Tag Archives: Maikel Franco

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.

 

Phillies top seasonal performances of the 2010’s

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Bryce Harper‘s 35 homers in 2019 were the most by a Phillies player for any season during the 2010’s decade

 

Two weeks from today will be New Year’s Eve and we will be formally ringing out 2019 as well as the decade of the 2010’s.

A few weeks back, I presented a WAR-based list of the top 10 Phillies players of the past decade. With this piece, I’m going to look at individual seasonal performances.

Who provided the top home run seasons, stolen base seasons, strikout seasons during the course of the last 10 years of Phillies baseball?

Just another way to capture a period of time in franchise history. So, here are the top 10 individual season performances in a variety of categories by Phillies players during the 2010’s decade.

HOME RUNS

  1. Bryce Harper, 2019 – 35
  2. Rhys Hoskins, 2018 – 34
  3. Ryan Howard, 2011 – 33
  4. Ryan Howard, 2010 – 31
  5. Rhys Hoskins, 2019 – 29
  6. Domonic Brown, 2013 – 27
  7. Jayson Werth, 2010 – 27
  8. J.T. Realmuto, 2019 – 25
  9. Maikel Franco, 2016 – 25
  10. Marlon Byrd, 2014 – 25

RBIs

  1. Ryan Howard, 2011 – 116
  2. Bryce Harper, 2019 – 114
  3. Ryan Howard, 2010 – 108
  4. Rhys Hoskins, 2018 – 96
  5. Ryan Howard, 2014 – 95
  6. Maikel Franco, 2016 – 88
  7. Rhys Hoskins, 2019 – 85
  8. Raul Ibanez, 2011 – 84
  9. J.T. Realmuto, 2019 – 83
  10. Domonic Brown, 2013 – 83

RUNS

  1. Jayson Werth, 2010 – 106
  2. Jimmy Rollins, 2012 – 102
  3. Bryce Harper, 2019 – 98
  4. Shane Victorino, 2011 – 95
  5. J.T. Realmuto, 2019 – 92
  6. Cesar Hernandez, 2018 – 91
  7. Rhys Hoskins, 2018 – 89
  8. Odubel Herrera, 2016 / Jimmy Rolllins, 2011 – Ryan Howard, 2010 – 87

STEALS

  1. Ben Revere, 2014 – 49
  2. Juan Pierre, 2012 – 37
  3. Shane Victorino, 2010 – 34
  4. Jimmy Rollins, 2012  / Jimmy Rollins, 2011 – 30
  5. Jimmy Rollins, 2014 – 28
  6. Odubel Herrera, 2016 – 25
  7. Shane Victorino, 2012 – 24
  8. Ben Revere, 2013 / Jimmy Rollins, 2013 – 22

BATTING AVERAGE

(min. 300 PA’s)

  1. Carlos Ruiz, 2012 – .325
  2. Juan Pierre, 2012 – .307
  3. Ben Revere, 2014 – .306
  4. Ben Revere, 2013 – .305
  5. Carlos Ruiz, 2010 – .302
  6. Placido Polanco, 2010 – .298
  7. Odubel Herrera, 2015 – .297
  8. Jayson Werth, 2010 – .296
  9. Cesar Hernandez, 2017 / Cesar Hernandez, 2016 – .294

WINS

  1. Roy Halladay, 2010 – 21
  2. Roy Halladay, 2011 – 19
  3. Cliff Lee, 2011 / Aaron Nola, 2018 / Cole Hamels, 2012 – 17
  4. Cole Hamels, 2011 / Cliff Lee, 2013 – 14
  5. Aaron Nola, 2019 / Aaron Nola, 2017 / Jeremy Hellickson, 2016 / Cole Hamels, 2010 – 12

STRIKEOUTS

  1. Cliff Lee, 2011 – 238
  2. Aaron Nola, 2019 – 229
  3. Aaron Nola, 2018 – 224
  4. Cliff Lee, 2013 – 222
  5. Roy Halladay, 2011 – 220
  6. Roy Halladay, 2010 – 219
  7. Cole Hamels, 2012 – 216
  8. Cole Hamels, 2010 – 211
  9. Cliff Lee, 2012 – 207
  10. Cole Hamels, 2013 – 202

