Phillies

Philadelphia native Mike Koplove emerges as strong candidate for Phillies' scouting director job

Philadelphia native Mike Koplove emerges as strong candidate for Phillies' scouting director job

The Phillies have two huge job openings to fill in their baseball operations department.

Obviously, they are looking for a new manager, and that process ramped up on Monday.

The team also needs to fill the important scouting director’s role. That job opened when Johnny Almarez stepped down in September.

The search for a new scouting boss is being led by assistant general manager Bryan Minniti and it is apparently well underway.

According to multiple major league sources, the Phillies have conducted a number of recent interviews for the position. Among those to interview are in-house candidates Greg Schilz, Mike Koplove and Darrell Conner.

Outside candidates, according to sources, include David Crowson of the Miami Marlins, Sam Hughes of the Chicago Cubs, Brian Barber of the New York Yankees, Dan Ontiveros of the Kansas City Royals and Scott Meaney of the Cleveland Indians. All have high-ranking scouting positions with their organizations.

It’s possible that there are other candidates or more will emerge. But these are the names being talked about in baseball circles at the moment.

Schilz ranked No. 2 in the Phillies’ amateur scouting staff behind Almaraz. He joined the club in the fall of 2016 after 12 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was elevated to assistant scouting director in the fall of 2017.

Koplove is an interesting candidate. He is a Philadelphia native who pitched at Chestnut Hill Academy and the University of Delaware before spending parts of seven seasons in the majors with Arizona and Cleveland. He earned a World Series ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001.

Koplove spent six seasons on the scouting staff of the Anaheim Angels before joining his hometown team as a special assignment scout prior to the 2018 season.

Conner is a longtime Phillies scout who has risen to the role of national scouting coordinator. He was influential in identifying Cole Hamels as having first-round potential and staying on the pitcher after he broke his left arm the summer after his sophomore year.

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Another ‘stupid money’ winter? Phillies owner John Middleton talks about an important offseason

Another ‘stupid money’ winter? Phillies owner John Middleton talks about an important offseason

A year ago, John Middleton’s comment about spending stupid money became a mantra for the Phillies’ offseason.

Middleton made the comment to a reporter at Major League Baseball’s owners’ meetings and within a few hours it was everywhere, from headlines to T-shirts. Salivating player agents noticed the juicy remark and put Middleton on speed dial. Eventually, the Phillies did indeed spend stupid money, big money — whatever you want to call it. They lavished more than $400 million on free agents only to finish .500 and out of the playoff picture for an eighth straight season.

Baseball owners will assemble for their annual November meetings in Texas on Tuesday and Wednesday. Before departing Monday night, the Phillies managing partner was asked if he would be providing any memorable T-shirt material this time around.

“Mantras are a lot of fun,” Middleton said with a laugh. “But we just want to acquire players that will make us meaningfully better. All of our efforts this offseason will be geared toward that.”

Don’t mistake Middleton’s measured tone for complacency. He remains fiercely committed to finding a way to win. And he agrees with Matt Klentak, the Phillies’ usually guarded general manager, who recently proclaimed,“No questions asked, it is time to win right now.”

“I loved it,” Middleton said of his GM’s bold remark. “No argument here.”

But how are the Phillies going to transform from a fourth-place team to a playoff club? New manager Joe Girardi and good health from Andrew McCutchen — the Phillies missed him badly over the final four months of 2019 — and a few relievers can only do so much. This team needs starting pitching — big time — and there are several good to great ones on the free-agent market. 

“There are many places where we can add value and become more successful,” Middleton said. “One of those is certainly pitching, but we’ll explore all areas.”

The free-agent pitching market is led by Gerrit Cole. The power-armed right-hander is expected to fetch the largest contract ever for a pitcher, eclipsing David Price’s $217 million package. Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello and others are also on the market.

Last winter, Middleton’s promise to spend stupid money led to Bryce Harper, who signed what was briefly the largest contract in the history of the game — $330 million — until it was eclipsed by Mike Trout.

Money is still the Phillies’ best resource. Will they set records again this winter?

“Any time impact players are available who fill a need of ours, the Phillies need to be in the middle of those negotiations,” Middleton said. “At the same time, no team can sign the top free agent each off-season — it just isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. We’ll explore ways to make our team better in both the trade and free-agent markets and make the additions that we feel best balance our needs.”

Given that the Phillies have a need for multiples of starting pitching, bullpen help and possibly a bat like Mike Moustakas at third base, it might behoove the club to spread around its resources and fill several holes.

The competition for Cole will be stiff with the Yankees and Angels both known to covet him. You just know that agent Scott Boras cannot wait to pit those two big-market clubs against each other in negotiations.

Boras also represents Strasburg and Ryu, as well as third basemen Moustakas and Anthony Rendon. 

Boras and Middleton got to know each other during the Phillies’ pursuit of Jake Arrieta two winters ago and built further chemistry during Harper’s Bazaar last winter. Could the relationship foster a deal?

“As is often the case in high-profile negotiations, Scott and I had our ups and downs last year,” Middleton said. “But we learned a lot about each other, and fortunately we landed in a great place. Matt will be at the point in all our major negotiations. I’m always available to him for support and assistance.”

Last week, Boras spoke about his relationship with Middleton and the Phillies owner’s commitment to winning.

“I don’t see any stop sign in John’s pursuit of his goal and that’s a World Championship,” Boras said. “He’s an owner that has been very straightforward about his path and his commitment. He’s very, very involved in the franchise and it’s really good to see owners really be that committed to their city, to their team.”

The owners’ meetings will mark Middleton’s first public appearance — at least in baseball circles — since the team’s October news conference to announce the firing of manager Gabe Kapler. Middleton was noticeably absent from the news conference to announce Girardi’s hiring later in the month. Klentak introduced Girardi and spoke for the organization.

“I didn’t think that it was appropriate for me to participate in the Girardi press conference because the ultimate decision to hire Joe was made by Matt,” Middleton said. “It was Matt’s job, therefore, to explain to our fans and the press the rationale supporting his decision.”

Long before his catchy “stupid money” comment, Middleton famously proclaimed that he wanted his “bleeping trophy back” after the Phillies, winners of the 2008 World Series, lost the 2009 World Series to the Yankees.

The Yankees manager that year?

Yep. Girardi.

“I was impressed with Joe’s leadership, experience and growth in his time with the Yankees,” Middleton said. “It’s obvious why he is a winner. His interview was an important part of the process, but we also placed immense value on the opinions of many players, coaches, and front office members who have been around Joe in his time as a manager, and the feedback we received from them was outstanding. 

“I certainly believe that he will instill in the clubhouse the drive, intensity, commitment and dedication that is necessary to bring the trophy back to Philadelphia.”

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At the Yard podcast: So many questions about Phillies free agency

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At the Yard podcast: So many questions about Phillies free agency

The Phillies free agency questions have been pouring in this offseason and Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman answered some on Monday's At the Yard podcast.

• Does MLB need a free agency deadline?

• Notable early signings last year

• Who will close?

• Future outlook for Aaron Nola

• Astros sign stealing

• What would make 2020 a success for Phillies?

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