Tag Archives: Andrew McCutchen

Can the Phillies expect much from Andrew McCutchen in 2020?

There is an old saying that goes something like “Father Time is undefeated.” It’s not actually true, as athletes such as Gordie Howe, Tom Brady, Roger Federer, Brett Favre, and Jack Nicklaus have proven. Baseball has seen the old man taken down by the likes of Randy Johnson, Bartolo Colon, and Jamie Moyer.

But in the overwhelming majority of his battles with professional athletes, Father Time will indeed come out victorious. Professional athletics is a young man’s game. As players push into and through their 30’s, without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) it is usually impossible for most to keep up for very long with newly arriving, talented youngsters.

In his 20’s, Andrew McCutchen was one of the best baseball players on the planet. He was the first round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2005 MLB Draft at 11th overall out of a Florida high school. Four years later he broke into the big-leagues in 2009 at age 22, finishing fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

For five straight years from 2011-15, McCutchen was an NL All-Star. In 2012 he won the NL Gold Glove Award for center fielders and took home the first of what would become four consecutive NL Silver Slugger Awards. For that performance he finished third in the NL MVP voting.

In 2013, McCutchen was the National League Most Valuable Player, leading the Pirates to the postseason for the first time in more than two decades. He would finish third in that MVP voting once again in 2014 and fifth in 2015.

McCutchen wrapped up his Pittsburgh run with a pair of seasons in 2016-17 that were still solid, but a notch below his MVP-caliber campaigns, and the Pirates dropped out of contender status.

In January 2018 the Pirates traded away their former superstar to the San Francisco Giants. He would move across the country to play with a new team at age 31.

McCutchen was clearly slowed down in the City by the Bay, and was forced to slide over from center to right field. His time in San Francisco wouldn’t last long. With the Giants out of contention he was dealt at the August 31 waiver deadline to the New York Yankees.

In the off-season, McCutchen became a free agent for the first time in his career. The Phillies inked him to a three-year deal on December 12, 2018 and penned him into the starting lineup as their new left fielder, allowing Rhys Hoskins to return to his natural position at first base.

Left field had become a revolving door position over the prior half-decade for the Phillies with Aaron Altherr, Cody Asche, Tyler Goeddel, and Domonic Brown all taking a turn as the starter at various times. While they knew McCutchen was no longer an MVP-caliber player, it was expected that he would provide veteran leadership and hold down the position for a few seasons.

The Phillies went to San Diego in early June in the midst of a west coast road trip with the club in first place in the National League East Division at 33-27. McCutchen was providing not only that leadership but also producing solid offensive numbers with 10 homers, 12 doubles, 29 RBIs, and 45 runs scored.

At that point, McCutchen had filled the role as Gabe Kapler‘s leadoff man perfectly. In fact, he was tops among all leadoff men in Major League Baseball in runs and walks, ranking fifth in on-base percentage and extra-base hits.

Then it all came to an end on what seemed like such an innocent play. McCutchen led off the June 2 opening game in San Diego with a walk. He was on first base when new shortstop Jean Segura popped up to second base. Segura slipped coming out of the batter’s box, and when he regained his footing did not run hard to first base.

The Padres second baseman was veteran Ian Kinsler, who noticed that Segura was not running hard. He decided to let the ball fall to the ground and try for a double play. McCutchen had stayed close to first base, assuming the pop-up would be caught. He suddenly had to run hard for second base, and was caught in a rundown. During the course of that rundown he twisted his knee and crumpled to the ground.

It would turn out that McCutchen had suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. He would miss the remainder of the season.

As the Phillies slumped out of the division lead over the next few weeks, Hoskins was quoted by Bob Brookover of The Philadelphia Inquirer on the loss of McCutchen: “This guy does more for this clubhouse than maybe he even knows. He’s a presence in this lineup, a presence on the team and the field.

In mid-June, McCutchen underwent surgery to repair a medial meniscus and reconstruct the ACL in his left knee.

It has been a long, arduous process, but McCutchen’s rehab seems to be going well. He was quoted by John Perrotto of Forbes in early December:

There were so many times I tried to sit back and cry about it, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. I knew I had to stay positive, concentrate on my rehab and come back strong. I feel great. I’m already looking forward to spring training.

From 2017-19 in his ages 30-32 seasons, McCutchen slashed a cumulative .265/.368/.455 and his production over a full season of 162 games would have averaged out to 26 home runs, 32 doubles, 80 RBIs, 98 runs, and 12 stolen bases.

