All posts by Matt Veasey

Retired following a three decade career with the Philadelphia Police Department. Manager of mattveasey.com website and @philliesbell feeds on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Lifelong Philadelphia resident. Graduate of Saint Joseph's University. Married Conservative-leaning Republican politically and socially. Practicing Roman Catholic. Philly 4x4 sports fan. Huge baseball fan.

Hector Neris: The other important Phillies arbitration case

There is currently some measure of concern and consternation among Phillies fans due to the contract situation involving catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Almost one year ago, the Phillies dealt away catcher Jorge Alfaro, top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, and another young pitching prospect, Will Stewart, to the Miami Marlins in order to obtain Realmuto.

It was a steep price to pay, but it put the best catcher in baseball into a Phillies uniform. Realmuto delivered a 2019 All-Star campaign in which he won both Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.

The Phillies inherited Realmuto’s contract situation, which called for him to become a free agent following the upcoming 2020 season. After paying the price they did, it was incumbent on general manager Matt Klentak to get a contract extension done with Realmuto, one  that would keep him with the team for years to come.

So far, that extension has not come to pass. The Phillies and Realmuto’s representatives instead exchanged salary figures for a one-year deal to be determined by the arbitration process in February.

Of course, the two sides could let that process play out, put a 2020 contract into place, and then still agree later on a long-term deal. They could also reach such a deal before the arbitration hearing ever takes place.

But one thing is certain. The Phillies must get a deal done with Realmuto. Two years, even two excellent years, will not be enough when considering that price paid. I have to believe a long-term deal will be in place well before the 2020 regular season opens.

Realmuto’s is not the only arbitration case looming for the Phillies, and it is not the only important one. The club also has a hearing scheduled with erstwhile closer Hector Neris.

While most Phillies fans would rightly not consider Neris at the same level of importance as Realmuto, the fact remains that the reliever is also a key piece to the club’s success moving forward.

Neris will turn 31 years of age in June. He has been a member of the Phillies bullpen for six seasons, and has been a key part of their relief mix for the last five of those years.

In 2019, Neris put up excellent overall numbers. Over 68 games he allowed just 45 hits in 67.2 innings pitched with an 89/24 K:BB ratio. The big right-hander had a 2.93 ERA, 1.020 WHIP, and recorded 28 saves.

During the course of his career with the Phillies, Neris has allowed 256 hits over 311.2 innings across 307 appearances with395 strikeouts and 67 saves. He has career 3.29 ERA and 1.161 WHIP marks with an 11.4/3.1 K/BB ratio per nine innings.

Phillies fans frequently have become frustrated with Neris over his occasional blowups, and those do exist. While 53 of Neris’ 68 appearances (78%) in the 2019 season resulted in scoreless outings, he also had three appearances in which he allowed three runs and another three in which he allowed a pair of runs to score.

The season prior, Neris had opened the year as the Phillies closer. While he had nine saves by the middle of May, Neris had also blown a number of opportunities as well. A pair of horrendous outings in June left him with a 6.90 ERA as that month ended, and resulted in a demotion to the minor leagues.

Neris regained his confidence that summer at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, striking out 31 over 19 appearances while allowing just nine hits across 18.2 innings.

When called back to the Phillies in mid-August, Neris was so dominant that he was named the National League Reliever of the Month after just a half-month of work. He allowed no runs and just three hits over nine innings with a 20/2 K:BB.

From the time of his recall on August 15 through the end of the 2018 regular season, Neris allowed 11 hits over 17.2 innings with a 2.04 ERA, a .172 batting average against, and a dominating 35/5 K:BB ratio.

The fact is that Neris is an extremely valuable, experienced relief pitcher in a bullpen that is desperate for just that type of arm.

Neris filed for a $5.2 million salary in 2020 after being paid $1.8 million a year ago. The team filed a figure of $4.25 million. No matter what happens, he will get a healthy raise this year, one that will set him and his family up for life.

With one more year of arbitration eligibility to go, the Phillies don’t have to make a long-term agreement with Neris at this time. But if the two sides can find something reasonable for a three-year deal, something that covers his age 31-33 seasons, that would be more ideal.

One thing is clear, especially when you consider the health and performance problems that the Phillies have experienced with the rest of their bullpen arms over the last couple of years. It is a near certainty that Neris will be a key pitcher over at least the next two summers as the Phillies try to put together a playoff team.

 

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Offensive ending to 2019 a harbinger for winning Phillies in 2020?

