Matt Klentak

GM Matt Klentak: Phillies made a strong run at Manny Machado, will continue to seek upgrades

GM Matt Klentak: Phillies made a strong run at Manny Machado, will continue to seek upgrades

The Phillies returned to Citizens Bank Park on Friday. Manny Machado was not in their clubhouse.

A drama that consumed much of the All-Star break ended when the Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Machado, beating out the Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers.

“We made a pretty strong run at it,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

The Phillies built their offer around pitching prospects, but Klentak would not reveal the names of the players that were on the table.

Six weeks ago, the Phillies were only on the periphery of the Machado sweepstakes as they were reluctant to part with young talent for a player who could become a free agent at season's end.

Phillies players forced the front office to pursue Machado by staying in the NL East race throughout a June schedule loaded with tough opponents and eventually moving into first place as the All-Star break approached. The Phillies entered Friday night leading the division by a half-game over Atlanta.

“Being active in the rental market is not the best place to be,” Klentak said. “But we felt in this particular case that this player represented a pretty unique opportunity for us and that’s why we did get aggressive.

“I would be surprised if we strongly pursue rentals, high-priced rentals, in the future. It’s just not a good market to be in, but every once in a while it does make sense to pursue something like that. We’re always going to explore opportunities and we explored that one right down to the very end.”

Klentak is still actively looking to upgrade the roster for the stretch run.

“If I had to bet, I would guess we would make a move between now and July 31,” he said.

It is still possible that the Phillies could trade for a player scheduled to become a free agent at season’s end, but not one that would cost the level of prospects that Machado would have. The Phillies are known to have interest in Minnesota infielder Eduardo Escobar and Baltimore closer Zach Britton. Both will be free agents this winter.

Escobar leads the majors with 35 doubles and has an .834 OPS. He can play third base and shortstop. If the Phillies traded for him, they could use him at shortstop and shift Scott Kingery to a super-utility role. Third baseman Maikel Franco, on the trading block not long ago, may have saved himself, at least until the end to of the season, by hitting .352 with a 1.106 OPS in 22 games leading up to the break.

“What Maikel is doing right now and what he has shown in the couple weeks leading up to the break is very reminiscent of what he did in 2015, and it’s a heck of a lot better than what he had done in ‘16 and ’17,” Klentak said. “And he’s still 25 years old. So that’s what makes the trade deadline process difficult is trying to not only evaluate what’s available outside, but also to evaluate what you have internally.”

The Phillies pursued Britton as part of a package for Machado. They remain on the lefty. Adding him would help the Phillies to shorten games.

The Phillies, according to sources, have shown interest in lefty starter J.A. Happ. In a perfect world, however, Klentak said the Phillies would not seek a starting pitcher before the deadline.

“Right now starting pitching has been the strength of our team this year," he said. "We’re very encouraged about not only the five here but also what we have in Triple A, and we’re hopeful that that’s going to mean that we can stay out of the starting pitcher trade market at the deadline because, if you can avoid it, that is definitely a market to avoid.”

The Phillies have long coveted Machado. The in-season window for acquiring him has passed. The team is expected to go hard after him in the offseason when he will be a free agent and the price will be money and not prospects. Of course, Klentak could not comment on that possibility because Machado is someone else’s player and that would be tampering.

“I won’t go there,” Klentak said with a laugh.

More on the Phillies

Gabe Kapler says Phillies players should be thinking they can win NL East

Gabe Kapler says Phillies players should be thinking they can win NL East

PITTSBURGH — Back in spring training, Gabe Kapler described himself as a relentless communicator. More than three months into the season, that has proven true. Be it in the clubhouse, the weight room, his office or on the field during batting practice, Kapler is always having little powwows with players and coaches.

The Phillies’ successful first half — they entered Friday night’s game against the Pirates at 10 games over .500 and just a game out of first place in the NL East — has created a theme for Kapler’s recent conversations with players and coaches.

