Category Archives: PHILLIES

Five Phillies have been named the NL Most Valuable Player

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Klein was the National League MVP in 1932 and finished as runner-up in both 1931 and 1933

 

Major League Baseball will conclude the process of handing out hardware to the 2019 award winners on Thursday with the naming of the National and American League Most Valuable Players.

In a televised announcement on the MLB Network beginning at 6:00 pm EST, the official BBWAA award winners will be announced.

As has been the case all week, the IBWAA (internet writers/bloggers) named their winners during the afternoon.

 

This year’s three finalists for the BBWAA honors in the National League are outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger of the LA Dodgers, third baseman Anthony Rendon of the world champion Washington Nationals, and outfielder Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers, the latter of whom as last year’s winner.

Over in the American League the finalists are third baseman Alex Bregman of the pennant-winning Houston Astros, shortstop Marcus Semien of the Oakland A’s, and outfielder Mike Trout of the LA Angels. Trout is a two-time AL MVP and four-time runner-up for the honors.

My thought is that Bellinger will win the NL MVP honors. But my pick would be Rendon. The Nationals turned their season around after a miserable first seven weeks, put up the NL’s best record over the final four months, and won the first world championship in franchise history. Rendon’s productive bat and outstanding play at the hot corner were keys.

In the American League, there is little doubt that Trout is baseball’s best all-around player. But this is not the “Most Outstanding Player” award, it’s for the most valuable. The Halos finished 18 games below the .500 mark and in fourth place. Bregman is similarly outstanding, and his club won. But he was surrounded by easily the best and deepest lineup in the league.

Semien is nowhere near as well known in wider baseball circles. However, his value to the NL West runners-up in leading the small-market Athletics to the postseason for a second straight year is worthy of the award: 33 homers, 83 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs, 123 runs scored and outstanding defensive play at shortstop helped add up to 8.1 total WAR. He would be my choice.

The origins of a formal Most Valuable Player in baseball can be traced back to the 1911 season, and an early automobile manufacturer by the name of Hugh Chalmers.

Chalmers company presented a vehicle to the player with the highest batting average after the 1910 season. For 1911 he instituted the Chalmers Award, with a baseball writer’s committee formed to select what was described as the “most important and useful player to the club and to the league“.

The Chalmers Award was handed out following the next four seasons from 1911-14, and the winners are a who’s who of Hall of Famers: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson, and Eddie Collins. As World War I began and national attention diverted to the effort that summer, the award was discontinued after the 1914 season.

The American League decided to hand out an award beginning in 1922 to “the baseball player who is of the greatest all-around service to his club“. It was voted on by a baseball writer’s committee, and players were only allowed to win one time.

That award lasted for seven seasons. Hall of Famer George Sisler won the first, and Johnson took the honors in 1924. A pair of legendary New York Yankees stars, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, won the award for the 1923 and 1927 seasons. The first Philadelphia ball player, Mickey Cochrane of the Athletics, won the final award in 1928.

The National League followed suit in 1924 with an award that lasted through the 1929 season, but the NL allowed a player to win multiple times. This resulted in Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby winning in both 1925 and 1929.

For the 1931 season, the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) began to hand out the honors that have lasted through today.  In the NL, the Phillies’ Chuck Klein won in 1932 and finished as runner-up in the voting in both 1931 and 1933.

Philadelphia Athletics ball players captured the first three AL awards, with pitcher Lefty Grove winning in 1931 and then slugger Jimmie Foxx taking it in 1932 and 1933. The A’s would get one more AL MVP winner before leaving town, with southpaw pitcher Bobby Shantz earning the honors in 1952.

Foxx would win again in 1938 for his performance that season with the Boston Red Sox. He is one of only four three-time winners in the American League, joining Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Alex Rodriguez. Trout will try to join that list tonight.

In the National League, Barry Bonds captured the award seven times. Next in line are a list of four three-time winners including Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, and Albert Pujols.

The other three-time winner in the NL is the greatest player in Philadelphia Phillies franchise history, Michael Jack Schmidt.

Mike Schmidt won the National League Most Valuable Player award for his performances in the 1980, 1981, and 1986 seasons. Ernie Banks in 1958-59, Joe Morgan in 1975-76, Dale Murphy in 1982-83, Bonds in 1992-93, and Pujols in 2008-09 are the other back-to-back NL winners. Yelich will try to join those ranks tonight. Bonds also had a stretch of four straight wins 2001-04.

A pitcher with the 1950 Phillies “Whiz Kids” National League championship club, Jim Konstanty was honored with the NL MVP that season, and remains the only reliever to ever win the Most Valuable Player honors. Konstanty received 18 of 24 first-place votes that year to win comfortably over Musial.

How did a relief pitcher capture the honors? Well, it would be hard to argue against Konstanty’s value to the NL pennant winners. He won 16 games and recorded 22 saves while tossing 152 innings and allowing just 108 hits across 74 games, all out of the bullpen.