There is no arguing that the Philadelphia Phillies 2019 season can rightly be considered a failure. The final 81-81 record and fourth place divisional finish was a major disappointment to an organization and fan base that began the season with lofty expectations.

The Phillies entered the season’s final month with a winning record at 69-65. Though they had fallen to third place by that point, the club was still squarely in the postseason hunt at just 3.5 games behind the second NL Wildcard playoff berth.

Over that final month, the Phillies produced just a 12-16 record, collapsing in both the standings and that playoff hunt. In the end, they finished eight games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for that second NL Wildcard spot.

However, despite the losing record during the month of September 2019, there were positive signs which might bode well for the 2020 Phillies campaign to come.

While much was made last season of injuries to the bullpen and inconsistencies across the starting pitching rotation – and those did indeed exist, and were obvious contributing factors to the final record – one fundamental offensive statistic also reveals a big part of the problem.

In 2019, the Phillies offense finished 14th, or middle-of-the-pack among the 30 teams of Major League Baseball, with 774 runs scored. Seems about what you might expect for a .500 ball club, right?

But when you take a glance only a little bit beyond those overall numbers you find more than just a middling group of run producers. The 2019 Phillies hitters cannot even be considered to have been simply inconsistent. This was actually a truly schizophrenic bunch.

The magic number for the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies turned out to be four. Score four or more runs, and you win the vast majority of the time. Don’t reach that mark and you lose.

The Phillies were 72-23 during the 2019 season in those games in which the offense produced at least four runs scored. That figure was fourth-best in the 15-team National League, trailing only the baseball’s top regular season club, the LA Dodgers, as well as the World Series champion Washington Nationals and the NL Central champion Saint Louis Cardinals.

However, when the Phillies offense failed to reach that four-run mark, the club went just 9-58, a .134 winning percentage that was 14th of the 15 National League clubs.

The deficient pitching was a big part of that latter poor record. When the Phillies offense couldn’t score, the pitching wasn’t good enough to win games on their own.

For some perspective, the franchise-record 102-win Phillies team of 2011 failed to score at least four runs in 78 games. Last year’s club was 11 games better in that regard. The 2011 club with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Raul Ibanez leading the way finished just 13th in the NL in runs scored that year.

But that 2011 Phillies ball club also went 30-48 during games in which their offense failed to score at least four runs. It was the outstanding pitching of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Vance Worley, and a solid bullpen led by closer Ryan Madson that made such a record possible.

The Phillies addressed their offensive shortcoming that year, acquiring the dynamic bat of Hunter Pence just prior to the trade deadline. The club produced at least four runs in 27 of the first 36 games with Pence in the lineup and nearly doubled their lead in the NL East over that six week period.

The point of all this being that had the 2019 Phillies been able to score at least four runs more frequently – and they averaged 4.78 per game – they would have been a winning ball club. That’s even with their poor pitching. They may even have been a playoff team. Of the top eight teams in average runs scored per game, seven reached the 2019 postseason.

Despite their poor 12-16 record over the month of September, the offense finally began to produce more consistently. During the season’s final month the Phillies set a new franchise record for home runs in a single month by slugging 46 long balls.

It wasn’t just a power surge. Beginning with games of August 27, the Phillies stole 23 consecutive bases without being caught. This was the first such successful stolen base streak by the club in a decade. Their 81.3% success rate overall in 2019 was the fifth-best by any Phillies team since the statistic was first tracked over a half-century ago.

With the increased power linked up to the effective use of speed over that final month, the Phillies offense produced at least four runs in 16 of 28 games. The hitters averaged 6.78 runs scored per game during the month, two more runs per game than over the full season.

Certainly the Phillies 2020 offense cannot be expected to score four or more runs in 90 games, and the team will not average more than 6.5 runs per game. That would be the pace set by the team in September of last season.

Also, it wasn’t as if much of that increased production came from those expected to be regulars in 2020. Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, the club’s two most consistently productive hitters over the course of the season, had fairly normal production levels in September.

Meanwhile, a few of the others had a poor month. Rhys Hoskins slashed just .170/.274/350 over 117 plate appearances. Scott Kingery slashed .191/.232/.393 over 96 plate appearances during September. Jean Segura was .238/.253/.333 during the month. Those three, expected to be regulars in 2020, combined for nine homers, 28 RBIs, 34 runs, and nine stolen bases in September.

One of the biggest run producers for the Phillies during September 2019 was Brad Miller. The utility man received 56 plate appearances during a month in which he slashed .327/.339/.800 with eight home runs, 11 RBIs, and 12 runs scored. Miller played in 66 games and made 26 starts for the Phillies last season after joining the club in mid-June. The 30-year-old is currently a free agent.

