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Kapler comfortable starting Kingery anywhere

Phillies Nuggets: Just like that, Matt Klentak won the offseason


By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor 

There was a point, not too long ago, when general manager Matt Klentak and the Philadelphia Phillies were accused of not being aggressive enough this offseason. That point - considering the Phillies spent a combined $94.2 million on Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek before the calendar flipped to 2018 - was probably always wrong.

But Klentak has put an exclamation point on the offseason during Spring Training.

Klentak signed Jake Arrieta to a three-year/$75 million deal two weeks ago. Sure, $25 million annually is a lot for the former National League Cy Young Award winner, who has declined over the past two seasons. But the Phillies had nearly unlimited money to spend in the short-term, and they waited out Arrieta and his agent Scott Boras, who, by most accounts, were seeking a five or six-year contract when they offseason began. 

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Despite what had already been the most expensive offseason in club history, Klentak appears to have made the defining move of the Phillies offseason Sunday, by signing Scott Kingery to a six-year extension. Not only did the Phillies buy out all six years of their team control over Kingery for just over $20 million, but they also added in club options for Kingery's first three potential free-agent years.

The Athletic's Matt Gelb and ESPN's Jerry Crasnick say that the option years will be worth $13 million, $14 million and $15 million, respectively. If the Phillies exercise all three of those options, they will pay Kingery, who MLB Pipeline says is the best second base prospect in baseball, just $66 million over his first nine seasons. The Phillies now control Kingery, who will turn 24 next month, through his age-33 season. 

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As Joe Giglio of NJ Advance Media and SportsRadio 94 WIP pointed out, if Kingery reaches his full potential, this deal could go down as one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball history. Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen and Paul Goldschmidt are among those who have played on team-friendly contracts for smaller market teams. Kingery, who will play for a team that's anything but small-market, may ultimately play on an even more team-friendly contract than any of the aforementioned trio. 

With the flurry of transactions that the Phillies have made this offseason, you almost forget that Klentak and the Phillies brass began the offseason by tapping Gabe Kapler to be the franchise's 54th manager. It's obviously early, but despite any enemies that Kapler may have made in Los Angeles, he appears to have done a good job of establishing a winning culture in Philadelphia. 

After a video of Kapler explaining how the Phillies would win a sh*tload of games during his tenure went viral in January, his #BeBold mantra has dominated his first Spring Training. Pat Neshek, Aaron Nola and J.P. Crawford are among those to suggest this spring that the Phillies, who haven't had a winning season since 2011, are closer to competing for the playoffs than the public may think.

On top of the positive culture that Kapler seems to have created in the clubhouse, he appears to have won over some of the most important figures in the organization. Dave Buck, the Phillies executive vice president, said at January's Phillies college summit that Kapler was becoming one of his best friends. Managing partner John Middleton told Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia earlier this month that Kapler had exceeded his expectations in his brief time as the club's skipper. 

So Klentak seems to have used the club's ample financial flexibility to improve the team in the short-term, while also playing a leading role in selecting a manager that's created a sense of cautious optimism in Philadelphia. He also did as good of a job of solving one of the team's biggest storylines entering the offseason as the market allowed him. 

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The Phillies entered the offseason with an excess of middle infielders. Given how the market played out, Klentak handled the surplus as well as possible. 

While the Phillies did listen to offers on Cesar Hernandez for the second consecutive offseason, Klentak and company ultimately elected to hold onto Hernandez for the time being. Still just 27, Hernandez has been the second-best fielding second baseman since the start of the 2016 season. He has led the Phillies in walks in each of the last three seasons. And he remains under team control through 2020.

Scott kingery cesar hernandez

Scott Kingery and Cesar Hernandez are both natural second basemen. (Brandon Apter/SportsTalkPhilly)

There may be a day where the Phillies receive an offer that the deem acceptable for Hernandez and agree to trade him, which would allow Kingery to play his natural position of second base full-time. In the meantime, however, they will have one of the game's 10 best second baseman hitting at the top of their order. 

Freddy Galvis, on the other hand, was traded to the San Diego Padres shortly after the MLB Winter Meetings concluded in mid-December. While Galvis has graded out as one of the best fielding shortstops since 2016, he's posted a -68.4 oWAR in his six years in the majors, per FanGraphs. He was an acceptable place-holder, a role he will also fill in San Diego. But his trade paved the way for J.P. Crawford, the Phillies long-time top prospect, to become the team's starting shortstop in 2018. (Kingery may also play some shortstop.) In the process, the Phillies acquired RHP Enyel De Los Santos, who MLB Pipeline says is now the organization's 15th best prospect. 

What's more, Klentak, on paper, has rather significantly improved the Phillies major league team without touching the club's highly-rated farm system. The Phillies have a wave of pitchers that MLB Pipeline projects to reach the major league level in 2019: Sixto Sanchez, Adonis Medina, Franklyn Kilome, JoJo Romero, Ranger Suarez, Seranthony Dominguez and the aforementioned De Los Santos. 2017 first-round pick Adam Haseley is among the outfielding prospects that the Phillies, already deep in talented outfielders at the major league level, have in the minors. 

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Suffice to say, if the Phillies want to make a major trade in the near future, they have the prospects to do that. Other pieces like Sanchez will headline a second-wave of talented young players that aren't that far away from the majors. 

Next offseason, which is expected to feature one of the greatest free-agent classes in the history of the sport, has long been viewed as the offseason that the Phillies will reassert themselves as one of the game's major players. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote last July that the Phillies were viewed around the league as a "leviathan-in-training." If next offseason turns out to be the main entree, Klentak's moves this offseason (and into Spring Training) have been a hell of an appetizer. 

Remember, we're just over nine months removed from a Ken Rosenthal report that suggested that some around baseball felt that Klentak was perhaps overmatched, relying too much on his analytical background. There aren't parades for what team grades out as having the best offseason. Ultimately, the Phillies will have to begin to show improvement in terms of wins an losses on the field in 2018. But this offseason, Klentak has done his part to set the Phillies up for both short and long-term success, perhaps better than any executive in the sport. 


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