Matt Klentak

Sign Craig Kimbrel? Phillies GM Matt Klentak seems confident in what he already has

Sign Craig Kimbrel? Phillies GM Matt Klentak seems confident in what he already has

Matt Klentak spent the winter making high-profile additions to the Phillies’ roster.

It does not sound as if he’s planning another one any time soon — specifically in the bullpen. Despite its role in a couple of difficult, late losses to the Washington Nationals in the first two weeks of the season, Klentak remains confident in the unit.

“I feel really good about the construction of our bullpen,” the Phillies general manager said before Wednesday night’s series finale against Washington.

“And I’m not blind. I know some of our key guys have had some tough outings so far in the first 10 days. I’ve watched it. I know it. But I like the depth that we have. I’m encouraged by Seranthony Dominguez’ and David Robertson’s last two outings. Pat Neshek and Adam Morgan look like the best versions of themselves this year.

“I trust in the track record of our group. In the best of times, they’re not going to be perfect every night and certainly when you’re facing lineups like the Nationals have. There are good hitters over there. Sometimes they’re going to get our guys, and sometimes our guys will get them.”

On Tuesday night, manager Gabe Kapler rested three key relievers because they’d so far carried a significant load and he’s committed to keeping them healthy all season. Pressed into late, high-leverage duty, Edubray Ramos allowed a two-out homer to Victor Robles in failing to protect a one-run lead in the ninth and Jose Alvarez gave up a three-run homer in the 10th.

In the wake of that 10-6 loss, a clamor arose for the Phillies to sign free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel.

The Phillies have monitored the market for Kimbrel for months, but, at the moment, do not appear ready to strike.

Klentak would not talk specifically about Kimbrel nor would he say if he has had recent conversations with David Meter, the pitcher’s agent.

Klentak said he would not take a “football fan mentality” and over-scrutinize one bad game, especially with the way things have gone so far this season.

“We’re 7-3 with the best winning percentage in the National league and we’ve not been clicking on all cylinders,” he said. “So the optimistic view of that is, there may still be better days ahead and that’s saying something when you’re 7-3.”

He went on to praise the fans who have backed the Phillies out of the gate.

“Our fans have been incredible,” he said. “It’s really cool to come to the ballpark and play in front of these crowds in that environment. We’ve had a lot of our stars doing star-level things. It’s been very entertaining.”

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Rule change might affect Phillies' ability to trade, but other rule could help

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Rule change might affect Phillies' ability to trade, but other rule could help

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies could be buyers at the trade deadline this summer in a more impactful way than they were last year, when they added Wilson Ramos, Justin Bour, Jose Bautista, Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Avilan.

The difference this summer is that, according to The Athletic, teams won't be able to trade in August as they have for decades.

The change to one hard trade deadline of July 31 will go into effect this season, per Ken Rosenthal.

In past seasons, teams could still wheel and deal in the month of August using the waiver process. A team would place a player on trade waivers and if he passed through unclaimed, his team was free to trade him anywhere. If the player was claimed, his team had a window to swing a deal with the claiming team.

No more, it appears.

The Phillies have made trades in August frequently over the last two decades. Jamie Moyer was an August acquisition in 2006. So were Matt Stairs and Scott Eyre in 2008. They acquired Mike Sweeney in August 2010. They traded away Chase Utley in August 2015 and Carlos Ruiz in August 2016.

Last year, the Phillies acquired Bour, Bautista and Avilan in August in an effort to fill a few holes and try to stay in the race.

There have been some high-profile trades around the league in August. Justin Verlander was dealt from the Tigers to the Astros in August 2017 and helped swing that year's World Series. 

Last August, Andrew McCutchen, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Madson, David Freese, Curtis Granderson, Mike Fiers and Josh Donaldson were traded — players ranging from useful to good.

The new rule is designed to keep more teams competitive over the season's final two months rather than dumping the salaries of solid veterans. You can see the logic in it, though it could make things difficult for a team that suffers a bad injury on, say, Aug. 3 and no longer has the recourse to fill that hole externally.

More on the four-man outfield

There is no rule currently on the table to prevent teams from shifting their defenses any way they want, but it would not be surprising if a rule is instituted within the next two years.

We could see an increase or even an explosion of four-man outfields this season. The Blue Jays experimented with it this past weekend against Bryce Harper. It was the first time he ever faced that alignment and he hopes to not see it again.

Interestingly, though, Rhys Hoskins may be an even more logical candidate than Harper for the four-outfielder treatment. 

