Prior to the 1983 season, the Phillies had a former Most Valuable Player on their roster who was considered a great leader in the clubhouse. In an attempt to return to the playoffs, the team brought in some of that MVP’s old teammates. The plan worked as Joe Morgan and Tony Perez helped Pete Rose and the rest of the “Wheeze Kids” make it to the World Series. That must have really struck a nerve with Matt Klentak, because 37 years later, he’s following the same formula, and is actively surrounding one of his former MVPs with as many old teammates as possible.
When choosing a team to emulate, the Pittsburgh Pirates aren’t the first team that comes to mind. But the team did have a brief run of success behind Andrew McCutchen a few years ago. They didn’t win a World Series like Rose’s Reds, but considering the team’s history over the past 30 years, simply qualifying for the playoffs three years in a row is a monumental accomplishment.
The first former Pirate to sign with the Phillies was utility infielder Josh Harrison. The two-time All-Star has been injured and ineffective the past two seasons, but if he can stay healthy, he might be a useful bench piece. He was recently joined by lefty reliever Francisco Liriano, who has transitioned from a starter to a solid reliever. The third former Bucco to sign was infielder Neil Walker, who might be competing with Harrison for one of the final spots on the roster.
The Phillies will have four players from the 2013 Pirates (McCutchen, Liriano, Walker, and Harrison) and zero players from the 2013 Phillies at this year's Spring Training.— Jonny Heller (@JonnyHeller) January 23, 2020
Perhaps the strangest thing about the Phillies-Pirates connection is that those Pirates playoff teams were loaded with former and future Phillies. (WARNING: Some of these names might conjure unpleasant memories) Marlon Byrd, John McDonald, A.J. Burnett, Charlie Morton, Jeanmar Gomez, Jared Hughes, Jose Contreras, Jayson Nix, Vance Worley, and the incomparable Michael Martinez all suited up for the Pirates at some point during those seasons.
There is one other notable member of those Pirates teams who was readily available on the free agent market, but unfortunately chose to go elsewhere. I can only assume that Matt Klentak didn’t realize Gerrit Cole was on those teams, and that’s why the Phillies didn’t make a more competitive offer.
Will the 2020 Phillies be as successful as the 1983 version? Years from now, will we tell stories about how the “Yinz Kids” led the team back to the postseason? If not, perhaps Klentak can next try to surround his other MVP-winner with some of his former teammates and try to recreate the 2016 Nationals.