“The themes right now are we’re in a position to win the National League East and make a run at that,” Kapler said. “If we take care of our business and do various things, we are going to be excited about our prospects come September. Those conversations are ongoing. They're always being had. They’re being had in various forms, but we’re asking people to take part in incubating those discussions.

“In spring training, we talked as a group, the players and our leadership group, and we said we expect to be a postseason club. I believed that then. I believe it now. We do indeed have the athletes, the horses, the leaders, the connectors, the teammates, to be a playoff team.”

With the trade deadline arriving at the end of the month, the front office is looking to upgrade the roster. A bullpen move seems quite possible. Third base is an area the team would like to bolster. And, of course, Manny Machado looms out there (see story).

What does Kapler think the team needs?

“My job is to work with the players we have in the clubhouse right now,” he said. “Everything we need right now to compete is right here. If all of our young players take these small steps that we’ve talked about since spring training, theoretically we’re a better team in the second half and we’re in a position to strike and make the postseason. I trust the work that (general manager) Matt Klentak and our front office is doing. That includes examining the landscape and looking for ways to upgrade.”

It would take a significant package of young talent to get Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. (And don't buy all the July posturing, the Phillies are in on him.) Over the last couple of days, pitcher Zach Eflin’s name was thrown around in reports. It’s difficult to imagine the Phillies dealing a 24-year-old starting pitcher who is under control and seems to be putting it together at the major-league level. (Eflin is 6-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts.)

“I don’t think we are where we are today if not for Zach Eflin’s performance in the last five weeks,” Kapler said. “He’s been incredibly valuable for us.”

More on the Phillies

With team in contention, Phillies GM Matt Klentak preps for trade deadline

With team in contention, Phillies GM Matt Klentak preps for trade deadline

It’s July. The Phillies are in contention. And with that combination comes a major subplot to the drama that unfolds nightly on the field:

The trade deadline.

It’s too early to tell what the Phillies will do, but they have many lines in the water, and if they continue to play well they will do something to improve the club.

“The development of some of our young players is putting us in a position to contend in 2018 and we have to take that seriously,” general manager Matt Klentak said before Tuesday night’s game.

Does that mean the Phillies will be aggressive in filling holes at the deadline?

That depends on the opportunity presented to them.

“Any trade we're going to make is going to cost us some talent,” Klentak said. “We understand that. But we are hopeful that we are just now opening a contention window that's going to last for a long time. Our goal is not to peak one year and then fade the next. Our goal is to open up a window and be good for a long, long time. So, we just have to make sure that whatever trades we're contemplating are appropriately balancing now with the future.

“We're going to pursue a lot of different avenues, maybe offensively and maybe on the pitching side, and balance that against what our current group of players brings and make the appropriate decisions.”

One of the Phillies’ potential trade targets was in the opposing dugout Tuesday night (see story).

The Phillies would love to land Baltimore's Manny Machado as a free agent in the offseason. But if he’d be open to signing a contract extension with the Phils this summer, they'd be aggressive in trying to land him now.

Klentak could not speak specifically about Machado because of baseball’s tampering rules.

Machado was not available for comment.

The Phillies will be July buyers because they played .500 ball over a 42-game stretch against contending teams. Many looked at that stretch as the potential undoing for the team. But the young Phillies prospered and entered Tuesday eight games over .500 and putting pressure on management to make upgrades.

“We identified that 42-game stretch as probably being the most challenging part of our schedule,” Klentak said. “And at the time we said if we can keep our heads above water for those 42 games and then part B is get on a roll in July then that would put us in a good position heading into the end of the month. To the credit of all 25 guys here and our manager and coaches, they absolutely kept their heads above water for 42 games. We finished 21-21 against some really, really good opponents. So now part B comes up, which we kick off tonight. We’ve got to keep playing good ball and put ourselves in a position to potentially do something later in the month. But we're very, very pleased with the way our guys battled. It was a grind and our players were very resilient the whole time.”

More on the Phillies