Klen­tak’s off­sea­son seems like build-up to sum­mer sales pitch

The Boyertown Area Times - - SPORTS - By Jack McCaf­fery jm­c­caf­fery@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Jack­McCaf­fery on Twit­ter To con­tact Jack McCaf­fery, email him at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @Jack­McCaf­fery

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.

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