Deal or No Deal

Front of­fice owes Kapler bid for Machado

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist

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 @ jm­c­caf­fery@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com; fol­low him on Twit­ter @Jack­McCaf­fery

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

LAU­RENCE KESTERSON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

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