It seems the Phillies’ front office executives will not have to spend any time in court this offseason, allowing them to focus on taking the next step in this rebuild.
The Phillies had the first and sole chance to sign a handful of their young players to extensions before the arbitration deadline yesterday, which the team was successfully able to do. That’s the beauty of a rebuilding ball club; its players are all on team-friendly deals that allows control of everything short of their souls for the first few seasons of their career.
Four players agreed to deals with the club yesterday, all one-year contracts, avoiding arbitration hearings altogether. The team signed infielders Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco, catcher Cameron Rupp and middle reliever Luis Garcia to these one-year deals.
Hernandez got the greatest haul heading into the 2018 season, as he and the Phillies agreed to a $5.1 million deal, keeping the 27-year-old in Philadelphia for at least one more season. Last season, Hernandez played in 128 games, hitting .294 for the second consecutive season. He hit three more homeruns and walked just five less times in 27 less games than he did in 2016.For the fourth consecutive season, Hernandez raised his on base percentage as well as adding 26 doubles, the most in his MLB career. Scott Kingery fans will have to wait just a bit longer to see their go-to guy make his Major League debut. For the time being, the signing means that Kingery will likely begin the 2018 season as either a bench player for the Phillies or a starter somewhere in the infield in Lehigh Valley. This deal likely signifies that the Phillies aren’t going to ship Hernandez anywhere during the regular season, as it would be tough to find a suitor for a middle infielder on a one-year deal. The Los Angeles Angels were rumored to be very interested in acquiring Hernandez to pair him with former-NL East foe Andrelton Simmons up the middle.
A one-year deal for Maikel Franco implies the club isn’t ready to give up on the young third baseman yet. But it also makes 2018 a prove-it year, one in which Franco will need to show some signs of maturation and growth in order to remain with the team moving forward. Franco inked the deal for $2.95 million, a relatively small amount for a third baseman with power heading into his third full season in the big leagues. Franco’s production suggests this to be a fair deal, as his average has slipped from .280 in 2015 to .230 last season. His OBP has taken a similar fall over that span. The encouraging stat on Franco is that his strikeout numbers went down, 106 to 95, and his walk total slightly increased, from 40 to 41, from 2016 to last season. That means Franco may be making small strides into 2018. I’m still not fully convinced he’s anything more than a stopgap for the Phillies at the hot corner, but heading into 2018, he will almost certainly be the Opening Day third baseman.
The signing I was extremely surprised to see was with catcher Cameron Rupp. It appeared the Phillies were content going into 2018 with Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp as the backstop tandem, but you can now add Rupp back into the mix. Rupp got a new deal worth about $2 million for 2018. 2017 was a rough year for the 29-year-old, who after playing in 105 games and hitting a respectable .252 in 2016, couldn’t tay healthy or find consistency. He hit just .217 with an OBP under .300 in 88 games played, striking out 114 times. That’s the same amount of punch outs as Rupp suffered in 2016 despite getting nearly 100 less at bats. While there is no guarantee that Rupp will even make the Opening Day roster, it appears the Phillies wanted additional insurance behind the plate, as whomever they decide to leave off the 25-man roster to begin the season will be stowed away in Lehigh Valley, but will have to be placed on the 40-man roster. My guess is Rupp is the Iron Pigs starting catcher in 2018.
Now we come to a man that has solidified himself in the middle innings, Luis Garcia. Garcia didn’t explode onto the scene in a conventional way. He puttered around the Phillies bullpen for four years with mixed results before having a career year in 2017. Aided by a 25 innings scoreless streak midway through the season, Garcia posted career bests with a 2.65 ERA, 71.1 innings pitched, 66 appearances, and an opposing average of .229. Garcia’s most telling stat to success in 2017 was his pitch selection and ability to work ahead in the count. Last season, the righty fired 63 percent of his pitches for strikes, a career high. Because of this, he lowered his pitches per at bat and per inning to personal lows. My only concern with Garcia parlaying this success into 2018 was his low BABIP, or batting average on balls in play for you non-stat nerds. In 2016, Garcia’s BABIP was an absurd .373. Last year, it was down to .283. This stat is telling because batting average can sometimes be misleading due to strikeout rates. This stat takes strikeouts out of the equation and defers strictly to balls that were made contact with. Sometimes, a player can tee up a pitch, drive it to the gap, and a fielder makes a play, or a similar ball can be hit on a frozen rope right at a player. Does that mean the pitcher made a good pitch? No. It simply means someone was standing in the right spot to make a play. In order to have continued faith in Garcia in 2018, I’d like to see that number remain low. If Garcia can continue to work down in the zone, hold down a low WHIP and hold true on his 2.3 strikeout to walk ratio, the Phillies bullpen could be one of the best in the bigs in 2018. Garcia’s deal is worth $1.2 million this season.
Going into the offseason, the Phillies had five players eligible for arbitration, but that number dropped to four after the club shipped Freddy Galvis to San Diego in December.
Now, it’s time to get to work with the roster the team has. An awakening may be coming soon for this ball club, but it still needs more starting pitching. The bullpen will be good to great, the offense will certainly be improved, but the starting pitching remains a concern. With so little money tied into young players, this franchise has the ability to start looking at premiere starting pitching.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports