Phillies GM Matt Klentak discusses Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, 2019 offseason in exclusive interview

Phillies GM Matt Klentak discusses Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, 2019 offseason in exclusive interview

Matt Klentak sat down with our Phillies insider, Jim Salisbury, Wednesday afternoon to discuss Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the speed of free agency and a week filled with social media hysteria.

Here's what the Phils' GM had to say:

Where do things stand with Harper and Machado?

Klentak: "We've been pretty upfront about our pursuits of the high-profile free agents this year. Phillies fans know we had Manny Machado in here at the end of December for a full day of meetings in the office and a dinner out in Center City and had a great day with him.

"A couple weeks later, after the holidays, a smaller group of us flew out to Las Vegas and spent the day with Bryce Harper. That's been pretty well-covered. They were both great days, really productive and energizing. Beyond that, I tend to keep the information about the status of negotiations pretty guarded. 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."

Are the fans right to be antsy?

Klentak: "Fans have a right to think whatever they're gonna think. I have no opinion on that. I will remind people this is not 100 percent within anybody's control. Not with the Phillies, not any other team, not the player or the agent. To reach a deal, it really takes multiple parties coming together to do that.

"I am guided by what took place last year. That doesn't mean this year is going to be exactly the same, every free-agent market is different, it develops for its own reasons. But I look back to last offseason and Jake Arrieta signed on March 11 with us. Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez and Greg Holland, all of them signed after teams had already reported for spring training. It doesn't mean that's exactly how things are going to play out this year, but it's very possible that that is our new normal.

"All of us, myself, the agents, the players, the fans, media, we're all kind of learning at the same time about free agency and why it's developing the way it is. But our job as management is to be patient with that and understand the ebbs and flows of the free agency process and be ready to strike whenever that time is. I can assure you we're ready whenever that time comes."

Confident one of these guys will be a Phillie?

Klentak: "I've had optimism and I have confidence we've put our best foot forward with these guys and in the subsequent dialogue we've had. 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."

The social media hysteria this week ... we assume you saw it?

Klentak: "I'm definitely amused by it. I see a lot of it second-hand. 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."

Was it like this when you, as Angels assistant GM, pursued Albert Pujols?

Klentak: "Very different because at that point we were actually the quote-unquote mystery team. I don't think there were any rumblings that the Angels were in on Pujols at all. After the fact, after we signed him, it was a pretty exciting time, an outdoor press conference in the parking lot at Angels Stadium, it was pretty cool. The lead up to that was much quieter."

Has the slowness of negotiations affected your other moves?

Klentak: "The timing is tricky in all of this and that's why, I said a few times, we're not going to sit around and wait. We're not going to be held hostage by one or two free agents. Fortunately, we didn't. We got out pretty aggressively and made that trade with Seattle, and then signed Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson, acquired Jose Alvarez, kinda addressed the places we needed to address. We addressed the offense, addressed the defense, got more left-handed in our bullpen, we've done the things we've set out to do. That doesn't mean the offseason is over, but we didn't wait around.

"I think that puts us in a position to play the market and not feel like we're under any sort of artificial time pressures.

"There are more than two free agents out there now. I don't know how the timing of these are all gonna play off one another. In a more traditional offseason, we'd feel really good about what we accomplished and be ready to go to spring training. That doesn't mean we're not going to keep looking and pursuing what's out there, but we've accomplished a lot of what we wanted to accomplish this winter."

You said at the winter meetings there is a walkaway point in negotiations. Is that point nearing?

Klentak: "I think when I answered that, I was talking more about how you can't enter any negotiation feeling like you have to have this player or else. You have to have the backbone to walk away if the parameters are stretched to a certain area you're not willing to go. And I still maintain that 100 percent.

"What we try not to do is have the timing push that. And that's where what we did earlier in the offseason 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."

Is it difficult for you to be patient with a move like this?

Klentak: "Not for me. And by extension, our front office and ownership. We're pretty aligned on that."

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Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve

Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve this winter.

Harper reported to Phillies spring training Sunday with much less fanfare than he did a year ago. There was no top-of-the-dugout, televised news conference heralding his 13-year, $330-million contract. Instead, he stepped into the hallway outside the clubhouse and took questions from reporters on subjects ranging from his connection with Phillies fans to his personal goals for the coming season. He also weighed in on his old team, the Washington Nationals, winning the World Series, the cheating Houston Astros and his homie, the very available Kris Bryant.

The topic inquiring minds most wanted to discuss was the off-season work done by Phillies management.

A year ago, as he vetted potential free-agent destinations, Harper sought assurances from Phillies managing partner John Middleton that the club would continually bring in the talent needed to win a championship.

This winter, the Phillies made two significant free-agent additions in pitcher Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius. Both were on board by mid-December and the Phillies, despite holes in the pitching staff, made only minor roster tweaks the rest of the off-season.

So, the natural question for Harper as he reported to his second Phillies camp Sunday morning was: Did the team do enough this off-season to win?

“My wife actually asked me that question the other night,” Harper said. “She’s super into it and everything like that.

“You know,” he added. “I believe we did.”

Harper mentioned the addition of Wheeler and the potential upside of having a healthy Jake Arrieta in the rotation and a healthy Seranthony Dominguez in the bullpen. He mentioned the possibility of prospects Spencer Howard, Alec Bohm and Damon Jones having an impact in the rotation – clearly, Harper has done his homework – and of non-roster relievers Drew Storen and Bud Norris helping. He mentioned how good Aaron Nola and Hector Neris have been.