However, the Phillies cannot expect to get 162 games out of McCutchen at age 33, especially coming off major reconstructive knee surgery. In fact, a best-case scenario for the club might involve a left field platoon with the right-handed bat of McCutchen and the lefty-hitting Jay Bruce.

McCutchen is a better defensive player at this point in their careers than Bruce, who will also turn 33 years of age at the start of April. So, while we wouldn’t be talking about a full platoon, Bruce could get 1-2 starts per week on average. Such an arrangement could keep both veterans healthy while maximizing their production.

On Christmas Eve, he and wife Maria welcomed their second child to the world with the birth of Armani X McCutchen. With a new addition to the family and an improving  physical condition, McCutchen is enthusiastic at this point and looking forward to helping the Phillies take a step forward in 2020.

The Phillies are hoping to actually contend over the entire season this time around, pushing for their first playoff berth in nine years. Getting a healthy, productive season from McCutchen would be just one of a number of things that need to go right with the club in order for that to happen.

 

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What the Phillies need from Bryce Harper in 2020

A year ago at this time, Kayla and Bryce Harper were still going through the process of deciding where they wanted to spend the bulk of the prime years of their adult lives.

Not only where would the outfielder play his baseball games for the next decade or so, but where would they have children, raise their family, and involve themselves in the community?

The Harper’s chose Philly, setting off a surge of enthusiasm within the frustrated fan base. He would join fellow newcomers Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, and David Robertson with a refurbished Phillies squad for the 2019 season.

Finally, after seven years out of the playoffs, the Phillies would return to play in October baseball.

As we now know, it didn’t work out as planned. Robertson pitched in seven games before his season ended with an elbow surgery that may keep him out for all of 2020 as well. McCutchen was lost for the year at the start of June with a torn ACL in his left knee.

The Phillies struggled to an 81-81 finish, continuing a now eight-year streak of non-winning seasons. They also finished the year in fourth place in the NL East Division standings, 16 games behind the division champion Atlanta Braves, a dozen in back of the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals, and eight games off the pace for the final NL Wildcard playoff berth.

In his first season with the Phillies at age 26, Harper slashed .260/.372/.510 with 35 home runs, 36 doubles, 114 RBIs, 98 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases.

Harper joined Baseball Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Chuck Klein as the only players in Phillies franchise history to record a season with at least 35 homers, 100 RBIs, and 15 steals. Only Jim Thome, who blasted 47 long balls back in 2003, ever hit more home runs in their first season with the ball club.

Performing consistently in clutch, Harper provided a .357 batting average with runners in scoring position, the fourth-best mark in the NL. He was also fourth with 15 game-winning RBIs, a personal career high. His overall 114 RBIs were also a career best.

In all of baseball, Harper was one of only two players  with at least 30 homers, 110 RBIs, and 95 walks. His total of 99 walks was fifth in the National League. He recorded a five-hit game at Colorado on April 19, the first Phillies player in seven years to reach that total.

Harper was the first Phillies player since Pat Burrell in 2002 to reach 70 extra-base hits and 110 RBIs in the same season. His 42 extra-base hits at home was the second-highest ever at Citizens Bank Park behind only the 44 ripped by Chase Utley back in 2006. He became the first Phillies player since Jayson Werth in 2010 to deliver at least 290 total bases.

Prefer your stats with a more analytical slant? Harper finished with a 4.2 WAR value, second on the club only to Realmuto’s 4.4 mark. Harper’s 5.54 Win Probability Added was the second-highest of his eight-year career, behind only the 6.18 mark that he put up in his 2015 NL MVP season with Washington. In all of Major League Baseball, only MVP’s Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger and NL finalists Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon finished with a higher WPA mark.

On August 15 against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park, Harper provided the season’s single biggest highlight when he delivered a walkoff grand slam. He delivered that unforgettable blast against a southpaw specialist, Derek Holland, who hadn’t allowed a home run to a left-handed hitter in the previous 261 plate appearances against him.

In fact, those lefty pitchers didn’t bother him much at all relative to other left-handed hitters. Harper homered 15 times off southpaws, the second-highest figure  in baseball behind only Bellinger. From August 3 to the end of the season he hit .348 with nine homers, 24 RBIs and a 1.194 OPS against lefties.