With Klein, Konstanty, and the three Schmidt honors, that leaves two more Phillies National League Most Valuable Players. Those two were teammates who captured the honors in back-to-back seasons.

In 2006, first baseman Ryan Howard, who had won the NL Rookie of the Year award the prior season, won in a reasonably close vote over Pujols. Howard received 20 first-place votes while Pujols got the other 12, with Howard winning the overall vote by 388-347.

The following year, shortstop Jimmy Rollins predicted before the season began that the Phillies were “the team to beat” in the NL East Division. The club had fallen short despite contending over the prior half-dozen years, and had not won a division crown in 14 seasons.

JRoll backed up his prediction with an MVP performance. He became the first player in big-league history to record 20+ home runs (30), doubles (38), triples (20), and stolen bases (41) and scored 139 runs. Despite such an outstanding season, Rollins win was tight, edging out Matt Holliday of the Rockies by 353-336. Rollins received 16 first-place votes to 11 for Holliday.

A pair of current Phillies players have National League Most Valuable Player awards in their home trophy case. Andrew McCutchen won the award in 2013 as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing third in both 2012 and 2014. Bryce Harper was the unanimous winner in 2015 as a member of the Washington Nationals.

Who will be the next Philadelphia Phillies player to take home the NL Most Valuable Player Award? At just age 27, Harper would seem to be the most logical candidate. If he can do it, he would add his name to a list that includes just 11 players in winning the award multiple times during a career.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

 

 

NL’s Cy Young Award has gone to a Phillies hurler seven times

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Denny won the 1983 NL Cy Young Award for his performance with the Phillies that season

 

Major League Baseball continues the announcement of its 2019 awards on Wednesday evening. The top pitchers in both the National and American Leagues will be honored as the Cy Young Award winners are publicly revealed in a 6:00 pm EST broadcast on the MLB Network.

Those will be the more formally recognized awards as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. However, a few hours earlier, the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) will announce the winners of voting from their membership.

The 2019 American League Cy Young Award finalists are teammates Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander of the AL champion Houston Astros and former Phillies pitcher Charlie Morton of the Tampa Bay Rays. Verlander previously won the award back in 2011 and is a three-time runner-up for the honors.

In the National League, the finalists are last year’s winner Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, Korean southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and three-time winner Max Scherzer of the world champion Washington Nationals. Both Ryu and Cole are free agents this off-season.

My choices are Cole and deGrom. Those are the two men who received my IBWAA vote.

MLB first began recognizing the best pitcher in baseball with this formal award with the 1956 season. For the first 11 years, just one winner for all of Major League Baseball was honored.

Due to an overwhelming outpouring of fan requests, a winner was honored from both the National and American Leagues beginning with the 1957 season.

In 1969, the American League vote ended in a tie between Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers and Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles, and for the only time in the history of the award it was shared. Voting rules were changed as a result, with just one winner honored thereafter.

While the Cy is generally considered to be an honor for the top starting pitcher in the game, that is not a requirement. Mike Marshall of the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first reliever to take the honors in 1974, and eight other relievers have since won the award across the two leagues. The most recent was Eric Gagne of the Dodgers back in 2003.

Roger Clemens holds a record for having won the award seven times. A pair of former Phillies pitchers, Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez, are among a group of a half-dozen hurlers to be honored with the Cy in both leagues at some point during their careers.

The late Baseball Hall of Famer and Phillies Wall of Famer Halladay is one of just four pitchers to take home a National League Cy Young Award while a member of the Fightin’ Phils pitching staff.

Halladay was the unanimous winner of the award after a historic 2010 season in which he threw a Perfect Game as well as just the second postseason no-hitter in MLB history. He registered an incredible 8.6 WAR value that year, winning 21 games and tossing 250.2 innings with nine complete games.

In 1983, right-hander John Denny captured the honors with the Phillies “Wheeze Kids” team that would go on to win the National League pennant. Denny received 20 of 24 first-place votes to finish as an easy winner.

That Cy followed a 19-win season during which he tossed 242.2 innings over 36 starts. Denny was also the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year in that first full season after coming to the Phillies from the Cleveland Indians in a September 1982 trade.

Four years later, the only Phillies relief pitcher to ever win the Cy took the honors in one of the closest votes ever. Steve Bedrosian saved 40 games for the team that year, exactly half of their total 1987 wins total. He worked 89 innings over 65 games, allowing 79 hits with 74 strikeouts and a 2.83 ERA.

“Bedrock” received just nine of 24 first-place votes, but came out the winner with 57 total voting points. That total edged out the 55 received by Rick Sutcliffe (four first-place) of the Chicago Cubs and 54 for Rick Reuschel (eight first-place), who split the season between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants.

Halladay, Denny, Bedrosian. Those are three of the seven times that a Phillies pitcher has taken the NL honors. As I said earlier, four pitchers have won the award while with the club. Which means that the fourth hurler would put four Cy Young Awards into his trophy case.

That hurler was, of course, lefty Steve Carlton. The greatest pitcher in Phillies franchise history, Carlton won the Cy for his performances on the mound in the 1972, 1977, 1980, and 1982 campaigns.

