Phillies face same deficit as 2007, but this couldn't feel more different

Phillies face same deficit as 2007, but this couldn't feel more different

With 17 games to go, the Phillies are 7½ games out in the NL East.

Sound familiar?

In 2007, the Phils were seven games back in the NL East with 17 to play, the year they famously ran down the Mets and won the division the final day of the season.

But that's where the similarities end. This year has looked and felt different in just about every way.

The 2007 Phils had a dynamic offense that exemplified the current team's offensive philosophy of seeing a ton of pitches. They just didn't mention it every other day. Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Pat Burrell, even Ryan Howard at that point — all guys who would work deep counts and could end them in a powerful way.

Yet for Charlie Manuel, it was Hittin' Season ... not Takin' Pitches Season.

That '07 team was also great defensively. Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, Utley in his prime at second base. The range and strong throwing arms from Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino and Werth, the steadiness behind the plate of Carlos Ruiz.

They also ran the bases extremely well. Utley (87.5 percent) and Werth (85.2) rank second and fifth, all-time, in stolen base success rate. Rollins and Victorino possessed game-changing speed atop the lineup. That team went 138 for 157 stealing bases — 88 percent.

The '07 team would have loved to have had Aaron Nola. Jake Arrieta would have fit in that rotation as well. Is there anyone else on this 2018 team who'd even sniff playing time? Keep in mind that Burrell in 2007 was an even more productive offensive player than Rhys Hoskins has been this season.

More of an '06 feel

The last two months of 2018 have felt more like 2006 than 2007 for the Phillies. In '06, a young Phillies team on the precipice of contention acquired a bunch of vets after the trade deadline: Jeff Conine, Randall Simon, Jose Hernandez. Jamie Moyer, of course.

Just like this team with Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Bour, Jose Bautista. (Wilson Ramos is a better player than all of the above so he doesn't count.)

That ‘06 team, though, did a lot of winning down the stretch and you knew the future was bright because it was a group of multidimensional, athletic players who also had the hit tool.

Still so many questions

As crazy as this sounds, the 2018 Phillies will enter the offseason with as many questions as the 2017 Phillies did.

This offense has averaged 4.23 runs per game. Last season, when the Phillies lost 96 games? They averaged 4.26 runs per game.

Despite adding Carlos Santana, having a full season of Hoskins and replacing Freddy Galvis with a young shortstop they felt great about, the Phils' offense did not improve.

The Phillies have no proof that they can contend with Cesar Hernandez at second base, Odubel Herrera in center, and Jorge Alfaro behind the plate. You'd think an upgrade of about a dozen wins would result in more answers, but Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail still have a ton of work to do.

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Phillies free-agent target: Anthony Rendon

Phillies free-agent target: Anthony Rendon

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, it's the top position player on the market: Anthony Rendon.

The vitals

Rendon first turned heads back in 2014. He was a dynamic player in 2017 and 2018, but this past season, he was just about the perfect position player.

Rendon hit .319/.412/.598 with 44 doubles, 34 homers and a MLB-leading 126 RBI despite missing 16 games. He did all of that damage while striking out just 86 times. Add in the solid defense and he's become one of the five best position players in the game today.

He only added more dollars to his free-agent score in the 2019 playoffs by hitting .328 with three homers and 15 RBI in 17 games en route to a ring.

The stat that epitomized Rendon in 2019 was that his batting average didn't dip below .300 once after April 1, nor did his OPS dip below .916. He was basically slump-proof.

Why he fits

The Phillies obviously need a third baseman and this market just so happens to offer three of the best. Rendon is top-two at his position leaguewide, Josh Donaldson top-seven, and Mike Moustakas is a tier slightly below Donaldson but perhaps more reliable.

If the Phillies could somehow add Rendon, they'd have an incredible duo batting 2-3 or 3-4. Many would say, "Yeah, they had that in Washington, too," but that ignores the fact that Rendon has evolved into a much better player than he was during those years.