Defensively, Harper was consistently outstanding, and became a finalist for the NL Gold Glove Award in right field. His 13 outfield assists equaled the total of his prior three seasons combined, and were tied for the NL lead, just one off the overall MLB leader. His nine defensive runs saved ranked third in the National League.

So, what more does Harper have to do for his part in the 2020 season in order to help finally push this club to a contending level? It should be obvious at this point. The answer is, of course, nothing. That’s right. Nothing.

If Harper stays healthy it would not be at all surprising that in his prime at age 27 and with a full season in Philly under his belt, we could see him take his game to an even higher level in 2020. In fact, Harper should enter the season as a leading contender for the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

That is really all the Phillies need from Harper in 2020, and it is largely out of his hands. That factor of his remaining healthy, avoiding anything more than a couple of minor physical tweaks here and there. He stays healthy, he will do his part.

In order to finally record not only their first winning season since 2011, but to reach the postseason and bring the excitement of October playoff baseball back to South Philly this year, the Phillies need more from everyone else but Harper and Realmuto.

 

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Philadelphia Phillies December 2019 mailbag

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No one in baseball is more under the spotlight this off-season than Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

 

Back on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked my social media followers to shoot me out any questions that they might have on the Phillies.

As you might expect, the majority of those ended up in reference to moves the club has made and might still make during this current off-season.

Following are a representative sampling, along with my responses, presented in a question (Q) and answer (A) format.

 

Q: Sean Fitzpatrick (@SeanFit91141350 on Twitter) asks “I’m questioning the configuration of the infield as it stands now. I dont see either Segura or Kingery as a legit third base option, and which one plays second? Do we bring in an outside option?

A: As we sit here in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the Phillies 2020 infield configuration appears that it will feature Rhys Hoskins at first base, Jean Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Scott Kingery at third base. Kingery is likely keeping the spot warm until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, at which point Kingery would return to a super-utility role. That assumes he is not needed at another position due to injury.

Q: Robin Heller (@flower_auntie on Twitter) says “I am wondering about who will play third base and how they will address the holes in the rotation!

A: As for third base, see the above answer – though there remain rumors that the Phillies could consider a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The starting rotation is currently projected to be made up of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

It doesn’t appear as though GM Matt Klentak feels that there are “holes in the rotation” – though you and I would disagree with him. Arrieta needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce past May. Eflin and Velasquez have been consistently inconsistent.

Wheeler was a great signing. But we went into this off-season believing that the Phillies needed two new starting pitchers of the type who had proven to be winners at the big-league level. There is still plenty of time to bring in another arm via free agency or trade.

Among free agents remaining, perhaps Klentak would consider taking a shot on Alex Wood, if the 28-year-old southpaw keeps hanging out on the market and his price is reasonable. The Phillies have also been linked to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Q: Dan McElhaugh on Facebook asks “You (Phillies) need to address the bullpen and get another starter. What are you doing about it?

A: I addressed the starting pitchers above. However, you also have to consider that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is close to big-league ready and will likely impact the rotation at some point in 2020. He is probably going to start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and assuming health and success there we should see him by the second half of the season, at the latest.

The bullpen is a tough question. There actually are the makings of a decent group here. But much of that depends on them being healthier than last year’s group. Right-handers include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock and possibly even Nick Pivetta or prospect Adonis Medina.

Among lefties the club currently has Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Austin Davis, and Cristopher Sanchez. You could even see minor league starters Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, and JoJo Romero slide into a pen role.

There are a number of veteran relievers remaining on the free agent market including Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Francisco Liriano, and Fernando Rodney. Any of them would help upgrade the bullpen. Klentak may be waiting to see if any can eventually come dirt cheap.

Q: JBFazz1213 (@JBFazz1213 on Twitter) stated “Very Disappointing if the Phillies don’t sign Dellin Betances because of the Luxury Tax.

A: As we now know, the Phillies indeed did not sign Betances, who received a one-year deal at $10.5 million guaranteed from the division-rival New York Mets which can rise to $13 million based on incentives. He also received two player option years, though if he proves himself healthy it is likely that Betances re-sets his value and returns to the free agent market next fall.

Having previously pitched his entire career in the Big Apple with the Yankees, he has a number of ties to New York. Likely of most importance were that the doctors who treated his shoulder injury and his Achilles injuries are located there. Those injuries, especially the September Achilles, are likely most of the reason that the Phillies and any number of other ball clubs in need of bullpen help were not involved.

