Free agency not in Phillies' plans
New GM Matt Klentak says, 'as a rule of thumb the free-agent market is not the best place to invest your money.'
DEPENDING ON how long it takes for the Kansas City Royals to dispose of the Mets in the World Series (yeah, the more-complete American League team is going to win), baseball's offseason will get underway in the next week to 10 days.
The free-agent process begins five days after the conclusion of the World Series, with teams facing deadline to offer contracts to their soon-to-be-free agents. By the middle of November, an impressive class of players looking for work, one likely to include David Price, Zack Greinke and Yoenis Cespedes, will be free to sign lucrative deals with any team in baseball.
Do no expect the Phillies to be that team.
On the first day when the new front-office regime was complete - with new team president Andy MacPhail and ownership partner John Middleton introducing Matt Klentak as the Phillies general manager on Monday - nearly everyone made it clear it was not the right time to spend frivolously on the free-agent market.
The Phillies are still in the early stages of their current rebuild. And while no one was eager to put a timeline or parameters on when they expect to contend, it's likely to be at least a 2 to 3 year process still.
"I think as a rule of thumb the free-agent market is not the best place to invest your money . . . that's the last place we should focus," Klentak said. "But I do think there's a lot of good players in free agency every single year. The different stages of development will dictate that you take a different route in free agency every single year. The route we take this offseason may differ from the one we take next offseason and the one after that."
Middleton, who became a vocal presence publicly this summer when the front office began undergoing change, agreed with the team's most recent hire.
"As Matt suggested you look at free agency different today than you might in two or three years," Middleton said. "Hopefully if these prospects come up and if the guys you brought up last season continue to improve and mature the way we hope they do and expect they will, we will have a different attitude about free agency."
Middleton was asked if that answer would be good enough to appease impatient Phillies fans.
"I wouldn't agree with the statement that Phillies fans are impatient," he said. "I think they want to win, but they're smart enough to understand where a team is in its cycle. And they're smart enough to understand whether the people who are running that particular franchise, whether it's the Phillies or one of the other three professional sports franchises, are making the right decisions to move the organization forward. So I'll answer for both myself personally as an owner and as a fan, as long as I see this organization making the right decisions that I think are moving it forward, that it has a plan and that it has a discipline to stick to that plan and you see the incremental milestones, I think they're patient."
The Phillies are in near-desperate need for veteran pitching, however, something that Klentak also alluded to Monday. Even if they're not shopping in the expensive aisles of free agency this winter, the Phils new front office will be looking to upgrade for both the short- and long-term, particularly with the addition of pitching to complement the young players already on the roster (Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Ken Giles).
In hiring a 35-year-old Ivy League graduate with an economics degree in Matt Klentak, Middleton was able to check off an item that's been on his to-do list. In June, when he introduced Andy MacPhail as the incoming team president, ownership partner John Middleton repeatedly expressed a concern for the Phillies to incorporate more analytics into their front office.
Klentak is more than a sabermetric-inclined baseball executive, of course. But Monday was a day when Middleton could feel better about his team's direction.
"There are statistics out there that show from '95 through 2004 that the Phillies had the best drafts in baseball," Middleton said. "We were the No. 1 organization in terms of WAR over like 10 years. Then if you look at the next 10 years, we're literally dead last, we are 30th. You have to ask yourself the question at some point, 'What happened? Why did we go from here to here?'
"I think there are two things. For one thing, if you look at that 20-year cycle, the role of analytics is much more important. It became more sophisticated and broader in terms of what it was measuring and the quality of the information it was giving and if you didn't stay up with that curve, you were falling further and further behind. I think that's a big part of it."
Middleton admitted the Phils were late to baseball's analytics revolution in the last two decades and is in the process of making up for it.
"It's like Alice in Wonderland," Middleton said. "You keep running faster and faster and stay in the same place . . . The teams that are ahead of us, they're not sitting still. The aggressive ones are trying to improve and get better. We have to run faster and faster."
Speaking of which: Klentak said he would not be bringing "sweeping changes" to the front-office staff, but that he has been assured he can add to complement certain areas, "one of which may in the analytics area."