Middleton: Matt Klentak is the general who engineered this

CLEARWATER, FL – MARCH 02: Phillies Vice President & General Manager Matt Klentak listens to the question from a media member during the press conference to introduce Bryce Harper to the media and the fans of the Philadelphia Phillies on March 02, 2019 at the Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

What the Philadelphia Phillies second-half collapse in 2018 showed is that the team wasn’t one move away. Trading for Manny Machado at last summer’s non-waiver trade deadline wouldn’t have propelled the team to their first playoff berth since 2011. And signing Bryce Harper – or Machado – in the long-anticipated 2018-19 offseason wasn’t enough to put the Phillies over the top.

So general manager Matt Klentak entered the offseason with Harper and Machado on his mind, but with the understanding that the Phillies needed to make additional significant changes to compete in an increasingly talented National League East.

The Phillies acquired two-time All-Star shortstop Jean Segura from the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 3, also netting relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos in a trade that cost them Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford. The trade of Santana paved the way for Rhys Hoskins to move back to first base, after a failed attempt to become an outfielder. Opening up left field gave the Phillies the chance to add Andrew McCutchen, who will replace much of the offensive production that Santana brought to the table. Shortly after the New Year, the Phillies signed veteran reliever David Robertson to a two-year/$23 million deal, adding him to a talented bullpen that already included Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek and Hector Neris. And on Feb. 7, Klentak traded No. 1 overall prospect Sixto Sanchez – who he had refused to part with for only a couple guaranteed months of Machado last July – as part of a package that landed All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins.

Ultimately, the Phillies signed Harper to a 13-year/$330 million late last week. But in his quest to “star hunt,” Klentak learned from the mistakes that the Philadelphia 76ers made last offseason. He bolstered the rest of the team while looking to add a superstar talent, setting the Phillies up for success regardless of whether they were able to lure Harper or Machado to Philadelphia. The offseason that Klentak has had sure hasn’t been lost on Phillies managing partner John Middleton.

“You’ve got to really give credit to Matt Klentak, who put together a spectacular offseason,” Middleton told Angelo Cataldi and the SportsRadio 94 WIP Morning Show Tuesday. “We knew – and we said back in November – that we we’re not just one player away from having a really good team. And if you look at the different moves that he made; the trade for [Jean] Segura, the signing of [Andrew] McCutchen, the signing of [David] Robertson…and frankly the extension of Aaron Nola gets kind of overlooked sometimes in this, because you’ve now locked up a spectacular pitcher for a long time…and then the trade for J.T. [Realmuto], and you cap it off with the signing of Bryce [Harper]…”

In theory, it would be quite the ask for the Phillies (or any team) to make a 10-win improvement from the 80 games they won a season ago, especially when you consider that they won just 66 games as recently as 2017. But the 2019 Phillies – specifically their lineup – are an entirely different team than they were a year ago. Comparing the 2019 Phillies lineup to a 2018 Phillies lineup that gave significant at-bats to Santana, Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Knapp and a rookie Scott Kingery is almost a waste of time.

Middleton, for one, seems to be enamored with the additions that his fairly frequently criticized general manager has made in what always seemed destined to be a defining offseason for the organization.

ESPN says it’s the first time in the history of Major League Baseball that a general manager has acquired three All-Stars from the prior year in one offseason,” Middleton continued. “And that doesn’t even include the signing of McCutchen…Robertson…and the extension of Aaron or those kinds of things. Seriously, Branch Rickey never has this kind of offseason. Pat Gillick never had this kind of an offseason. I’m not telling you that he had the greatest single offseason in the history of baseball. But you know what? If you made that statement, people might quibble with it, but they can’t really argue with it too hard. Nobody has ever done what this kid [Klentak] has done.”

Great on-paper offseasons, of course, don’t always translate to on-field success. But PECOTA now projects that the Phillies will win 89 games in 2019, which not only would clinch their first winning season since 2011, but would almost certainly allow them to return to the postseason for the first time in eight seasons, either as National League East champions or in the Wild Card Game.

And Middleton, credited by many for leading the Phillies through this offseason, says it’s his fourth year general manager that deserves a majority of the praise for the situation the Phillies are currently in.

“Don’t forget, Matt Klentak is the general who engineered this.”


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