Q: Wally Potter on Facebook asks “Why does the Phillies farm system have a bad history of producing quality starting pitching ? More specific within the last 40 years.”

A: Back in July of 2019, Dan Roche of NBC Sports Philadelphia did a nice piece on this very subject. In that piece, Roche listed the top 10 homegrown Phillies pitchers over the last four decades as ranked by Baseball-Reference WAR value.

Those ten arms belong to, in order, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gross, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Don Carman, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Neris, and Ricky Bottalico.

It’s not a bad list, but there is a major and obvious flaw. Nola and Neris are “now” arms on the current roster. Hamels, Myers, Madson, and Kendrick were all pitchers with the 2008 World Series champions and were with the club for a number of years around that magical season.

What you are left with are Gross, Carman, and Ricky Bo as the only pitchers developed out of the Phillies farm system from the late-1970’s through the mid-2000’s who had any real impact on the ball club.

Roche estimates that the Phillies have drafted upwards of 1,000 pitchers over the last 40 years and stated “Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have.

The answer to the “why” is difficult to explain. That poor history comes under various regimes led by eight different general managers and a number of higher executives.

Perhaps that poor homegrown pitching record is beginning to change. If you make the history just of the last dozen years or so, you get seven of the above 10 names. You also get arms such as current top pitching prospect Spencer Howard and former top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Q: d dask (@DocD19 on Twitter) wanted me to “Ask Matt Klentak if he is allergic to southpaws?

A: I am not sure regarding the topic of Klentak’s allergies. But I get it. Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu were all available as free agents this time around. Any would have been a perfect fit for the Phillies rotation – especially our old hero Hamels on a one-year deal. The exact reasons why the GM didn’t get any of those arms to Philly is perplexing, to say the least.

Q: DDNAGS (@DDNAGS1 on Twitter) opined “They will not win with the current roster. Ask Matt Klentak when he is going to get off his big ass and make a couple trades? We don’t need all these scrubs he always signs.

A: Well, that’s simply wrong. Klentak signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen last off-season. He signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this off-season. They had a .500 roster prior to the recent moves and on paper appear to be improved. So, it would seem that, given health, they are already good enough to “win with the current roster.
Now, if you are talking about winning enough to reach the playoffs, maybe even contend for a division crown, and beyond that, a world championship, I get it.
It is my contention that the Phillies need a more proven center fielder, a left-handed veteran starting pitcher, another veteran bullpen arm with a successful track record, and another bench bat with pop from the right side similar to what Jay Bruce brings from the left. Let’s see what the GM does between now and the start of the season.

Q: PhilliesCurveballMachine (@phillies_the on Twitter) asks “Will a “culture change” in the clubhouse under the new coaching staff really make a difference in the team’s intensity/ focus/ “hustle” this season? And will this translate into wins? Why/how?

A: When you talk about a “culture change” inside the Phillies clubhouse, you specifically mention the change of managers from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. Honestly, we’re not going to know how the club responds. But I expect that a proven winner with a championship pedigree will be more influential and regarded more positively than a rookie with a cheerleader personality.

There is another major change inside the clubhouse, with a pair of starting players gone in Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. This year should find Realmuto, McCutchen, and Harper stepping into even more vocal leadership roles. I don’t know about you, but that prospect elicits more confidence from me.

I am expecting that Girardi will simply not tolerate any lack of hustle. He is not only going to be willing to make an example out of any player, but also have the confidence and support from management to bench anyone for any reason.

This comes from the popularity of his hiring, the unpopularity of the general manager, the fact that Girardi is just beginning what should be at least a three-year run in the dugout, and his own confidence based on his experiences as a championship-winning player and manager.

Now, will this change in style and substance result in more victories? I think it will have some effect. However, the team has to stay mostly healthy, especially where its biggest stars are concerned, and needs to receive actual improved performance from a few players. Any more positive attitude needs to be backed by positive performances.

Q: Andrew (@Andrew201711 on Twitter) asks “With the roster as it stands , I don’t see the Phils doing any better than third place …. your thoughts ?

A: For me the big thing right now is that factor of health. If the roster as currently assembled remains healthy, they can contend for a postseason berth. If they stay healthy, get improved performances from a few players such as Adam Haseley, Hoskins, and Arrieta, and if Klentak can make a couple of big in-season moves, they can win the division.

