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March 28, 2017

As end of camp nears, Phillies GM Matt Klentak weighs in on Opening Day roster decisions

CLEARWATER, Fla. – In case you haven’t heard, it’s been a looooong spring training.

No one that looks outside their window and sees a downpour to go alongside less-than-inviting, upper-40 degree weather wants to hear anyone in Florida complaining, but the reality is everyone in the Carpenter Complex is ready to stampede over one another en route to the airport. The World Baseball Classic made every big league camp about a week longer than normal and it’s easy to get cranky and wistful for your own bed.

Matt Klentak is among those ready to leave, but he could barely wipe the smile off his face on Tuesday afternoon as he thought about the two months his team has spent in Florida. There haven't been any major injuries – or injuries at all, really, other than non-roster right-hander Victor Arano being slowed with shoulder soreness six weeks ago – and almost all across the board players either performed as expected or performed beyond expectations.

It’s left the second-year general manager with some difficult decisions as the days in camp wind down and Opening Day nears, but that is generally a good problem. Remember, it was just a year ago when the opposite was true and the team had to add Will Venable in the last days of camp.

During a state-of-the-team session with the media on Tuesday afternoon, Klentak singled out right-hander Colton Murray: not a guy anyone expected to win a job out of camp, but a guy who was nearly perfect in the seven games he pitched in during the exhibition season. Murray didn’t allow a run and gave up just two hits while striking out five and walking two in 8 1/3 innings.

“And there’s just not a spot for him,” Klentak said of Murray, one of five players told they wouldn’t break camp with the team on Tuesday. “But you try to stay positive with the message with these players when you’re sending them out because we know we’re gonna need players throughout the year. We don’t know when, we don’t know who, we don’t know why, but we know we’re going to need them all, so I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway for me is just how many players really showed well for themselves this spring.”

Murray, fellow bullpen arms Pat Venditte, Cesar Ramos, and Holby Milner, and utility infielder Pedro Florimon will remain in camp for the rest of the week but will not be on the 25-man roster that takes the field in Cincinnati on Monday.

But there were bigger moves made by the general manager on Tuesday.

Veteran bat Chris Coghlan was released and right-hander Alec Asher, one of the five prospects the team received from the Texas Rangers for Cole Hamels, was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

The Asher trade – a necessary move because it opened up a critical spot on the team’s 40-man roster – is a bit of a microcosm of where the Phillies' rebuild currently stands. The Phils are brimming with young talent, with a lot of it on the roster that will begin its season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and not with the major league team in Cincinnati.

Three pitchers for two bullpen spots. How they've pitched this spring:

 Luis Garcia 8 2/35.19  8
 Adam Morgan 15 1/3 2.35 11 4
 Joely Rodriguez 10  3.60 7

By trading Asher and releasing Coghlan, the Phillies increased their flexibility in formulating their roster not only for Opening Day, but in the months to come, too. 

Here’s where they stand with three days remaining in Clearwater: three hitters and three pitchers are competing for four open spots:

Left-handers Adam Morgan and Joely Rodriguez and right-hander Luis Garcia: Two of them will be in Cincinnati on Monday. Both Rodriguez and Garcia were getting what amounts to a final audition on Wednesday, starting in split squad games in Lakeland against the Detroit Tigers and Bradenton against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Morgan, a former starter, would appear to be a favorite as he'd satisfy the potential need for a long-man in the bullpen. 

Veteran journeyman Daniel Nava, spring training darling Brock Stassi, and 2B prospect Jesmuel Valentin: Two of them will be in Cincinnati on Monday. All signs point to Stassi, a left-handed hitter, on the roster with fellow left-handed hitter Coghlan gone and an open spot on the 40-man thanks to the Asher trade.

If the Phillies complete their bench with Stassi and Valentin, they won’t have to make any additional moves for 40-man roster reasons. Among the aforementioned six guys competing for four spots, Nava is the only one that is not on the 40-man roster. And since he can’t exercise an out-clause in his contract until June, they can keep him at Triple-A for the first two months of the season and call him up whenever they want during that time.

Three hitters for two bench spots. How they've hit this spring:

 Games BA OBP HR 2B 
 Brock Stassi  21.320 .370 
Daniel Nava   16.361 .465 
Jesmuel Valentin   19 .378.439  0 6

There seems to be little concern that Valentin, who has zero big league experience like Stassi, has played almost exclusively at second base this spring. Generally, managers like to have more versatile players on their bench.

“They worked him out at short and I know they have been working out on the back fields at third base,” Klentak said. “He’s athletic, he’s a switch hitter, he profiles as a good bench player. It’s a matter of (whether it would) stunt his development as a (22-year-old) to be in that role. Again, my best answer to that is if that’s the way we break, it’s not necessarily a permanent move.”

Translation: if, say, Garcia makes the Opening Day roster but once again struggles out of a major league ‘pen in the next three weeks, the team can designate him for assignment, opening a spot on the 40-man roster (and 25-man roster, too) for Nava. And then either Morgan or Rodriguez would be recalled from Triple-A while Valentin would be sent down to play regularly for the IronPigs.

It’s easy to forget that the construction of the Opening Day roster is just that –– building a roster for the first day of the season, not a roster one that’s under lock and key for the 161 games that follow over the course of the next six months.

“We've been talking a lot about making sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line,” Klentak said. “The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our Opening Day roster.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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