That first win in 1972 was one of the most impressive pitching performances in Major League Baseball history. In his first season after arriving from the Saint Louis Cardinals in a spring training trade for Rick Wise, Carlton was the unanimous winner of what has been ranked as the ninth-greatest Cy Young season in history.

The man who became alternately known as “Lefty” or “Super Steve” won 27 games with a putrid Phillies team that would win just 59 games. He made 41 starts with 30 complete games, numbers that are unheard of in today’s game. Carlton allowed just 257 hits over 346.1 innings with 310 strikeouts, registering a 1.97 ERA and 0.993 WHIP.

In 1977, Carlton won 23 games while tossing 283 innings over 36 starts. He registered 17 complete games and struck out 198 with a 2.64 ERA and 1.124 WHIP. That performance allowed him to receive 17 of 26 first-place votes and finish comfortably ahead of runner-up Tommy John of the Dodgers.

For his performance during the Phillies first-ever World Series-winning campaign in 1980, Carlton became just the third pitcher to ever win three Cy’s, joining Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver with that distinction.

That year, the lefty won 24 games, with 38 of his starts resulting in 13 complete games. He struck out 286 batters while allowing just 243 hits across 304 innings pitched. Carlton registered a 2.34 ERA and 1.095 WHIP, and received 23 of the 24 first-place votes as the runaway winner.

Two years later, Carlton became the first pitcher to ever win four career Cy Young Awards, and did so again in runaway fashion, receiving 20 of 24 first-place votes.

That season, Carlton won 23 games while making 38 starts, half of those resulting in complete games. He struck out 286 over 295.2 innings with a 1.147 WHIP for a Phillies team that would battle his old Saint Louis club for the NL East crown down to the last two weeks of the season before falling three games short.

Carlton and Halladay went on to become both Baseball Hall of Famers and Phillies Wall of Famers. Carlton’s 84.1 career WAR mark is the fifth-best in baseball history among left-handed pitchers, while Halladay’s 65.4 mark leaves him among the top 50 hurlers in the history of the game.

Denny had a nice career, winning 123 games over 13 big-league seasons, 37 of those with the Phillies over parts of four years. Bedrosian registered 184 career saves and 76 wins in a 14-year career.

At this time last season, Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola was a finalist for the award after winning 17 games and allowing just 149 hits over 212.1 innings across 33 starts with 224 strikeouts.

Will Nola some day become the fifth Phillies pitcher to capture an NL Cy Young Award? Perhaps Zach Eflin will elevate his game to that level. Or maybe the club will be able to lure Cole or Ryu this winter in free agency and find one of them taking the honors in some future season.

One thing is certain, as the 2011 Phillies who won a franchise record 102 regular season games while featuring a “Four Aces” rotation of Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt showed, starting pitching is the name of the game in Major League Baseball.

The Phillies need to upgrade their starting pitching rotation by landing a pair of new, proven arms in the free agent market this winter. If they do, the club should finally once again become a serious challenger for a postseason berth in 2020. And perhaps they’ll also get a Cy Young winner in the bargain.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

 

The two Phillies skippers to win Manager of the Year may surprise you

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Ozark was the first, and is one of just two Phillies managers to ever take home Manager of the Year honors

 

On Tuesday evening the 2019 Major League Baseball Manager of the Year Awards for the National and American Leagues will be announced.

As with Monday’s announcement of the Rookies of the Year, honorees were first named on social media by the IBWAA for their organization. That will be followed by a televised announcement on MLB Network at 6:00 pm EST for the Manager of the Year as chosen by the BBWAA.

The voters from the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America handed their honors out to Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves in the National League and Rocco Baldelli of the Minnesota Twins for the American League.

Finalists for this year’s BBWAA award in the National League are Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers, Mike Shildt of the Saint Louis Cardinals, and Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves.

My choice among these candidates would be Shildt. Prior to the season, most prognosticators had his Cardinals finishing behind the Brewers and Chicago Cubs. But the Cards won their first NL Central Division crown since 2015, turning last year’s worst defense in the NL into the league’s best.

While Shildt would be my pick among those finalists, he would not be my actual pick. I believe that Dave Martinez of the world champion Washington Nationals deserves the honor – and it has little to do with his club winning the first World Series in franchise history.

The Nationals were a dozen games below the .500 mark and sitting in fourth place in the NL East Division as May wound towards a close. Rather than throw in the towel, Martinez kept his team positive and focused. The Nats had the best record in the National League from that point to the end of the season.

Over in the American League, the finalists are Aaron Boone of the New York Yankees, Kevin Cash of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Rocco Baldelli of the Minnesota Twins.

A great case can be made for any of these men, as well as Oakland A’s skipper Bob Melvin. But my choice would be Baldelli. While the Twins were considered a possible playoff team entering the season, few saw them winning 101 games and capturing the AL Central crown in nearly wire-to-wire fashion.

