Q & A with Phillies president Montgomery

Phils president David Montgomery says 'one of our challenges is to sustain this as long as possible.'
Phils president David Montgomery says 'one of our challenges is to sustain this as long as possible.'
Posted: October 05, 2010

THE PHILLIES have won the National League East each of the last 4 years. They sold out every game at Citizens Bank Park this season. They have a chance to become the first National League team in almost 70 years to go to the World Series 3 years in a row.

All that is gratifying to club president Dave Montgomery. At the same time, he is fully aware that staying on top can sometimes be more difficult than getting there in the first place. In a lengthy interview with the Daily News last week, Montgomery talked about the decision to trade Cliff Lee, the chances of keeping Jayson Werth and the challenges of sustaining success.

Q. The philosophy here has always been to be good enough to compete for a spot in the playoffs and then hope to get hot at the right time. The Roy Oswalt trade seems to be a bit of a departure from that since, with Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, getting to the postseason was already a realistic possibility. Was there a conscious change in approach that triggered a move that seemed designed to try to win another World Series?

A. I still believe that will be the goal going forward. Obviously the appeal [in Oswalt] is that he gave us a stronger opportunity in postseason this year, if that's what you're referencing. There's no question about that.

But I think it also was a statement that he's part of the club next year and possibly the following year, you know? Any move we make, today and tomorrow is the equation. What does this do for us now? And what does it do for us going forward? And, clearly, [Oswalt] has exceeded expectations. I mean, Roy was enjoying a solid year but not getting much support [in Houston]. So, numbers-wise, you look and it and say, 'OK, he's a pitcher who is in his 30s and is this a sign?' And from what we've seen, he could pitch another half a dozen years. From the way he's thrown for us. Time will tell.

I don't think we've consciously changed. This is where it's always difficult to talk about what-do-you-plan-to-do? Last year at this time we certainly expected Cliff Lee to be on the club all year. We didn't think we could convert Cliff Lee to Roy Halladay. So the situation is always fluid and you end up making decisions based on what happened in the intervening time. And one thing that happened to us was that we weren't the offensive club in the first half that we expected to be. So maybe we'd better have a little more pitching. I don't think there's any other way to say it.

The situation changes and I give [general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.] a lot of credit - as Pat [Gillick] did before and even Ed [Wade] did - that you try to be as broad as possible in examining ways you can help the club. And thanks to phenomenal fan support, we've been able to do things that we didn't expect we'd be doing 2 or 3 years ago.

Q. There is a school of thought, though, that if you keep trading prospects to win now, there will come a day of reckoning. How concerned are you about that?

A. Concerned. We keep saying to ourselves that we still think there is help [in the minor leagues]. If you do it by record, which is certainly one way to do it, you would say, 'You look pretty good in [Class A] Lakewood, [Class A] Williamsport was within a half-game of postseason, Gulf Coast [Rookie League] won. So at the lower levels, you may have some talent.'

But it's not about records. I think winning baseball is tremendous for player development. Don't misunderstand me. But out of that group at Lakewood, who knows? Out of the group at Williamsport, that's a way off.

And although people chose not to see it that way, that's why we converted Lee for some prospects [Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, J.C. Ramirez]. I have no interest in rehashing all that. But it was because of that concern. Hey, look, we've added somebody in Roy Halladay. But we're subtracting some guys [Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Travis D'Arnaud] . . . And all of a sudden, some of the guys [Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Jason Knapp, who went to Cleveland in the Lee deal] are starting to come along. So, yeah, whenever you do these things, you do worry. We have a lot of young players playing on other teams.

Q. And there's an economic aspect to this, too. Teams keep their payrolls down by having younger and less-expensive players ready to replace older, more highly paid players when the time is right.

A. We hope that we are soon in a position where players from within the system give us some balance to put some youth on the club. Right now, as far as significant guys on the club, Cole [Hamels] is really the one core person who's still in his mid-20s. Everyone else had reached 30. We need to introduce some key contributors who have a good bit of their future ahead of them. There's no question.

Q. Have you reached the outer edge of your ability to sign big free agents or trade for veterans with big contracts?

A. You just don't know. Again, if you had asked me a year ago if it was at all possible that we would add Halladay and Oswalt, I'd have said no. But I wouldn't have expected to go without Lee. So there may be moves we make that give you an opportunity to do that. It's been a while since we've traded one of our people for a younger position player or a starter. But that could be what occurs.

That's my point. Give us credit for thinking a lot about things. But you can't just plan [for everything]. Ruben, to his credit, knew that Roy [Halladay] had a desire to pitch here and it became an opportunity that we just thought it was important to pursue. Because it just gave us the ace going forward that coming out of the postseason 2 years ago that we thought, well, we're building it around Cole. Then last year, you view it differently. And this year, thank goodness, Cole appears very much back on track.

It may change the way we look at our club as far as, is it offense or pitching? As long as Charlie [Manuel] is in the dugout there's going to be a lot of emphasis on offense, don't misunderstand me. But with the three starters we have now, our ERA [is about a half-run a game] lower and we've scored fewer runs. So we've made that transition.

Now I think people are going to look at us as a club, unlike last year, 'How do we match up starter for starter against them?'

Q. It's been written that it used to be the Yankees and Red Sox. Now it's the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies.

A. That's nice to see us put in that group. I don't see it that way yet. Every year, to me, is an opportunity and a challenge. We've clearly been able to put together a group of players that, I'll use the expression, 'know how to win.' I think you see that. Clearly Charlie deserves credit, and I believe the players do as well, for having a great deal of clubhouse harmony and even keel that allows us to be a very good second-half club. I don't think that's just by coincidence.