All of that said, the Braves are two-time defending NL East champions with a talented young core. The Nationals are defending World Series champions. Both teams have solid overall rosters. The Mets have improved their already tough pitching staff in both talent and depth this off-season. All three of those teams finished above the Phillies in the 2019 standings.

It is way too early for me to make any predictions. A lot can still change on not only the Phillies roster, but that of their division rivals. But right now you can make a legitimate argument for the club finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the National League East Division in the 2020 season.

That’s it for the mailbag this time around. I’ll open it up once again as spring training gets underway in February. Between now and then, you can always hit me up on social media: @philliesbell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

My Philadelphia Phillies Christmas wish 2019

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I think the Phanatic and most Phillies fans would agree with my one Christmas wish

 

With a number of happenings and gatherings over the next few days, barring some major breaking news this will be my final piece before Christmas.

There is really only one serious wish that I have for this year where there Philadelphia Phillies are concerned. If I were to actually whisper in Santa’s ear or write a letter to the North Pole, it would be the lone gift that I would ask for relating to baseball.

My one 2019 Christmas wish is for a winning Philadelphia Phillies ball club in the 2020 season.

By “winning”, I don’t mean 82-80. I mean a team that wins 90+ games and finally reaches October postseason baseball for the first time since 2011.

I really don’t care how they get there. I don’t need any more specific free agents signed or trades made. I am not looking for some final piece to any roster puzzle.

The Phillies have enough talented players right now to make it happen. They have legitimate stars at or near the top of the game at their positions in Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. There are veterans with contender pedigrees such as Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius. And there are at least two top-notch starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler.

So many others either underperformed or were injured last year. I recently wrote about five such players who are being counted on and whose improvement would be keys in 2020: Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, and Jake Arrieta.

New skipper Joe Girardi has already won a World Series, three division crowns, and been named the National League Manager of the Year for guiding an NL East ball club in 11 seasons as a manager in the big-leagues. Girardi justifiably elicits far more confidence than Gabe Kapler ever did without having run even a single Phillies game.

There are many reasons to believe that my Christmas wish will come true. And, of course, so much could go wrong over the next 10 months. There are certainly no guarantees in professional sports.

Sure, I would like another proven, veteran, left-handed starting pitcher for the Phillies rotation. Yes, I would like another impact-caliber bat for the bench mix. Absolutely, another big arm, perhaps one with some closer credentials, would be nice for the bullpen.

But whatever the specifics are that help the club to arrive there, my one wish at Christmas 2019 for the Philadelphia Phillies is that truly exciting, winning, playoff season.

While this is my final scheduled writing piece, keep following @philliesbell on social media at Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where I will continue to post as regularly as time allows this week.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all Phillies fans!

 

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Phillies making under-the-radar additions to bolster depth

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Nine-year big-league veteran Harrison could become a super-utility bench option for the 2020 Phillies

 

Not every signing by your favorite Major League Baseball team during the off-season is going to be of the mega-contract superstar variety.

While the Philadelphia Phillies have inked a long-term agreement with starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and a one-year deal with shortstop Didi Gregorius, the club has also shopped in the bargain bin in hopes of bolstering their bench, bullpen, and minor league depth.

The first such move came on October 30 when the Phillies claimed hard-throwing righty reliever Robert Stock off waivers from the San Diego Padres.

Stock turned 30 years of age on November 21. He was the second round choice of the Saint Louis Cardinals in the 2009 MLB Draft out of the University of Southern Cal.

Having pitched in parts of two big-league seasons with the San Diego Padres, Stock still cannot become a free agent until after the 2024 season and is not even arbitration-eligible until after 2021.

Stock signed with San Diego two years ago as a free agent. He then delivered for the Padres in his MLB debut in the 2018 season when he saved nine games and allowed 37 hits over 39.2 innings across 32 appearances with 38 strikeouts and a 2.50 ERA.

In 2019, Stock’s season ended in early July due to biceps tendinitis. His fastball has been timed at 100 mph and over, and averages 98. If healthy, he has the talent to make the team out of spring training and impact the Phillies bullpen.

On November 20 (my birthday present?) general manager Matt Klentak made his first trade of the off-season. It wasn’t a blockbuster. He obtained 24-year-old lefty pitcher Cristopher Sanchez from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for second base prospect Curtis Mead.