The first recognized honors in this category were The Sporting News Manager of the Year Award, established in 1936. From that year through 1985, one winner for all of Major League Baseball was announced. Since 1986, The Sporting News has handed out honors in both the American and National Leagues.

The  Baseball Writers Association of America began honoring a Manager of the Year for both leagues with the 1983 season. Each member of a 30-member committee of the BBWAA submits a ballot listing a first, second, and third place finisher among the managers of each league. The manager with the highest score in each league wins the award.

Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa have won the BBWAA award four times, more than any other manager in history. Jim Leyland is the only skipper to be named Manager of the Year four times by The Sporting News.

The Phillies new manager Joe Girardi is the only person to be named as the BBWAA Manager of the Year while piloting a losing club. Girardi took those honors for keeping the 2006 Florida Marlins in the Wildcard playoff hunt until the season’s final weeks, despite working with the game’s lowest payroll.

Yesterday, I wrote about the four players who won the Rookie of the Year Award as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Today, we’ll look at the history of the club in Manager of the Year Award voting.

It’s not much of a history, mind you. Only one manager of the club has ever taken the award as handed out by the BBWAA. And that manager was not either of the men who guided the Phillies to World Series glory. He was also honored in the same year by The Sporting News, which has named just one other Phillies manager as a winner of their award.

As I said earlier, the BBWAA award did not begin until 1983, so Dallas Green obviously would not have a plaque on his shelf for that 1980 championship. That year, The Sporting News chose to honor Bill Virdon of the Houston Astros, whose team the Phillies defeated in the NLCS, as their NL Manager of the Year.

And after guiding the Phillies to a second consecutive NL East crown and the 2008 World Series championship, Charlie Manuel finished as the runner-up to Lou Piniella of the Chicago Cubs in that year’s BBWAA voting.

Manuel would lead the Phillies to five consecutive NL East crowns, but never was awarded the Manager of the Year by the BBWAA or The Sporting News. Not even in 2007, when an underdog Phillies team rallied from seven games back on September 12 to capture their first division title in 14 years.

Manuel finished second to Bob Melvin of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2007 BBWAA voting. With his team established as favorites, ‘Uncle Charlie’ would finish just 6th in 2009, 5th in 2010, and 4th in 2011. That last was after guiding the Phillies to a 102-win season, the most regular season victories in franchise history.

Despite leading the “Whiz Kids” to a surprise National League pennant in 1950, manager Eddie Sawyer was passed over by The Sporting News in favor of Detroit Tigers skipper Red Rolfe, whose club had finished as the American League runners-up to the New York Yankees that year.

Paul Owens guided the Phillies “Wheeze Kids” to a 1983 NL pennant, but The Sporting News honors that year went to Tony La Russa, who had led the Chicago White Sox to a 99-win season and the AL West Division title in his first year as manager. In their first season giving out an award that year, the BBWAA handed the honors to the manager of the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda.

A decade later, Jim Fregosi skippered the ‘Macho Row’ Phillies to a stunning NL East crown in a wire-to-wire performance, then on to a National League pennant. But Fregosi finished a close runner-up to Dusty Baker of the San Francisco Giants, whose club had won 103 games but finished as runners-up in the NL West. The Sporting News gave their award to Bobby Cox of the NL West champion Atlanta Braves.

So, which Phillies managers have been recognized as the Manager of the Year?

The first was Danny Ozark, who The Sporting News named as their winner after he guided the Phillies to the first of three consecutive National League East Division titles in the 1976 season.

It would then be a quarter-century until a second Phillies skipper was so honored. For leading the club to a second place finish in the NL East in 2001, Larry Bowa won the Manager of the Year Award from both The Sporting News and the BBWAA.

That’s it, Ozark and Bowa, the only two men to ever be named as the Manager of the Year with the Phillies. The hope now is that Girardi can put a second career Manager of the Year award in his trophy case and on his resume’ as soon as next year at this time.

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

Four Phillies have won the NL Rookie of the Year Award

Sanford was the Phillies first Rookie of the Year Award winner in 1957.

 

In a scheduled 6:00 pm EST telecast this evening on MLB Network, the 2019 Major League Baseball Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards will be announced.

These are the official awards for the National and American League’s top first-year players as chosen in voting by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Finalists for the NL honors are first baseman Pete Alonso of the New York Mets, starting pitcher Mike Soroka of the Atlanta Braves, and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.of the San Diego Padres.

Over in the AL the finalists are OF/DH Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros, 2B/OF Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays, and starting pitcher John Means of the Baltimore Orioles.

(UPDATE: After original publication of this piece it was announced that Alonso and Alvarez had won the NL & AL awards respectively.)

Winners of the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) Rookies of the Year were announced earlier in the day. Those awards went to Alonso in the NL, with Alvarez capturing the AL honors.

The Chicago chapter of the BBWAA established the original Rookie of the Year Award in 1940 and voted on a single winner for all of baseball through the 1946 season.

In 1947, voting went national, and the winner was the racial barrier-breaking Robinson. Beginning in 1949 a separate award was given for the top rookie in each league.

