Phillies

Phillies president Andy MacPhail: 'Let’s stay on track'

Phillies president Andy MacPhail: 'Let’s stay on track'

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Dressed in red gym shorts and T-shirts emblazoned with the words Train to Reign, two dozen Phillies pitchers and catchers went through one final informal workout on the green lawns of Carpenter Complex on Monday.

Stuff gets real, as they say, Tuesday morning when pitchers and catchers go through their first official workout of spring training.

Not long ago, this day was accompanied by the electric buzz of high expectations and World Series hopes. The Phillies hope those days return soon, but for now, they remain an active construction site as they enter Season 3 of a rebuild.

There have been signs of progress in the reconstruction. Most tangibly, the team improved by eight wins, finishing with 71, last season.

Another sign of growth can be seen in the improved depth in the team’s starting pitching ranks.

When the rebuild started, the starting pitching depth was in bad shape. A series of trades — some by current general manager Matt Klentak, others by former GM Ruben Amaro Jr. — and the maturation of a handful of prospects has improved it greatly.

That depth will be on display as camp officially begins Tuesday. The Phillies have 15 starting pitchers on their 40-man roster and 10 of them have come to the organization in trades since the rebuild started after the 2014 season.

As the rebuild continues, pitching will remain a focus.

Club president Andy MacPhail made that much clear in a state of the team meeting with reporters on Monday.

“After improving the pitching, the next thing we should do is improve the pitching, and then after that, we should improve the pitching,” MacPhail said.

The Phillies are a big-market team with large revenues. MacPhail is confident that the team can attract big bats through free agency. His goal remains building with a foundation of arms.

“My experience has been that you can find the hitters,” he said, citing Klentak’s offseason additions of Howie Kendrick (trade) and Michael Saunders (free-agent signing). “Particularly in our ballpark. And we have resources. When you have to sign pitchers through free agency — they’re fragile, they’re expensive. There are times when you’re going to have to do it, but the more you can avoid it, the more you should. To me, it’s about pitching.”

The Phillies brought back veteran Jeremy Hellickson and traded for another, Clay Buchholz, to lead a still developing starting staff that will include Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola in 2017 — with promising arms like Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher, Adam Morgan and Nick Pivetta knocking on the door.

The rotation will certainly be respectable. It should keep the Phillies in a lot of games for six or so innings most nights.

It’s not difficult to envision the Phillies making the next step and improving on those 71 wins in 2017.

Manager Pete Mackanin believes the team can push .500.

And MacPhail?

“I've been around too long to get involved with that,” he said with a laugh. “I'm focused not so much on a number for next year. I'd like to see improvement. That can demonstrate itself in a lot of ways. So I'm looking for improvement — measurable, meaningful improvement. That could just be in the number of players that look like they can be pieces for the future. I think that's my goal for 2017.

“The fans and the media are pretty sophisticated. They're going to know improvement when they see it. I wouldn't put a number by it. Sometimes you can move the win number up but not really have a good year. We're trying to create a foundation for a baseball franchise. The more players that demonstrate on our current team that they belong and are part of the future and the more players that percolate up from our system that demonstrate they can be part of our future, that's a good year.”

Phillies management and ownership has repeatedly said that it will spend significant money on free agents once the team develops a solid core of players. Mackanin made that clear this winter when he said: “Over the last couple of years it’s been, as I call it, an experiment. We’re trying to find out who’s going to fit in and bide time until we’re going to spend a little bit of money and make our move.”

The Phillies spent over $65 million in acquiring (through trades and signings) and retaining veterans this winter. No, it wasn't the $125 million they spent on Cliff Lee a few winters ago, but those days will come again, possibly in two years when a mega free-agent class featuring Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hits the market.

“We could have had a year where we let our payroll slip way down,” MacPhail said. “Quite frankly our ownership doesn’t have a great appetite for that. One year with the worst record in baseball (2015) was enough for them.”

It’s not out of the question that the Phillies make a splash even before the free-agent class of 2018 hits the market. Some of the talent in that projected class could become available in trades as soon as this July.

The Phillies will have their antennae up for these types of deals and they’ve added enough young talent that they could swing one of them.

“We know that as teams fall out of contention, they are going to be looking at opportunities to get the maximum amount for their playing talent and often that comes as a result of a trade maybe a year or two prior to free agency,” MacPhail said. “Our goal is to be ready for that eventuality, identify those teams that might find themselves in that situation and be ready to move if the opportunity presents itself.”

MacPhail’s final comment on the eve of spring training 2017 captured the goal of the season:

“Let’s stay on track,” he said.

