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MacPhail happy with Klentak, Phillies' moves

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies are starting from the beginning. Since late July, they have traded three formidable late-inning relievers (Jonathan Papelbon, Ken Giles and Jake Diekman) for young starting pitching.

"That's an extravagance until you get the first part of the game solved," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said Friday, when he and other members of the Phils' front office served meals to the homeless at the Bethesda Project's Our Brothers' Place in Philadelphia. "Really, starting with the Trade Deadline deals that [former general manager] Ruben [Amaro Jr.] made, our job has been to improve the starting pitching."

The Phillies have turned over their roster. Eight pitchers no longer with the organization combined to make 97 starts last season, with a 5.21 ERA.

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"For us to become a postseason-caliber team, that had to improve," MacPhail said. "That had to be the first thing to improve. What we hope we've done in exchange [of trading Papelbon, Giles and Diekman] is propped up our ability to improve the first six innings through our starting pitching."

There is more starting-pitching depth. The Phils traded mid-level prospects for veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, who will be free agents after next season. They will provide veteran leadership to the rotation. Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, Adam Morgan and others will be in camp competing for rotation jobs, with the first three considered the favorites.

Pitching prospects Mark Appel, Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin figure to open the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, trying to push the young pitchers in front of them.

"As much as you think you might have, you still don't have as much as you think you have," MacPhail said. "We all know that we're going to have some injuries, we're going to have some disappointments. Whatever starting pitching you think you have, conservatively divide by two. But we still hope we're getting enough of a critical mass that it can matriculate up to the big league level."

But what about offense?

"I really believe that as our team grows more and more competitive, we're going to be able to find hitters," MacPhail said. "It's going to be an attractive place to come. If they think we're winning games, we're going to get the hitters. But the pitching needs to come from the system and needs to come from trades. That's the approach we've taken. We prefer at the present to be accumulating young starters, and then hopefully we'll get to that market. But not yet."

MacPhail said he and GM Matt Klentak have worked well together. But how does the relationship work? Clearly, MacPhail had plenty of involvement in the Giles deal. Friday's trade that sent Dan Otero to the Indians for cash considerations? Not so much.

"I think part of my responsibility, given my background, is to chart the overall course, to understand where we are at any given time, to be able to weigh in," MacPhail said. "But it's important that our general manager is able to execute the plan. And he's got to have the autonomy to at any given time look across the table at an agent or GM and make a trade. He can't keep running back to get permission from headquarters. That's not the way it can work.

"Matt and I talk all the time. We have a joint understanding of what it is we're trying to accomplish. We try to give Matt as much flexibility as he can to [make deals] when he thinks it's the appropriate time. We have a lot of confidence in his ability to do that, and I think he's demonstrated in a short period here that he's capable of doing it."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
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