Originally named the J. Louis Comiskey award after the 1930’s-era Chicago White Sox owner, it was renamed as the Jackie Robinson Award in July 1987 on the 40th anniversary of his breaking baseball’s unofficial color barrier.

The Philadelphia Phillies have seen four players take home the award as NL Rookie of the Year.

The first of these was Jack Sanford. A right-handed pitcher from Massachusetts, Sanford was signed by the Phillies as an amateur free agent prior to the 1948 season. He made his first big-league appearances during a brief three-game cup of coffee in 1956.

During his official rookie campaign the following year at age 28, Sanford made 33 starts, going 19-8 with a 3.08 ERA for a .500 ball club. Sanford allowed just 194 hits over 236.2 innings with 188 strikeouts, a figure that led the National League.

For his outstanding freshman season, Sanford not only took home the NL Rookie of the Year award, but was also named to the NL All-Star team that year. In addition, he finished 10th in the NL MVP voting.

Seven years later, in what would become an infamous 1964 campaign for the Fightin’ Phils, a slugging 22-year-old third baseman named Dick Allen took the honors in the National League.

Allen (featured picture accompanying this piece) had also received a cup of coffee in September prior to his breakout season, hitting .292 over 25 plate appearances across 10 games in September of 1963.

The following year, Allen (known then as ‘Richie’) led the Phillies to the front of the National League, a position the club would hold until collapsing with 10 consecutive late-September losses left them a game off the pennant pace.

Allen’s power-speed combination in the middle of manager Gene Mauch‘s lineup made all of the difference. He slashed .318/.382/.557 with 29 home runs, 91 RBIs, and 125 runs scored.

Among his 80 extra-base hits were a league-leading 13 triples, and Allen led all of Major League Baseball with 352 total bases.

In addition to capturing that year’s NL Rookie of the Year honors, Allen finished 7th in the NL Most Valuable Player voting.

It would be more than three decades before another Phillies rookie took home the honors. Once again it would be a dynamic, slugging third baseman. But that player very nearly did not qualify for the award.

Requirements for the MLB Rookie of the Year Awards are that a player must have fewer than 130 official at-bats or fewer than 50 innings pitched in order to be eligible. They must also have fewer than 45 days on the active roster, excluding time on the disabled list, in military service, or time when the rosters are expanded.

In 1996, Scott Rolen was called up for an August 1 doubleheader against Saint Louis at Veteran’s Stadium. He would play so well that he was never sent back to the minor league.

Rolen hit .254 with four homers, seven doubles, 18 RBIs, and 10 runs scored over his first 146 big-league plate appearances with the Phillies across 37 games that summer.

Then, in the bottom of the third inning of a September 7 game at Veteran’s Stadium, Rolen was hit by a pitch thrown by Chicago Cubs starter Steve Trachsel. He would be pulled from the game, and miss the rest of the season.

That left Rolen a single at-bat shy of exhausting his rookie eligibility. With it still intact the following year, he would become a runaway winner in the 1997 Rookie of the Year voting.

That season, Rolen slashed .283/.377/.469 with 21 homers, 59 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs, 93 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases. He also played the hot corner like no one had since Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt nearly a decade earlier, and like no one has since.

Eight years later, in 2005, a hulking first baseman named Ryan Howard would become the fourth and most recent Phillies player to win those Rookie of the Year honors.

Howard may have been ready for his big-league debut a year earlier, but was blocked by future Hall of Famer Jim Thome. Howard did receive his own September cup of coffee promotion in 2004, blasting a pair of home runs over 42 plate appearances across 19 games.

Thome was still manning the first base position at Citizens Bank Park when that 2005 season began, so Howard again began the season at Triple-A.

However, an injury to Thome opened the door for an opportunity, and Howard  was called up on May 3 for what would be another dozen games. The injury to Thome’s elbow would persist, eventually costing his season. Howard came back on July 2 to stay.

Over the final four months of the season, Howard slashed .296/.365/.585 and became one of the most feared middle-order hitters in the game. He blasted 21 homers with 62 RBIs over just 318 plate appearances in that stretch.

During the ensuing off-season, Thome would be traded away to the Chicago White Sox for a package led by center fielder Aaron Rowand. Howard would become ‘The Big Piece’ in the middle of the lineup for five straight NL East Division champs, back-to-back NL pennant winners, and the 2008 World Series champions.

While a member of the Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper took the honors as National League Rookie of the Year as a 19-year-old back in 2012. Harper hit .270 with 22 home runs, 57 extra-base hits, 59 RBIs, 98 runs scored, and 18 stolen bases after being called up on April 28.

Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB 2020 free agent market

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Super agent Scott Boras again finds himself in the middle of much of the big Hot Stove season action

 

Welcome to the latest episode of the ‘Ring the Bell‘ podcast. For those simply reading this piece at the website, it doubles as the script for today’s episode.

As I discussed in yesterday’s episode which evaluated the Phillies current roster and payroll situations, the ball club has a number of important needs. General manager Matt Klentak will find himself increasingly under the glare of the spotlight as this Hot Stove season moves along and he attempts to fill those needs.

