Could this be Nick Williams' last hurrah with the Phillies?

Could this be Nick Williams' last hurrah with the Phillies?

Could this be Nick Williams' last hurrah as a Phillie?

Williams was called up from Triple A on Wednesday to replace Jay Bruce on the active roster. Bruce strained his right oblique Tuesday night and was placed on the injured list. Oblique strains tend to sideline a player for 3-5 weeks.

Williams was on a roll at Lehigh Valley, hitting .345 with a 1.032 OPS. Bruce's injury should result in Williams getting his most consistent playing time all season with the Phillies.

However, rookie outfielder Adam Haseley is ahead of Williams on the Phillies' depth chart. Manager Gabe Kapler said Wednesday that the Phillies still don't know what they have in Haseley, the 2017 first-round pick. This is a good chance to give Haseley regular reps and learn more about his major-league ceiling.

The Phillies do know what they have in Williams. In 877 career plate appearances with the Phils, Williams has hit .260/.319/.427. His .746 OPS has been three percent below the league average. He also has not proven to be an overly instinctive or strong defensive player. And the Phillies do not feel comfortable playing Williams in center field, whereas Haseley can play all three outfield spots.

Shortstop Jean Segura has missed two straight games with a bruised heel. In both games, Scott Kingery has started at shortstop. As a result, on Wednesday night the Phillies started Haseley in center, Williams in left and Bryce Harper in right field.

Who ever saw that outfield alignment coming in 2019?

When Segura is ready to return — and the Phillies continue to say the injury is not serious — he will return to shortstop. Kingery will play center field, second base when Cesar Hernandez sits and third base when Maikel Franco sits. 

When Kingery is in center, expect to see Haseley in left field. 

As for Williams, he has been a prime trade candidate all season because of the Phillies' crowded outfield. Even at this point, after injuries to Andrew McCutchen and Bruce, and the ineffectiveness of Roman Quinn, Williams is still in a position where he has to earn reps, Kapler said.

Williams will not be the centerpiece of a big trade. He could be a second or third player in a deal for a good player, or he could be another team's return for a rental player. The Giants would need more than Williams for Madison Bumgarner. But Williams probably gets you a lesser pitcher like a Tanner Roark.

The Phillies didn't expect to call Williams up this week. They wouldn't have if not for the Bruce injury. You have to wonder if keeping him at Triple A would have done more for his trade value. If he struggles again during a two-week major-league stint leading into the July 31 trade deadline, it would probably nullify a lot of that minor-league production to another team.

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An optimistic outlook on Rhys Hoskins in shortened season

An optimistic outlook on Rhys Hoskins in shortened season

There's a long list of Phillies with something to prove during this abbreviated 2020 season. 

Rhys Hoskins is at the top of that list. 

12 months ago, Hoskins was viewed as a cornerstone piece for the Phillies to build upon for the next decade. He was finishing up a very good first half of the 2019 season, hitting .263 with 20 HR, 59 RBI and a .931 OPS in 89 games before the All-Star break. 

Add his 2019 first half performance to a solid 2018 campaign and historic 2017 rookie season, and it was plain to see that Hoskins was establishing himself as one of the premiere power hitters in baseball. He seemed destined for a big pay day in the near future. 

Then the second half of 2019 happened. Hoskins slipped into the worst slump of his career, hitting .180 with a .679 OPS in his final 71 games. Hoskins was arguably the least productive hitter in the National League over the last two and a half months of the season.

Suddenly there were questions about his future. Could he still be that foundational piece that everyone envisioned him being?

Hoskins went to work in the offseason, altering his batting stance by lowering his hands significantly during his set-up. He said he felt comfortable with his new stance during spring training and was anxious to put it to the test once the regular season began.

Then baseball shut down for three and a half months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now Hoskins finds himself back at work with the rest of his teammates, jamming in a three-week training camp before a shortened season starts on July 24. 

"We're kind of having to restart with the comfort level thing," the 27-year old Hoskins said Wednesday in a video conference with reporters. "Just seeing live pitching again, just like every spring training though, what we need is reps. The more reps we get we'll be fine."

"The quarantine and the shutdown, in terms of the adjustments that were made, I was really able to hone in on some of the details within the setup. I have a bat on every floor of my house and I'd just pick up the bat, get the feel of it one time, then 20 minutes later you do the same thing. In that sense it was nice to have because that's time I wasn't necessarily going to have during the season. But we'll utilize these next two weeks to get as many live reps as we can and we'll compete from there."

As Hoskins sets out to redeem himself after his second half struggles in 2019, there are several reasons for optimism. 

Namely, he's flying under the radar right now, which is a good thing. Before the shutdown, Hoskins' new batting stance and quest to bounce back were major talking points. Now, everyone is talking about much bigger concerns that accompany playing a baseball season during a pandemic. And as far as baseball storylines go, J.T. Realmuto's contract negotiations have garnered far more headlines than Hoskins' offseason adjustments. 

