OVER THE NEXT few weeks, the Phillies will need to make a slew of decisions that require them to carefully weigh the present against two types of futures. The short-term is a future that sees them carrying $114 million in payroll obligations for 2013 and at least $70 million in each of 2014 and 2015. The long-term is a future that will be impacted by the young players currently in the organization, from a depleted minor league system to the major league roster, and the financial decisions the club makes from this point forward.
Sunday, in an interview with the Daily News, Phillies president David Montgomery offered his perspective on the strategy the front office will employ between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. While he refuses to concede defeat, he is well aware of the implications of the team's dismal finish to the first half of the season, which saw the Phillies lose 10 of their last 11 games, all against teams they will need to surpass to reach the playoffs for a sixth consecutive postseason. Montgomery met with Charlie Manuel behind a closed door in the manager's office for about an hour prior to Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Braves.
Meanwhile, veterans like centerfielder Shane Victorino and lefty starter Cole Hamels are both eligible for free agency at the end of the season. Younger players like rookie reliever Jake Diekman and Triple A outfielder Domonic Brown both could factor prominently on future rosters. Montgomery said he feels an obligation to give veterans like Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay a fair chance at turning the season around, and to give the fans at Citizens Bank Park a reason to keep cheering. But he also stressed the need to build for 2013 and beyond.
Question: What is the mindset of the organization heading into the All-Star break?
Answer: Clearly, this is not the season we expected, but I don't think we are at a point at this point — you obviously have to focus all the time on today and tomorrow — but we're still focusing on today as much as possible and trying to evaluate the opportunity that remains in the second half and contrast that with going forward.
Q: Is there a strategy you have to decide on in the next couple of weeks before the deadline?
A: I think the time between now and the deadline, what's that, 18 games, whatever, we believe that we're a better club, clearly, than we've played. How we respond as we start the second half probably will dictate how we handle August and September. That's [general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s] job, and that's what he's constantly doing, he's evaluating today and tomorrow because we are blessed with tremendous fan support, and as a result of that, we very much want to give them what they deserve and in addition to that, we hope that, and I think, there is opportunity in the second half. But another stretch like the last 10, it changes things.
Q: So, right now, if Ruben came to you and said, look, another GM put together an aggressive offer for one of our major league guys, would you OK something like that?
A: I think if we have a deal that makes sense, whether it is July 10 or July 30, or whether it's August 30, if it's the right thing for today or tomorrow … I think what you are asking is how do you weigh today, and the reality is, we still believe there is opportunity. Today's game is a determinant of that, going to Colorado for three right out of the gate is a determinant. We have a lot of home games. Where, with the exception of this year, we have played pretty well. We have an August [schedule] that can provide some opportunities. Certainly we are playing the teams that we need to beat to be successful.
Q: Is it a tough position to be in, in terms of sending a message to your fan base? Obviously, you never want to appear to be in the position of throwing up the white flag.
A: That's probably an overstatement to use that terminology. I think our fans share our disappointment with the year. I'm sure there are some people that would say, well, geez, this club's had success, so let's keep the elements that we know and like together, and then there are other people that would say, hey, we're disappointed. Are they not seeing this? Clearly, we've talked at length about all the elements. When you are having a year like this with the expectations we had, there's enough blame to go throughout the whole building, and certainly that includes me. The reality is, you make judgments on past years, and you get some surprises. You can identify them as easily as I could. We could spend a lot of time talking about the differences in the bullpen. You look at names that just a year ago were pieces, names like [injured relievers] David Herndon, and [Mike] Stutes. The one area that we thought we had depth, believe it or not, was bullpen pieces. Now, the job is to evaluate where those pieces stand.
Q: Would you like to see more young players get opportunities in the second half?
A: I'm selfish enough — and we've been spoiled by this club — that I'd like to see us develop at the big-league level, develop at the minor league level, and still win games. Now, your question to me is, if all three of those things aren't happening, where do you put your emphasis? The only way I can answer that is we have to take every day one day at a time. We owe Ryan and Roy Halladay and people like that an opportunity. Ryan's been waiting since October to be a part of this club. So it's not just a message to fans. Roy has been waiting since May 25 or whenever to get back on the mound. There are a whole lot of elements to think about, and making good decisions is factoring all of those elements into the equation. Always, the toughest thing is to be realistic in your appraisal of your own talent, and I'm talking about all the way down to Clearwater/Lakewood. Maybe Lakewood's a stretch at this point because for the most part those players are 3 or 4 years away, but if you do the position-by-position analysis, you say, "What can we fill from within and where do we have to go outside and who can we count on to play X number of games the next couple of years they are with us and at what level?"