Think about a Phils lineup of Andrew McCutchen leading off, Bryce Harper batting second and Rendon third. You'd have a ton of OBP at the top, followed by a clutch, line-drive hitter who thrives with runners in scoring position and barely swings and misses.

It could catapult the Phillies' win projection to the upper-80s, but many teams will be hotly pursuing Rendon.

Why he doesn't fit

Can any organization sign a player for $330 million one offseason and about $275 million the next? It's just not a path to sustainable success unless you hit on almost every mid-tier move and under-the-radar acquisition.

The Rangers are expected to offer Rendon, a Texas native, a ton of money as they open their new ballpark in 2020. The Nationals will do their best to retain him. The Dodgers could very well be in play. The presence of even two of those teams will make matters difficult for the Phillies.

The price tag

Nolan Arenado signed an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies in February. If Rendon wants to play eight more years, why would his deal be for a dollar less?

Arenado and Rendon are comparable players, especially when you factor Coors Field out of the equation. If you believe the defensive metrics, the gap between the two has shrunk even though Arenado is still a perennial Gold Glover.

Rendon is a better overall player than Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. His deal probably won't reach $300 million, though, because he's three years older than they were when they hit free agency a year ago.

Scout's take

"Everyone thinks he's going to Texas to help open that new ballpark. He's a real quiet leader, not demonstrative like others at that position. There's fire but it burns internally. He's a real pro and, obviously, a difference maker."

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Phillies trade for intriguing lefty pitcher, add four arms to 40-man roster

Phillies trade for intriguing lefty pitcher, add four arms to 40-man roster

The Phillies added four pitchers to their 40-man roster on Wednesday night, including Cristopher Sanchez, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sanchez, 23, is a 6-5 left-hander from the Dominican Republic who pitched mostly at the Single A level in 2019. The Rays were out of room on their 40-man roster and believed Sanchez would be lost in next month's Rule 5 draft so they peddled him to the Phillies for infielder Curtis Mead, a 19-year-old from Australia who played in the Gulf Coast League last summer.

Sanchez will come to big-league spring training camp in February, but he needs more development time in the minors as he has pitched just 1 1/3 inning above the Single A level. Sanchez' fastball can reach 97 mph. The Phils might have something if the lanky lefty can put it together.

The Phillies also added JoJo Romero, Garrett Cleavinger and Mauricio Llovera to the roster. Romero and Cleavinger are both lefties and Llovera is a power-armed right-hander. All three could figure in the big club’s bullpen picture at some point in 2020.

Romero, 23, was the Phillies’ fourth-round draft pick in 2016. He struggled as a starter at Double A and Triple A in 2019, but pitched well out of the bullpen in Arizona Fall League, giving up just one earned run in 10 2/3 innings.

Cleavinger, 25, was a third-round pick by the Orioles in 2015. The Phillies acquired him for Jeremy Hellickson in the summer of 2017. Cleavinger has strikeout stuff — he punched out 83 batters and allowed just 32 hits in 51 2/3 innings at Double A Reading in 2019 — but control is an issue as he walked 34.

Llovera, who turns 24 in April, has long impressed club officials with his power arm. He struck out 72 in 65 1/3 innings at Reading in 2019.

Players added to the 40-man roster by Wednesday’s deadline cannot be selected in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings next month. The Phillies’ roster stands at 39.

The Phillies left a couple of notable young players unprotected. Catcher Rafael Marchan and power-hitting outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz will both be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. If selected by another club, they must spend the entire season in the majors. Both Marchan and Ortiz will play at 21 next season. Neither has played above the Florida State League and both are in need of more development time so the Phillies stand a good shot of hanging on to both.

Ortiz made headlines in the summer of 2015 when the Phillies signed him out of the Domincan Republic for $4 million. He has big power — 19 homers at Single A Clearwater in 2019 — but contact is an issue. He has racked up 297 strikeouts in 835 at-bats while hitting just .212 the last two seasons at the Single A level.

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