Countdown to Clearwater: Five Phillies with something to prove

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Countdown to Clearwater: Five Phillies with something to prove

The Phillies open spring training in Clearwater, Florida next week. In preview, we take a look at five storylines:

TuesdayFive new faces to watch

WednesdayFive questions on the position side

ThursdayFive questions on the pitching side

FridayFive prospects to watch

Saturday – Five people with something to prove

Every person who takes the field at Phillies camp next week has something to prove. Some have more than others. Here are five:

Odubel Herrera

He finished the 2018 season with career highs in homers (22) and RBIs (71). But his batting average (.255) and OPS (.730) were both career lows. Over the final two months of the season, when the Phillies were in a pennant race and needed Herrera the most, he hit just .189 with a .530 OPS. He’s better than that. Way better.

Herrera’s performance last season was also marred by lapses in concentration in the field and on the bases. And he was also noticeably out of shape. Management gave him a good talking-to and warned him to get into better shape. Herrera spent the winter in a conditioning program and reported to camp early. He has promised a bounce-back season. There will be a lot of eyeballs on him in camp.

Gabe Kapler

His club suffered a historic collapse in 2018 as no team had ever been 15 games over .500 as late as 113 games into a season and not finished with a winning record. The fan base hasn’t completely bought into his unorthodox ways and uber positivity. Even the club president has publicly urged him to be more frank when critiquing performances. On top of it all, 10 days before spring training, he had to author a 1,300-word response to a Washington Post report that questioned his handling of the reporting of an alleged 2015 assault of a woman in Arizona during his time as director of player development for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The trade for J.T. Realmuto this week has taken some of the glare off the Phillies polarizing manager and adding a Manny Machado or a Bryce Harper in the coming weeks will do the same. But these moves also improve the club and raise expectations for not only the first winning season since 2011 but for a playoff berth, as well. The accompanying pressure will fall squarely on Kapler.

Winning cures everything and Kapler, who did have his club in first place with two months to go last season, needs to do that to fully gain the acceptance of the community, his clubhouse and the baseball establishment.

Jake Arrieta

The veteran right-hander provided some highlights in 2018, his first season with the Phils. Allowing just three earned runs in 30 innings in May comes to mind. But Arrieta faded down the stretch, going 1-5 with a 6.35 ERA over his final nine starts.

“I would like to have been better,” he admitted after his last start of the season. “The last month and a half, things kind of got out of hand, the numbers got inflated.”

Cesar Hernandez

He slipped on both sides of the ball last season. His batting average tumbled by 40 points and his OPS slipped by 75. Much of the dip came after he cracked a bone in his foot in early July and played through it. Hernandez’ strikeouts soared to 155, way over his previous career high of 116. In addition, he scored a minus-12 in defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs. That was the worst mark in the majors among qualifying second basemen. Hernandez will turn 29 in May and he’ll make $7.75 million in 2019. The Phils are committed to him at second base, but he’ll need to sharpen up some things. A return to good health will certainly help.

The Phanatic

For our money, the big, green, furry guy is still the best mascot in pro sports. But, suddenly, there is an attention-grabbing upstart on the scene in this Gritty fellow. There’s nothing like a little competition to keep someone sharp so it will be interesting to see if the Phanatic shows up to Clearwater with any extra horsepower in his ATV.

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Maikel Franco gets a reprieve, would welcome Bryce Harper as teammate

Maikel Franco gets a reprieve, would welcome Bryce Harper as teammate

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Anyone know a good real estate agent? Maikel Franco is sticking around Philadelphia for a while.

Franco’s uncertainty over where he’d be playing this season has come to an end. The San Diego Padres reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Manny Machado on Tuesday. A day earlier, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Mike Moustakas.

Machado had been the apple of the Phillies’ eye this winter (see story) and Moustakas was considered a potential fallback option.

Two third basemen off the market in two days.

Franco stays.


