Major League Baseball’s off-season “Hot Stove” began to heat up in front offices all across the game this past weekend. Dozens of players became free agents eligible to negotiate with all 30 clubs at that point.
Over three days beginning today in Carlsbad, California the MLB general managers are meeting. While most of the work they undertake will be of the procedural type not directly involving player movement, the groundwork for future deals can certainly take place here.
The Phillies and their fans need look no further than their last World Series champions for proof that important deals can actually get done at the MLB General Manager meetings.
It was 11 years ago tomorrow, on November 7, 2007 at these very same meetings that Phillies GM Pat Gillick swung a deal with Houston Astros GM Ed Wade. Gillick obtained closer Brad Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett in that trade in exchange for pitcher Geoff Geary and a pair of prospects, outfielder Michael Bourn and infielder Mike Costanzo.
Flash-forward just over a decade later, and it’s general manager Matt Klentak who will be attempting to either swing such a deal or lay the groundwork for one that he hopes will prove just as beneficial for today’s version of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Klentak is clearly on the hot seat this off-season. If not with Phillies ownership, then certainly with the club’s fan base. Since being hired to the position in October 2015, his moves have proven to be a mixed bag to this point.
“I’m not going to make decisions because of what they mean to me for my job security”
~ Matt Klentak, September 2018
To be fair, the team that he inherited was a disaster. Three straight losing seasons, each worse than the last, had left the Phillies as the worst team in baseball when he arrived.
However, it is arguable as to how much the situation has actually improved on his watch. While the Phillies reached the 80-wins plateau for the first time in a half-dozen years this past season, it was a sixth consecutive losing campaign, the third in a row under Klentak.
It would be difficult to take an objective look at the Phillies anticipated regulars for the 2019 season at this point and find any homegrown position player who looks to have their lineup spot secured for years to come.
Rhys Hoskins, drafted under the regime of previous GM Ruben Amaro, should have such a claim to the first base position. However, Klentak went out and spent $60 million unwise dollars on an aging Carlos Santana last December, presumably relegating Hoskins to an out-of-position role in left field for the foreseeable future.
Klentak made what seemed an astute move back during spring training of 2018, signing the club’s top prospect Scott Kingery to a team-friendly six-year contract with three additional club-option years.
Kingery, another Amaro draftee and a minor league Gold Glove second baseman, was then switched to shortstop at the big-league level. It was a position where he had played just two games over three minor league seasons, and he struggled mightily both at the plate and in the field.
Klentak also handed a $30 million contract guaranteed over five years to Odubel Herrera, a player whose baseball brain betrays him far too regularly, and whose play has steadily deteriorated since signing the deal.
I applauded when Klentak signed free agent pitcher Jake Arrieta in spring training. The club clearly needed a reliable, proven, veteran winner.
But the right-hander’s performance during his age 32 season was uneven at best. His 6.35 ERA and .867 OPS-against over his final nine starts beginning in early August certainly helped contribute to the team’s collapse.
In the 21 trades which he has made to date, Klentak has not acquired a single player who can be considered an impact piece going forward. Only Vince Velasquez, obtained as the lead piece in the trade of Ken Giles to Houston, still has any such hope.
Heading towards the 2018 MLB non-waiver trade deadline, Klentak had a surprising first place team. He had the chance to add impact shortstop Manny Machado, though it certainly would have cost him something of real value.
Instead, Klentak went the cheap route. He brought in a handful of players at a variety of positions who simply failed. Wilson Ramos. Asdrubal Cabrera. Aaron Loup. Justin Bour. Luis Avilan. Jose Bautista.
None made an impact as the team began to free-fall out of first place, out of a playoff spot, out of second place, and ultimately out of any shot at a winning record. And now, all but Bour are gone as free agents, and he will soon be a tough arbitration decision.
It is still too early to tell how his draft record will play out. The three picks in the first round which Klentak has made during his first three drafts are now the club’s top three position player prospects.
Will any ever pan out, how much impact will they have, and how soon will they arrive? Anyone’s guess regarding Mickey Moniak (2016), Adam Haseley (2017), or Alec Bohm (2018) who were taken first, eighth, and third overall in their respective MLB Drafts.
Right now, at this point in their development, the Phillies should be coming off the first full big-league seasons for Hoskins at first base and Kingery at second base. They have Kingery signed long-term, and they should have been looking to do the same with Hoskins.
Instead they have the Santana contract and lineup albatross hung around their necks. All that Klentak’s decisions over this past year have done is hinder or confuse the development of what should be three-quarters of his infield going forward: Hoskins, Kingery, and Maikel Franco.
It has been just over three years now since Klentak was hired. I am a realist. I know just how bad it was when he arrived. He took over a mess, so he deserves more time to continue trying to build it back to consistent contending status.
But the clock is running. Phillies fans have waited through those six losing years. Klentak has not done a single thing to this point to elicit their confidence. His statements so far this off-season, and those of club president Andy MacPhail, have done nothing to excite them.
What is a more annoying sound, Phillies GM Matt Klentak trying to justify one of the worst collapses in baseball history, or the mating call of the dodo bird?
— Angelo Cataldi (@AngeloCataldi) October 2, 2018
Klentak is on the hot seat during this “Hot Stove” season. If he isn’t with controlling owner John Middleton, then you have to question the owner’s judgement as well. It is time for this entire Phillies management group to come through big.
“I’m not going to make decisions because of what they mean to me for my job security,” Klentak said as the 2018 season wound to a close per Jim Salisbury at NBC Sports Philadelphia. “That’s not my job. My job is to make decisions for the good of the Philadelphia Phillies’ short- and long-term health. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Perhaps he should be making decisions as if his job depends on them. In fact, his job should depend on those decisions. If management fails this off-season, and if 2019 is another losing year, they will continue to lose the interest and the disposable dollars of large chunks of what was a passionate, park-filling fan base just a little more than a half-decade ago.
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