Commentary

The Phillies’ slow rebuild is maddening, but it’s smart

Matt Klentak spoke Thursday at the annual IronPigs Winter Banquet. And he spoke about the team’s philosophy in regards to the current free agent market, which, in case you haven’t been following, is still heavily populated.

Klentak, via Matt Gelb:

“We’re driven to pursue any opportunity we can to get better. The balance that we strike is: What is the expense to get better? And I don’t mean that in a financial way. Who are we taking at-bats away from in order to get better? Who is going to lose out on important innings on the mound at the expense of us getting better? That is kind of the complicating factor, more than the dollars.”

He continued that the Phillies would be more active if the market fell and players looked to go for more inexpensive contracts, which is certainly possible.

So while it isn’t a financial decision, it kind of still is. I mean, Klentak says the real issue is taking playing time from pitchers who he thinks deserve a chance to prove themselves worthy of the majors. But then he says if the market fell, the Phillies would be in on the action.

The takeaway seems to be that the Phils probably aren’t extending a mammoth contract offer to Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta, or even to Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. If one of them fits the budget constraints they have (because it seems they still have them), then sure, let’s go. But otherwise, they’re happy probably adding a third- or fourth-tier arm to compete with Nick Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Jake Thompson, Ben Lively, Tom Eshelman and Mark Leiter Jr. for four rotation spots.

Yes, I can hear you swallowing up the vomit.

***

I’m not really excited about another year of Nola and the done-nothings. I understand that some of them deserve a chance to turn around their fortunes, but it’s not something forcing me to buy a 14-game plan or anything. It seems the organization is banking on us to come to the park to see Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Alfaro, Rhys Hoskins, Carlos Santana, J.P. Crawford and Rhys Hoskins. And I want to see them. But at the ultimate cost of a 72-win team?

Yes, it has to be that way.

Across the majors, organizations are taking stock of the situation, scouring the landscape, and realizing that you either got it or you don’t. The Astros (and the Cubs, albeit more mildly) were the first to boldly cleanse themselves (I’m not using the T word because that emphasizes one consequence of a much larger philosophy and process), and following very quickly in their footsteps was the Sixers in the NBA. Thanks in part to analytics, but also with a little common sense, front offices realized being middle class meant stasis. There’s rarely opportunity to move into the top class if you’re forever attempting to simply stay afloat.

And everyone is doing it right now. It’s not just the Marlins, Reds, Padres, Braves and Phillies. The Red Sox aren’t jumping to sign J.D. Martinez because his performance value doesn’t match the early demand, teams don’t want to pay big bucks for a potentially poor-performance future, and can Martinez – whose defensive deficiencies are very real – actually push the Sox from a 93-win team to a 98-win team, which apparently is what you need to be to beat the Astros now?

Staunchly middle class clubs like the Rangers (78-84 last season) probably have little chance to win a playoff spot next season, as the American League should be led by the Astros, then the Indians, Yankees, Angels and Red Sox. But the Rangers aren’t adding anyone to attempt to be an 83 to 88 win team. They could start a rebuild, but that isn’t in the cards right now. The point is they’re not adding salary.

Same for the Blue Jays, who went 76-86 last year and probably should definitely start a rebuild. They may not want to start immediately because the fanbase in Toronto is still pretty jazzed from the Bautista-Donaldson era, but it’s getting close. Still, no plan to add salary. Why? To further hamper their ability to make future moves while likely staying in the 75 to 85 win range? No thanks.

Some experts decry this line of thinking, calling it “tanking” and dragging it in the mud as bad for baseball. Here’s the deal: Baseball’s compensation structure is completely busted. Why do younger, higher-performing players have to suffer with league-minimum contracts? That’s now been exposed. Maybe it’ll lead to change for good, but until then, it’s reality and it’s not bad for baseball. It’s just baseball.

The Phillies could add Arrieta and Cobb, but even with those additions they’re likely to still be shut out behind the Dodgers, Nationals, Cubs. There’s more of a chance they can sneak into the wild card race, but the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Brewers plan to be in the mix. The Mets and Giants could also play spoiler if everything breaks right. The Phils don’t want to concern themselves with this right now, it seems, unless they get players for cheap. What they’d rather do is get a little more time out of the kids, know exactly what they need, strike next offseason and look to be a 90-win team in 2019.