According to Sports Info Solutions, Hoskins had the sixth-lowest rate in all of baseball last season of hitting a ground ball or short line drive to the non-pull side. Hoskins was also in the top 10 in batted balls of at least 250 feet in the air. 

Both of those metrics make Hoskins one of the prototypical players to use this defensive alignment against. The biggest candidate in the league, according to this data, is St. Louis' Matt Carpenter.

It doesn't feel like baseball, the four-outfielder alignment. But most teams these days seek every competitive advantage they can find and this sure looks like one.

If this experiment becomes more commonplace during the season and hitters cannot adjust, the result would likely be even less offense, even fewer balls in play that turn into hits. Which isn't good for a game that has seen strikeouts skyrocket and hits decline.

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John Middleton's week of perfect team owner comments continues

John Middleton's week of perfect team owner comments continues

You don't often hear someone in John Middleton's position speak publicly with the passion and honesty he has this week, from the surreal Saturday afternoon in Clearwater to his interview with 94WIP's Angelo Cataldi Tuesday morning. He's pretty unique, as far as owners in the major sports go.

So many conversations have changed over these last five days. How far can the 2019 Phillies go? What is the ceiling to this overwhelming fan reaction? Could it be the best offense in the NL? Where does Matt Klentak's offseason rank among the great winters in baseball history?

Middleton said plenty of interesting things on the WIP Morning Show. He observed how Klentak, his GM since 2015, seized the moment this winter. 

He talked about the mindset of knowing other teams were chasing him for Harper.

He mentioned just how much the Phillies' front office paid attention to fan reaction throughout the offseason, even citing a Twitter poll by MLB.com's Todd Zolecki that resulted in 87 percent of the fan base selecting Harper over Manny Machado.

Middleton also gave more insight into his "stupid money" comment and the intent behind it. It was about "cutting off the escape route."

"It was an intentional comment, it wasn't a comment that just slipped out," Middleton said. "As I thought about the offseason and what we had to do, I wanted to send a clear and concise message to the team, to the organization that I expected us to get a lot better. ...

"So I set that marker out there, I set it as a goal. Matt said yesterday that it 'raised the bar.' You know what? That was exactly what it was intended to do, particularly when I raised it publicly. I could've made that statement in an office somewhere where two or three people would have heard, but by making it publicly, I made it a public expectation, which was part of raising the bar. 

"Look, sometimes leaders have to kind of eliminate the easy way out. They have to say to their organization, I'm going to push you beyond what our comfort zone is. Part of doing that is cutting off the escape route. It committed the organization to a series of decisions that was really going to test its mettle." 

Middleton cited the ESPN note that the Phillies are the first team in baseball history to, in one offseason, add three position players who were All-Stars the prior year.

"I mean, seriously, Branch Rickey never had this kind of offseason. Pat Gillick never had this kind of offseason," Middleton said. "I'm not telling you [Klentak] had the greatest single offseason in the history of baseball, but you know what? If you make that statement, people might quibble with it but they can't really argue with it too hard. Because nobody's ever done what this kid did.

"I've always thought this was an exceptional young man. He has great instincts. Watching him create this strategy to fill all these holes and have to do it sequentially and still leave that last big piece in the signing of Manny or Bryce — honestly, it was brilliant. I've always known Matt had the confidence that he could step up to the plate and deliver when the time came, but the difference is today he's delivered and he knows that he can perform. 

"This guy, really he is a full-fledged, elite GM in this game."

The Phillies' front office was well aware of the fan base's preference for Harper over Machado. It was fascinating to watch this offseason how it started with a slight edge to Harper and just grew and grew to the point that few in this town preferred Machado at the end. 

Middleton said that at the beginning of the offseason, the Phillies' decision-makers asked themselves, do you prefer one player over the other enough to not make a good deal with the player you don't prefer if he'll take it? They all said no, showing how closely they rated each player.

But in the end, not going to $300 million for Machado was in part about the fan base's preference for Harper.

And yes, Middleton knew what the perception would have been if the Phillies ended up with neither player.

"When we looked at it, we said, you can do a lot of things, but if you don't sign one of the two big free agents, it's going to be a little flat," Middleton said. 

"You had to, emotionally and psychologically, just get over the fact that you were going to have set a record here. If you were troubled by that, I just didn't think you could be a serious player in the negotiation. And ultimately, our initial offer was $330 million, which is a record.

"When I read these reports about the Dodgers and Giants coming in, my reaction was, you know what? I'm the leader in the clubhouse, you're coming after me. I don't have to go after you, you're chasing me. And we could sit there and wait because we didn't think anyone else was gonna touch that. And they didn't."

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