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MacPhail sees big picture: We were in contention

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies president Andy MacPhail said there is a silver lining to the organization's historic collapse the final two months of the 2018 season.

"Had we muddled along and won 84 or 85 games, we might have deluded ourselves into thinking we were closer than we were," he said Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. "But, as objective as we have to be about that, you should be objective about the first 117, too."

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies president Andy MacPhail said there is a silver lining to the organization's historic collapse the final two months of the 2018 season.

"Had we muddled along and won 84 or 85 games, we might have deluded ourselves into thinking we were closer than we were," he said Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. "But, as objective as we have to be about that, you should be objective about the first 117, too."

The Phillies held a share of first place in the National League East as late as Aug. 12. They finished 15-30. But fans never seemed to connect with the team, even when they were winning. MacPhail mentioned that the Phillies drew 274,482 more fans to the ballpark this season than 2017 and that TV ratings were up. But it was interesting to see small crowds late in the season, even as the Phillies remained in contention. Maybe next season will be better.

Here is some of what MacPhail said in his State of the Team:

When can fans get their Machado and Harper jerseys?
The Phillies are gearing up for a big offseason, but they are tempering expectations, mentioning a few times that the 2019-20 and 2020-21 free-agent classes are equally as impressive as the upcoming one with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. It is hard to imagine the Phillies not moving the needle this offseason. They have the payroll flexibility and organizational depth to reshape the roster in a significant way.

"If you were going to invest all you had on one star-type player, then that would be sort of an acknowledgement that you think you may be one player away," MacPhail said. "There's always going to be that push for, 'Sign this guy, sign that guy.' Is that really going to solve the problems that I articulated earlier -- the defense, playing within our division better, being more consistent, striking out less? I mean, those are all things we're going to have to balance this offseason."

But MacPhail added that he expects the 2019 payroll to return to prior levels, when the Phillies annually had one of the highest in baseball. It indicates they intend to spend.

"This ownership group has demonstrated that it's not afraid to have a payroll in the top five," MacPhail said. "It's our hope to get back there."

Kapler is presenting things too beautifully
Gabe Kapler's rookie season as manager proved to be fascinating and frustrating. Not just because of his in-game moves, but because of Kapler's pregame and postgame comments. Kapler often took positivity to the extreme. Is it one thing not to bash a player publicly, but it is something else to talk about how awesome he is playing even when he is not. And as the season spiraled downward, fans and even a few players would have liked to have heard more urgency in Kapler's voice. Kapler never spoke to the team as a group until the final days of the season, when they were trying to snap a nine-game losing streak.

"I watched this happen to Dusty Baker," MacPhail said. "If you're just overly positive, overly positive, then you lose credibility with the fans after a while. You have to find a way to craft a message that is not critical of your players or negative, but acknowledge that there's some areas like the rest of us we need to make some improvements."

'Very happy' with Klentak
MacPhail declined to address general manager Matt Klentak's status, but his job is secure.

"I'm asking Matt to build an organization," MacPhail said. "I'm asking him to build a baseball organization that can compete with some of the behemoths in our game. I'm very happy with the people he has brought in here.

"And I'll tell you something else -- you know what, I've never told him this -- but there's one area where I just flat admire Matt. He is not afraid. He is not afraid. It used to gall me when I was a general manager, if I was dealing with a GM that would never make a deal unless it was so lopsided in his favor. I thought they were afraid. If you wait in baseball until all the evidence points to one decision, it's too late and it's not available to you anymore. He's not like that at all."

Klentak contacted the Marlins last offseason for Christian Yelich. He talked with the Orioles this summer about Machado. But in the end, Yelich went to the Brewers and Machado went to the Dodgers. The Phillies could have used both, but they preferred to hold on to their prospects. It will be interesting to see if Klentak pulls the trigger on a blockbuster deal this winter.

I'll give you wRC+ and wOBA
The Phillies moved from one extreme to the other regarding analytics. Data heavily influence every decision they make.

Of course, analytics are necessary to build a winning organization. Some of the best organizations in baseball have massive analytics departments, like the Cubs, Yankees, Astros and Dodgers. The Phillies must keep up.

But the quality of the information is key, too. Are there methods to check the science behind the Phillies' data implementation? At one point this season, the Phillies' infield shifts were among the worst in baseball.

"We're learning," MacPhail said. "We're growing this department. And we are learning what works and what doesn't work."

What does Middleton think?
Phillies managing partner John Middleton is a Philly guy. He cannot take the losing well. What does he think about the season?

"I think he shares my assessment of significant progress that was significantly diminished by an awful ending," MacPhail said. "He's been a little crabby to be around lately."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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