INNINGS

  1. Roy Halladay, 2010 – 250.2
  2. Roy Halladay, 2011 – 233.2
  3. Cliff Lee, 2011 – 232.2
  4. Cliff Lee, 2013 – 222.2
  5. Cole Hamels, 2013 – 220
  6. Cole Hamels, 2011 – 216
  7. Cole Hamels, 2012 – 215.1
  8. A.J. Burnett, 2014 – 213.2
  9. Aaron Nola, 2018 – 212.1
  10. Cliff Lee, 2012 – 211

SAVES

  1. Jonathan Papelbon, 2014 – 39
  2. Jonathan Papelbon, 2012 – 38
  3. Jeanmar Gomez, 2016 – 37
  4. Ryan Madson, 2011 – 32
  5. Jonathan Papelbon, 2013 – 29
  6. Hector Neris, 2019 – 28
  7. Brad Lidge, 2010 – 27
  8. Hector Neris, 2017 – 26
  9. Jonathan Papelbon, 2015 – 17
  10. Seranthony Dominguez, 2018 – 16

 

MORE RECENT PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES CONTENT:

 

Decision time arrives for Phillies on Franco, Hernandez

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A non-tender of Hernandez could prompt the Phillies to move Segura to second and sign Gregorius for shortstop

 

What has become known as the “non-tender” deadline in Major League Baseball will arrive on Monday at 8:00 pm EST. Teams ostensibly have until that point to offer 2020 contracts to arbitration-eligible players.

For two such players who have been starters with the Philadelphia Phillies for the last five seasons – third baseman Maikel Franco and second baseman Cesar Hernandez – it could mark the end of their time with the ball club.

The actual rule as negotiated with the MLBPA (the player’s union) basically states that all arbitration and pre-arbitration eligible players on the 40-man roster with fewer than six years of big-league service time must be offered (tendered) a contract for the upcoming season (2020) by this deadline or they will immediately  become a free agent.

While Franco has appeared in parts of six MLB seasons he has just 4.157 official years of accumulated service time. Hernandez has appeared in parts of seven seasons, but has just 5.154 official service time years.

Should the Phillies choose to tender a contract to either or both, they would be agreeing to settle on a specific salary amount over the next few months. If they choose to non-tender either or both, the player(s) join the list of available free agents this off-season.

By non-tendering either Franco or Hernandez the Phillies would in essence be waving goodbye.

I am sure there would be public pleasantries from general manager Matt Klentak along the lines of “we really like these guys and appreciate what they brought to the ball club over the last few years, but we felt it was best at this time for both the players and the team that we turn the page.

For me, these two players are little more than reminders of a half-dozen years of mostly losing baseball. Signing and trading them is not a legitimate option. What team is going to surrender anything of real value for either guy?

Saying goodbye to either or both  would then create holes in the lineup. However, they are holes that can be filled by more talented and likely more productive players who are either already on the roster or available via free agency.

SECOND BASE

The simplest and best answer to non-tendering Hernandez would be to finally turn over the everyday second base position to Scott Kingery.

I’ve explained ad nauseam in other pieces and podcasts that second base is Kingery’s natural position. It is where he played during the final two years of his college career and his three minor league seasons. In 2017 he was the Gold Glove Award winner for the minor leagues at the position.

Another option would be to slide the current shortstop, Jean Segura, over to second base. This would mean either making Kingery the everyday shortstop or signing a free agent. The Phillies have been linked to free agent Didi Gregorius in this type of scenario.

Though he has been a shortstop for the vast majority of his eight-year big-league career, Segura was the every day second baseman with the Arizona Diamondbacks during the 2016. He led the National League with 203 hits that season and finished 13th in NL MVP voting.

Though he can athletically handle the position on a short-term basis or in an emergency, Kingery is not a legitimate everyday shortstop. If the club really wants to move Segura, it would be imperative that they sign someone like Gregorius.

