Klentak’s offseason seems like build-up to summer sales pitch
PHILADELPHIA >> At some point, the 2017 Phillies will sit for a formal team photograph, posing elbow-toelbow, squeezing one moment into baseball history. If nothing else, it will prove that at one time, they really did exist.
Sufficiently removed from the 2007-2011 NL East dynasty yet not close enough to whatever success will come next, there they will be, a collection of temp employees thrown together for convenience and investment. They will wear the pinstriped uniforms, and they will try to win. But most will be lost in a hurry, the winds of financial reality scattering them into baseball trivia.
The latest to spin up to Citizens Bank Park’s drivethru window is Clay Buchholz, a 31-year-old righthanded starter acquired Tuesday from the Red Sox for a bush-league secondbase prospect. After going 12-1 in 2013, he has been a 23-28 pitcher, including the 8-10 record of last season.
Souvenir-sales operators are standing by?
“Buchholz was a guy that we’ve been following closely since the summer,” Matt Klentak said Tuesday, on the phone with baseball writers. “We actually reached out to Boston around July, around the trade deadline; viewed him at that point as a potential bounce-back candidate. We maintained the dialogue off and on and were able to bring the deal home.”
Buchholz did adjust his delivery late last season, trashing the windup and throwing from the stretch, improving enough that the Sox would start him in a postseason game. And for a team with a relatively young pitching staff, his experience could be an asset in the clubhouse. But his value is in his contract, which will expire after he earns $13.5 million this season.
The way the Phillies see it, Buchholz can be great and help them win, as the general manager would say, “a bunch of games.” Or he could be good, help them win some games, and make for an appealing trade-deadline lure. Or he could be as useless as Charlie Morton was last season, and then be whisked away at no further cost.
“This acquisition fits with all the other acquisitions,” Klentak said. “We believe it is going to make our 2017 team better and will do so while minimizing the length of the commitment. And those were two of our primary goals for this offseason.”
Rare is a general manager so frank. But there are the Phillies, spending this offseason collecting players that they immediately expect to set free. They re-signed Jeremy Hellickson for one year at $17.2 million, but only through a qualifying offer designed to assure them of an additional high draft choice had it been rejected. They dumped Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney on the Dodgers for Howie Kendrick, a versatile pro, a 2011 All-Star, their likely Opening Day left-fielder. But his value, too, is that the horn will sound on his $10 million contract at the end of the season, making him an alluring trade-deadline piece.
The Phils took Pat Neshek’s $6.5 million contract from the Astros, hoping he will provide bullpen help, just as hopeful that his status will thrust him into trade talks at the end of July. And it was big of Klentak to give Joaquin Benoit $7.5 million to pitch this year … or better still, part of it, if he can move him for value at some point.
Even the Phils’ more substantial offseason move, which was to commit through 2021 to Odubel Herrera, had to have been done with the idea that it was a reasonably priced contract. That will give them freedom to move the centerfielder once 2016 No. 1 overall draft choice Mickey Moniak is ready to play center field.
The way the Phillies are being run this offseason, they might as well rent out the players’ parking lot for picnics and just have the players double park on Pattison Ave. Motors running. So much for the annual buyers-or-sellers debate which keeps columnists and talk-show hosts busy at the end of July. That’s over too. “Sellers” is the early projected winner.
“The hope is we won’t need to do that,” Klentak said. “We’re trying to make our team as competitive as we can, and ideally we will be playing meaningful games at the end of July. But it certainly isn’t lost on us that if the standings are looking the other way in July that we should have a number of players nearing the end of their contracts that could be trade chips.”
There is a value in supporting Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola with the accomplishments of Buchholz and Hellickson. With Jake Thompson, Zach Eflin, Alec Asher, Adam Morgan and other young pitchers with talent, Klentak has accumulated impressive starting-pitching depth. Yet that, too, is an indication that he doesn’t expect them all to stick around very long.
“Right now,” Klentak said, “the hope is that Buchholz, along with Hellickson and Benoit and Neshek and Kendrick and (Andres) Blanco are going to help us win a bunch of games next year. That’s the plan.”
Right now. But say cheese. And don’t blink.