Clock ticking on Phillies to add the pitching they need

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Clock ticking on Phillies to add the pitching they need

There are two elements to the Phillies’ offseason: The pursuit of megastars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, and the pursuit of anyone else. 

That “anyone else” specifically refers to additional starting pitching and bullpen help. So far this offseason, despite the Phillies’ well-known desire to add a lefty starter to an all-righty rotation and a lefty reliever to the bullpen, they’ve missed out on Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ and Andrew Miller. 

With Corbin, it was understandable. Six years and $144 million would have been a humongous investment for a team better served to allocate that money to a player who makes a difference more than once every fifth day. It was a logical deal for the Nationals, who replace some of Harper’s production and get to say to their fan base, “Hey, we didn’t keep Bryce but here’s a consolation prize.” 

The Phillies clearly did not feel Happ was a meaningful enough upgrade to commit three years to. And from Happ’s perspective, the Yankees were a better fit in terms of immediate contention for a 36-year-old pitcher. 

The Miller non-signing was confusing. The Phillies heavily pursued him and it seemed like a deal was close to being done, only for Miller to sign a two-year, $25 million contract with the Cardinals. The deal includes a full no-trade clause and a third-year vesting option. The no-trade clause was important to Miller after he was dealt following his last contract. 

The third-year vesting option and no-trade clause couldn’t have been dealbreakers for the Phillies. If they were, it’s strange. If the third year vests, it means Miller has stayed healthy and productive. And it’s not as if trading him would’ve been a necessity if things went south. 

The Phillies must not have felt totally comfortable with Miller’s health. He spent much of 2018 on the DL with three different injuries and was not his typical dominant self. The previous four years, Miller was perhaps the best reliever in all of baseball. 

He would have made a ton of sense for the Phillies and for Gabe Kapler, who likes using his best relievers in the highest-leverage situation, regardless of inning. That is the optimal way to use Miller, who has the stamina to get five or six outs when needed. 

Now, the Phillies’ best lefty option in the bullpen is Zach Britton, who they’ve wanted for a while. Britton would still be a big upgrade to this bullpen, but it will cost a pretty penny. Why would Scott Boras seek anything less for Britton than Miller received?

In terms of starting pitchers, Dallas Keuchel is still out there, but he’s trending down. Do you really want to be paying Keuchel and Jake Arrieta — two groundballers who miss few bats — a combined $42-45 million the next two years?

Fair or not, the “stupid money” comments from Phillies owner John Middleton placed even more pressure on the front office than anticipated. And while Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen are good additions, the Phils cannot expect to realistically push for 90 wins with their current rotation and bullpen, unless major strides are made by pitchers who were inconsistent in 2018.

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2019 a crucial season for Phillies outfielders Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera

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2019 a crucial season for Phillies outfielders Roman Quinn, Odubel Herrera

Earlier in the week, we looked at three Phillies pitchers entering make-or-break seasons, players who will need to push their careers forward in 2019 to maintain the role they want and/or currently have.

On to a couple hitters:

Roman Quinn

Quinn came up at the end of July and had a nice six-week run with the Phillies, hitting .345/.375/.560 with six doubles, three triples, two homers and seven steals. He also added a new dynamic in center field, with better speed, instincts, range and a stronger throwing arm than Odubel Herrera.

He went ice cold to end the season, going 5 for 47 with 21 strikeouts in his final 16 games, but the real make-or-break aspect of Quinn's upcoming season won't be the avoidance of a slump but the avoidance of a long-term injury.

Quinn will be 26 on May 14. The most plate appearances he has had in any season is 382 in 2014. In three of the four seasons since, he hasn't reached 300.

Quinn has dealt with so many injuries throughout his career. He's been through a torn Achilles, a torn left quad, a concussion, a strained ligament in his elbow and torn ligament in his right middle finger. 

It's not as though Quinn would face being released if he can't stay healthy this season. Even at 26, he's still inexpensive and cost-controlled for at least another five seasons. But this is the first real opportunity he's had to start on opening day. The Phillies are relying on him, maybe not to play every day but to play a lot in an outfield that also includes Andrew McCutchen, Herrera, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. (If the Phils sign Bryce Harper, a trade of an outfielder would be the next logical move.)

If Quinn can play 120-plus games this season, reach 350-400 plate appearances and exhibit his trademark speed and defense with pop sprinkled in like it was last August, he can change the course of his career and what the Phils can realistically expect from him. He can turn himself into an everyday player for the Phils and a top-of-the-order table-setter.

Odubel Herrera

Herrera is already down in Clearwater working out. Smart move. He understands how important Year 5 is for him. 

Herrera is coming off by far his worst season as a major-leaguer. After hitting .288/.344/.430 from 2015-17, he hit .255/.310/.420 in 2018. He did set a career-high with 22 homers, but nearly every other offensive number plummeted. Herrera hit only 19 doubles after hitting 42 the prior year, and he stole only five bases, two years after swiping 25.

Aside from that, Herrera had a series of gaffes on the basepaths and in the field, the kind that can swing games and frustrate teammates. His level of concentration needs to improve, and already being in Clearwater in mid-January as opposed to living it up somewhere else is a good sign. It shows he's focused more on the 2019 season than soaking up every last bit of his offseason.

Herrera's value is lower than it has been the previous three years, but all it would take to reset that conversation for a while is a strong first half. In 2016, he had an excellent first half that led to an All-Star appearance. In 2015 and 2017, he had strong second halves, hitting .329 and .323. When he's going well, Herrera is able to take pitches but also be a bad-ball hitter who uses all fields. When he's not going well, Herrera gives many at-bats away and can be as easy to retire as Ryan Howard used to be during a cold spell.

"Consistency" is an oft-used word in sports that applies to very few athletes. Rare is the player who goes through an entire season without straying too far one way or the other from his baseline. Almost everyone is inconsistent, to a degree. Herrera's inconsistency is more dramatic, and if it remains that way this season in a healthy Phillies outfield, he could very easily lose out on playing time to Quinn, McCutchen and Williams. It's just a different situation in the Phils' outfield than it was the last four seasons with more ready-to-go talent.

We've seen enough of the good Herrera to believe he has the offensive skill set to hit .300 with 30 doubles and 20 homers in a season. For the Phillies to truly contend in a tough NL East, they will need a season like that, regardless of whether they land one of the free-agent superstars.

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At The Yard Podcast: Latest on Harper, Machado and one eye on Mike Trout

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At The Yard Podcast: Latest on Harper, Machado and one eye on Mike Trout

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss the latest with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado's free agency. Which rumors are true? Which rumors are just noise?

What is the potential of the starting rotation? What could the outfield look like with or without Harper?

Also, we're keeping one eye on Mike Trout. When should the Phillies begin their pursuit of the best player in baseball?

1:00 - The latest on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
4:00 - Jim thinks the Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees and Cardinals are in on Harper and/or Machado.
10:00 - Are the White Sox serious contenders for Machado?
15:00 - The guys answer questions from the audience.
19:00 - Difference Machado would make defensively.
25:30 - Opening day outfield without Harper.
31:30 - Is baseball's offseason too slow?
35:00 - Keeping an eye on Mike Trout.

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