Bryce Harper: Not signing J.T. Realmuto would be 'terrible and sad'

Bryce Harper: Not signing J.T. Realmuto would be 'terrible and sad'

Bryce Harper never stopped working out after baseball shut down. He hit three times a week back home in Las Vegas.

So it really wasn't surprising to see Harper launching balls into the empty seats at Citizens Bank Park on the first official day of the Phillies' restart Friday.

And it wasn't surprising to see him wearing his new favorite T-shirt, the one with teammate J.T. Realmuto's name and number 10 on the back.

The shirt was a giveaway last August and giveaways are always plentiful in the clubhouse. Harper wore one under his uniform a number of times late last season and is rocking it again during preparation for the new season. He has worn it three days in a row during workouts at Citizens Bank Park.

Harper is pretty shrewd when it comes to messaging. Look at the way he instantly connected with Philadelphia by embracing civic icons like the Eagles and the Phanatic last year.

Is there a message in his donning the Realmuto shirt three days in a row — with cameras catching it all? After all, Realmuto could become a free agent after the season and Harper, who's here for another dozen years, has long been on record as saying he'd like to see the Phillies lock up the catcher with a long-term deal.

"No message," Harper said after Friday's workout. "But I think J.T. is a great player. 

"If the Phillies don't end up signing him back, which would be terrible and sad, I think there's a lot of other teams out there that are going to want to sign the guy. He's a Gold Glove-caliber catcher every year, he's a great person, a great player. I mean everybody in this organization from the top down wants to see him in red pinstripes for the rest of his career and hopefully we can make that happen."

The Phillies and Realmuto were in the midst of negotiations when the game shut down in March. The two sides are now permitted to talk again, but general manager Matt Klentak has said the landscape is different because no games and no fans have equaled no revenues for the last three months. Klentak still hopes to get something done with Realmuto, maybe even by the season opener later this month. But the player is now a lot closer to free agency than he would have been in March and free agency can be enticing to a player. To be determined is whether the reduction in revenues throughout the game and the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic will hurt the market for free agents this winter.

Message or not, Harper will continue to wear his Realmuto jersey. It's not hard to spot. It's white with maroon lettering. Pretty much everyone else on the field Friday wore red.

"I wore that underneath my jersey last year," Harper said. "It was actually a cut-off version. I wore it pretty much the whole second half of the season. It was T-shirt day at the ballpark and I wanted one. I stole one for this year as well because it was very comfortable underneath my jersey and I think it gave me a little bit of good luck."

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MLB spring training 2020: Chronicling Phillies’ first workout live from Citizens Bank Park

MLB spring training 2020: Chronicling Phillies’ first workout live from Citizens Bank Park

Happy Fourth of July weekend!

Happy Baseball!

We're back at Citizens Bank Park on this picture-perfect Friday morning for the start (or restart) of Phillies training camp — three weeks of workouts and intrasquad games before the 60-game sprint-to-October commences later this month.

I started the morning in the garden, where I whipped up a fresh five-gallon batch of critter repellent. Red pepper flakes, cayenne, chili powder, dish detergent, milk, a few eggs, a whole head of garlic. Fill with water and let that stuff sit in the sun and get all funkalicious. Sprinkle some around the garden every night. Guaranteed to keep the deer away. Picked a zuke and a summer squash on my way out the door and headed for the ballpark — with a quick stop at Wawa for a 16-ounce cup of rocket fuel.

It's good to be back and I hope everyone stays healthy so we can see this thing through.

The goal here is to provide some live or semi-live observations throughout this first workout. Keep checking back for updates.

Here we go:

9:45 a.m. — I checked into CBP. Had my temperature taken through a face imaging device. 98.2. I signed a waiver. Good to go.

9:50 a.m. — Arrived in press box. Same great view of Center City. Field is green and gorgeous. Reporters are restricted from wandering so this is where I'll be observing from. Shoot. I forgot my binocs. 

10 a.m. — Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer arrives in press box. He is wearing shorts. Legs are quite unathletic and he has apparently been taking the quarantine seriously because he hasn't gotten much sun.

10:04 a.m. — The grounds crew has finished prepping the field. Music is playing over the PA system. The ball bags are on the field. The batting cage is out. 

10:05 a.m. — There is some action in the visiting dugout. A coach has popped his head out. For spacing reasons, both clubhouses are being utilized. 

10:15 a.m. — A grounds crew member is nailing the rubber spike scraper to the mound. 

10:16 a.m. — Black Smoke Rising by Greta Van Fleet is playing on the PA system. Hmm.

10:17 a.m. — Catching coach/bullpen catcher Bob Stumpo is heading out to the 'pen with a big equipment bag.

