Deal or No Deal
Front office owes Kapler bid for Machado
PHILADELPHIA » The message was bright and clear, flashing on the Phillies’ clubhouse message board every minute, prominent in a loop of images including the night’s batting order, the weather report and batting practice schedules.
It was a quote from John D. Rockefeller, who wasn’t even in the lineup. And it was under the heading, Be Bold: “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
That’s the way Gabe Kapler runs a locker room, approving post-victory light shows and smoke machines, encouraging pregame motivational messages. But when the particular message was put to him in a different baseball context Friday night, the manager had to smile. “That’s interesting,” he said. Give up the good. Go for the great. That’s what the subliminal instructions were to the players. But what about the front office?
Though there is a month of baseball to play, and likely several thousand pounds of ice to be applied on injuries, the Phillies are rampaging toward baseball’s only relevant in-season decision: Buy … or sell?
And having won three of their previous four series, and sitting early Friday on a two-game winning streak, and bobbing toward the top of a wide-open and average division, that message carried a haunting challenge. Specifically, the Phillies are about to face a decision on whether to trade some of their good prospects for the end-of-the-season rental rights to the great Manny Machado, the 25-year-old infielder about to be placed in auction by the Orioles.
Deep in Baltimore connections, with Andy MacPhail, Matt Klentak and Jake Arrieta having done Camden Yards time, the Phils hardly have fully camouflaged their crush on Machado. Machado will be a free agent at the end of the season. And for years, the Phils have indicated that by the offseason of 20182019 they would be in position to shove all-in for any available talent. Multi-billionaire John Middleton has even famously said he would return the Phillies to the World Series or die trying. So Machado would be available to the Phils before they next hit Clearwater, and all it would cost them is cash. Cash, they have.
But circumstances always present new baseball decisions. And as June ends, the circumstances for the Phillies are different than projected. Though still technically rebuilding, they have shown enough good starting pitching to remain in the N.L. East race long enough to make a reasonable run at a playoff spot. Kapler, a leading contender for Manager of the Year, is one reason, for, among other things, his Be Bold approach.
All of which is about to make it Klentak’s turn to follow that instruction.
“I’ve actually said this a number of times,” Kapler was saying Friday, before a game against the Washington Nationals. “I have a high degree of trust in Matt Klentak that he will look under every stone to try to make us a better baseball team. He did that in the offseason. He did that towards the end of spring training. He’s demonstrated that he’s willing to go for it if we demonstrate that we can develop those players. So I think there’s a lot of alignment there. And I have a strong degree of trust that we will add pieces if we demonstrate that we can develop those pieces and that we’re in a position to win.”
So there was the agreement, whether formally or through the wink-wink channels: Prove capable of winning, and the front office will do the rest. At least it is Kapler’s interpretation of the situation. Klentak has some time to decide whether the Phillies are showing that capability, or if they are just playing a little above expectations in June. But the Orioles may not wait. If a team wants to over-pay with prospects for Machado, Baltimore could strike by the AllStar break. The Dodgers, always in a win-now mood, are likely to bid high. Milwaukee is interested. And so are the Phillies, who would have to send a young infielder and several young pitchers to Baltimore just to have Machado for about 10 weeks.
Given Machado’s excellence, Klentak should have no hesitancy to allow Baltimore the choice of J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco or Scott Kingery, then begin the pitching package with left-handed Lehigh Valley starter Cole Irvin. The decision point would be whether to include Sixto Sanchez, their leading pitching prospect. Sanchez is just 19 and impressing scouts in Clearwater. But the Phillies can’t allow that to stop them from acquiring Machado any more than they should have held onto Domonic Brown instead of acquiring Roy Halladay in 2009.
Some team will rent Machado this summer. It will happen. So, do the Phillies want to be bold or just use that slogan because “We’re No. 1” no longer applies to them?
If they were certain they could retain Machado after the season, their decision would be easy. But the Oriole is a client of Scott Boras, who can be expected to run his client through the free-agent bidding process next winter. Klentak’s dilemma: Should he surrender some of the minor-league value the Phillies have spent too many years building for a few months (and the initial recruiting edge) of Machado? Or would a smaller play for 39-year-old (and still .313-hitting) Adrian Beltre make more business sense in a temporary solution until Machado’s formal free agency?
Well … what did that clubhouse message board say?
“We have rotating quotes and the quotes come from various people,” Kapler said. “Just, if somebody has something inspiring to them, we’ll throw it up on the board.”
Give up something good, like a teenaged pitcher in a bush league, for something great, like a developing Hall of Famer with 20 major-league home runs already this season? That would qualify as inspiring. Bright and clear.
Contact Jack McCaffery @ firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @JackMcCaffery
If the Phillies are to be great, the front office has to be willing to give up some of its young talent for Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, Jack McCaffery says.
The Phillies’ Dylan Cozens (25) is out at second base after Nationals shortstop Wilmer Difo (1) threw to first on a double play in the fourth inning Friday in Philadelphia. The Nationals beat the Phillies, 17-7.