THIRD BASE

Cutting ties with Franco would likely mean that the Phillies have decided to go hard after one of the three top available free agents at the position: Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, or Mike Moustakas.

If they non-tender Franco but keep Hernandez, they could also choose to make Kingery the everyday third baseman. However, just as with shortstop, this is not a legitimate spot for Kingery as a regular starter.

Should the Phillies cut ties with both Franco and Hernandez, it almost certainly means that they plan on using Kingery as a regular at one of the three infield positions.

The Phillies might decide that the third base free agents are simply too expensive, and believe that they have the future at the position here already in top position prospect Alec Bohm. In that scenario, maybe they tender Franco, figuring that Bohm will turn him into 2020 in-season trade bait.

The Phillies could also conceivably sign both Gregorius and a new third base free agent. But that is spending a lot of money which could perhaps be better used in paying for the two starting pitchers they also need.

SHORTSTOP

If you choose to non-tender Hernandez and slide over Segura, it opens a hole here. Again, the hole would be filled by either Kingery (less than ideal) or a free agent such as Gregorius.

For me, the best option is to simply keep Segura at short, make Kingery the everyday second baseman, and go hard after a third baseman in free agency.

CENTER FIELD

Kingery played 65 games and made 57 starts in center field during the 2019 season. By the end of the year it was rookie Adam Haseley out there most often. Haseley appeared in 40 games in center field, making 36 starts.

I’ve gone on record that the Phillies should go after a more proven veteran via the trade route, someone such as Jackie Bradley Jr.of the Boston Red Sox.

This is Kingery’s second-best, though I believe it is a distant second-best, defensive position. He played it during his first two years of college ball. However, a look into the stats reveals that while he occasionally makes a highlight reel play, he also doesn’t make all of the routine plays handled by natural center fielders.

It is possible that the Phillies will choose to tender Hernandez and bring him back for one final season at second base, leaving Kingery out in center field for one more year, with Haseley as a reserve outfielder.

Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors has estimated that Franco would receive $5.7 million and Hernandez $11.8 million on one-year deals with the Phillies for the 2020 season. That $17.5 million could pay the 2020 salary of a strong starting pitcher or one better position player.

This will not be an easy decision for Klentak to make. However, it would be very easy for me. The “KISS” principle is at play here: Keep It Simple Stupid.

These are two limited players for whom there are better options available. Cut the ties. Move on. Look to the future, not at the past.

The Phillies should non-tender both Franco and Hernandez, move Kingery to second, start shopping hard for a third baseman, and start working the phones for a center fielder. One man’s opinion. We’ll find out what the team actually chooses by late Monday.

 

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Should Phillies pursue a top bat over a top starting pitcher?

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Keuchel is a legitimate option if the Phillies choose to, or are forced to, settle below the top-level free agent arms

 

With the ‘Hot Stove’ season now open across Major League Baseball, teams have begun the process of trying to upgrade their roster for the 2020 campaign.

The Philadelphia Phillies are coming off what was a disappointing .500 season in 2019. After a ton of high-profile activity last off-season and a fast start, the club sputtered over the final four months to finish at 81-81.

Most evaluators and fans feel that the biggest shortcoming for the team this past season was the pitching staff. The Phillies failed to get quality outings from their starting pitchers and suffered numerous injuries that depleted their bullpen.

The bullpen could bounce back simply with a return to health by a few of the arms and with a modest free agent signing or prescient trade addition.

But the rotation will be more difficult. There are a pair of ace-caliber pitchers available in Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, and a strong second-tier arm in Zack Wheeler. The Phillies have plenty of money and the incentive to sign any of them.

However, would they actually be smarter to ink a couple of lesser-tier arms, pitchers who do not have a qualifying offer attached, instead spending their big money on another impact bat to fill one of their lineup holes? It’s a legitimate strategy to consider.

If so, which arms could actually improve the rotation and might make the most sense for the club to pursue? And then, what bats might the club be able to add that would significantly upgrade the lineup?

