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November 09, 2016

GM Meetings: Klentak on Nola's health, Herrera's future in CF and more

PHOENIX – One thing Matt Klentak made clear on Tuesday afternoon, with less than a week before he and the Phillies find out if Jeremy Hellickson accepts or rejects a qualifying offer to return to the team in 2017: the team will be able to get by either way with young pitching depth.

It’s still likely that the Phillies add one veteran arm should Hellickson reject the Q.O. and hit the open market, for depth and dependability behind a rotation of arms that has less than two years of big league experience. But the abundance of arms, from the guys who started the season in the rotation (Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez) and the other that showed different variations of promise later in the year (Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Alec Asher, Adam Morgan), gives the Phils enough inventory to go either way.

“We’re open-minded to (adding a veteran), Klentak said Tuesday at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, the home of the General Managers Meetings. “We do have a nice volume of young pitching. Some of them are experienced in the big leagues, and some of them are going to pitch at Triple-A this coming year. But we have young starters in volume to get us through the year.

“You’ve heard me say this many times before, but ideally I’d like to create balance in everything we do and not rely exclusively on first-year big leaguers or rely exclusively on 10-year veterans. I’d like a more balanced approach. But markets will develop how they develop, both in free agency and in trades. We have to be prepared to adjust.”

And, regardless of what Hellickson does, the Phillies starting situation improved in October: both Nola (out for the season’s final months with an elbow strain) and Eflin (out since mid-August and recovering from two knee surgeries) have progressed positively in their respective rehabs and are expected to be ready to roll come February.

Although elbows can be tricky and Nola shouldn’t be declared 100 percent until he gets through a spring training workload healthy, there had to be a collective sigh of relief that all went well in Clearwater in the past two months.

“He went through a full progression of being at 60 feet, then 90 feet, long toss, and then on the mound,” Klentak said. “He built up his progressions and threw all his pitches. Everything went off without a hitch. He never felt anything from the first pitch to the last pitch. So he's now home and resting and enjoying what should be a normal offseason.”

A benefit to the way the qualifying offer system works: a team knows within the first week of free agency whether or not the play will be returning, thus giving them cost certainty for the remainder of the winter.

If Hellickson rejects the Phillies offer and hits the open market – the most likely scenario given the dearth of starting pitching on the market and the likelihood he receives a multi-year deal because of that – Klentak and Co. don’t have to wait around and can move toward adding another veteran arm if they so choose.

“One of the things I’ve learned over the course of my baseball career and certainly in the last year is that we have to be prepared for everything, and in this particular case, we know we’ll have a resolution to it in seven days,” Klentak said. “Sometimes you don’t have that luxury of understanding the timetables. But particularly at meetings like these, it's important for us to talk to agents and teams and understands the landscapes of other moves that might involve a starting pitcher and might not. We just have to be prepared for whatever develops.”

With Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, and others off the payroll, the Phillies have (before arbitration) fewer than $25 million committed to their 2016 payroll, and only $2 million committed to 2017. So they are in position to take on some other team’s bad salary (instead of giving up a premium prospect) in a trade to upgrade their offense.

One idea first presented by CSNPhilly’s Jim Salisbury: trade for Detroit outfielder J.D. Martinez (83 home runs in the last three seasons) while also taking on right-hander Anibal Sanchez (5.87 ERA in 2016). Both can become free agents after the 2017 season and would bring a combined $33.55 million price tag for the upcoming season.

Martinez is young enough (he doesn’t turn 30 until August) to consider re-signing beyond 2017 and perhaps Sanchez can bounce back in the NL and a familiar division as a Hellickson replacement. The Tigers are trying to shed payroll this winter, and Martinez was pegged as the player most likely to be dealt.

Another veteran trade bait tied to the Phillies in a rumor/report on Tuesday: Howie Kendrick, who the Dodgers could look to move this winter. Kendrick, who can play second base and left field, turns 34 next summer and hit just .274/.331/.387 with 17 HRs in 263 games with the Dodgers in the last two seasons. 

Kendrick is due to make $10 million in 2017, the last year of his contract.

Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera were among the three finalists at their respective positions for National League Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. But when the winners were announced on Tuesday night, neither took home the hardware.

San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford won his second straight Gold Glove at shortstop while former Phillies Rule 5 pick and current Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte collected his first Gold Glove.

Earlier on Tuesday, Klentak said Herrera graded well among his evaluators in his second full season as a major league center fielder. And that despite the presence of rising outfielder Roman Quinn, the team has no plans on moving Herrera out of center field in 2017.

“Right now we have to look at Odubel Herrera as our everyday center fielder,” Klentak said. 
“He's been that for two straight years and he's been really good at it. In the same way that Freddy Galvis is our shortstop and Cesar Hernandez is our second baseman, Maikel Franco is our third baseman –– these guys have proven it. They've earned it. They go into the year as the incumbents.”

And as for Quinn? Perhaps he can be the team’s Opening Day right fielder … if he wins a job out of camp this spring.

While an argument could be made for the Phillies to consider trade offers for Herrera this winter, it’s difficult to feel confident about Quinn’s certainty as a future big league outfielder with his inability to stay healthy. Quinn, who turns 24 in May, has yet to play 90 games in any season since being drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft.

“I think Roman Quinn will be in the mix to make the major-league team next year,” Klentak said. “There are few players in our organization who are as dynamic as Roman. We had a chance to see that at the big-league level for a short stretch at the end of the year. There were days where he was dynamic.

"(But) we know the history. He has had a hard time staying on the field. That's cost him some development time. Sitting here in November, I don't project in April that he's necessarily going to be in the big leagues or Triple-A. I'm open minded to whatever develops. I personally – and we as an organization – feel very strongly about his potential.”

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