First, let’s take a minute to run down the list of what I see as those Phillies needs this off-season, in order of importance:

  1. Starting pitching
  2. Starting pitching
  3. Center field
  4. Bench
  5. Bullpen
  6. Third base (?)

That was not a typo in listing ‘Starting Pitching’ twice. It is simply that important, first of all. And also, the club needs two new proven winning veteran starting pitchers, at least one of whom should be an “ace” level rotation arm. Now, let’s take a look at who is available on the free agent market.

STARTING PITCHING

There are two big names here, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. They should and will be the Phillies top two targets in free agency. Principal owner John Middleton has made the addition of top-level starting pitching a priority for the team, and is prepared to spend top dollar to secure such an arm.

The problem is not going to be one of either money or will power. The problem for the Phillies will be that they are not the only team in search of this level of pitching talent, not by a long shot.

The world champion and division rival Washington Nationals and their World Series opponents, the Houston Astros, are not simply going to let Strasburg and Cole respectively walk away from their ball clubs without a major effort to retain them.

Also, it is publicly known that the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels will be shopping aggressively for this type of arm as well. Speculation is that the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves are among any number of other teams with the desire and money to land one of these top two starting pitchers.

It’s hard to know what is going through Strasburg’s mind. There has been some speculation that opting out of his contract with the Nationals was purely a strategy to get more money from the only organization he has ever known.

The 31-year-old, 10-year veteran was due to make another $100 million over the next four years in Washington. Some have speculated that he could get another $50 million and another year, at least, on the open market.

While it would not be a surprise to see the Nationals and Strasburg announce a new deal at any point, that is far from a given. The longer he hangs out there on the market, the more clubs are going to his agent, Scott Boras, with interest.

Cole is also represented by the Boras Group. The 29-year-old is the biggest name on the free agent market this winter. I expect to see Boras take him on a tour of interested teams and cities, similar to what we saw happen last year with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Don’t expect to see Cole sign with anyone until February.

While the Phillies will be in the mix for both, their money and genuine interest making them legitimate contenders, they should not be considered the favorites for either pitcher. Cole, a native of Newport Beach, is said to be interested in either a return to SoCal or a spot at the top of the Yankees rotation. Strasburg, a San Diego native, may also go the SoCal route if he doesn’t return to D.C.

It is going to be curious to watch the Phillies pursuit of a top arm, because as I said, what the rotation really needs is two more experienced, proven, veteran starting pitchers.

The longer that Cole remains unsigned, and Strasburg as well for that matter, and the longer the Phillies genuinely believe that they are in the mix for one or the other, then it becomes a somewhat dangerous game.

There is a large group of talented starting pitchers just below the talent levels of Cole and Strasburg. Most if not all of those pitchers are going to sign somewhere earlier than at least Cole will be signing. The Phillies are going to have to commit to one of the next level of pitchers by Christmas, possibly even within the next few weeks.

The most obvious target would appear to be 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. Turning 36 years of age two days after this coming Christmas, Hamels has already said that he would be open to a return to the club with whom he broke into the big-leagues and first became a star.

Judging by social media, Hamels remains popular with the fan base. And judging by his comments, the feeling is mutual.

MLB Phillies insider Todd Zolecki quoted Hamels earlier this week:

I know Philly is finally trying to make that push. They’re building their roster. If I fit on their roster and their plans, I’d love the opportunity to come back. It’s probably more on their end, though, to reach out and see if I actually do fit in their plans. It would be difficult for me to say, ‘Hey, I want to play there, can you guys make it happen?’ But I’m always willing to play for that team and city and attempt to win a World Series. That’s where I am right now. I just want to have the opportunity to get to the postseason, just so that I can try to win.

Hamels then went on to say, according to Zolecki, that he would even be willing to play on a one-year contract:

I’m not there to handcuff somebody or an organization…I can do one year here and there and just play as long as I can play. I think that’s what will help give me an opportunity to play on teams that are trying to go to the postseason. If you need one guy, I can just kind of bounce around. Obviously, if the Phillies were interested in longer than one, I’d entertain that, too. But I think I want the opportunity to have as many opportunities to get to the postseason and try to win. I’ll go every year. I’ll prove myself. I don’t mind having my back against the wall. I think I perform better like that anyway. It just keeps me more accountable.

This just seems to make too much sense. Hamels is clearly interested in a return to the Phillies. The fans would love to have him back. He has the talent and experience that the club is looking for, and he has something else going for him – Hamels is left-handed. The club has not had a truly effective southpaw in their rotation since, well, since Hamels left in 2015.

No longer in his prime, this could absolutely work on a one-year deal with a club option for another year or two. The Phillies, as long as all the medicals check out, should waste no time with this decision. Klentak should be on the phone with Hamels agent today.

If they just can’t work something out, or don’t want Hamels for some reason, there are other interesting arms.