MID-LEVEL ARMS

The Phillies gave 72 combined starts in the 2019 season to a group of pitchers that included Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff, Drew Smyly, Jason Vargas, and Cole Irvin.

The lowest ERA among that group was the 4.45 mark of Smyly, a southpaw who was added as a free agent in mid-July who is now an unrestricted free agent. Each of the others was either near or over the 5.00 mark.

There are a handful of solid starting pitching options available in free agency who do not have qualifying offers attached. They are unrestricted free agents who will not cost anywhere near the price of a Cole or Strasburg contract.

Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu is an injury risk and will turn 33 years of age at the end of spring training. But he could be had for something like a three-year, $54-million deal. For this year’s NL Cy Young Award runner-up who has top of the rotation talent, it could prove a major bargain. Would the Phillies roll the dice?

The Phillies passed on Dallas Keuchel this past season and then watched him become a difference-maker in the rival Braves rotation as Atlanta pulled away in the standings. The lefty turns 32 on New Year’s Day and might be looking for a five-year deal. But if the former NL Cy Young Award winner who also has four Gold Gloves on his résumé would settle for three years at $15 million per?

There is also, of course, Cole Hamels. The former Phillies ace and World Series hero will turn 37-years-old two days after Christmas. The lefty has publicly stated that he would go on a one-year deal. How about the Phillies take him up on that offer at $15 million with incentives and a club option for 2021?

Adding a pair of left-handers from among the Ryu, Keuchel, Hamels group, depending on the price in dollars and years, would likely end up much more affordable and hang much less of a risk albatross around the Phillies necks as would a Cole or Strasburg deal alone.

TOP POTENTIAL IMPACT BATS

It’s very difficult to evaluate where the Phillies 2020 holes will be, simply because the club hasn’t made up its own mind regarding a number of holdover players.

Decisions on Scott Kingery, Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, and Adam Haseley in particular will determine not only the answers to a number of questions – but also will actually determine those questions themselves.

So, I will proceed in the way that I see best for the Phillies future. That means Kingery plays second base every day, both Hernandez and Franco are gone, and Haseley becomes a bench player or starts in center field every day at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

What that means is the Phillies have holes to fill in center field and at third base. The center field hole cannot be filled in free agency, at least not by anyone who would be a marked improvement on Haseley.

If the Phillies wish to add a championship caliber center fielder it will have to be done via trade. In past articles, I have advocated for the club going after Boston Red Sox defensive whiz Jackie Bradley Jr.

Whether it would be Bradley or some other target, filling this position with a more proven veteran is something that general manager Matt Klentak needs to make a priority. Klentak needs to find his Garry Maddox for Willie Montanez trade. Phillies fans should well recall that important May 1975 trade with the San Francisco Giants.

However, filling the third base hole can indeed be done through the free agency route. In fact, there are three different players available, all at different commitment levels of years and dollars

Anthony Rendon is the top available hitter. Turning 30-years-old next June, he would likely come at a price tag of $30-35 million over as many as seven years. Rendon would bring elite, Gold Glove-caliber defense and a clutch middle-of-the-order bat to the lineup, but at a premium price that would tie up the position for years.

Josh Donaldson is a former AL MVP who turns 34 in two weeks. He is a proven middle order hitter who remains a top glove man at the hot corner. Donaldson played on a one-year deal this past season in Atlanta. It will likely cost a three-year, $75 million commitment this time around.

A third option at third base would be 31-year-old Mike Moustakas. He is nowhere near the caliber of defender at the hot corner as the first two, and is not as reliable a hitter or run producer either. However, at a notch below both Rendon and Donaldson he would also come cheaper. He might even go for a one-year deal at $10-12 million, allowing the Phillies to remain committed to Alec Bohm over the longer term.

 

Even if he can successfully fill the holes in center field and at third base, as well as add two more veteran starting pitchers, Klentak still has more work to do this off-season. He needs to add a couple of better veteran bench options, as well as perhaps adding another strong reliever. Get all that accomplished and the Philadelphia Phillies are legitimate 2020 postseason contenders.