Q: The dichotomy within the baseball ops side — guys like Ruben Amaro Jr. and yourself — a big part of your job is looking toward the future, 2013, 2014, whereas on the other side, there is Charlie Manuel, who says it all the time, "I come to the park to win every day."
A: But I don't necessarily see them in conflict as much as you might think. If we are going to prepare for the future, winning every day is a part of that, too. We have 39 or 38 opportunities to at least have a winning record at home. We've been pretty good at Citizens Bank Park since we moved here. So let's get back to having that occasion for Phillies fans.
Q: I'll give you a for-instance. Completely hypothetical. A guy like Domonic Brown could use a shot at the majors, but a guy like Juan Pierre gives you a better chance to win on a nightly basis. His contract is going to be up at the end of the year and obviously he isn't a long-term future guy. If you do get to a point where the playoffs are unlikely, at least you would have a half-season to find out about Diekman and Brown and guys like that. But if a guy like Manuel is thinking, "Well, I've got to win to save my job … "
A: I would be surprised if Charlie would think that.
Q: You would?
A: Yeah, I would.
Q: Have you told him that?
A: I'm just saying, I talk to Charlie frequently. His focus isn't about his job, his focus is about winning a game. You may say, well, that's the correlation. My point is, if we're all doing our job, that stuff literally takes care of itself. This is a different challenge than Charlie has had, there's no question about that, and we've talked about that. We've been a good second-half club, and it's because we've pretty much been a together clubhouse. So hopefully, in addition to providing a little help on the field, some of the key elements of that clubhouse returning are helpful from that standpoint.
Q: Is a managerial change something that you can rule out?
A: That's certainly not anything we're focusing on. Our focus is of much more immediate concerns as to as how do we play better baseball and who are the best components to have on the field … We're all being judged by people like you and people who email you.
Q: But you're the judge of the organization.
A: I understand. But right now, it is not about Charlie, Ruben, Scott Proefrock. It's about how can we take yesterday's disappointment and turn it into tomorrow's success and do it in a way that we are moving forward for both this year and next.
Q: Do you think Charlie can change anything about what he does to better pursue that goal?
A: He's entering into more direct communication with players than he has because, look, we're not playing clean games right now. When you're not playing clean games, there is plenty to talk about. You're watching it.
Q: You guys did win 102 games last year …
A: I know and that's where the surprise comes that we could fall this fast. But that's the nature of the game.
Q: Do you look at it as "falling," or just as a hiccup that can be rectified by next year?
A: I think that's where the second half comes in. Are we looking forward to next year? We will be, hopefully, at the end of October, and maybe, sadly, the early part of October, but the reality is, that's the job. People would say to me when we went to back-to-back World Series, well, you guys have a free pass. Well, that's not the case. We won 102 games last year. Where's the pass for this year? I haven't seen it. And I don't expect it. But we do want people to say, well, gee whiz, maybe with some of the pieces that are available and maybe with the people we have coming back, there is a different outcome. If this year is as disappointing at the end as it is now, that is what we are going to try to say.
Q: But you would never reach a point where you are a seller, at least in your mind?
A: I'm not trying to split hairs, but you look at it as buying and selling, whereas …
Q: Not necessarily buying and selling, but buying for now vs. buying for the future.
A: That's exactly right. You have to be open to what everybody is thinking about your players, you have to be constantly evaluating your players, and you constantly have to be saying, "Does this make us better?" Are we in a position, as we stand right now, where we are adding a small piece? Not at the moment. We're in a different situation. We may be swapping pieces that we think may give us a similar opportunity in 2012 but also enhance our ability in 2013.
Q: Last question, one that everybody wants to know: Is Cole Hamels going to be here or not?
A: We certainly hope so.
Q: Is it going to get to a point where you make your final offer? Because the worst thing would be for him to sign somewhere else and you guys not get anything except a draft pick for it. No? I know I'm asking you to give away some sort of negotiating leverage.
A: As Ruben would say, stay tuned.