10:26 a.m. — Joe Girardi emerges briefly on the field. He's in shorts and a T-shirt, big cup of Joe in his hand. Yes, he is masked.

10:27 a.m. — The grounds crew is putting down tarps around the batting cage.

10:29 a.m. — Good to see Brookie.

10:30 a.m. — Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love is playing. Ah, the '80s.

10:40 a.m. — Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin pop out of the dugout. Looks like they're heading to the concourse for some conditioning work. The concourse is being used as a work area to ease overcrowding in the weight room.

10:45 a.m. — The view from teammate John Airport...

10:50 a.m. — Grounds crew is watering the infield dirt. So relaxing and mesmerizing. Anybody who's ever done it knows what I'm talking about. 

10:53 a.m. — Just noticed — only one flag flying in center field. The Stars and Stripes. No championship flags, state or city flag.

10:54 a.m.Andrew McCutchen just walked from the stands down into the dugout. He is masked. Looks like he's spent some time in the weight room.

11:04 a.m. — J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp have taken the field and are loosening up their hoses.

11:06 a.m. — Several coaches — Dusty Wathan, Juan Castro, Bobby Meacham, Mike Calitri — are on the field playing catch. Distanced and masked. Not all players are wearing masks, but they are distanced.

11:07 a.m. — Just saw a fist bump. Call the cops.

11:15 p.m. — Batting practice commences. McCutchen, Realmuto and Knapp in the first group. Wathan is pitching. Jukebox Hero is playing over the PA. 

11:20 a.m. — McCutchen hits one into the left field seats.

11:22 a.m. — Realmuto hits one out to right-center.

11:23 a.m. — Jake Arrieta is walking through the outfield. He's doing some stretching. He's wearing a muscle shirt and looks ready to dent some skulls.

11:27 a.m. — Realmuto powers two in a row into the left field seats. Line drives. 

11:35 a.m. — First round of BP is complete. Standard fare.

11:36 a.m. — Realmuto and Knapp are putting the gear on. Looks like Arrieta is getting ready to throw a 'pen.

11:40 a.m. — Realmuto and Knapp are doing receiving drills with the aid of a pitching machine. Stealing low strikes. 

11:42 a.m. — McCutchen is long tossing. Interested to see how he moves in outfield drills, if they are on the docket.

11:43 a.m. — Realmuto and Knapp headed to the bullpen to catch Arrieta and I'm not sure who the other guy is. Players are not wearing numbers.

11:45 a.m. — Arrieta indeed set to throw a bullpen.

11:46 a.m. — McCutchen headed to left field for drills.

11:54 a.m. — McCutchen is taking fly balls in left. He looks a lot better than he did in March. Still detecting a slight hitch in his giddyup, but he looks to be on the right course with three weeks to prepare.

Noon — Phil Gosselin in the cage taking some hacks.

12:01 p.m. — Really could use a za.

12:03 p.m. — Adam Morgan and Vinny Velo are playing catch. There are extra catchers here.

12:12 p.m. — Some new artwork in the press box. Pretty cool. 

12:14 p.m. — Adam Morgan and Vinny Velo are throwing in the bullpen. A Josh Harrison sighting. Looks like Zach Eflin might be preparing to throw a 'pen.

12:16 p.m. — Rhys Hoskins appears for BP. Lotta hair.

12:17 p.m. — Phil Gosselin dons first baseman's mitt and takes ground balls at the position. Kinda interesting.

12:20 p.m. — Now playing: Pour Some Sugar on Me. One lump or two?

12:21 p.m. — Coaches/staff are wearing masks. Most players are not, at least on the field while doing drills. They are wearing them when they head to the concourse for conditioning, etc. There's a lot of action going on behind the scenes. 

12:26 p.m. — Bryce Harper is in the batting cage. He's wearing his No. 10 Realmuto T-shirt. Hoskins is hitting in this group, too. Jean Segura, too. I know that short stroke.

12:32 p.m. — Harper hits three bombs in five swings, one the opposite way.

12:35 p.m. — Segura is hitting with a mask on. One of the few players wearing one on the field.

12:54 p.m. — Roman Quinn sighting. He's headed up to the concourse with a bat in his hands. Must be a tee and a net up there. Again, it's out of my view.

12:55 p.m. — Hoskins, Segura and Josh Harrison getting in some infield work. Segura is at third. Hoskins at first. Harrison at second.

1 p.m. — Things seem to be winding down, at least in the early session. Hoping to chat with some of the participants in a little while. So we'll call this a wrap for now. Thanks for following along. Happy baseball, happy gardening, stay safe. And, Breen, get some sun on those legs.

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