Available free agent left-handers include 30-year-old, 4x NL All-Star and former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner…32-year-old, 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel…33-year-old Korean native and 2019 NL All-Star Hyun-Jin Ryu…29-year-old, 2017 NL All-Star Alex Wood.

Available right-handers would include 29-year-old, former first round MLB Draft pick Zack Wheeler…31-year-old, 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello…30-year-old, 2019 AL All-Star Jake Odorizzi.

There are a few dozen other possibilities as well. But frankly, anyone other than the pitchers mentioned already would be a disappointing addition.

The Phillies would be wise to take Hamels up on this word, and wrap him up to fill the 3-4 slot in their starting rotation for 2020. Then they can concentrate all of their efforts into trying to land one of the really big fish.

CENTER FIELD

There are a lot of Phillies fans who seem to think that the club is okay here with either Scott Kingery or Adam Haseley. Frankly, if you truly want to be a contending team, I think that is just crazy talk.

Kingery has handled himself admirably out there for someone who is not a natural outfielder. Haseley deserves much credit for rising from Double-A to a regular big-league role last season.

But neither is the answer for a contending Phillies ball club.

Kingery needs to be handed his natural second base position and allowed to play it every single day, barring some situational need or emergency. Haseley would be well served getting more everyday plate appearances at Triple-A or serving a fourth outfielder apprenticeship in 2020.

There has been some chatter on social media about the team bringing back free agent outfielder Corey Dickerson, who excelled with the Phillies following his arrival from Pittsburgh at this past season’s trade deadline.

Yes, Dickerson hit .293 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in just 137 plate appearances with the Phillies. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and you have something like a 35 homer, 120+ RBI campaign.

However, the 30-year-old Dickerson is a free agent for the first time. He is going to parlay that performance into a nice, well-deserved payday. And he is, unfortunately, not a center fielder. Just 27 of his 571 big-league games in the outfield have been played in center.

If you are thinking of putting him in left field and having Andrew McCutchen slide over to become the everyday man in center field for the Phillies, you really need to think again.

McCutchen is now 33-years-old and has not played center field regularly in either of his last two seasons. He is coming off major knee surgery as well.

While he can spot-start or slide over temporarily during a situational or emergency need, as he did for 10 starts and 15 total games this past season with the Phillies, he is no longer the player who won a 2012 Gold Glove Award as a center fielder.

Roman Quinn is also not the answer. I love Quinn’s tool set and have been publicly in his corner for a few years now. But even someone who is as big a fan as I am has limits. Quinn has proven that he simply cannot remain healthy long enough to be a reliable starting option.

No, what the Phillies really need is a new center fielder, someone from outside the organization. Unfortunately, there really are not quality options available this year in free agency.

You have a premier defender such as Juan Lagares. There is pure base stealing speed in Billy Hamilton. There is an aging veteran such as 34-year-old, 5x AL All-Star, 4x AL Gold Glove Award winner Adam Jones.

None of those is a realistic option. Jones played just one game in center last year for the Dbacks, and two years ago with Baltimore he was rated as one of the worst regular center fielders in the game defensively by Fangraphs.

Lagares will turn 31-years-old in spring training and has just a .254/.297/.361 career slash line in 2,119 career big-league plate appearances. With a slash of just .242/.297/.326 over 3,089 plate appearances, Hamilton is even worse with a bat in his hands.

There is no answer available in free agency. If the Phillies want to improve in center field, it is going to have to come via trade.

During this past season, I wrote that a worthy trade target could be found in Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. He turns 30 years of age early in the 2020 season and can become a free agent after next year.

If I’m Klentak, I’m on the phone looking to see if we can find a reasonable match in trade for the 2018 Gold Glove Award winner and ALCS Most Valuable Player.

THIRD BASE

Don’t count me among those who feel that the Phillies need a third baseman. Again, this is assuming the club does what I think it should do – give second base to Scott Kingery, and cut ties to Maikel Franco by not offering him arbitration.

If I’m running things, top offensive prospect Alec Bohm is starting at third base on Opening Day 2020. I let him know that right now.

When Bohm’s season ends following the conclusion of the Premier 12 tournament, at which he is Team USA’s starter at the hot corner, I tell him to go home and enjoy the holidays. Just keep working out and stay in shape. Don’t report to Clearwater until early February. And be mentally ready for your role as the Phillies starting third baseman.

Now, that’s me. The club could actually go in a number of directions. They could offer a contract to and bring back Franco as the starter, at least to begin the season. Then let him try to hold off Bohm for as long as he can.

Or the club could offer a contract to Cesar Hernandez, cut ties with Franco, give the third base job to Kingery, and fill center field some other way. Once Bohm is deemed ready, they could either slide Kingery back to center if no good option has emerged, or work out some king of position-sharing scheme involving the players. That option seems too messy.

Another option would be to cut ties with Franco and sign a free agent. There are a handful of interesting options if the Phillies try to take this route.

In order of talent, those free agent options would be Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, and Mike Moustakas.