The addition of Zack Wheeler to the starting rotation and expected better seasons from both Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta should combine with better health and consistency from the bullpen in the coming season to give the Phillies better results on the mound.

Given reasonable health in 2020 by the key players in the lineup, the increased offensive production of September 2019 could indeed be a harbinger of better days to come. The performances of Hoskins, Kingery, and Segura this coming season will be pivotal in making that happen.

Combine even a modest turn towards those better offensive numbers with a similarly modest increase in performance from the pitching staff, add them to the presence of new manager Joe Girardi, and it all could well add up to that elusive winning record and playoff berth in 2020 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

 

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Matt Veasey: Podcast guest appearances

The following are links to my guest appearances on various Phillies related podcast shows. They are listed in reverse chronological order along with the name and host of the show:

If you would like me to appear as a guest on your podcast, feel free to contact me via email at matthew.veasey@verizon.net, or you can slide into my DM’s on Twitter @MatthewVeasey.

 

J.T. Realmuto likely to receive record deal for catchers

Friday was the deadline for all MLB clubs to come to agreements with their arbitration-eligible players. In the event no deal could be reached, both sides were to submit 2020 salary figures on which an arbitrator would make a final ruling at hearings to be scheduled in February.

The Philadelphia Phillies were able to come to an agreement with four of the six players, all pitchers, who were eligible.

Agreeing to one-year deals with the club were projected starting pitchers Vince Velasquez ($3.6 million) and Zach Eflin ($2.625), and a pair of lefties in Jose Alvarez ($2.95) and Adam Morgan ($1.575) who will each pitch out of the bullpen.

A number of star players around the big-leagues agreed on contract figures with their clubs and will avoid the arbitration process. Those include Mookie Betts, who set a new one-year arbitration-eligible record by agreeing to a $27 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

Betts’ deal with the Bosox beats the $26 million agreed to just one year ago by the Colorado Rockies and superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado. However, within weeks of that agreement, Colorado and Arenado tore it up and agreed to an eight-year, $260 million extention.

The Phillies failed to come to an agreement on a 2020 contract with two players, presumptive closer Hector Neris and All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. Figures were exchanged with both, with Neris seeking $5.2 million and the club offering $4.25, while Realmuto sought $12.4 million with the Phillies offering an even $10 million salary.

As this news broke, the doom-and-gloom segment of the Phillies fan base took to the intrawebs to complain. That’s putting it mildly in many cases. Here are some representative samples of what was blasted across Twitter:

The Phillies won’t pay their Silver Slugger, Gold Glove winning BEST CATCHER IN BASEBALL $2.4M, but they’ll pay a man who’s lowest ERA the last 3 years was 4.85 $3.7M. I’m literally sick to my stomach right now.” (@zachary_east412)

Wow this is pathetic, a guy you want to sign long term, your going to go to arbitration over 2 million dollar difference but able to settle with Vince Velasquez???? This team is completely dis functional. Now I know why we haven’t heard from management, they can’t face the fans.” (@Oreillymike23)

In any business you lock up your best assets and ensure they’re taken care of. Wouldn’t blame JT for walking when he’s a UFA and escaping this sideshow of an organization.” (@romeobluesnoine)

My response to those folks would be simple. Calm down. Slow your roll. Take a chill pill. Don’t worry. Relax.

A year ago, the Phillies exchanged figures with pitcher Aaron Nola. Entering his age 26 season, Nola was coming off a Cy Young caliber campaign. Many in the fan base similarly wrung their hands and banged out many an exasperated comment on their keyboards.

And then on the day of their scheduled arbitration hearing, Nola and the Phillies announced a contract agreement taking their star hurler through 2022 with a club option for 2023. Crisis averted. Hand-wringing and keyboard-bashing for naught.

The same thing will happen now with Realmuto. The Phillies have already expressed publicly that they want to do a long-term deal with the player many regard as the top catcher in the sport. Realmuto has publicly expressed a desire to remain with the ball club for years to come. It will get done.

There are a few scenarios that could play out, with either the Arenado or Nola scenarios most likely. Either they go to an arbitration hearing, a one-year contract is awarded, and they continue to negotiate until reaching a new longer deal as with Arenado. Or they hash out a last-minute contract ala Nola.

The other scenario is that it doesn’t take that long. Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has certainly been in communication with Realmuto’s representatives at BBI Sports Group. I would be willing to bet that a great deal of groundwork has already been laid on a long-term deal.

