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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At The Yard Podcast: Trade season approaching for Phillies; how many All Stars?

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At The Yard Podcast: Trade season approaching for Phillies; how many All Stars?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Ricky Bottalico discuss which starting pitcher the Phillies should target before the trade deadline. Would Zach Greinke be a realistic option?

Is Odubel Herrera going to be in Philadelphia past the trade deadline? How has Scott Kingery looked in center field?

Why it's time to extend J.T. Realmuto's contract now. Also, how many All-Stars could the Phillies have?

0:30 — Cole Irvin sent down, Vince Velasquez is back. Is it finally time for Vinny in the 'pen?
7:00 — How should the Phillies attack the starting pitcher trade market? Who should top their list?
14:00 — Is Odubel on his way out? Has Scott Kingery passed the test in CF?
20:00 — Extend J.T. Realmuto now.
23:00 — How many All-Stars will the Phillies have?

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MLB trade rumors: Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor all realistic Phillies trade targets

MLB trade rumors: Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor all realistic Phillies trade targets

Outwardly, the Phillies feel they have a good amount of starting pitching depth with Jerad Eickhoff, Cole Irvin, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta all potential options as the Nos. 4 and 5 starters.

But how confident can they really be in any of the four of them on a start-by-start basis?

Eickhoff, who faces a tough Brewers team tonight, has experienced predictable regression in his last two starts, allowing five homers and nine runs in nine innings after pitching to a 1.50 ERA and not allowing a home run in his first 30 innings.

Irvin was optioned to Triple A after allowing seven runs in 4⅔ innings on Wednesday night. The degree of difficulty in that start was high — good Cubs team, on the road, with the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field. Irvin's demotion seems less about the Phils closing the book on him and more about them looking to utilize an extra reliever until that turn in the rotation comes up again. Regular rest would have had Irvin start on Monday, but the Phillies are off, meaning they could go with a four-man rotation until June 1.

The Phillies have designs of playing well into October, and it's just hard to believe they have enough starting pitching, even if you have a rosy outlook for guys like Pivetta and Velasquez upon their returns. 

Fortunately for the Phils, their top need aligns with what this summer's trade market offers — in both quality and quantity. 

If the Phillies want to go after a top-of-the-rotation rental, that pitcher will be available. 

If they want a cheaper solution, that exists too.

If the preference is a pitcher who would cost you more in money than in prospects, one of those could be had as well. 

Zack Greinke

Greinke fits that last description. He has about $20 million remaining in salary this year and $64 million total the next two seasons. However, $32M of that $64M is deferred, scheduled to be paid in 2022-26.

Greinke has been awesome this season, going 6-2 with a 2.89 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 11 starts. He has made 10 quality starts in a row. He offers reliability, durability, upside, efficiency and he can certainly help with his bat. Having Greinke is almost like having another hitter. He's 8 for 25 (.320) with two homers, a triple and two doubles this season and has been among the best hitting pitchers every year since 2013.

Because Greinke is 35 and owed so much money, any team after him would have to give up less in prospects than it would for another pitcher in his tier. The Diamondbacks are retooling, and even though they've exceeded expectations by playing .500 baseball in their first 50 games, they would welcome an opportunity to get out from under that contract, which had the highest per-year value in MLB history at the time Greinke signed it.

According to a radio report from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, who is based in Phoenix, the Phillies had a scout at one of Greinke's recent starts specifically to look at him. Teams have scouts everywhere this time of year but that does at least signal interest on the Phillies' part.

Madison Bumgarner

We've mentioned Bumgarner here quite a bit over the last six months because everyone knew the 2019 Giants would be a disaster and that Bumgarner's free agency was approaching.

Bumgarner, unlike Greinke, would be a half-season rental. He can block a trade to the Phillies and several other contending teams, a strategic component of his contract designed to increase his leverage. When a player has one of these clauses, he can use it to add urgency to contract extension talks with the pursuing team or some sort of trade bonus from his current team.

Bumgarner had shown signs of decline the last two seasons with lower strikeout rates, higher ERAs and far fewer innings pitched. This season, he's off to a promising start, striking out 9.3 batters per nine innings compared to 7.6 last season, along with one of the lower walk rates of his career. His fastball velocity is also about a full mile per hour higher than it was last season.

Bumgarner is not as efficient as Greinke. Bumgarner deals with a lot of foul balls these days and is typically at 100 pitches through six innings. He's gone deeper than six just twice this season.

Like Greinke, Bumgarner also helps with his bat, and he has one of the strongest postseason track records of any pitcher ever.

Though he'd be a potential rental, Bumgarner will still cost the Phillies or any team a young player they aren't enthused about trading.

When weighing Greinke vs. Bumgarner, another consideration is that Greinke has pitched better the last two years in one of the five most hitter-friendly parks in the game, while Bumgarner has been performing in the best park for pitchers.

Mike Minor

Minor is a left-hander the Phillies have shown interest in during recent trade seasons and offseasons. Once upon a time, he was a big pitching prospect for the Braves, but things didn't go as planned in Atlanta and it took him until close to his 30th birthday to find stability and consistency. 

After a dominant season in the Royals' bullpen in 2017, the Rangers took a chance on Minor as a starter and it has paid off. In 38 starts for Texas since the beginning of 2018, Minor is 17-11 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.12 WHIP while pitching for a bad team in a haven for hitters.

Minor is owed about $6.4 million more this season and $9.5 million next season. Those are affordable and attractive salaries for a mid-rotation starter. Because of that affordability, the Rangers will rightfully look for a solid trade package for him. 

It's too early to speculate what any of these trade packages would look like specifically, but from least to most, it seems like it would go Greinke, Bumgarner, Minor, with Minor commanding more than Bumgarner only because he's under contract longer.

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