“We’re going to score runs, we were able to do that last year, and if our bullpen can hold and our starters can, as well, I think we’ll be OK,” Harper said.

The Phillies could have done more this winter had they been willing to exceed the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in payroll. They still might end up over the tax later this season, especially if they are in contention, but for now are in a wait-and-see mode.

One player who would surely help the Phillies now is Bryant, the slugging third baseman from the Chicago Cubs and Harper’s longtime pal from their days growing up together in Las Vegas. Bryant, who will be a free agent after the 2021 season, is on the trading block. Both he and Harper are represented by agent Scott Boras.

Bryant, who will make $18.6 million this season, might be a player that the Phillies would be willing to go over the tax line for, but the Phils and Cubs haven’t been able to line up as trade partners. The Cubs are looking for young pitching and the Phillies, with one of the lowest-rated farm systems in baseball, don’t have much beyond Howard, who is pretty much untouchable.

A year ago, Harper banged the drum for a possible Phillies-Mike Trout union. Alas, however, Trout signed a contract extension with the Angels that will prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Given the opportunity to bang the drum for the Phillies to go get Bryant, Harper exercised restraint and some long-term vision.

“You have to have certain guys on your team that make less money to also have guys that make more money, as well,” Harper said. “Kris, of course, you want an All-Star-caliber player, but we have (third base prospect) Bohm. We have a big-time third baseman we were able to get in the draft.

"Of course, any time you're able to add an All-Star player you're going to want to add an All-Star player. But you have to be able to know that you developed a player in the minor leagues that can also help you at third base, and Bohm could be that guy for us. He could come up and be one of the best third basemen in the second half or whatever it is.

"As a team, you have to have guys like that, that are only making the minimum so you can go and spend at the deadline. If the Cubs aren't where they are, you never know at the half what they're going to be doing. He could be cheaper at [that] point. But I can't give up Spencer Howard and Bohm, and possibly give up our whole future, for a year and a half of KB if we don't sign him to an extension. And I know there's a guy in there that we need to sign to an extension.”

That guy is catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies will look to sign him to a contract extension in the coming weeks so he does not become a free agent after the season. Realmuto could look to top Joe Mauer’s annual salary of $23 million, a record for a catcher.

“I think having a guy like J.T. for the next six years would help us,” Harper said.

As for other matters that Harper touched on:

Personal goals

“Just hitting for average. What did I hit, .260 last year? I think get my average back up and get my on-base back up, get to 100 walks. It really bugged me last year when I was at 99 and I didn’t get it. I really pride myself on my on-base and slugging percentage and things like that, so individually at the plate I just want to get better and doing everything I can to help this team win. I want to keep hitting with guys on base because that’s always fun.”

The Nationals winning the World Series

“I watched through the whole Series and I never have before. I’m so happy for those guys over there. I played there for eight years and enjoyed my time with the players, but I’m happy to turn the page and be here in Philly.”

On the cheating Astros

“It’s very tough to see that. But, I think, for me, it’s more the guys that come up for the first time and they’re at the back end of the bullpen and they know it and they get hit or shelled and they’re never coming to the big leagues again because a team had their signs. It’s those guys that I feel bad for.”

On his first year with Philadelphia fans

“It’s funny, in the offseason, all my buddies were like, ‘How’d you like Philly?’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I loved it. Like, it was unbelievable.’ So I think people might look at me and go, ‘Yeah, right, you’re crazy.’ But no, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fans. I enjoyed the people. That blue-collar feel, that blue-collar mentality. They want you to work hard, they hold you accountable and that made me a better player. I can’t thank the fans enough for last year, for really welcoming me and my family. I’m really looking forward to what we have this year and what we can do.”

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Phillies trade left-handed pitcher Tyler Gilbert to Dodgers for outfielder Kyle Garlick

Phillies trade left-handed pitcher Tyler Gilbert to Dodgers for outfielder Kyle Garlick

Trade! OK, maybe not the kind Phillies fans had been waiting on. The Phils acquired corner outfielder Kyle Garlick from the Dodgers on Saturday for left-handed reliever Tyler Gilbert.

Garlick, 28, was designated for assignment by the Dodgers last week. The Phillies made room for him on the 40-man roster by DFA’ing Nick Martini. Martini had been picked up off waivers from Cincy last month.

Garlick went 12 for 48 with four doubles and three homers for the Dodgers in 2019, his lone season in the bigs. He’s a right-handed hitter with power who went deep 82 times while climbing from Single A to Triple A in a crowded Dodgers system from 2016-19.

With the Phillies, Garlick will vie for a spot on the bench. He has a ton of competition. Jay Bruce, Nick Williams and Roman Quinn are on the 40-man roster, and non-roster invitees Logan Forsythe, Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin, Mikie Mahtook, Matt Szczur, Neil Walker and Ronald Torreyes are also battling for bench jobs. That's 11 players for, at most, four spots, considering the other bench player would be the backup catcher.

Garlick still has two minor league options left, which could provide useful flexibility to the Phillies if they choose to shuttle him back and forth between Triple A and the majors.

Gilbert, the lefty headed to the Dodgers, did not pitch in the majors for the Phillies. He was in camp as a non-roster invitee. He had a 2.83 ERA in 47⅔ innings at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season but found himself behind many other lefty bullpen candidates here.

The Phillies have Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Francisco Liriano, Ranger Suarez, Cole Irvin, Austin Davis and prospects Cristopher Sanchez, Zach Warren, Damon Jones, Kyle Dohy and JoJo Romero in camp. Lots of options to choose from.

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