The Phillies never announced contractual lengths for president Andy MacPhail or general manager Matt Klentak upon hiring the pair to spearhead the organization’s baseball operations department, and Matt Gelb of The Athletic reports (subscription required) that the team was similarly quiet about a pair of previously unannounced extensions for that duo. According to Gelb, MacPhail signed a three-year extension back in 2017 that runs through the 2021 season, while Klentak was extended through the 2022 campaign four months ago.
The extension for Klentak came on the heels of an offseason in which he aggressively reshaped the Phillies’ lineup by signing Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen while acquiring several players via trade (headlined by J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura). The Philadelphia offense has improved in 2019, though probably not quite to the extent the front office had hoped. Phillies hitters have posted a combined .245/.323/.423 batting line and scored 460 runs — up from .236/.319/.390 and 411 runs scored at this same point in 2018.
Philadelphia’s defense has seemingly improved as well. After turning in a stunning -146 mark in Defensive Runs Saved and a -8.0 UZR/150 in 2018, the Phillies have logged a collective +3 DRS and +5.1 UZR/150 to this point in the 2019 campaign.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, the pitching staff has gone in the opposite direction. The offseason efforts put into bullpen acquisitions have been torpedoed by a near-unparalleled level of injury among the Phillies’ relief corps. David Robertson, for instance, has been baseball’s bullpen iron man over the past decade. However, since signing a two-year deal with the Phillies due in no small part to that durability, he’s been limited to 6 2/3 innings as a result of elbow troubles. High-priced bullpen pickups from the 2017-18 offseason like Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek haven’t been able to stay healthy in 2019. Promising younger arms like Seranthony Dominguez (UCL injury), Victor Arano (arthroscopic elbow surgery) and Edubray Ramos (shoulder impingement) have also fallen victim to injury.
As one might expect of a team that has essentially lost an entire bullpen’s worth of solid MLB arms, Philadelphia relievers are tied for the game’s fifth-worst ERA (4.97). But the more alarming struggles have arguably come in a rotation that went largely unaddressed in the offseason. While the modest price the club paid to extend ace Aaron Nola still looks like a shrewd move, the 26-year-old hasn’t been as dominant in 2019 as he was in 2018. Jake Arrieta, meanwhile, is pitching through a bone spur in his elbow with understandably mixed results. Zach Eflin has been solid but not spectacular. Beyond that trio, the Phillies have received a combined ERA well north of 5.00 from the group of Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta and Jerad Eickhoff.
The end result is a Phillies club that has underachieved to the point of falling 8.5 games back of the division-leading Braves. Philadelphia is still three games over .500 and holds a half-game lead over Milwaukee for the second spot in the NL Wild Card race, so the season is far from lost. But the quietly extended front office regime will also have its hands full in endeavoring to address some of the flaws that have led to the current predicament. Gelb writes that, to this point, the Phillies “have not displayed an overwhelming sense of urgency” in their efforts to do so, although they’re hardly the only team that has not jumped into action; to this point in the “trading season,” there have only been three deals of even moderate note consummated (Andrew Cashner, Homer Bailey and Martin Maldonado).
The extent to which the Phillies ramp up that level of aggression could well be dependent on the current roster’s play in the next couple of weeks, but it still seems likely that the club will function as a buyer in the next 14 days.