The Bryce Harper off-day debate wears on as Phillies' offense goes silent again

The Bryce Harper off-day debate wears on as Phillies' offense goes silent again

Tuesday was a quiet night for the Phillies, save for a scare in the top of the sixth inning.

Bryce Harper, who is struggling mightily at the plate, made two more impact plays in right field, sliding catches in foul territory. The first, to lead off the sixth, left him shaken up and limping. As Phillies fans held their collective breath, manager Gabe Kapler and trainer Scott Sheridan went out to check on Harper, who promised them he was OK after banging his knee.

He proved he was OK two plays later when he made almost the exact same catch. That makes four sliding or diving catches for Harper in the Phillies' last three games.

That was the positive. The negative, again, was a hitless, multi-strikeout game for Harper, who is down to .219 on the season. 

"I think he's just pressing a little bit, under a lot of pressure to perform," Kapler said after the 6-1 loss. "It's just not there for him right now, but you don't bet against that character. His kind of toughness plays long term. He's everything you want in a teammate and everything you want representing your club."

The topic of whether Harper needs a day off came up again. Harper has played all 41 games this season and would ideally like to play 162. There is a school of thought that resting him could give him the recharge he needs. 

But there isn’t any sort of proof it would benefit Harper and it wouldn’t benefit the Phillies. Having Harper in the lineup gives the Phillies a better chance to win than not having him in the lineup, whether or not he’s in a funk. 

Maybe if the Phillies had an actual off day, they could give Harper a rest the day before so he had 48 full hours off his feet. But they don't have another off day until May 27.

Kapler just isn't convinced that sitting a healthy Harper will be beneficial.

"It's something I will continually talk to Bryce about but unless I have a good reason where I think it's gonna serve him well, I'm not gonna do it," the manager said. "It's got to be rooted in something rational and right now for me, I just don't have a good reason for him to not play tomorrow's baseball game and the next day's baseball game. 

"He always gives us our best chance to win. We're always this far from him going deep or getting on base three or four more times. I don't know why we wouldn't want him in there for tomorrow's game."

Harper said he'd assess how he feels Wednesday but is of a similar mindset to Kapler. He's been around long enough, been through enough slumps to know that sometimes being out there everyday is the way to get back on track.

"In baseball, going out there each day and trying to get out of it ... I'm not sure a day off is going to work for me mentally or physically," Harper said. "Just got to keep grinding, keep trying to get through."

The Phillies, with their slumping former MVP, have been a feast or famine offense through six weeks. In nine of their 17 losses, they've scored one or no runs. On Tuesday, they had one hit headed into the eighth inning. They were able to walk five times in their first 13 plate appearances against hard-throwing Brandon Woodruff but couldn't scrape across a run with him in the game.

They also haven't been homering much lately. Over their last six games, the only two home runs have come from Cesar Hernandez. 

The Brewers homered twice in the first three innings against Jerad Eickhoff, who entered the night with a 30-inning homerless streak. He didn't get a fastball high enough or sufficiently inside to Yasmani Grandal in the second inning and paid the price. An inning later, Ryan Braun continued his devastation of Citizens Bank Park with a two-run shot.

The Phillies didn't want to use Milwaukee's tough lineup as an excuse. For Eickhoff, it's time to regroup and prepare for the next start, which comes Sunday against another top offense in the Rockies.

"It's a pretty tough lineup but so was St. Louis and so were a lot of the other lineups we've faced," Kapler said. "There's not many cupcakes out there. Eick just didn't have his best curveball or best command tonight. Turn the page and move on."

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Why Phillies shouldn't pay J.T. Realmuto $100 million or more

Why Phillies shouldn't pay J.T. Realmuto $100 million or more

The Phillies have a lot of difficult decisions to make this offseason. A decision on a new manager needs to be finalized. Half of the starting infield is likely to be changed, not to mention the desire to upgrade at least 40 percent of the starting rotation.

Relative to those decisions, signing J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension looks simple. Most Phillies fans feel that way.  

But is it a no-brainer if the terms are in the neighborhood of the 5 years and $112 million that Corey Seidman recently suggested? Let’s examine some of the key talking points.

"J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball"

That statement has been made plenty of times over the past year. It might be true. He’s certainly the most complete catcher. I’m not certain that Realmuto’s versatility makes him more valuable Gary Sanchez and the sheer power he brings to the Yankees. Sanchez did have an awful postseason. But you do have to be there to be bad there. Regardless, it’s unquestionable that Realmuto is on the short list of top catchers in baseball.

But should that conversation even matter?

