CLEARWATER, Fla. - It all came together in Matt Klentak's mind about 10 days ago. Scott Kingery had been the Phillies' best player in the minor leagues last year. He was their best player in spring training this year. He was ready for the majors. There was no way the Phils could not take him north for opening day.
But there was still that issue of controlling his rights for as long as possible. If the Phils were to put Kingery on their opening day roster, he could become a free agent after the 2023 season. If they waited 2½ weeks to bring him up, they could push back his free agency a full year, no small consideration because Kingery projects to be a major difference maker and there would be great value in having him around for an extra year of his prime.
Complete coverage of the Fightin' Phils and their MLB rivals from NBC Sports Philadelphia.
As he watched Kingery play like a dynamo in spring training games, Klentak, the Phillies' general manager, came up with an idea that would allow him to bring Kingery north for opening day. He phoned one of Kingery's representatives, David Matranga, and said, "Hey, I just want to see if there is any sort of appetite to discuss a situation like this."
Move forward to Monday morning and there was Kingery, his mom, dad and twin brother in from Phoenix, sitting in a news conference to announce his new six-year, $24 million contract with the Phillies. It is the most money ever guaranteed a player who had entered pro ball through the draft and had not yet appeared in the majors. Kingery will make his major-league debut Thursday in Atlanta and manager Gabe Kapler promised to use him often, "all over the diamond."
"He's not going to sit," Klentak said.
The Phillies hold three option years on the contract so Kingery could make $65 million over nine seasons. He turns 24 next month. So the Phillies could get his prime years - age 24 through 32 - for $65 million. If Kingery becomes the player most think he will, it will be a great deal for the Phillies. The flipside is that Kingery could outperform the contract. It might turn out someday that he left money on the table.
Kingery knew all the angles. He was happy to sign the deal.
"I took it to Scott and asked him if it was something he wanted to explore," said Matranga, recalling Klentak's first phone call. "He was obviously shocked and didn't expect it, but he said, ‘Hey, what's it going to hurt to explore it and see where it's at and if it makes sense, we can move forward and if it doesn't we'll continue doing what we're doing.'
"It was very quick. I always knew Scott was a very special player. I always felt like he was going to force the Phillies' hand to make a tough decision about whether they wanted to take him north or not and obviously there is the business aspect that we all know. If I'm in the Phillies' position, that is obviously a difficult decision when you can control the years of a young prospect. I knew they were going to have a tough decision, but I can't say I saw them coming and doing this. But when they came to us you could tell they really want this kid to come north right away."
Klentak was asked if Kingery would have made the opening day roster if the deal hadn't gotten to the finish line.
"Fortunately, we never had to make that decision," Klentak said. "I think everyone was comfortable with this agreement independent of what the opening day status was going to be."
Kingery was certainly comfortable with the deal. Once upon a time, he wrote letters to college coaches trying to gain their interest. He walked on at the University of Arizona and became a Pac-12 Player of the Year and batting champ. Now, he's a major leaguer with financial security. There's much to be said for that - even if it turns out he left money on the table.
"You look around our clubhouse and you see the group of guys that we have right now," he said. "There's just so much talent. And the people that we brought in - it's just an exciting time for us right now. I really think there's something special going on. For me to be a part of that, and help bring this team up to Philly and show them what we can do, I think that's just amazing. I think there's really something special that we have here."
Kingery is part of a young nucleus that includes two players - Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins - who have already accomplished a thing or two in the major leagues. It is reasonable to wonder if the Phillies are thinking about locking up them, or others, with long-term contracts.
"The notion of developing players internally and then bringing them to the big leagues and extending them is one that we hope to continue," Klentak said. "Obviously, there is a lot that goes into that as far as the players and their performance, but also the timing and different financial ramifications, etc. But we are always open-minded to making decisions and signings that make sense for the organization and there is nothing we like more than rewarding our homegrown players."
OK, is anything brewing at the moment?
"I will never comment on that," Klentak said.
He would comment on Kingery, who is expected to wear uniform No. 4.
"Phillies fans are going to love this guy," Klentak said. "I think they already do and he hasn't even played a day in the big leagues. His style of play, his talent, his hustle, the way he goes about his business every day is going to be a perfect fit for the city of Philadelphia and our fans and our team. We are absolutely thrilled to not only sign this contract but to welcome him to our opening day roster."