Just two months ago, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak was in the midst of upgrading the club’s roster prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, hoping to help the team reach the postseason for the first time since 2011. The Phillies weren’t able to acquire Manny Machado – ultimately finishing runner-up to the Los Angeles Dodgers – but they did trade for Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos and Aaron Loup prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Klentak added Justin Bour and Luis Avilan in August on waiver trades. The Phillies perhaps didn’t make a major splash this summer, but for the first time in seven years, they were aggressive in pursuing upgrades late into the summer.
And yet, the Phillies are 25-38 since the All-Star Break. The Phillies entered August a half game up on the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. This past weekend, the Braves clinched the National League East title, while sweeping the Phillies in a four-game weekend set. The Phillies have lost the first three games of a four-game set against the Colorado Rockies by a combined score of 34-4. They’re now two games under .500, in third place in the National League East and 11 games back of the Braves.
Klentak did say prior to a 14-0 loss in Colorado that Gabe Kapler will return for a second season as the club’s manager in 2019. But he also told the collective media, which included Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, that the organization understands that major moves will need to be made this upcoming offseason:
“Significant changes are necessary,” he said. “But I think we all need to fight the narrative that it’s a simple fix. There’s a lot of things we can do and we’re going to address a lot of things.”
The most obvious significant change will be the pursuit of elite free-agent targets. Machado, a four-time All-Star who is still just 26, will reach free-agency this offseason. The same can be said for six-time All-Star and former National League MVP Bryce Harper, who will turn 26 in October. Though Machado has always appeared to be the Phillies No. 1 target, it stands to reason that they’ll also be players for Harper. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports reported last week that while executives believe it’s a near lock that the Phillies sign either Machado or Harper, there’s a belief from some that the Phillies could land both superstars. This echoes what Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reported in July, citing how financially motivated that Phillies managing partner John Middleton is.
But the second-half of the season has made clear that this will very likely be the defining offseason of Klentak’s tenure, with the Harper/Machado free-agency serving as just the start.
Salisbury reported earlier this month that the Phillies have internally considered trading first baseman Carlos Santana this offseason to reopen first base for Rhys Hoskins. However, despite Hoskins grading out as the worst qualified fielder in left field in 2018, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported this past weekend that a trade of Santana is unlikely. But the Phillies have graded out as one of the worst fielding teams in baseball in 2019 – both in terms of traditional and advanced metrics. There has been some thought of playing Santana at third base in 2019, which would allow Hoskins to return to his natural position of first base. Santana did play 225.2 innings at third base for Terry Francona’s Indians. In that stretch, he had six errors, -5 defensive runs saved and posted a -4.4 ultimate zone rating. Perhaps most noteworthy is that while playing third base in 2014, Santana made just 12.5 percent of the plays that FanGraphs deemed as 40-60 percent likely to be made. And that was when Santana was 28 – he’ll be 33 early next April.
There was a point this season – even as recently as the non-waiver trade deadline – where it appeared the Phillies may employ all five of the pitchers that would make up their 2019 Opening Day starting rotation. However, while Aaron Nola will finish in the top three in the National League Cy Young Award race, the rest of the rotation has contributed to the team’s second-half collapse. Jake Arrieta, who signed a lucrative three-year deal with the Phillies prior to the 2018 season, will be with the Phillies in 2019. But he enters his final start of his season Thursday afternoon with a 5.09 ERA since the All-Star Break. Despite a $30 million salary in 2018, Arrieta joins Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin as Phillies starters with an ERA north of five in the second-half of the season. Suddenly, finding rotation stability behind Nola has become a crucial need for the Phillies this offseason.
Perhaps the toughest task facing the Phillies front-office this offseason will be trying to build a contending team in 2019 with not giving up on talents who may reach their high potentials a little later than would be convenient for the team’s short-term aspirations. This could include Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Scott Kingery, Aaron Altherr, Roman Quinn and Jorge Alfaro. Trying to balance potential with present production could also affect the futures of Cesar Hernandez and Nick Williams, two players that have produced in their time with the Phillies, but perhaps not so much that they are guaranteed to be starting for (or even with) the Phillies in 2019.
So yes, significant decisions face Klentak and the Phillies this offseason. How those decisions play out could affect whether significant changes come to the coaching staff and front-office after the 2019 season.
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