So, yeah, let’s swallow our vomit for 2018.

***

Maybe one of Velasquez, Eickhoff or Pivetta limits his walks and home runs and turns into a solid mid-rotation piece. Maybe one of Thompson, Lively, Eshelman and Leiter show enough zone control and stuff to materialize into a bonafide No. 4 starter. None of that is that crazy, and if that happens, you suddenly have three solid starters heading into 2019. You add one via trade or free agency, and – what do you know – the fifth is a race between Franklyn Kilome, Elniery Garcia and the next wave of talent. That is a clear possibility.

Next year the Phils could find that the offense is in good shape but needs one or two reinforcements. Hello Manny Machado. Hello Bryce Harper. Hello literally anyone.

But that’s a year away. And that means 2018 is another year, very likely, of watching starting pitchers surrender four runs in an inning. It’s another year of watching certain hitters flail in the zone, hit ducks into the shallow outfield and slam their bats on the clay. That’s not exciting.

How about this, then. Whose future is more exciting than ours? The Astros, Dodgers, Yankees and Cubs are already there, but look down the list … Marlins, Mets, Pirates, Giants, Padres, even the Braves … I’d venture you to give me a team that has a better combination of young talent and cash to spend.

We may have to give the kids one more chance this year. Even though it may be annoying, I’m ready for the dance.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jeff S

    January 19, 2018 at 12:55 pm

    With the payroll likely to be under $70 million, they should at least cut ticket prices.

    • Nick

      January 20, 2018 at 1:16 am

      I personally would go more frequently, and know plenty more who would too, if tickets sold for $15-$20 less than they currently start at. I feel like getting fans in the stands would actually help out a lot of our younger players more than most people think.

      I got to see Nola pitch a couple gems last season and you could tell how much he was living off the electricity that buzzed every time he went to the mound. We loved watching him pitch those games and he really seemed to love pitching for us.

      That’s really baseball at its finest.

  2. Vernon Dozier

    January 19, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Unless a starter is a true “ace”, there’s a growing trend in baseball to avoid having a starting pitcher see the opposing team’s lineup a third time and turning the game over to the bullpen fairly early. This may be the reasoning used in adding Tommy Hunter and bringing Neshek back. If they plan on that “5 and dive” mentality and don’t rely heavily on pitchers going seven innings, this rotation may be interesting to watch.

  3. Henry Bryan

    January 20, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Really, Phillies, swallow another mediocre year out of a relatively wealthy franchise?! NOT…
    How do the former 2008 Champions rationalize doing a 6-year drought-rebuild against the record of the comparatively poor Rays that rarely go 3 years without a competitive team?
    Sorry, Phillies, time to sell worthy tickets again, NOW!
    Buy Machado and Archer tomorrow, and stop dilly-dallying and poor-mouthing fans. Push Sixto, trade Hernandez, and promote Kingery now (yeah, pay him later), and grab a Wild Card while I’m still almost young!
    Do it!
    Henry Bryan, former Inquirer editorial writer

  4. betasigmadeltahag

    January 20, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    that theory works over a short time, but it taxes the pen, and over time doesn’t work. Unless you have enough relievers that can pitch multiple innings 3-4 days a week, teams will beat up on even the best of bull pens. Just look at the Dodgers in the playoffs, that pen had nothing left in the world series. You need pitchers who go every 5 days to get to the 7/8th inning 2-3 times a week. Over 162 games you need starting pitching to go deep into games a lot. That is why pitching to contact and not walking people is what needs to be coached by the pitching coaches

  5. Ken Bland

    January 26, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Look who’s at the bottom of the team payrolls for 2018 even after the Marlins continued their purge with the Christian Yelich deal. And there is STILL relative distance between the Phils and Marlins.

    And if you flip over to NFL payrolls, it is utterly amazing that the top 5 expenditures are from teams that had a combined record this year of about 0-2000, while the Eagles have the 31st least of 32 teams, and the Pats are 24th lowest.

    http://www.spotrac.com/mlb/payroll/

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