 

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Philadelphia Phillies current roster and payroll evaluation

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How the Phillies choose to utilize Scott Kingery in 2020 will be the key at a few positions

 

Welcome to the second episode and the first original topic episode for the ‘Ring the Bell’ podcast.

Today, I’ll be covering a pair of topics. We’ll take a look at the Philadelphia Phillies current roster makeup with an eye towards the weak spots and any holes that the team may need to fill this off-season.

Along that same vein, a second topic will be the current salary budget situation as the club enters this important off-season, and how this might affect their pursuit of free agent talent.

There is a lot to cover, so let’s jump right into it.

POSITION PLAYERS

A look at the best possible starting lineup made up of players currently on the roster, from my perspective, would go like this:

1B – Rhys Hoskins, 2B – Scott Kingery, SS – Jean Segura, 3B – Alec Bohm, C – J.T. Realmuto, LF – Andrew McCutchen, CF – Adam Haseley, RF – Bryce Harper

Other position players currently being carried on the Phillies 40-man roster include infielders Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, and Arquimedes Gamboa. The club is also carrying outfielders Jay Bruce, Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn, and Nick Williams. Also on the 40-man are catchers Andrew Knapp and Deivy Grullon.

There are three major question marks which new manager Joe Girardi is going to need to answer, and likely answer prior to spring training. He may need help from general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies management group in finding those answers.

The questions come at the second base, third base, and center field positions on the diamond.

For a couple of years now, the Phillies have avoided handing over the everyday second base job to Scott Kingery, who won a minor league Gold Glove at the position during the 2017 campaign.

Kingery has proven a valuable and versatile asset while bouncing around from third to second to the outfield in his first two big-league seasons. But it has and remains my position that the Phillies are not getting, and will not get, the best they can from him until they give him the respect of settling into an everyday role on defense.

If Girardi hands the starting job at second to Kingery, that means the club will need to move on from Hernandez, who has been the starter at the position for the better part of the last five years. It solidifies the second base position for the next five years, but also opens up a couple of other situations that will need addressing.

Hernandez will turn 30 years of age next May and is due to become a free agent after next season. He is coming off a pair of mostly solid, if unspectacular, seasons.

Committing to Kingery at second means that center field is wide open. Are you comfortable with Haseley, the eight overall pick from the 2017 MLB Draft, as the starting center fielder for a club with championship aspirations? Frankly, I’m not.

I liked what I saw from Haseley, who turns 24 years of age in April, during a freshman campaign that saw him rise from Double-A to the big-leagues. But I did not see a player who was ready to be a key everyday regular on a World Series team. At least not right now.

However, let’s plug him in there as the starter for now. It would be nice if we could ever rely upon the dynamic Roman Quinn to handle the position. But that ship has sailed. He is simply too injury prone to ever count on at this point. About the best the Phillies could hope would be that the speedster and elite defender would somehow be healthy during September and into the postseason, when his skill set could prove valuable.

Another situation can be found at the hot corner. Franco, who has been the starter for most of the same time that Hernandez has been at second, clearly fell out of favor with former skipper Gabe Kapler.

While it remains unclear what Girardi or the higher-ups in the organization think about him, it might be a good time to say goodbye to Franco as well. He plays most of next season at age 27, arguably just entering his prime, and is under club contractual control for two more years.

The Phillies are likely going to have to make a call on both Hernandez and Franco very soon. The club has until December 2 to decide whether to offer salary arbitration to either or both. The call here would be to simply let them go into free agency. The other option would be to sign one or the other, or both, and then hope to cut a deal in spring training should everyone prove healthy and some other club have a need.

Moving on from Franco and giving Kingery the second base job means that you either hand the everyday role at third base to top offensive prospect Bohm, or you go after a veteran free agent. There are good reasons to go down either path.

Bohm appears ready to me. The 23-year-old has slashed .293/.368/.474 with 21 homers, 63 extra-base hits, and 98 RBIs across 698 minor league plate appearances during his first two seasons after being drafted third overall in 2018. He then starred in the Arizona Fall League and is currently the starting third baseman with Team USA in the Premier 12 tournament.

