It may seem contrary that a rebuilding team acquires five players older than 32 during an offseason, but that’s just what the Phillies have done. Sean Burnett, Howie Kendrick and Daniel Nava are 33. Pat Neshek is 36. Joaquin Benoit is 39.
And yet they’re still rebuilding. We’re being told, through a glut of stories published Friday and Saturday, that the Phillies are patiently waiting for the right moment to strike big in free agency. And if you’re keeping track on contract terms, the moment is likely to be around December 2018, when players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw could enter the free agent market.
So this offseason is apparently about older talent kind enough to spend one year, and one year only, in Philadelphia. There are no long-term deals, no albatross contracts to deride after 0-for-4 performances with two strikeouts and an infield pop.
Some people aren’t happy about this. Already we’ve heard fan reactions like: “I guess I won’t watch the Phillies this year,” or “What is Klentak doing? Sleeping at the wheel?”
The Yankees signed Aroldis Chapman. The Nationals traded for Adam Eaton. The Red Sox dealt for Chris Sale. Even the Rockies – they of the 75-87 record last season – plucked Ian Desmond from free agency. What are the Phillies doing? Why no action? Don’t they want to make the playoffs?
The Phillies are not making the playoffs in 2017. Even if they traded for Adam Eaton and Chris Sale, and signed Aroldis Chapman and Ian Desmond, they are not making the playoffs in 2017. The Phillies lost 91 games last year, and luck would tell you they should’ve lost 100. And yes, they got lucky last year with Jeanmar Gomez locking up far too many games and their young starting pitchers dealing as well as they did in April and May. They had too many inexperienced players, along with too many mediocre experienced players. There was no star on the 2016 Phillies, and barring an unexpected windfall, there will be no star on the 2017 Phillies.
Adding two, three or four stars for 2017 wouldn’t have made them a playoff team; instead, it would’ve made them clearly mediocre with a barren farm system.
Instead, the 2017 Phillies will have a stocked farm system, one of the best in baseball, along with a young team slowly developing into a known entity.
Which is why we’ll have a bunch of thirty-somethings like Howie Kendrick and Joaquin Benoit. Is it the best assemblage of talent? Hell no. But is it added value without sacrificing future talent? Hell yes.
The Washington Nationals – the team that just acquired Adam Eaton from Chicago – will be interesting to watch. By bringing Eaton on board they surrendered top prospect Lucas Giolito. They still have plenty of talent in the pipeline, but by trading Giolito they made a clear decision that future value wasn’t worth the necessity of winning right now.
They’re in a place to do that, winning the National League East last year and having a strong major league unit on paper, but they led heading into the seventh inning of a deciding National League Division Series game. Adding Eaton at the expense of Giolito doesn’t guarantee that they get past that barrier, and it really doesn’t even vastly improve their chances of winning the division.
The Phillies aren’t sacrificing prospects now because there’s no need. They’re not contending for a division championship, and no flurry of moves this offseason would’ve changed that reality. Instead they’re trying to understand how the prospects fit into the long-term strategy, which means only filling in necessary holes with cheap rentals. Enter our thirty-somethings, who won’t be here in 2018.
Instead 2018 may see one or two substantial additions. If Roman Quinn never stays healthy, Nick Williams shows no progress and Dylan Cozens regresses, the Phillies could decide to sign Carlos Gonzalez to a four-year pact. If Vince Velasquez flames out, Jerad Eickhoff becomes Kyle Kendrick and Zach Eflin re-injures his knee, maybe Jake Arrieta on a five-year deal is a reality.
But not now. This offseason is about small, focused moves that fill short-term gaps. There are too many questions to be answered, and seriously, the Phillies aren’t reaching .500 yet.
So what is Matt Klentak doing? Is he sleeping at the wheel?
Nah. He’s just crawling down the road at 5 mph because the car still needs plenty of work. Sorry if you don’t like the car yet.
( A previous version of this piece incorrectly stated that the Nationals lost Ian Desmond to free agency; he was on the Rangers last season.)