SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - In the span of 22 minutes, as Matt Klentak outlined his offseason plan in a small ballroom, the young Phillies general manager said the word open-minded five times. He's open-minded about adding a veteran starting pitcher. He is open-minded on the timing of whatever free-agent signing the Phillies may make. He's open-minded about the composition of his outfield.
The Phillies, a rebuilding team with a small payroll and young roster, are not yet ready to contend. So they will wait to make a major addition, but they still have an offseason goal of unearthing incremental improvements.
"We want to make the 2017 Phillies better than the 2016 Phillies," Klentak said Tuesday at the annual general managers meetings as free agency commenced. "To me, I think it's important that we continue to move the ball down the field and show progress. Simultaneously, we need to be very cognizant of not blocking the development time line of our players, some that are in the big leagues and some that are on the cusp of reaching the big leagues."
So the Phillies are open for business, with loads of money to spend but a clear desire to limit the length of commitment.
Klentak will spend this week meeting with agents and executives from other teams. This is more of the fact-finding time, and it could be weeks or months before the Phillies execute a transaction. Because they are in search of stopgap options on one- or two-year deals, they may have to wait until a player's demands decrease.
This winter's free-agent class is considered one of the weakest in recent years. The Phillies will pursue trades, especially with clubs that are trying to shed payroll. They will look to be creative, but a major acquisition is unlikely.
"When the time comes to make a significant investment, I don't have any fear that the Phillies are going to hesitate," Klentak said. "As for the timing, honestly, I think the markets will often dictate it. Sometimes there is a player or players out there that fit what you're trying to do, that fit the time line, fit your narrative. And if it's there and it works, you pounce on it. There are going to be other times when it's just not there. And I'm a big believer that you don't force things if they're not there."
Klentak, in his assessment of the available hitters, is "certain" he can procure an offensive upgrade this winter - even on a short-term commitment. The Phillies are willing to offer a higher annual salary if it entices a player to agree to a shorter deal.
The most logical place for an upgrade is in the corner outfield spots. The Phillies do not wish to move Odubel Herrera from center field. There are options to add a veteran next to him - Jon Jay, Brandon Moss, Matt Holliday, Austin Jackson, Colby Rasmus, Rajai Davis, Carlos Gomez, and Michael Saunders - in the second tier of free-agent outfielders. Some may receive longer offers. Others may not. Trade candidates will emerge; if the Mets re-sign Yoenis Cespedes, they could be apt to dump Jay Bruce's $13 million salary.
Klentak said his staff has scoured the other 29 teams to identify possible trade fits. The Detroit Tigers are one team to watch. They reportedly need to trim payroll. Outfielder J.D. Martinez and veteran starter Anibal Sanchez are on expiring contracts that total almost $34 million.
And, just as the strategy was last winter, whatever veterans the Phillies acquire now are possible trade bait in the summer.
"It's important for us to make decisions that are going to help us improve, get better, develop, and create a positive culture - and make sure we're doing so in the right way," Klentak said. "To use [Astros reliever Pat] Neshek as an example: We'd like to get better in the bullpen. That's a goal of ours for next year. Pat Neshek has had a very good three-year run and he comes on a one-year deal. That's the type of player that fits what we're trying to do."