But today the Mets are in the World Series, and Matt Klentak is now general manager of the Phillies. Things happened between then and now; let’s not talk about it.
Instead, let’s talk about the future. Along with President Andy MacPhail, Klentak symbolizes a new era for the franchise, one in which outsiders with a heightened analytical perspective plan and execute strategy. This team of outsiders have a lot to consider, starting with the overall direction of baseball operations. Remember, we’re at a much different place than we were on Oct. 30, 2008.
To me, here are the most pressing things Klentak – and MacPhail – will consider in Year One.
The Overall Direction of the Phillies
As Klentak and MacPhail mentioned during Monday’s introductory press conference, nothing happens until this is addressed. That means understanding the franchise’s current strengths and weaknesses, taking stock of every baseball operations department, then creating a strategy that plays to current strengths while remaining unique to the vision of its leaders.
So what are the strengths? I’d say a major strength comes from the Phillies’ Latin pipeline, especially the franchise’s Venezuelan academy. Surely the club has a few stronger scouting lines, too. And the scouting that led to the 2015 trade-deadline windfall of prospects was very impressive.
More strengths: Philadelphia is a major market with passionate fans who will come to the ballpark, even for a mediocre team. Thus when you rebuild – and actively talk about what’s happening with fans – it’s a little more palatable, since you know you won’t lose the core fanbase. And of course, the recent TV deal and ownership support is a major strength; few teams in baseball have the bucks the Phillies can hand over.
Weaknesses? Many were major-league focused – contracts, big-league direction, front-office communication with fans, field managing – and some of those have been addressed already. I’d also say minor league development could use work, considering how only a few players have grown from the bottom of the system in recent years (and those players have amounted to little more than platoon-quality).
Now, Klentak said he wanted to retain baseball operations staff as much as possible, adding that he wasn’t the type of boss who slashes and starts fresh. Even if that’s true, it’s likely Klentak tweaks positions and brings in some new names. That’s good. The Phillies need to define themselves, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to add personnel that aligns with the strategy.
So what’s the strategy? As we have gathered, the Phillies will combine modern analytics – through the development of a bolstered analytics department and database – and traditional scouting to identify talent. And initially, Klentak seemed to indicate the Phillies will likely rely heaviest on the draft and international market to find talent; moreover, he seems to shy from signing large free agent contracts, at least early in a rebuild.
Thus I would assume the Phillies will first identify core young players – signing them early to long-term contracts – then use the trade market to acquire role players and missing pieces for the big-league club.
The Core Players
Once personnel tweaks are made, and departments are set, and operations are a little more crystallized, the Phillies will get down to the business of identifying talent.
Again, Klentak stressed the draft is the best way to do this. This means the Phillies will be spending plenty of time and energy on solidifying their choice for Round 1, Pick 1, in June 2016. With that first choice in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, Klentak and MacPhail will hope to secure a potential core player.
Another potential core player will be invited to spring training with the chance at winning the starting shortstop job in Philadelphia. J.P. Crawford is close to a sure thing; in 2016, the front office will hope he settles into the big leagues without issue.
Other potential core players include Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr in the major leagues; pitcher Jake Thompson, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielders Nick Williams and Roman Quinn in the upper levels; and pitcher Franklyn Kilome and outfielders Carlos Tocci and Cornelius Randolph in the lower levels. Of course, anything can change at any time. Anyone can move into the conversation, and anyone can move out.
Klentak will surely use the draft and international signing period (of which the Phillies have the largest pool) to find more core talent. And it’s possible they could find someone through a trade; what a team recognizes today as “core” may be available, but it would likely cost a collection of well-regarded prospects, as the Phillies have little remaining in established pro value.
In making a trade with the Diamondbacks, the Phillies have the top international bonus slot for 2015-16. And with a robust international market anticipated, the Phillies can quickly bring in some near-major-league-ready talent.
The biggest name among them is Kevin Maitan, though he’s been rumored to be pretty locked in with the Braves. Either way, the Phillies have money to sign international talent, and they can work the market as much or as little as they’d like this year. They can bust slot and incur penalties, or they can play it safe and wait for a bigger haul in the future. Anything is possible.
But make no mistake, the international market is where the Phillies want to be bigger players. They have a reputation for getting decent talent from Latin America, they have academies in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, and – regardless of what people may think – Philadelphia is a cosmopolitan city that can attract international ballplayers.
Depth in the Draft
The Phillies have recently done a nice job at finding low-value depth in the draft, but certainly, Klentak will look to get more out of this avenue. 2016 will help, as the Phillies have the largest pool of money to spend in the draft (a luxury of being really bad).
Like with the international pool, the Phillies can spend the draft pool in a number of ways. They have a greater opportunity this year to bust slot on a high school prospect not anticipated to jump to pro ball. We’ll see if that happens.
Either way, I’d expect a balanced approach in this year’s draft – high-impact core player early, college-level depth in the middle, high-risk high school talent late. The Phillies can really spread it out this year.
Identifying Trade Value
Certainly as we approach spring, the Phillies will entertain some interesting trades. I’m talking trading a highly valued prospect or two for another team’s prospect or prospects. Klentak has said that the Phillies lack top starting pitching depth, and while the draft may be a place to find it, a trade is another option. Is it possible Klentak dangles Franco, Nola or Altherr in a trade for a young pitching stud? Is a catcher like Andrew Knapp on the block?
I would have to venture that everyone in the Phillies organization – maybe except Crawford – is available. That doesn’t mean a trade will happen. But if Klentak sees an opportunity to nab a top-level, team-controlled starting pitcher, he may have to seriously consider.
Free Agent Market
Again, it seems Klentak won’t put too much money into the free agent market, much as I’d love Jason Heyward in pinstripes. It’s a shrewd move, though. Adding a big-name player puts pressure on everyone in the organization; not adding a big-name player doesn’t move the dial either way. You’re only risking with the signing, and the Phillies – at this stage – aren’t necessarily in the business of high risk on the major-league level.
So what will they do? I’d expect Klentak to entertain signing a cheap starting pitcher to a one- or two-year deal. Someone like J.A. Happ. It’s possible he dips his foot into the mid-level market, grabbing someone like Marco Estrada. That would require maybe three to five years. But that’s it. Going deep for a pitcher is risky business, and again, high risk won’t be the name of the game at the major-league level.
I don’t even anticipate a lot of movement for hitting. In fact, if anything the Phillies sign a few names for minor-league depth. The major-league offense is all but secure.
And then there’s the elephant in the room: Ryan Howard. Maybe Klentak can move him to an American League team at the trade deadline, for filler. Maybe. It’s sad we’ve come to this point, but here we are.
And that’s why Klentak is here – to set us on the next chapter of Phillies baseball. The process will be slower than we’d probably like (remember his word, “discipline”), but the possibilities are great – like, 2008 great.