Rendon will be expensive and would tie up the position for years, meaning that the Phillies would either be banking on the NL getting a DH as soon as the 2021 season, or they would be considering a trade of either Bohm or Rhys Hoskins. I love Rendon as a player, but with Bohm nearly ready, this just doesn’t seem like the right move.

Donaldson just played on a one-year deal with Atlanta at a $23 million salary. He’ll turn 34-years-old a month from today. Perhaps the Phillies could lure him with a similar one-year offer? That would mean Bohm at least starts the season back at Triple-A.

The 31-year-old Moustakas is a bit trickier. He played with Milwaukee this past season at $7 million and received a $1 million buyout of his contract for next year, rather than the Brewers committing to his $11 million mutual option.

Moustakas is going to be seeking a multi-year offer from some team. He is still young enough that someone is likely to make that kind of offer in order to add a 35-homer bat to their lineup. I am betting it won’t be the Phillies.

Again, my choice here is to give the job to Bohm, spend your free agent money on pitching, and move on from the old, losing Franco-Hernandez infield combination.

BENCH

Putting together a bench group that includes at least a few veteran options for new manager Joe Girardi, preferably options that can hit the ball, will be another Klentak challenge.

The Phillies are already slated to have Jay Bruce return. He should help out as a pinch-hitter, on the outfield corners, and could even turn out to be a lefty-hitting backup first base option, giving Hoskins a blow against a few tougher right-handed pitchers. Girardi should be able to get him plenty of at-bats to keep him sharp and happy.

Assuming the Phillies move on from both Franco and Hernandez, as well as Odubel Herrera, that leaves other outfield depth options as Roman Quinn and Nick Williams. The infield would need help. There are a bunch of interesting options who could fit the bill:

The club could try to re-sign 30-year-old Brad Miller, who appeared in 66 games with the Phillies this past season. Miller played four different positions, mostly at third base and in left field, and produced a dozen homers in just 130 plate appearances.

38-year-old Ben Zobrist can play second base and an outfield corner. He even covered shortstop for one game last season with the Cubs.

Starlin Castro turns 30 at the end of spring training. He played both second and third this past year with the Marlins, and even held down shortstop, where he was a former starter, in three games.

At age 36, Howie Kendrick showed just how valuable he can be in a part-time role while helping the Nationals win their World Series. Kendrick, who played in 39 games with the 2017 Phillies, saw time at first, second, and third this year in Washington.

30-year-old Derek Dietrich ripped 19 homers in 306 plate appearances while covering first, second, and left field this year in Cincinnati. He even appeared in one game at the hot corner, and has played in 146 career games there.

33-year-old Eric Sogard hit .290 while playing five different positions between stops in Toronto and Tampa Bay this past season.

Former popular Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence turns 37 in April, and enjoyed a bounce-back campaign in which he was named to the American League All-Star team. His bat, outfield glove, and infectious enthusiasm could be a perfect mix for this team’s bench group.

The Phillies could use a reliable backup catching option, and yesterday I mentioned one of their former prospects as a possibility. That would be 31-year-old Travis d’Arnaud, who finally stayed healthy this past season and showed off his fine combination of offensive and defensive skills.

More veteran backstop options who could add an alternative to Andrew Knapp include 37-year-old Russell Martin, 34-year-old Matt Wieters, 32-year-old Bryan Holaday, 36-year-old Robinson Chirinos, 34-year-old Jonathan Lucroy and a half-dozen or so others.

These are just a representative sample of the dozens of names who could fill out a veteran bench for the Phillies.

BULLPEN

As I mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, assembling a bullpen is a tricky proposition from year to year. The Phillies pen was decimated by injuries this past season, but most of those arms should be back in 2020.

They could do nothing, and still end up with an effective group. However, adding someone as a strong, veteran back-end option couldn’t hurt. Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Steve Cishek, Will Harris, and Pedro Strop are just a few of the couple dozen veteran relievers available.

And how about this possibility: lefty Jake Diekman? Wouldn’t it be sort of ironic if the Phillies brought back both Hamels and Diekman, who they traded away together in 2015, in the same off-season? Diekman turns 33 in January, and struck out 84 batters over 62 innings this past season as a southpaw out of the pen.

Again, as with third base, I don’t feel this is an area of desperate need. But if the Phillies want another bullpen arm, there are plenty from which to choose.

WRAPPING IT UP

Well, that’s a look at the free agent market. The Hot Stove season is officially underway. Free agents can sign with any team at this point, though signings of the bigger names are likely to take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

And those free agent ranks are only going to swell when the December 2 deadline passes for teams to offer arbitration, which is the decision that the Phillies will need to make on Franco and Hernandez.

As we move through the off-season, this podcast will focus occasionally on rumors regarding the club, and I’ll certainly be talking and writing about any big signings.

I hope you’ll come back tomorrow, when I’ll be talking about the MLB Award winners to this point, as well as the nominees for the major awards to be handed out next week, including the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards in each league.

Remember, you can follow any written pieces or podcast episodes through links at the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds @philliesbell. I hope you’ll stop by and enjoy. Until next time, God bless you and yours.