New Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price praised for unlocking talent, crossword puzzles

New Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price praised for unlocking talent, crossword puzzles

Bryan Price, the Phillies’ new pitching coach, gets high marks from two guys who worked closely with him.

“If I was looking for a pitching coach, he’d be at the top of my list,” Jamie Moyer said.

“Great baseball guy,” added Ben Davis. “Smart as you-know-what. He can do the USA Today crossword puzzle in 10 minutes.”

How about the New York Times crossword puzzle?

“That, I don’t know,” Davis said. “But he’s a great pitching coach.

“He relates to pitchers and catchers so well. Some guys are knowledgeable but can’t translate that knowledge in a manner where people understand. BP can relay that information in a way that pitchers understand. He puts it in layman’s terms where they get it. He has a knack for teaching and breaking things down.”

Davis, currently a member of the Phillies broadcast team, was a catcher in the big leagues and spent part of his seven-year career with the Seattle Mariners. Price was the Mariners’ pitching coach when Davis was there from 2002 to 2004.

Moyer, who notched 145 of his 269 big-league wins in a Mariners uniform, was also coached by Price, who was the Mariners pitching coach from 2001 to 2006. Phillies adviser Pat Gillick is a big believer in Price. Gillick was the Mariners general manager when Price was hired and later used him as pitching consultant in the Phillies’ minor-league system when Price was between jobs. Price has also been pitching coach for Arizona and Cincinnati. He also managed the Reds.

“He’s a student of the game and he cares about his pitchers,” Moyer said. “I think first and foremost that’s what jumps out about him — how much he cares about his pitchers.

“He was a first-time pitching coach when he came aboard and we had a lot of veterans on that team. He quickly earned their trust with great communication and with a lot of give and take. His style was basically, ‘What do you do well and what can we do with it to make you better?’ “

That give and take collaboration will surely be welcomed by some Phillies pitchers who complained about being urged to do things they weren’t comfortable doing in 2019.

“He’s going to be a suggester,” Moyer said of Price. “It’s not his personality to come in and say, ‘All right, you SOB, here’s how we do it.’ He will let you sink or swim, but he will care and make suggestions and give thoughts and ideas. That’s how it was for me and fellow teammates. He cared. Players sensed that and built trust.

“If I was feeling like something was off in my delivery, I’d tell him and he’d watch and pick it up. He could give me a hand signal from the dugout and I could make the fix.”

Davis enjoyed sitting in on Price’s meetings with pitchers.

“He can be firm, but he also knows when to back off and when to challenge a guy,” Davis said. “I think one of his greatest qualities is that he doesn’t try to make every pitcher do the same thing. He’s flexible from guy to guy.”

But there is a constant in Price’s approach.

“Fastball command,” Davis said. “I’m sure he’s going to concentrate on improving fastball command. Obviously, the Phillies need to get a few guys, but I think (Jake) Arrieta still has some stuff there. Bryan is the type of guy who can help get the most out of it. I can see Aaron Nola taking the next step and being the guy he was two years ago on a more consistent basis.”

Davis sees just about every Phillies game in a season. He was asked what he’d tell Price about the pitching staff if his opinion were sought.

“I tell him they need work on fastball command and on challenging guys,” Davis said. “The walks were up, they fell behind in too many counts and we’re way too predictable.”

At the news conference announcing manager Joe Girardi’s hiring last week, general manager Matt Klentak turned up the heat on everybody, including himself, by saying, “We’ve reached a place where it is time to win. No questions asked, it is time to win right now.” To do that, the Phillies will have to bring in at least two starting pitchers this winter, either through trades or free-agent signings. Talented but inconsistent Vince Velasquez is likely to return and Nick Pivetta’s status is up in the air. On the surface, Pivetta appears to be a candidate for a change of scenery. But Girardi mentioned the right-hander by name last week and, like most everyone else, seems intrigued by the talent and the challenge of unlocking it.

In Bryan Price the Phillies trust.

“Vinny and Nick,” Davis said. “Put it this way, if anyone can do it, it’s BP. And I’m not just saying that. He’s an unbelievable hire.”

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Braves' signing of Will Smith has ripple effect on NL East and free agency

Braves' signing of Will Smith has ripple effect on NL East and free agency

Two weeks into free agency, the Braves have been more active than any team. Their biggest move was Thursday's signing of left-hander Will Smith, the top reliever on the market.

Prior to that, Atlanta brought back three of its own would-be-free-agents in right fielder Nick Markakis, catcher Tyler Flowers and reliever Darren O'Day.