Sanchez is a Dominican southpaw who struggled during his first five minor league seasons. But last year across three levels he finally seemed to be putting it all together. He allowed 58 hits over 75.2 innings across 24 appearances, 10 of those starts, with a 73/26 K:BB ratio.

Having turned just 23-years-old exactly one week ago, if Sanchez continues the progression he showed while rising from Low-A to Triple-A last season the Phillies could have a helpful bullpen arm from the left side. That always has value.

Klentak brought in a familiar name to most baseball fans on November 26 when he signed infielder Josh Harrison to a minor league contract with a spring training invitation.

Harrison has appeared in parts of nine seasons in Major League Baseball, the first eight of those with the Pittsburgh Pirates with whom he was a two-time National League All-Star.

After signing a one-year deal to play with the Detroit Tigers last season, Harrison went down in May with a strained hamstring. The Tigers released him as he was still rehabbing in early August.

He has tremendous versatility. Harrison has appeared in 431 games at second base, 266 at third base, 66 in right field, 46 in left field, and 37 games at shortstop. A friend of Andrew McCutchen‘s from their days together in Pittsburgh, Harrison has a great chance to break camp with the Phillies as a super-utility bench player.

On December 2, Klentak continued adding to his potential bullpen mix when he claimed right-hander Trevor Kelley off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

Kelley is a 26-year-old who was Boston’s 36th round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of North Carolina. Over parts of five solid minor league seasons he allowed 213 hits over 247 innings across 171 appearances with 228 strikeouts.

Finally getting a big-league shot this past summer, Kelley was largely unimpressive. He was beaten up by the Toronto Blue Jays in a one-game stint on July 2, then was scored upon in four of nine September appearances with the Red Sox. He is likely headed for Triple-A to serve as Phillies organizational depth.

As the Winter Meetings were coming to a close on December 12, the Phillies brought back utility man Phil Gosselin, inking him to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training in Clearwater.

Gosselin slashed .262/.294/.308 with three doubles, seven RBIs, and five runs scored over 68 plate appearances. He appeared in 44 games with the 2019 Phillies, playing in six games in left field, five at shortstop, and one game at third base.

With parts of seven big-league seasons under his belt and experience at every position in the field other than center field and catcher, Gosselin should fill the same role as a year ago. Barring major injuries, he will head to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and serve as an experienced veteran should help be needed with the Phillies – hopefully on a short-term basis.

Then on Wednesday the club announced the signing of five-year big-league veteran outfielder Mikie Mahtook to a minor league deal with a spring training invite.

Mahtook was the first-round choice of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2011 MLB Draft out of Louisiana State University. He made his big-league debut in 2015 with Tampa and then was traded to the Detroit Tigers in January 2017.

Mahtook has appeared all across the outfield during his time in the majors. He has 116 games in left field, 112 in center, and 61 games out in right field. He has a career .235/.292/.405 slash line.

During his best season, Mahtook got 379 plate appearances and appeared in 109 games during 2017 with the Tigers. He produced a dozen home runs, scored 50 runs, and hit .276 that year, showing that he can be a legitimate contributor to a big-league ball club.

Assuming that all of their other options are healthy, Mahtook would appear to be the outfield version of what Gosselin is to the infield. He would go to Lehigh Valley and become insurance in case of multiple injuries to the Phillies active roster.

The same can be said for 30-year-old Matt Szczur. The Cape May, New Jersey native and Villanova University alum also signed a minor league deal. He has experience in parts of five big-league seasons, four of those with the Chicago Cubs.

Szczur appeared in 107 games and received 200 plate appearances with the Cubs during the 2016 season in which Chicago finally broke the ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ and won the World Series. He received a ring, but was not part of the postseason roster.

Over his career, Szczur has appeared in 147 games in left field, making 43 starts. He has 62 games in right field with 27 starts, and 56 games in center with 30 starting assignments. He has a career .231/.312/.355 slash line.

None of these deals resulted in excitement from the fan base or increased season ticket sales. In fact, there were many negative comments on social media from those fans, who understandably want every signing and trade to be for an obvious impact player or pitcher.

However, these are the exact moves that every organization across Major League Baseball makes during each off-season. They are designed to add players with some talent and/or experience to the organizational mix. Some won’t survive spring training and will be released. Some will end up as organizational depth in the minor leagues.

And maybe, just maybe, one or two will prove to be inexpensive additions to the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies big-league roster for Opening Day.

 

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