Phillies

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

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Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

When the news broke that he had been let go as Phillies pitching coach earlier this week, Rick Kranitz's cell phone started dinging.

And dinging.

And dinging.

From all over the country and Latin America, stunned Phillies pitchers sent well wishes.

"I heard from all of them," Kranitz said Friday from his home in Arizona. "It meant a lot. It was nice to know they were thinking of me.

"That's the thing I'm going to miss the most, the relationships I've built with these guys. The players are the ones who do it but I was always happy to be able to guide them through the good times, the tough times, the emotional times. I've been in the game for 40 years and the relationships have always been what means the most to me."

Kranitz, 60, was pushed aside in favor of Chris Young. Kranitz had been with the Phillies for three seasons, first as bullpen coach, then as assistant pitching coach and finally as head pitching coach in 2018. Teams don't typically let coaches go in mid-November, particularly after saying seven weeks earlier that the entire coaching staff would be returning. In this case, Young, 37, had received interest from other clubs and rather than risk losing him the Phillies promoted him from assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach. Kranitz was told that he was free to seek employment with other organizations, though the Phillies will still pay him through 2019.

The whole thing seems cold, but Kranitz is taking the high road. He's a big boy. He's been around — he'd previously been pitching coach in Miami, Baltimore and Milwaukee — and understands the business of baseball and these days the business of baseball is more new school than old school. That doesn't mean it's better. It's just the way it is for now.

"I was surprised and very disappointed when I first got the news," Kranitz said. "I'd built a lot of good relationships with this group. I believe in every one of these guys and I believe the future is bright for the Phillies. I wanted to see it through."

The news that Kranitz had been let go broke on Wednesday. That night, Aaron Nola finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. For three years, Kranitz had been influential in Nola's development.

"I was so proud of that young man," Kranitz said. "He deserves everything he gets. He's a class individual and the Phillies are lucky to have such a special young pitcher — not just a pitcher but a person. I could not have been prouder. I'm thankful to have gotten the chance to watch him, grateful to be able to see special times."

Kranitz began his pro career as a pitcher in the Brewers' system in 1979. He would like to continue to work and surely some team will benefit from his wisdom. But in the meantime, he intends to spend his unexpected free time focusing on the people who have always been there for him, his wife Kelly and their four children.

"We have four grandkids and one on the way in March," Kranitz said. "So I'll be around for the birth and that makes me happy. 

"This game has been great to me. The Phillies were great to me. It didn't end great but my experience with the city and the people in that organization was great. Now it's time to shift my focus to my family and give back to them."

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J.T. Realmuto’s arbitration hearing headlines big week for Phillies

J.T. Realmuto’s arbitration hearing headlines big week for Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — This is going to be a busy week for the Phillies.

The first full-squad workout of the spring takes place Monday. New manager Joe Girardi, general manager Matt Klentak and managing partner John Middleton will all speak to the full squad before it takes the field.

On Wednesday, J.T. Realmuto's salary arbitration case will be heard in Phoenix.

Closer Hector Neris' salary arbitration case will be heard Friday in Phoenix.

And Saturday marks the start of the Grapefruit League schedule. The Phillies travel to Lakeland that day to play the Detroit Tigers.

Realmuto's arbitration hearing is the most fascinating matter on tap for the week. The All-Star catcher, who made $5.9 million last season, is seeking $12.4 million. The Phillies have come in at $10 million. The arbitration panel will hear arguments from both sides and pick one figure or the other. There is no middle ground.

Management came out on top in six of the first seven arbitration cases heard around baseball this month, but Realmuto would seem to have a good shot at winning one for the players based on his strong 2019 season. In addition to making his second All-Star team, he was named catcher on the inaugural All-MLB team and won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in the National League. He led all big-league catchers in hits, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits while swatting a career-high 25 homers. He threw out 37 runners trying to steal, the most in the majors.

Realmuto is in his third and final year of arbitration and is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. To date, the highest-paid catcher in that class was Matt Wieters, who avoided a hearing with Baltimore and made $8.275 million 2015. Catcher Mike Napoli actually made more — $9.4 million — in a negotiated settlement with the Texas Rangers in 2012, but he was in his fourth year of arbitration because of his Super-Two status with the Anaheim Angels in 2009.

So, no matter how the arbitration panel rules, Realmuto's 2020 salary will be a record for an arbitration-eligible catcher.

Realmuto will be present for the hearing, as will Phillies officials. A ruling is generally made within 24 hours.

Hearings can sometimes create bad blood between a player and a team, but Realmuto has a pretty good handle on the situation. He knows it's just business and he's willing to go down this path to help boost the salary structure for his catching brethren.

Realmuto will remain a focal point of Phillies camp even after his hearing. The Phillies are hoping to preempt his free agency with a long-term contract extension that could come before or around opening day.

"Once we have a resolution to the one-year number, we'll come to the table and see if we can find common ground on a long-term deal," general manager Matt Klentak said. "I hope that we can. It would be nice to have some resolution prior to opening day just so it's not a distraction to mostly the player but even to us during the season. If we can't (negotiate an extension by opening day), we could always continue those talks during the season or even into free agency if we can."

Realmuto is expected to seek a contract extension of at least five years with an average value that could approach or top Joe Mauer's record $23 million AAV for a catcher.

The highest-paid Phillie ever is watching the Realmuto situation closely.

"I know there's a guy in (the clubhouse) that we need to sign to an extension," Bryce Harper said Sunday. "I think having a guy like J.T. for the next six years would help us.

