December 07, 2016
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Around the same time super agent Scott Boras held court on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, reiterating once again that the hometown Washington Nationals had not had discussions with one of his client's, Bryce Harper, on a long-term contract extension, a young general manager overseeing a slow build of a rebuild sat in a suite five floors above inside the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
On Wednesday, Matt Klentak was asked about model big league franchises and pointed out several, and how all that underwent a massive rebuild from the bottom up were rewarded for their patience and dedication.
The Phillies first began their own rebuild a little more than two years ago, following the 2014 season. Two years from now (in the 2018-19 offseason) Harper will lead a formidable free agent class that also includes (barring new contracts) Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Adam Jones, A.J. Pollock, Andrew McCutchen, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton, while Clayton Kershaw and David Price have opt-outs in their contracts that can make them free agents that winter, too.
The Phillies could surely (and likely, will) upgrade their roster between now and then. But it’s also understandable why they’re being patient and conservative this winter.
They understand where they’re at as a franchise entering 2017: not quite ready to contend and not keen on signing veterans that would block the paths of prospects. And ready for the winters to come, too.
“One of the advantages that we have as a big market club is that we’ve been able to take advantage of the past couple of years to trade some key assets to get younger,” Klentak said, referring to the more than half dozen trades of veterans that infused the farm system with talented prospects. “Another huge advantage we have is that we have a very dedicated ownership that we know will spend when the time is right. That combination of factors should, on paper, put the Phillies in a pretty good spot.”
In a good enough spot to make runs at the likes of Harper and Co., a free agent class that will try to leave Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million contract in the dust?
“I won’t put a dollar figure on anything,” Klentak said if he saw the value of spending those kinds of dollars on any one player. “Markets develop how they’re going to develop and player values will change over time. But I don’t have any doubt that this franchise will make significant investments when the time is right.”
Klentak made sure to put an emphasis behind the words, any doubt. Anyone who has heard ownership partner John Middleton talk would understand why Klentak would use that emphasis.
Music to the ears of Phillies fans that can’t wait to flood Citizens Bank Park again every summer, right? To those that understand the process (sorry, Sixers, we’re stealing this), surely.
To those that are more, at best, impatient, and unwilling to sit through another 85-to-95 loss season: trust the process.
“When we look at teams that have successfully rebuilt their organizations, those that started with a plan, followed that plan, and maintained their discipline throughout their plan almost without fail were rewarded in the end,” Klentak said. “Those most recent examples of that are the Cubs, the Astros, the Pirates, the Orioles, the Royals, they’ve all achieved some degree of success in the last few years.
“I think more globally, a team like the Cardinals, it seems like they’re competitive or in the playoffs virtually every year in the last, (what) 15 years? … Maybe the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s. That’s incredible success to have in this sport, that kind of consistency. That ultimately is the long term goal. Not only do we want to build a winner but we want to build an environment that sustains over a long period of time.”
This isn’t to say the Phillies come to the Winter Meetings, gather in a spacious suite in a luxury resort hotel, pop out their laptops, and then simply sit on their hands.
They’ll continue to try to upgrade their team for the now and the later, perhaps more likely through advantageous trades than headline-grabbing free agent signings this winter. Next winter’s Royals-infused free agent class, led by Eric Hosmer, might be one more to their liking and better lined up for the endgame for their rebuild.
It’s the methodical approach – one being guided by a baseball operations department buoyed with an influx of analytics and with an experienced scouting brain trust, too – that Klentak is betting on as he continues to conduct business daily during his second offseason running the Phillies’ rebuild.
“One of the critical components of my job is to manage today and to be looking out for the Opening Day 2017, but I also have to be looking one and two and five years out,” Klentak said. “Because to successfully balance the present and the future is the single greatest challenge that a baseball operations (department) will face. We talked about it yesterday and we’ve talked about it all offseason.
“The decisions that we are making right now about giving playing time to a young player that has cut his teeth in Triple-A and needs that opportunity to take the next step as opposed to a shorter-term solution from the outside that may need more certainty – that’s a short term decision we have to make. It may have implications for our long-term future. (That’s) one of the main challenges that we’ve run into this offseason.”