harper turning a corner could mean big things for Phillies

Bryce Harper turning a corner could mean big things for Phillies

Bryce Harper's short slump looks to be behind him. 

In 23 games between April 21 and May 16, Harper was struggling with a .154 AVG, two HRs and a .600 OPS. Harper had a big weekend against the Rockies, hitting for two doubles, two home runs and six RBIs.

Last season with the Nationals, Harper went through a similar slump during a 40-game stretch between June 1 and July 20. Harper hit .188 with five HRs and a .694 OPS. After he turned a corner, he was a big problem for pitchers the rest of the season, hitting .301 with 11HRs and a .980 OPS.

If Harper can bounce back like he did last season, Phillies fans are in for a fun ride this summer.

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2 unique pitching matchups await Phillies at Wrigley Field vs. Cubs

2 unique pitching matchups await Phillies at Wrigley Field vs. Cubs

As the Phillies begin a seven-game road trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, two interesting pitching matchups await. 

In tonight’s series opener at Wrigley Field, former Cub Jake Arrieta opposes the pitcher his ex-team chose to pay instead of him: Yu Darvish. 

In Game 3 of the series, left-hander Cole Irvin is opposed by left-hander Cole Hamels in Hamels’ first-ever start against his former team. The Phillies are the lone MLB team Hamels has never faced. 

The Arrieta-Darvish comparison has been an interesting one. Neither pitcher has lived up to the price tag so far. 

In 40 starts as a Phillie, Arrieta is 14-15 with a 3.98 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. His ERA has been 7 percent better than the league average over that span. The Phils did not expect they were getting the Cy Young version of Arrieta, but expectations were certainly higher than an ERA barely better than 4.00 for the ninth-highest paid pitcher of all-time in annual salary. 

What Arrieta has given the Phillies that Darvish has not given the Cubs, though, is durability and consistency. Arrieta has allowed three runs or fewer in 23 of those 40 starts as a Phillie, keeping them in the game more often than not. The same cannot be said of Darvish, who has been limited to just 17 starts as a Cub and has a 5.05 ERA with them. 

Darvish missed most of last season because of injuries to his triceps and elbow. He pitched just 40 innings. 

This season, Darvish has struggled mightily to throw strikes. He’s walked 33 batters in 42 innings and completed six innings once in his nine starts. He’s still racking up the strikeouts, though, and is coming off a season-high 11 against the Reds. The previous two games, he walked 11. 

There is a lot of contract left for Darvish, but so far it’s played out like a major mistake for the Cubs, who did almost no spending this past offseason because of the big-money deals already on the books and the dough that will soon need to go to Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and eventually Willson Contreras. 

Between Darvish and Jason Heyward, the Cubs committed a total of $310 million and an average of $44 million per year. Those two contracts are two major examples of why free agents are being paid differently these days.

Last June when the Phillies went to Wrigley Field, Arrieta did not pitch. He didn’t face the Cubs at home, either, so this will be the first matchup since his departure. The best days of Arrieta’s career came in Chicago and he’s still beloved there for the no-hitters, the Cy Young season and World Series ring. And he doesn’t hold any ill will toward the Cubs for making the choice they made last winter. 

"I knew that there was always an opportunity to come back here until I signed with another team," Arrieta said in the visiting dugout at Wrigley last summer. "It was a very chaotic offseason for free agents, not only myself but everybody involved. When Theo (Epstein) did call, it seemed like it could've been a possibility but just the way it all went down, I was leaning more and more to the side of probably not returning to Chicago. 

"Would it have been great if I signed here? Yes. Am I happy with the way things worked out ultimately signing with the Phillies? Absolutely."

Tonight begins an important series of starts for Arrieta, whose next three opponents will be the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals, three of the best offenses in the National League. Despite the degree of difficulty, these are the kinds of games a contending team hopes to get quality starts from its $75 million man.

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