"He's the best catcher in baseball. It all starts up the middle. You look at all the best teams in baseball. They usually have a pretty good staff and a really good catcher. So, I think having a guy like J.T. would be huge for us."

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Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve

Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even Bryce Harper’s wife wonders if the Phillies did enough to improve this winter.

Harper reported to Phillies spring training Sunday with much less fanfare than he did a year ago. There was no top-of-the-dugout, televised news conference heralding his 13-year, $330-million contract. Instead, he stepped into the hallway outside the clubhouse and took questions from reporters on subjects ranging from his connection with Phillies fans to his personal goals for the coming season.

He also weighed in on his old team, the Washington Nationals, winning the World Series, the cheating Houston Astros and his homie, the very available Kris Bryant.

The topic inquiring minds most wanted to discuss was the off-season work done by Phillies management.

A year ago, as he vetted potential free-agent destinations, Harper sought assurances from Phillies managing partner John Middleton that the club would continually bring in the talent needed to win a championship.

This winter, the Phillies made two significant free-agent additions in pitcher Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius. Both were on board by mid-December and the Phillies, despite holes in the pitching staff, made only minor roster tweaks the rest of the off-season.

So, the natural question for Harper as he reported to his second Phillies camp Sunday morning was: Did the team do enough this off-season to win?

“My wife actually asked me that question the other night,” Harper said. “She’s super into it and everything like that.

“You know,” he added. “I believe we did.”

Harper mentioned the addition of Wheeler and the potential upside of having a healthy Jake Arrieta in the rotation and a healthy Seranthony Dominguez in the bullpen. He mentioned the possibility of prospects Spencer Howard, Alec Bohm and Damon Jones having an impact in the rotation — clearly, Harper has done his homework — and of non-roster relievers Drew Storen and Bud Norris helping. He mentioned how good Aaron Nola and Hector Neris have been.

“We’re going to score runs, we were able to do that last year, and if our bullpen can hold and our starters can, as well, I think we’ll be OK,” Harper said.

The Phillies could have done more this winter had they been willing to exceed the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in payroll. They still might end up over the tax later this season, especially if they are in contention, but for now are in a wait-and-see mode.

One player who would surely help the Phillies now is Bryant, the slugging third baseman from the Chicago Cubs and Harper’s longtime pal from their days growing up together in Las Vegas. Bryant, who will be a free agent after the 2021 season, is on the trading block. Both he and Harper are represented by agent Scott Boras.

Bryant, who will make $18.6 million this season, might be a player that the Phillies would be willing to go over the tax line for, but the Phils and Cubs haven’t been able to line up as trade partners. The Cubs are looking for young pitching and the Phillies, with one of the lowest-rated farm systems in baseball, don’t have much beyond Howard, who is pretty much untouchable.

A year ago, Harper banged the drum for a possible Phillies-Mike Trout union. Alas, Trout signed a contract extension with the Angels that will prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Given the opportunity to bang the drum for the Phillies to go get Bryant, Harper exercised restraint and some long-term vision.

“You have to have certain guys on your team that make less money to also have guys that make more money, as well,” Harper said. “Kris, of course, you want an All-Star-caliber player, but we have (third base prospect) Bohm. We have a big-time third baseman we were able to get in the draft.

"Of course, any time you're able to add an All-Star player, you're going to want to add an All-Star player. But you have to be able to know that you developed a player in the minor leagues that can also help you at third base, and Bohm could be that guy for us. He could come up and be one of the best third basemen in the second half or whatever it is.

"As a team, you have to have guys like that, that are only making the minimum so you can go and spend at the deadline. If the Cubs aren't where they are, you never know at the half what they're going to be doing. He could be cheaper at [that] point. But I can't give up Spencer Howard and Bohm, and possibly give up our whole future, for a year and a half of KB if we don't sign him to an extension. And I know there's a guy in there that we need to sign to an extension.”

That guy is catcher J.T. Realmuto. The Phillies will look to sign him to a contract extension in the coming weeks so he does not become a free agent after the season. Realmuto could look to top Joe Mauer’s annual salary of $23 million, a record for a catcher.

“I think having a guy like J.T. for the next six years would help us,” Harper said.

As for other matters that Harper touched on:

Personal goals

“Just hitting for average. What did I hit, .260 last year? I think get my average back up and get my on-base back up, get to 100 walks. It really bugged me last year when I was at 99 and I didn’t get it. I really pride myself on my on-base and slugging percentage and things like that, so individually at the plate I just want to get better and doing everything I can to help this team win. I want to keep hitting with guys on base because that’s always fun.”

The Nationals winning the World Series

“I watched through the whole series and I never have before. I’m so happy for those guys over there. I played there for eight years and enjoyed my time with the players, but I’m happy to turn the page and be here in Philly.”

On the cheating Astros

“It’s very tough to see that. But, I think, for me, it’s more the guys that come up for the first time and they’re at the back end of the bullpen and they know it and they get hit or shelled and they’re never coming to the big leagues again because a team had their signs. It’s those guys that I feel bad for.”

On his first year with Philadelphia fans

“It’s funny, in the offseason, all my buddies were like, ‘How’d you like Philly?’ and I was like, ‘Dude, I loved it. Like, it was unbelievable.’ So I think people might look at me and go, ‘Yeah, right, you’re crazy.’ But no, I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fans. I enjoyed the people. That blue-collar feel, that blue-collar mentality. They want you to work hard, they hold you accountable and that made me a better player. I can’t thank the fans enough for last year, for really welcoming me and my family. I’m really looking forward to what we have this year and what we can do.”

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