Then there's the fact that a 60-game season might just be tailor-made for Hoskins. He's come out of the gates strong in all three seasons of his major league career.

The numbers tell the story. 

First 34 games of 2017 - .314 BA, 18 HR, 39 RBI, 1.247 OPS

First 32 games of 2018 - .286 BA, 5 HR, 22 RBI, .951 OPS

First 34 games of 2019 - .302 BA, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 1.076 OPS

If Hoskins can put up those type of numbers for the first 35 games of the 2020 season, that would account for more than half the schedule. He'd have his confidence back as September arrives, hoping to help carry the Phillies to the playoffs. 

Hoskins' performance is critical as the Phillies set out to end a 9-year postseason drought. The road to redemption begins in two weeks.  


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J.T. Realmuto offers grim view of contract talks with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto offers grim view of contract talks with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto began his first chat with reporters since baseball’s re-start with a request on Thursday.

He asked that questions about his contract situation with the Phillies be kept to a minimum. 

But in explaining why, Realmuto said plenty.

“We were in the really preliminary stages (of negotiations) early on in spring training before the pandemic and we haven't really gone anywhere since then, so if we could focus on the team here and speak a little bit less about myself that would be greatly appreciated,” the All-Star catcher said.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two separate comments from two different people involved in this drama that would suggest negotiations aren’t going particularly well

Ten days ago, general manager Matt Klentak, who rarely even entertains a question about ongoing contract negotiations, offered this on the state of talks with Realmuto’s camp:

"The landscape that we left in March is different from the one we return to now. We just have to see how that manifests itself in our discussions. We still love the player. We'd still love to have him in red pinstripes for the long haul. But there’s a lot of uncertainty in the game right now on a variety of levels. We just need to play that out."

Opening day for the shortened 2020 season is just two weeks away. Given the tone of the remarks offered by both sides, it’s difficult to see the Phillies and Realmuto coming to terms on a deal before then. Once the season starts, Realmuto will be just a few months away from free agency, a place that elite players fantasize about.

Realmuto was pressed on the topic of what appear to be stagnant negotiations with the Phillies.

“There's no frustration,” he said. “I understand the business of baseball. I'm here to play baseball and focus on this team winning and getting to the playoffs.”

The business of baseball in the pandemic year of 2020 means revenues are down all over the game. Phillies managing partner John Middleton, in an email to club employees back on June 1, said the team was braced to lose “significantly more than 100 million” this season.

Realmuto, 29, has long made it known that he’s looking to significantly raise the salary bar for all catchers in his next contract – be it with the Phillies or out on the open market. Something rivaling Joe Mauer’s average salary of $23 million – a record for a catcher – in the form of a multiyear deal seemed to be the starting point for Realmuto and it really didn’t seem that unreasonable over the winter.

Then the pandemic hit. The game shut down. Even when the games come back in two weeks, there will be no fans in the stands. The “gate” accounts for about 40 percent of the revenues that most teams bring in. Teams will reap some television revenues when the shortened, 60-game season begins in two weeks, but who knows if the season will be completed with COVID-19 spiking in a number of baseball states, and who knows if there will even be fans in the stands next season. The world begs for a vaccine. Baseball’s next free-agent class begs for a vaccine.

Realmuto has concerns about how "the new landscape" will affect the overall free-agent market this winter, but, personally, he’s undaunted about the prospect of hitting the market.

“It definitely concerns me,” he said. “Necessarily not for myself, but it does concern me for the free-agency class as a whole. I mentioned a few months back that the top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them, you know. Maybe if it's not 20 teams that are in on you, now there'll be five to 10. I just think that a lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off. As half the league will probably be trying to cut revenue and save some money and the other ones will look at it as an advantage to maybe go forward and press forward. I think that it could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I'm not really too worried about it.”

Even with negotiations not progressing, Realmuto expressed affection for the Phillies organization.

“My opinion of the organization has not changed one bit,” he said. “I love this organization. They've been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they're just good people and they care about baseball, and that's really important to me.”

It’s still quite possible that Realmuto and the Phillies find a way to strike a long-term marriage. Baseball negotiations can endure painful moments and still end up with everyone happy. But no baseball negotiation has ever had to play out against a pandemic that has caused the game to hemorrhage revenues. Had this pandemic hit 18 months ago, Relamuto’s teammate, Bryce Harper, probably would not have landed a $330 million contract.

Harper wants Realmuto to remain with the Phillies. He wants him to get paid. He made that clear when he shouted, “Sign him!” during an intersquad game at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. 

“I hope he owns a team one day, honestly,” Realmuto said. “I might be able to catch until I'm 60 if he owns a team.

“Honestly, it’s all in good fun. I appreciate the support and the respect is mutual there. He has a little fun with it so I don't mind it too much.

“From a public standpoint, it doesn't bother me how much it's being talked about. For me I'm going to focus on this season and focus on helping this team win and that's really all I can do.”

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