Thoughts on the Phillies: Harper, Machado, Realmuto, and the rotation

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While the MLB offseason has been slow thus far, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding the Phillies and their pursuit of players around the league, specifically stars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.  Here are some of my thoughts on Harper and Machado and some other things regarding the team’s offseason and what is to come.

 

Phillies favorites to land Harper

After their meeting with Bryce Harper in Las Vegas last Saturday, the Phillies have become the favorite to land the star outfielder. This comes just over a week after there were reports that Harper would likely remain in Washington, D.C., and in an ever-changing market, nothing is done until the t’s are crossed and the I’s dotted. However, it does appear that the Phillies are likely to land Harper.

Adding a player like Harper impacts the Phillies in several ways. The most obvious is his impact in the lineup, which will be significant. The Phillies hitters struggled throughout 2019 and adding a hitter of Harper ‘s caliber to the equation certainly makes an impact. The 26-year old hits for power and gets on base consistently, and he would be the heart of a Phillies lineup that has improved elsewhere so far this offseason.

This move would undoubtedly put baseball back on the map in Philadelphia. Fans will be fully engaged with a team that hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2011, and expectations will be high for 2019 and beyond. It will start a new era in Philadelphia: the wait, and the rebuild will be over. Now, what about that other guy?

 

Could they really sign Machado, too?

Reports indicate that the market for the other star, Manny Machado, is down to the White Sox, the Phillies, and mystery team(s). With or without the presence of teams other than Chicago, the market for Machado is small enough for the Phillies to outbid anyone. But, this isn’t a question of whether or not the team has the coin to outbid its competitors; would the Phillies sign two long-term, very expensive deals in one offseason?  I certainly wouldn’t count it out, but I also think there is reason to doubt the likelihood of the scenario where the Phillies land both guys.

Beyond the financial long-term financial commitment that this entails, I do doubt whether Machado and Harper want to go to the same team. The two have been compared to each other the entire offseason, and do they want the comparisons to continue the next ten years if they play together? Maybe these comparisons are inevitable whether they play together or not, but it is something to keep an eye on.

Like Harper, Machado would bring star-power, in addition to an elite glove and great bat to the Phillies.  If the Phillies somehow end up without Harper, I would bank on Machado coming to Philly; the want, need, and financial flexibility is all there for the Phillies to get it done for at least one of these guys.

 

No, the Phillies should not trade for JT Realmuto

It’s no secret that the Phillies are hunting big-impact players. It’s been most evident in their pursuit of free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper and is necessary in their quest to bring winning baseball back to Philadelphia.

One star-player that the Phillies have broadly been linked to throughout the offseason is Marlins catcher JT Realmuto. The Marlins desire to trade the 27-year old is clearly evident in their rebuild that they began last offseason when they traded all three starting outfielders, including the past two NL MVPs in Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. While Realmuto is the best offensive catcher in baseball, it seems a given that he will start his 2019 campaign on a different team.

The Realmuto trade talks have been going on since last offseason, and although they have intensified over the last several months, there is no clear-cut frontrunner to acquire the backstop. The reason he has yet to be traded is the Marlins price tag, which is apparently extremely high, which brings me to my point.  The Phillies have some needs, but catcher is not one. They didn’t get great offensive production from Jorge Alfaro in 2018, but that is not expected from the position.  How a catcher plays behind the plate is far more important, and Alfaro made some great strides in that in 2018, specifically with his framing (not to mention his rocket of an arm). And, Alfaro was decent at the plate, and he has the tools to improve with consistent playing time.

A trade for Realmuto would consist of Alfaro in addition to one of the blue-chip pitching prospects that the Phillies have, either Sixto Sanchez or Adonis Medina, and likely more. The Phillies do not have a need behind the plate, and while an upgrade there would be convenient, their assets are better utilized in other transactions, which brings us to something peculiar about the Phillies offseason thus far…

 

No changes in the rotation

In 2018, the Philadelphia Phillies’ biggest strength, for most of the season, was somewhat of a surprise: the starting rotation.  While the lineup lacked consistency and the bullpen underperformed, the youngest part of the team shined and helped the team to a first-place lead as late as August.  The rotation trailed off in the second half of the season, but the overall feeling was positive about Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

With an inflated budget and a decent free-agent class, it seemed that the Phillies were destined to sign a veteran pitcher to bolster the rotation.  The young trio of Pivetta, Eflin, and Velasquez all struggled at the season’s end, and an upgrade over at least one of these young guns made sense for a team looking to contend in 2019.

But, most of the free-agents who made sense for the Phillies have already signed contracts elsewhere.  It started with Patrick Corbin, who signed a huge 6-year contract with the Washington Nationals.  A pass from the Phillies made sense here, considering the money, but two veterans who are pitching the best baseball of their career went elsewhere during the winter meetings, and they signed contracts the Phillies should have matched.  JA Happ and Charlie Morton both signed short term, affordable deals that the Phillies, with plenty of room in their payroll over the next several years, could have matched with no long-term consequences.  All of a sudden, a team that seemed to be in a position to add to their rotation may have other plans.

With an improved defense after trading for Jean Segura, the rotation could certainly improve.  However, it is somewhat of a risk to go into next season with the same rotation, considering it was a big reason for the team’s collapse last September. The Phillies have been linked to southpaw Dallas Keuchel, and could possibly sign him after the bigger dominoes fall. However, if Keuchel looks for a price comparable to what Arrieta received last year, the Phillies may be served better looking elsewhere or standing pat.

If the Phillies do opt to stay away from free-agents and trade targets for the time being, they must continue to groom their minor league assets in case the back end of the rotation begins to falter.  There is some depth on the 40-man roster and in the system; Jerad Eickhoff, Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, and Ranger Suarez could all step in and start some games for the Phillies in the case of injury or need, but the fact remains that the Phillies need help atop the rotation.

The Phillies should not trade for a player like JT Realmuto, because they will need assets to trade for upgrades in the rotation at some point. Targets like Corey Kluber and Madison Bumgarner could be very important at the trade deadline, and holding onto prospects like Adonis Medina and Sixto Sanchez is vital in those kinds of trades. If there is a long-term injury or someone underperforms, the Phillies would be better served adding to the top of the rotation then using their depth to insert another back-end guy into the rotation.

 

 

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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