Four days ago, the Phillies' season ended unceremoniously with a loss at Tampa Bay. It has been two days since the playoffs began without them for a ninth year in a row. Yesterday, three teams got booted from the postseason; at least one more will go today.
And still, the Phillies haven’t said whether general manager Matt Klentak will return next season.
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- The J.T. Realmuto-Sixto Sanchez trade could shape the Phillies-Marlins rivalry for years to come
Never mind that J.T. Realmuto is four days closer to free agency without a contract extension to consider, the Phillies’ minor-league instructional camp is due to open this weekend in Clearwater, Fla., and the business of the offseason is looming. Klentak Watch rolls on, with all eyes fixed on Citizens Bank Park to see whether white smoke rises from managing partner John Middleton’s office.
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When Scott Kingery arrived in training camp on July 11, eight days late and one month after the onset of COVID-19, the Phillies were unsure how much he would be affected by the pandemic.
Nearly three months later, it’s still impossible to know.
What is clear, however, is that Kingery took a huge step backward this season. After two years as a super-utility player, the 26-year-old took over as the Phillies' second baseman only to fumble the job in August. He dealt with shoulder and back issues that might have been related to COVID. He batted .159 in 36 games.
Of the 281 players who got at least 110 at-bats, Kingery ranked 277th in batting average, 278th in on-base percentage (.228), 271st in slugging (.283), and 279th in OPS (.511). He had only 18 hits, eight for extra bases. He struck out 35 times and drew nine walks.
Quite simply, Kingery was the easiest out in the Phillies lineup.
As the Phillies chart a course for 2021, they must decide what to make of it all. How much did Kingery’s bout with the coronavirus weaken him at the outset of the season, and was there inadequate time in a compressed 60-game schedule for him to catch up? Or are there reasons to fear he’s overmatched as an everyday player?
The answers could influence how much the Phillies prioritize re-signing shortstop Didi Gregorius. If they believe in Kingery as their second baseman, they could move Jean Segura back to shortstop, allow Gregorius to leave as a free agent, and use his $14 million salary to rebuild a historically bad bullpen. If they don’t, they will need to consider keeping Segura at second and signing Gregorius.
“I think it’s difficult just because [Kingery] was a COVID patient,” manager Joe Girardi said last week. “I think he dealt with fatigue early on, and then he had the shoulder/back problems. Since he’s come back, I think his at-bats have been much better. I think we’ve seen what he’s capable of doing. I am encouraged by that moving forward. But it’s kind of unfair, I think, to evaluate his first half of our season.”
Kingery was slashing .127/.184/.183 on Aug. 31 when he went on the injured list. Upon returning 16 days later, he came in at .214./298/.452. It was better, sure. But was it good enough to convince the Phillies that he’s the second baseman heading into next year?
The Phillies drafted Kingery in the second round in 2015 and locked him up to a six-year, $24 million contract before he played in a major-league game. They believed in him then. But in three seasons, he has slashed .233/.284/.393. His .677 OPS ranks 154th among 159 players with at least 900 at-bats since the start of 2018.
To this point, Kingery’s value has been in his versatility. A natural second baseman, he has gained extensive experience at third base and shortstop and in center field. But unless he cuts down his strikeouts and reaches base more consistently to utilize his speed, he won’t produce enough offense to play every day.
“I think his greatest value depends on the other pieces that you have in your clubhouse,” Girardi said. “He might be a guy that you stick in one position the whole time just because that’s the makeup of your team. But he does give a lot of value just because he can move around and play a lot of different positions.”
One holdup in the decision on Klentak: The Phillies are offering buyouts to full-time employees in an attempt to avoid layoffs. In this economic climate, can they fire a GM whom they would have to pay through the end of his contract in 2022?
In case you missed it, Bryce Harper has a few ideas on how to fix the Phillies and wasn’t shy about sharing them after the season ended Sunday.
How did the Phillies bullpen get to be so dreadful? We recently looked back on Klentak’s missteps in putting together a group of relievers that combined for a 7.06 ERA.
It’s not all bad news for the Phillies. Matt Breen looked back this week on three positives from the season, including two rookie relievers who might be here to stay.
Today: Wild-card playoff round continues with five games.
Monday: American League division series begins.
Tuesday: National League division series begins.
Oct. 20: Game 1 of the World Series.
Feb. 27: First spring-training game vs. Blue Jays in Clearwater.
When the Phillies hired Klentak five years ago, they set a goal to have “the quickest turnaround from a rebuild under a new regime to a postseason,” in the words of team president Andy MacPhail.
But they still haven’t had a winning season.
That doesn’t reflect well on MacPhail or Klentak, but the general manager usually takes the fall in these situations. In fact, only three general managers since 2000 kept their jobs after having nonwinning seasons in each of their first five seasons: Dayton Moore (Kansas City Royals), Rick Hahn (Chicago White Sox) and A.J. Preller (San Diego Padres).
Moore got the Royals to the playoffs in his eighth season. Hahn and Preller finally got their teams over the hump in their eighth and sixth seasons, respectively.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: I love Extra Innings and you guys do a great job with it. I wanted to submit a question. It has been 5 years that Matt Klentak has been GM for the Phillies. While there appears to be more talent at the Major League level, the Phillies still seem to have a problem with the farm system and player development. When you look at the organization as a whole, are they better off now than they were 5 years ago? Thanks.
— Rich S., via email
Answer: Thanks, Rich, for the kind words and the question. There isn’t much doubt that the Phillies are in better shape today than five years ago, but that’s the lowest possible bar to clear. They lost 99 games in 2015 before hiring Klentak and 91 and 96 games in his first two seasons, the nadir of the rebuilding effort.