Phillies

Bryce Harper takes his walks, faces unique shift, jokes about Gabe Kapler in Phillies spring training debut

Bryce Harper takes his walks, faces unique shift, jokes about Gabe Kapler in Phillies spring training debut

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bryce Harper's first game as a Phillie provided a glimpse into how potent the heart of this batting order can be. 

Using the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song as his walk-up music Saturday, Harper walked in each of his two plate appearances, taking one big cut each time. One was a 95 mph fastball he swung through, the other was a foul crack to the left side.

Jean Segura was picked off while Harper was batting in the first inning, and the Blue Jays deployed a unique defensive shift once the bases were empty.

Both times, with nobody on, the Blue Jays used four outfielders against Harper, with three infielders on the right side and nobody on the left side. 

It was the first time Harper had ever seen such a shift.

"I got back to the dugout and talked to Larry Bowa about that," Harper said. "I said, 'Have you ever seen that, Larry?' He said nope. 

"Yeah, first time I've ever seen that. It's intense."

Harper didn't have to wait long to round the bases after his first walk. Rhys Hoskins followed with a titanic blast to left field that cleared the tiki bar. Harper had a good vantage point and will enjoy the protection he'll have in this deep Phillies lineup.

"Rhys is a special player," Harper said. "Love to see him jump on that first pitch, go deep and make it 2-0. That's gonna help relax our pitchers and help them get deep in the game and win us ballgames. One through nine, we have a great lineup. Rhys hitting behind me, I'm excited about it."

"He said get used to that," Hoskins later added. "Which obviously is funny, a cool moment. Hopefully, the first of many."

Harper was removed for pinch-runner Adam Haseley after his second walk. The tentative plan, according to manager Gabe Kapler, is for the Phillies to play Harper in right field on Monday in Clearwater against the Rays. Expect him to get two or three plate appearances in that game.

"We'll see how I feel [Sunday], I probably won't play," he said. "Then get in next week and see what I feel like. Just talk to Gabe, sit down with him and really solidify a plan of what we're gonna do and maintain that."

Harper saw a lot of Kapler last season from the opposing dugout. His experience was similar to the experience many Phillies fans had, watching Kapler tinker and do whatever it took to gain marginal advantages, especially toward the end of the season.

"When we faced him last year in September and they had like 45 guys or whatever they had in the clubhouse, switch this guy, switch that guy and our game was like 5½ hours so it was kind of tough to be able to go, 'Oh yeah, I like this guy.' But no, he's great," Harper said. 

"Being able to talk to him, sit down with him, get to know him on a personal level, he really cares. He's genuine about what he does. He works hard. He's passionate and that's somebody you want at the helm. He's somebody that really works hard each and every day. 

"When he looks better than half your team, also, with a shirt off, it makes you want to work hard too. He's a great manager and I look forward to learning from him and picking his brain more here and there, just playing for him."

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

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.

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

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.”

Subscribe and rate At The Yard:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19

More on the Phillies