GM Klentak talks bullpen, Trade Deadline

June 19th, 2018

PHILADELPHIA -- If the Phillies had a legitimate closer, they swear they would use him as one.
But the Phillies have not anointed a closer since lost the job last month, which is why they continue to mix and match their relievers late in games.
"If we had Brad Lidge on this team, he would close," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. "If we had Billy Wagner on this team, he would close. If we had Jonathan Papelbon on this team, he would close. We don't have one of those guys. So we're making due with what we have, which is a pretty good group.
"I think at some point we might [have a closer]. If organically it works, and that's the way things shake out, I think we're open to that."
On Monday, the Nationals traded three prospects to the Royals for closer , who enhances Washington's chances of winning a World Series. Klentak declined to say if the Phillies took a shot at Herrera, but he said there have been "a handful of conversations" about potential trades.
Manager Gabe Kapler said Monday that he does not believe the Phillies need to acquire a reliever before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, although he quickly acknowledged that he always welcomes upgrades. The Phillies have a 4.50 ERA in the eighth inning and a 4.82 ERA in the ninth inning this season. Those numbers rank 23rd and 26th in baseball, respectively. Of course, there are other ways to measure a bullpen's success.
Kapler said Tuesday that the Phillies' bullpen has been one of the best in the National League. It is third in the NL with a 3.72 xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching), according to FanGraphs.
"The group itself is really talented and we're confident in it," Klentak said. "I think at some point in the near future we're going to get Pat Neshek back, who, while not a traditional closer, is probably as good a bullpen arm as a team is going to add in the next six weeks. We will see what's available in the trade market -- which players are available, what the costs are. We will probably look at that in free agency as well. But we have to maintain the proper perspective on any potential acquisition."
The Phillies have enough payroll flexibility and farm-system depth to acquire any number of players before July 31. It could mean a high-powered arm in the bullpen, a starter like Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ or a third baseman like Mike Moustakas.
"I think there's a chance that we will trade for a rental," Klentak said. "What we've said all along is that if we can come out of June in a good position and get ourselves onto a roll in July, then that will hopefully put us into a position to make additions. That could come in the form of years of control or the form of rentals. If it's the rental type, we just have to make sure that we're maintaining the proper balance and perspective on that so that we're making this team better but also not mortgaging too much of our future."
Sources told in recent weeks that the Phillies are highly unlikely to empty the farm system for a rental like Orioles shortstop Manny Machado. The idea of sending top prospects to Baltimore for two months of Machado, when he is certain to test the free-agent market and he might only guarantee the Phillies a one-game playoff as a NL Wild Card, does not seem like smart business to them.
In the meantime, maybe somebody establishes himself as the Phillies' closer before July 31. Maybe it is , who is the team's best reliever.
Why not just give him a shot right now?
"The argument against that is that the ninth inning is not always the highest-leverage situation," Klentak said. "You can blow a save in the seventh or the eighth or the ninth. And, emotionally, it stings more when it happens in the ninth because you feel like you're right there. You're just about to win the game. But if you never get to the ninth inning with a lead in the first place, you never have a chance to win that game. So sometimes using your best relievers earlier in the game is what makes the most sense.
"Make no mistake about it, I would love to have a traditional, dominant, ninth-inning closer. There are a few of them throughout the league, and the Phillies have had them over the years. We would like to have that. We believe that with the group of guys we have on this roster right now, with the depth of pitching we have throughout our system, we will find that guy and more internally. If it turns out to be the case that I'm wrong, then we'll have to address that externally. But right now, we like the group that we have on this roster and coming up behind them in the system."