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