But if the Phillies brain trust wants to give Bohm most of another full season to consolidate his game in Triple-A, there are interesting free agent options available. We’ll look at those in a few minutes.

Another situation which needs resolution is that of Herrera. There is really no way that the Phillies fan base is going to accept his returning to the team after last year’s domestic violence incident. These are different times than even a decade ago.

Herrera needs to find a new home, and Klentak should be able to swing a deal, even if it’s just to bring back cash or a lower-level minor league prospect. If not, the team could just cut him. There are certainly justifiable baseball-only reasons, which is what it would take, to hand him his release. If it were up to me, he never steps foot in Clearwater.

The bench is a genuine area of concern. Saying a final farewell to Herrera, Hernandez, and Franco would cut ties with three key players from the losing teams of the last handful of seasons, but also creates depth issues.

Depth in the outfield comes from Bruce, Quinn, and Nick Williams – the latter of whom could also end up as a valuable trade piece. It would also include Haseley if the Phillies can find a better everyday answer in center. But there is virtually no depth on the infield, and it would be nice if the club could add a better offensive player as a veteran backup catcher than Knapp.

Building a truly competitive bench group will be yet another tricky mission for Klentak this off-season. It will take a creative combination of brave trades and wise free agent signings. I’ll give some suggestions before we wrap this up.

PITCHING NEEDS

In order to become genuine challengers to the world champion Washington Nationals and the two-time defending division champion Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division, the Phillies must add two new starting pitchers to their rotation for 2020 and beyond.

Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Jake Arrieta appear to be reliable. However, the latter two would probably best slot in as the 4-5 starter in a contending rotation at this point.

What the Phillies really need is a genuine top-of-the-rotation ace to front the group, and then a proven veteran mid-rotation starter who would come a bit more inexpensively.

In a recent piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bob Brookover quoted GM Mike Rizzo of the Nationals: “Starting pitching is king….for the marathon that is the season you better have some starters that you can run out there and give you a chance to win each and every day.

Klentak must bring in a pair of proven, winning veterans if he wants to elevate the Phillies rotation to a contending level. It’s my bet that principal owner John Middleton has already made this the single biggest off-season mandate, and is willing to again open his substantial wallet to make it happen.

The bullpen is trickier. It’s possible that the Phillies could do little or nothing here and end up with a competitive group in 2020.

Slated to return, assuming health, are the following arms: Right-handers Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, and newcomer Robert Stock. The best left-handers on-board are Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez.

They probably cannot hope to get David Robertson back until August at the earliest, and probably not until September. If they actually contend and he is available for the stretch run and postseason, that would be a “found arm” bonus.

Also in the mix would be former or spot-starters Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, and Ranger Saurez. And organizational arms in righty J.D. Hammer and lefty Austin Davis remain.

Velasquez and Pivetta are particularly interesting as potential bullpen weapons. While either could end up as trade bait, either or both could be extremely valuable if they bought into the role fully, and if new pitching coach Bryan Price can work his magic with them.

The Phillies could shop for a more proven bullpen arm to bolster the group, but that should not be a priority from my perspective. There will be a strong arm who floats through the early stages of free agency and ends up being more affordable than he might appear at first blush. There are plenty of arms already on hand to make something competitive work.

None of that discussion of the pitching takes into account either of the Phillies top two pitching prospects, Spencer Howard and Adonis Medina. The latter is already on the 40-man roster and is likely to be ready at some point in the second half of the 2020 season.

Howard could actually push for a role in the starting rotation as early as spring training, and looks like the most talented arm developed by the farm system since Cole Hamels.

SHOPPING LIST AND BUDGET

So, for me anyway, there is a lengthy “To-Do List’ for Matt Klentak this off-season, if the Phillies truly want to contend for a deep October 2020 postseason run.