We seem to take whatever happens, happens. And I think that's probably one of the reasons we were able to deal with [so many] players lost to injury this year. It's great that when we get to August and September we're still hanging together and some clubs get a little bit divided.

Q. I think what was meant by that, though, is that the Yankees and Red Sox are perceived as franchises that do whatever it takes to win the World Series. If they need to go out and get somebody, they go out and get them. And the Phillies, after going to the World Series 2 years in a row, went out and got Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.

A. I understand that comment. I was thinking more that we've solidified our position in the upper echelon. Our fan support has definitely enabled us to do things we didn't expect we could have done. We exceeded last year's attendance. If you had asked me if we had a chance to do that, I would have said no way. We know the ballpark we play in. We know what the capacity is.

"I think the manifestation is not just home. It's on the road. Our minor league attendance. [Triple A] Lehigh Valley led minor league baseball. And Lakewood in the South Atlantic League. It's a great atmosphere. I believe fan support has helped us in so many ways, but clearly one of them is to give us resources that we couldn't always anticipate having.

Q. Which sets up the next question. You sold out every game. You can only raise ticket prices so much. You can only sell so much advertising. I would think you must be pretty close to maxing out your revenue. So how sustainable is this philosophy that's managed to get you where you are?

A. (Laughing) That's why the philosophy is the earlier philosophy. Which hasn't changed a lot. Which is to be good enough to be one of those eight and then see what happens. I think we're in a position where there's the ability to at least count on a certain level of fan support because of the experience of the last 2 years. So that gives us comfort on the revenue side as opposed to hoping we draw 'X' and there's risk associated.

I'm not saying we're going to continue selling out every game. I'm just saying we can budget attendance numbers in the 3.4, 3.5 million range and feel that our fans are behind us to that degree. At least as far as 2011 goes.

But you know the nature of the sport. As you advance in your playing years, your compensation goes up. The first 3 years, you're not arbitration eligible. That's why we need to get some younger slash less-expensive people playing the game for us. We do. That's how you sustain it. And where's the balance? None of us knows and you keep hoping you make the individual decisions that keep advancing the club.

And right now we're very, very fortunate. We really are without what I would call totally unproductive payroll. That's a very fortunate place to be. We weren't there just a couple of years ago. You can argue how productive, but if you can keep making decisions that put you in that position, at least what you have to spend on players gives our players and fans a chance to say, 'Well, what they're committing to Roy Halladay produces a 20-game winner. Committing to Roy Oswalt gives us the depth in the rotation.' And so on.

Q. Is there a way to get that infusion of younger players before the prospects in the lower minors could realistically be expected to be ready?

A. That's what we tried. That's what the Lee deal was about, was to try to bridge it. I don't want to comment on the three individuals. We're not bragging on any of their seasons, but they're still talented individuals at a very young age. Hopefully that happens. I'll tell you one thing I'm very proud of for this club. It may not seem like a whole lot, but we made such a good Rule 5 selection that we were able to keep David Herndon here all year. And we now have a 24-year-old [he turned 25 last month], a young reliever who adds to the mix. And he's proven he doesn't scare and can pitch in the big leagues. Got one.

Q. The media, the fans, talk about competitive windows. Do you believe in windows?

A. Cycles. But, look, I've been fortunate enough in 40 years to have been in all [situations], you name it. In that period of time, we've managed to have been there. People constantly want to ask me to compare this group with the late '70s, early '80s.

They were both very nice periods and I'll let others decide that. But we see what happens when, all of a sudden, a club gets past its collective prime. And then it's very difficult to continue to play at that level. Some clubs have handled that and gotten through that better than others.

The Braves are a good example. First of all, they won 14 in a row. Fourteen in a row! And then what did they have, one season under .500? [Actually two, 2006 and '08.] And here they were this year right back in the race.

The manager and the coaches are all about today, and that's what they should be about. The management team, the general manager and the rest of us, have to be thinking about today and tomorrow. That's why I've said one of our challenges is to sustain this as long as possible. This is a window or a cycle, but whatever it is, it's good. And we need to think about ways that we can keep it going.

We have some players we think still have 5 or 6 productive years with us on this club. We made a commitment to one [Ryan Howard] and we made a commitment not that long ago to [Chase Utley]. Now we've added some starters. We've kept somebody like Ryan Madson who, in my mind, keeps improving. So there are some pieces around which to complement. Will we do it as well in the future? Picking up Polly [Placido Polanco]? It worked. Picking up Raul [Ibanez] a year ago? It worked. Signing Jayson [Werth] when we did. [Shane] Victorino was a Rule 5 selection that we offered back. It's amazing, when you think about it. Offered back.

The catcher [Carlos Ruiz]. I'm very fond of the catcher. He's a guy that was kicking around for a while as a middle infielder and then when he went to catcher he had a few years where he got hurt. I remember us asking if he was durable enough. Boy, he's durable enough.

Q. I've got to ask about Jayson Werth. Financially, do you have the ability to bring him back?

A. Oh, yeah. Short term. I don't think that's what he's looking for, though. To me, that's the real rub. The expectations that have been conveyed to us that Jayson has don't make it as likely.

Q. How much more can this payroll grow? Or have you pretty much reached the limit at around $140 million?

A. We're constantly talking about new revenue sources, but there aren't too many there. So the answer is, we keep challenging the rest of the organization to do some things. We're enjoying tremendous television ratings, which helps because even things like spot buys and whatnot, that market is up. The interest in our radio rights is stronger. So there are opportunities. But I don't want to mislead you. They're not game-changers. We've been pushing it.

And what would you do if you were us? Would you ever write anything down for postseason? You can't. That's the point. That's the obvious X-factor that you can't count on.

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