Scott Lauber at the Philadelphia Inquirer broke down the contract possibilities well in his piece today on the subject:

Realmuto is older than Joe Mauer and Buster Posey when they signed $184 million and $167 million extensions, respectively. And they were also former MVPs. But he compares favorably to St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who signed a five-year, $75 million extension at age 29 before the 2012 season. Allowing for eight years of inflation, Realmuto seems likely to want something in the neighborhood of five years and $100 million.

A five-year contract would take Realmuto through his age 33 season. Molina was an All-Star caliber catcher through age 35. Posey stayed at that level into his age 31 season,  Mauer into his age 30 campaign, before both switched largely to first base (as well as DH in Mauer’s case.)

The Phillies previously received solid, starting-caliber contributions from Carlos Ruiz through his age 35 season, though the last really strong result for “Chooch” came at age 33 in 2012.

For the Phillies to make a bet on Realmuto, who keeps himself in excellent physical condition and who has appeared in at least 125 games in each of his five full big-league seasons, through age 33 in 2024 does not seem like a very risky proposition.

That 2024 roster has $49 million total salary committed at this point, owed to Bryce Harper and Zack Wheeler. Look for Realmuto to become the third with a $20+ million deal that year in what would be the final guaranteed season of a long-term contract which he will reach with the club in the coming weeks.

 

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Phillies reportedly looking at right-handed hitting center fielders

As potentially convoluted as the Philadelphia Phillies infield situation could get during the 2020 season, the outfield appears to be fairly set at this point

In right field, Bryce Harper put together an outstanding first season in Philadelphia. As long as he remains healthy, Harper is locked into the starting lineup at the position for years to come.

Andrew McCutchen is the left fielder. The veteran is expected to be 100% recovered from the devastating knee injury and subsequent surgery that ended his own first season with the club in early June. In fact, he responded earlier this week to a piece that I published asking what the Phillies could expect from him in 2020.

In center field, 2017 first round draft pick Adam Haseley will enter spring training as the anticipated everyday starter after appearing in 65 games during his rookie season last summer. Haseley, who turns 24 in mid-April, made 40 of his 65 overall appearances in center field in 2019, including 36 starts.

This morning, MLB insider Jon Morosi revealed that the Phillies may be looking to add a right-handed hitting complement to the lefty-swinging Haseley.

 

On the assumption that general manager Matt Klentak is still willing to look at available options outside of the organization, which players remaining on the free agent market might make the most sense for such a role?

The best available right-handed hitting center fielder is probably Kevin Pillar. Having just turned 31 years of age earlier this week, Pillar is a seven-year veteran.

Pillar has spent most of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, who dealt him to the San Francisco Giants just one week into the 2019  campaign. He went on to enjoy his best season with 21 homers, 61 extra-base hits, 88 RBIs, 83 runs scored, and 14 steals. Pillar also finished fifth among all MLB center fielders in putouts.

Other available free agents fitting the bill of an experienced center fielder who bats right-handed include Peter Bourjos, Rajai Davis, Austin Jackson, and Juan Lagares. Switch-hitting speedster Billy Hamilton is also available.

The Phillies current outfield depth includes left-handed hitters Jay Bruce, Nick Williams, and Odubel Herrera. The latter is not expected to remain with the club into the 2020 season after a highly publicized domestic violence incident last year.

Even the top two outfield prospects in the minor league system, 2016 first overall draft pick Mickey Moniak and 2016 international signee Simon Muzziotti, are each left-handed hitters. Both can play center field but neither is big-league ready at this point.

The lone player on the Phillies current 40-man roster who fits the bill would be the injury-prone Roman Quinn, a switch-hitter. It is a near certainty that Quinn will make the team and fill a reserve outfield role with as long as he is healthy.

Two players who have big-league experience and who fit the right-handed hitting center field bill were signed by the club this winter to minor league deals. Both Mikie Mahtook and Matt Szczur (pronounced ‘Ceasar’) will come to spring training with a shot at filling the role for the club.

In an emergency, McCutchen could slide over to briefly cover the position. He played in 15 games there in 2019 including 10 starts. But his days as an MVP and Gold Glove caliber defender in center are long over, and it would be best to limit McCutchen’s exposure there considering the knee injury.

It is no secret that the Phillies hope to use last year’s .500 finish (81-81) as a springboard to compete for a postseason berth in 2020. Assuming health and continued positive development, Haseley will get the majority of starts in center field.

For the Phillies in the coming season, having a quality, experienced, right-handed hitting option at the position could prove to be a big help, giving Haseley a break against some tougher southpaw pitchers.

 

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