“Yeah,” he said. “I know now I’m here. I know that the organization is giving me an opportunity to be here and just do what I do better, and that's pretty much what I think about it right now.

“I want to be part of the organization with Philadelphia. I don't want to live anywhere else. I want to stay here, have fun and have fun with my guys. I just want to come in and do my job.”

Franco, 26, gets another chance to do what he’s been unable to do the last few seasons: Convince the front office he is their man at third base. Twice last season, the team appeared to be phasing Franco out of the picture. An injury to J.P. Crawford put Franco back in the lineup in late June and he went on a two-month tear and ended up leading the team in hitting (.270) while finishing second in OPS (.780) and third in homers (22) in 2018.

Though manager Gabe Kapler has said Scott Kingery will compete with Franco for the third base job, it’s difficult to envision Franco not being the starter at the position simply because he does not profile as a utility man. Franco has talent. He just needs to show consistency.

“I think what’s happened has been interesting with Maikel Franco,” Kapler said. “We saw the kind of work he put in during the offseason. He came in to camp in much better condition. We told him that he’s competing for the third-base job. He’s taken that challenge. We’re continuing to say that that challenge is great for him and his development. I’m not sure that this changes his approach at all.”

Machado’s signing with San Diego puts the pressure on the Phillies to sign Bryce Harper and the two sides have been in discussions.

Kapler has been part of the recruitment process of both players. He was part of the welcoming party that visited with Machado in Philadelphia in December and also a member of the group that visited with Harper in Las Vegas in January.

Kapler was asked if it was disappointing not to land Machado after being so involved in the recruiting effort. 

“I’m totally focused on our camp,” he said. “My goal is to help our players get better every single day. We’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time committing to that. If I tell our players, don’t think about getting traded, don’t think about the free agents that we might acquire, think about this group as the most important part of your focus and if you take your eyes off that, you’re not going to be as good. What if I don’t practice that same mentality? My job is to show our players that my focus is on this camp.”

The Phillies can still land Harper. In fact, they are now under pressure to do so.

“I've said this from Day 1, any team that acquires Manny Machado or Bryce Harper gets immediately better,” Kapler said. “I wouldn't come off that for a moment. Any team that acquires Bryce Harper will get immediately better.”

Now that he knows he’s staying, Franco wouldn’t mind seeing Harper become a Phillie.

“Why not?” he said. “He's a good player. He hits over the years, 30 or more home runs and 100 or more RBIs. If he's coming, it's good to have him. Let's see what happens."

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The electrician who urged Manny Machado to sign with Phillies reacts to Padres deal

The electrician who urged Manny Machado to sign with Phillies reacts to Padres deal

"Do the right thing and sign! Get the money!"

Manny Machado did, just not with the Phillies, leaving Tom Cudeyro, the 57-year-old electrician who famously called out to Machado and took a selfie with him, disappointed.

Here's a reminder of the interaction between Cudeyro and Machado in December just outside Citizens Bank Park when Machado was in town to meet with the team. 

“Like most Phillies fans, I was disappointed after hearing the news that Manny was going to sign with the Padres,” Cudeyro said Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia, when reached for comment. “My initial thought was why not the Phillies? I was hoping both Machado and [Bryce] Harper would sign with the Phillies.”

However, Cudeyro, a Phillies season-ticket holder, expressed hope for the Phillies to sign the other mega free agent still on the market (see story).

“Now with Harper still available, let's hope the Phillies sign him," he said.

Cudeyro is a great example of the passion Philadelphia sports fans have for their city and for their sports teams. He had the guts to speak his mind to a man who, ultimately, signed one of the biggest contracts in all of sports, and even asked for a selfie with him.

As for that selfie, it’s going absolutely nowhere.

“It’s prominently displayed in my family room with no plans of taking it down,” he said.

Here's to hoping that Harper, instead of Machado, does the right thing and signs with the Phillies.

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