If you look at Realmuto solely as a hitter, he’d probably fit in somewhere between the 65th and 80th best everyday batter this past season. His .820 OPS ranked 69th amongst qualifiers in MLB. Next on that list, 70th with an .819 OPS, is Rhys Hoskins. I don’t imagine many Phillies fans would be lining up right now to give Hoskins $22 million-plus per year. 

This is where you point out Realmuto’s world-class defense at the diamond’s backbone position.

There’s no doubt Realmuto is the best in baseball at controlling the run game. He’s topped 31 percent in the caught stealing department in each of the last four seasons, including a mind-boggling 47 percent this past season. Baseball Prospectus measured Realmuto as the fourth-best defensive catcher in 2019 when factoring throwing, blocking pitchers and pitch-framing.  

That invites the question: What did Realmuto’s great defense mean as far as overall run prevention for the Phillies this season? The short answer is not much. The Phillies ended up allowing 66 more runs in 2019 as opposed to the season before. While it would be a fool’s errand to blame Realmuto for the regression of the Phillies' pitching staff, it’s worth pointing out that Realmuto’s defense, or any player’s defense for that matter, is not as valuable as is conventionally believed. 

Effective pitching prevents runs. Everything else is window dressing.

In all actuality, Realmuto’s position should count as a reason for being cautious about signing him to a long-term, big-money deal. The physical rigors associated with catching are a reason to think Realmuto’s production will decline within the body of this deal, which would likely begin with his age-30 season in 2020. Not to mention that if the Phillies are able to work Realmuto down to the 110 starts in a season that Gabe Kapler mentioned as a desired target prior to his firing, that’s 45 to 50 starts Realmuto isn’t giving you that a position player theoretically could. 

"The Phillies can't afford to lose Realmuto"

This argument basically revolves around two main points: 

1. The Phillies traded their top pitching prospect and an everyday player for Realmuto. It would be foolish to lose him for nothing after that.

2. The Phillies currently don’t have enough good players to be World Series contenders. You cannot allow one already here to leave.

The first point is an easy one to counter. Past decisions should not dictate future ones. If signing Realmuto to a deal at a certain price point is not what’s best for the organization moving forward, it should not matter what it took to acquire him.

As for the second point, signing Realmuto might preclude the Phillies from adding multiple good players in the future. Would the Phillies be better served utilizing a much smaller portion of the $112 million theoretically pegged for Realmuto to sign a middle tier catcher, a la Travis d’Arnaud, then trade Realmuto for another piece or two while contributing the rest of the financial savings towards an elite pitcher like Stephen Strasburg or an elite hitter like Anthony Rendon? I’d argue yes.  

More simply put, the Phillies have a lot of holes to fill and spending major money on a good, not great hitter currently in his prime seasons that’s already in-house will not change your championship timeline.

By all accounts, Realmuto is a good clubhouse figure. He’s certainly an all-star caliber talent. The Phillies should want to keep him. But there is a price where it make sense and a price where it does not. They have to be very careful about knowing that line.

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Phillies hire new scouting director Brian Barber away from Yankees

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Phillies hire new scouting director Brian Barber away from Yankees

Brian Barber is the Phillies new director of amateur scouting.

The team announced the appointment on Tuesday afternoon.

Barber, 46, pitched in the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. He comes to the Phillies after spending the last 18 years as a member of the New York Yankees amateur scouting department. He spent the last 10 years in the high-ranking position of national crosschecker.

Barber replaces Johnny Almaraz, who stepped down from the position in early September. Almaraz came to the Phillies from the Atlanta Braves in the fall of 2014 and presided over the last five drafts. 

It had been widely assumed that the Phillies would replace Almaraz with Greg Schilz, their No. 2 man in amateur scouting. Schilz, who joined the Phillies as assistant scouting director in the fall of 2016 after 12 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a finalist for the position, but the team ultimately decided to go outside the organization for the hire.

Barber, who was influential in identifying Yankees power hitter Aaron Judge as a first-round talent in 2013, is the latest man with Yankees roots to join the Phillies organization. Major League bench coach Rob Thomson joined the Phillies before the 2018 season after 28 seasons in the Yankees organization, including 10 on the big-league coaching staff.

The Phillies, of course, could add another former Yankee to the organization in the coming days. Former Yankees catcher and manager Joe Girardi remains a top candidate for the Phillies’ open managerial job. He had a second interview with team officials in Philadelphia on Monday. Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker are the other candidates for the post. The Phils could announce a hire as soon as Thursday, which is an off day in the World Series.

Girardi is also a candidate for managerial openings with the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs. He has interviewed with both teams.

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