Two starting pitchers and a starting center fielder. At least three proven veteran bench players – two infielders and a catcher – at least two of those with extra-base pop. And possibly a third baseman and bullpen arm. It’s a daunting task, but it’s what needs to be done in order to catch and pass Atlanta and Washington.

The Phillies currently have $108 million in 2020 salary commitments. Cot’s Contracts projects the club’s 40-man payroll hit for Competitive Balance Tax purposes at $131 million. This would leave them some $76 million below the $208 million CBT threshold.

While there are a few roster machinations which could slightly elevate those financial commitments, those are not substantial. The Phillies have a lot of money to spend if they want. The problem is that they have a lot of needs as well, and with veterans, those needs won’t come cheap.

There will be tremendous competition for Gerrit Cole, the best starting pitcher on the free agent market. With Scott Boras as his agent, you can expect Cole to remain unsigned through a lengthy winter process of shopping and city/team visits, similar to what we saw last winter with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

The Phillies will be in the hunt for Cole, but so are other big spenders like the Yankees, Angels, Padres, Astros and perhaps even the Dodgers.

Perhaps the more likely “Cole” that the Phillies could bring in would be former 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels. The lefty turns 36 years of age just two days after Christmas and is clearly past his prime. However, he knows how to pitch in Philly and remains popular with the fan base, is a proven veteran winner, and is a southpaw. On a reasonable three-year deal, he could slot into that #3-4 starter role.

Other starting pitching names the Phils will look into should include Stephen Strasburg at the top of the market, and mid-market arms like Zach Wheeler, Jake Odorizzi, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Rick Porcello. Perhaps even veteran lefty Madison Bumgarner.

Longtime Yankees reliever Dellin Betances might make for an intriguing addition as a new closer with the Phillies.

If the Phillies decide to go hard after Anthony Rendon as their new third baseman, they would likely be betting heavily that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will include the National League going to a Designated Hitter as soon as the 2021 season. This would allow for the club to fit in all of Rendon, Bohm, and Rhys Hoskins to their lineup.

Landing Rendon would likely take them out of the running for Cole or Strasburg, and perhaps put their pitching focus on a combination like Wheeler and Hamels, or any two of the more mid-market arms previously mentioned. Other potential third base targets would be Mike Moustakas and Josh Donaldson, each of whom would come far cheaper than Rendon.

An interesting outfield depth piece would be Corey Dickerson. The Phillies would certainly love to have him back, and judging by social media posts, so would the fan base. However, Dickerson is not an everyday center fielder. Neither is McCutchen at this stage of his career. So Dickerson would be more of a fourth outfielder. He will likely command too much money and will get an everyday role offered from someone.

An interesting catcher option could be former Phillies prospect Travis d’Arnaud. Turning 31 in February, he has the combination of offensive and defensive skills the club needs from a backup, and finally stayed healthy in 2019.

There really are no interesting center fielders on the free agent market this off-season, so if the Phillies do want a better option there, they are likely going to have to trade for it.

However, one roll-of-the-dice name could be Japanese free agent Shogo Akiyama. A star with Seibu in the Japanese Pacific League for the past nine years, Akiyama turns 32 years of age in April. He is a solid hitter with a career .301 average, and is a power-speed combination guy. The dice roll, of course, would be how his talent translates to America, especially considering he is moving past his prime.

Among the interesting veteran bench options in free agency, former Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence and an infielder who proved to be a Phillie killer a year ago, Starlin Castro. Also among free agent infielders are Jonathan Schoop, Eric Sogard and Jose Iglesias.

THE WRAP

There is much to be done this winter. But the mandate from Middleton and the fan base is clear: the 2020 season cannot be another .500, or God forbid, losing campaign. It is time to win, and Klentak knows it. His job is now squarely on the line.

Join me tomorrow when I’ll take a much more detailed look into the free agent market. We’ll go over specifics on those mentioned today and even more names who could slot into Phillies positional needs.

I hope you’ll come back and listen then. And in the meantime you can visit the @philliesbell sites on Twitter and Facebook for continuing Phillies information. Talk to you next time, and until then, God bless you and yours.