Here’s to the Phillies for signing Zack Wheeler. Once again, owner John Middleton proved that cigars are a great investment — ponying up $118 million to add the 29-year-old to his rotation for the next five years.
That Wheeler has never achieved greatness and has a history of arm trouble did not dissuade the Phils from placing him among baseball’s top-10 paid pitchers. That’s the way free agency works. In a limited market, the blessed few get fortunes thrown their way.
So, Middleton did what is necessary to improve his team. That said, every time the owner opens his wallet, he should take a sideways look at general manager Matt Klentak.
It’s Klentak’s failings that require this franchise to overspend on a regular basis. It’s Klentak’s dismal farm system, uninspired trades, and inane choices for the coaching staff that may force ownership to zoom right through the luxury tax threshold.
Even after adding Wheeler, rumors still have the Phillies tied to Stephen Strasburg and maybe Gerrit Cole, but let’s assume he ends up with the Yankees.
Why would this team need to add another top-tier starter? Largely because of the failure of every other pitcher on the squad.
Consider this: Since Klentak became GM four years ago, the Phils have paraded 24 men to the mound to start games. Other than Aaron Nola is there a single one you could count on?
It’s Klentak who wasted all those starts on Vinnie Velasquez and Jake Thompson. It’s Klentak whose choice of pitching coach Chris Young stalled the development of Nick Pivetta.
It’s Klentak who gave Jake Arrieta a three-year, $75 million contract. Klentak who expected a pennant push from Drew Smyly and Jason Vargas. Who tried to squeeze one more productive year out of a shot Jeremy Hellickson.
It’s Klentak who argued that Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez were viable prospects, while the Braves were developing Mike Soroka and Max Fried.
And, by the way, it’s Klentak who decided to let Charlie Morton walk three years ago. Since then, Morton has gone 45-16 and made two All-Star Games.
And so the owner has to constantly outspend his GM’s mistakes. And the Phils must play catchup to the Nats and Braves.
Trust me, this dynamic goes well beyond starting pitching. Klentak’s page in the media guide looks like a bomb site: Drafted Mickey Moniak with the first overall pick; wasted $22.7 million on delicate flower Pat Neshek; got the worst out of slugging 1B Carlos Santana. Oh, and hired Gabe Kapler.
The litany of ineptitude keeps going. Most recently, the Phils released 2B Cesar Hernandez rather than pay what he was expected to get through arbitration. While I can’t disagree with that move on its own, I’ll stand among those who argued the Phils should have traded Hernandez long ago to let Scott Kingery play at his natural position.
Now, they got nothing — and still are talking about playing Kingery elsewhere.
At the contentious October news conference following the latest annual collapse, Middleton reiterated full support for his bumbling GM. I have no idea what mindpower Klentak has over the owner to persuade him that he’s doing more than a horrible job.
And so the franchise will spend the offseason spending money — perhaps adding Didi Gregorius, overpaying for another starter, maybe even throwing Bryce Harper-type riches at Anthony Rendon.
That will be fun for the fans. But have no doubt, it’s the Phillies’ inability to build from within — drafting and developing their own players — that forces them to overspend outside the system.
And that’s all on Matt Klentak.