The Smith signing is definitely the highest impact move of the bunch and makes the Braves a lot better. His deal is for a reported $40 million over three years. He is coming off his first All-Star appearance and back-to-back stellar years. He was 6-0 with 34 saves and a 2.76 ERA for the Giants in 2019, he struck out 96 in 65⅓ innings and he held lefties to a .157/.167/.229 batting line. Read that again ... 157/.167/.229!

Bryce Harper will face Smith many times over the next three years. The teams meet 19 times per season and you'd figure Smith will face Harper in a high-leverage situation whenever the game is late and close. Harper is 0 for 8 with five strikeouts lifetime against Smith. Smith will also factor into plenty of matchups with Juan Soto.

The Braves tried various closing formulas in 2018. They went through Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Shane Greene and Melancon. For most of the season, the ninth-inning was a weakness, yet the Braves still won 97 games. 

Melancon will return in 2020 and could still close, but Smith is another very good option if he falters. It would probably make more sense for the Braves to try to use Melancon as the ninth-inning guy to free up Smith for high-leverage spots against lefties in the eighth or even seventh inning.

Why did Smith sign so quickly? For a couple reasons. First, $40 million over three years is a sweet contract for a reliever. He may not have beaten this deal even by waiting. But his representatives also effectively leveraged Thursday's qualifying offer deadline against teams interested in Smith. There was at least a threat that Smith could accept the Giants' one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer if a better alternative was not presented by Nov. 14. That created more urgency on the Braves' part.

Removing Smith's name from the free-agent relief market further depletes an already light market. The top two potential free-agent relievers were set to be Smith and Aroldis Chapman, but Smith is a Brave in mid-November and Chapman returned to the Yankees on a new deal.

With Smith off the board, the top free-agent reliever might be longtime lefty starter Drew Pomeranz. In 25 appearances with the Brewers after a midseason trade, Pomeranz had a 2.39 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 45 strikeouts in 26⅓ innings. He's generated a ton of buzz this winter and should also find a lucrative multi-year contract.

Chris Martin, Sergio Romo, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson and Dellin Betances are the best free-agent bullpen arms left. There are also trade candidates like Ken Giles, Raisel Iglesias and maybe Ian Kennedy if the Royals eat most of his remaining $22.5 million.

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Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies went into this offseason prioritizing a contract extension for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Even as the Phils pursue pitching and possibly a third baseman, they are quietly trying to hammer out that extension, according to multiples sources. 

But the extension might not come before the New Year. It might not even come before the opening of spring training.

Don’t panic. Realmuto solidified his status as the top catcher in baseball by winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2019. The Phillies very much want to prevent him from becoming a free agent after next season and Realmuto, for months, has professed his affection for the Phillies and Philadelphia as well as his desire to stick around.

“Everything I’ve experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the rest of my career there,” he said in July. 

In order to preserve some payroll flexibility for the 2020 season, it is possible that the Phillies could sign Realmuto to a one-year contract this winter — he projects to make about $10.5 million in his final arbitration year — then subsequently finalize a separate multi-year extension that would kick in at the start of the 2021 season. The extension could be finalized and announced later this offseason or even in spring training.

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is projected to get an extension of four or five years with an average annual value of $20 million or more. By starting the extension in 2021, the AAV of Realmuto’s deal would not count toward the 2020 payroll and thus affect luxury-tax calculations. For tax purposes, the Phillies currently have about $116 million committed to nine players for 2020. Even with Realmuto’s 2020 salary still to be determined and raises due to a number of other players, the Phils do not appear to be in jeopardy of reaching the $208 million tax threshold in 2020 and have the room to pursue top free agents. But pushing Realmuto’s extension back to 2021 would allow for even more room under the tax threshold and that could come in handy this winter or even at the July trade deadline.

After the 2020 season, the Phils will gain some payroll flexibility as Jake Arrieta’s $25 million AAV and David Robertson’s $11.5 million AAV come off the books just as Realmuto’s extension would kick in.

The Phillies have never exceeded the tax threshold. Teams exceeding it for the first time pay 20 percent on every dollar they go over. Last month, owner John Middleton offered his thoughts about exceeding the tax threshold.

“I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team,” Middleton said. “That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

Other than expressing a desire to extend the relationship, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has steadfastly declined comment on the status of talks with Realmuto on a possible extension. Klentak continued that tack at this week’s GM meetings.

“We love J.T.,” Klentak said. “Every week, it seems like he’s winning a new award. What all of that is doing is confirming what a lot of us have felt for a long time. This guy is the real deal. He can do everything. At some point in this offseason, we will likely talk to him about trying to keep him in the fold beyond his control years and hopefully we’ll line up on something.”

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