Game 1 Monday shows why Phillies need help on the bench

Game 1 Monday shows why Phillies need help on the bench

NEW YORK — The Phillies need at least one more bat.

Monday's extra-inning loss in Game 1 of the Phils' doubleheader vs. the Mets can be attributed to several things (see first take), but the lack of punch off the bench was what stuck out most.

Aaron Altherr pinch-hit for Zach Eflin in the sixth inning and grounded into a double play. The Phils have just a four-man bench and were not about to use Jorge Alfaro in a pinch-hitting spot in Game 1 of a doubleheader, so that effectively left Gabe Kapler with just Jesmuel Valentin and Dylan Cozens.

Both failed to come through in a high-leverage spot. Valentin pinch-hit with one out after the Phillies loaded the bases on walks in the eighth inning. After working a full count, he struck out.

Two innings later, the Phillies put the first two men on base before Cozens ultimately pinch-hit with two outs. He struck out swinging on a 2-2 pitch.

All the Phils needed in the eighth inning was a medium-deep fly ball. All they needed in the 10th was a bloop hit. Valentin isn't exactly the type to drive the ball consistently, at least not yet at the major-league level. Cozens' penchant for swinging and missing is well-documented.

A month or two from now, the Phillies will likely have better bench options because they should be able to add a piece or two ahead of either the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline or both.

Kapler reaffirmed his confidence in his bench players after the Game 1 loss, making note of Valentin's clutchness earlier this season. 

"I believe in all of our players," the manager said. "I will continue to believe in our players. We've had some big at-bats from Val and some big hits. He's actually won us some games with some big clutch hitting."

Indeed, Valentin helped the Phillies win a game on June 23 when he untied things against the Nationals with a seventh-inning sac fly. It's not that he's an incapable player, he's just not the ideal second man off the bench for a contending team.

The Franco factor
The Phillies have been connected to several hitters on the trade market. Acquiring someone like Manny Machado, Mike Moustakas or Adrian Beltre could push Maikel Franco to the bench if he's not also moved. That would be one way to upgrade the bench.

Franco, by the way, is up to .273/.320/.458 on the season after a hot few weeks. As crazy as this sounds, he's three points behind Odubel Herrera for the team lead in batting average.

Franco has thrived since moving to the eight-hole. In six games since Kapler moved him down, Franco has gone 9 for 19 with a double, a homer and three walks. It's prompted some to call for Franco to move back up in the order, but Kapler likes the current setup.

"I really like him in that spot," Kapler said. "I like that he's kind of forced to be patient with the pitcher behind him. He's not always going to get something to hit early in the count. Sometimes, they are going to be considering the fact that the pitcher is behind him. And so, therefore, they are going to force him to see the ball a little bit longer. And I'm not saying one thing has led to the other. I just kind of like him there and we'll see how this works going forward."

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What MLB's sliding scale proposal could look like from Phillies perspective

What MLB's sliding scale proposal could look like from Phillies perspective

Tuesday's meeting between MLB and the players' association kicked off an important week for a sport that knows it needs to quickly solve its financial battle and return to our screens.

According to multiple reports, the financial plan proposed to the players on Tuesday involved a sliding scale that would give the largest percentage of prorated salaries to players earning the least, and the smallest percentage of prorated salaries to players earning the most.

In simpler terms: If the players were to sign off on this plan, it would mean Bryce Harper ($27.5M in 2020) would get a lower percentage of his prorated salary than would Rhys Hoskins ($605,000).

The rationale of this reported proposal is pretty clear: There are so many more players earning close to the league minimum than there are superstars earning eight figures per year. If the players earning the least are given the highest percentage of their prorated salaries, it means a large chunk of the league would be close to earning what it would've if the March agreement regarding full prorated salaries remained untouched.

Let's use the Phillies as an example. In 2020, they were set to pay: 

• Bryce Harper just over $27.5M
• Zack Wheeler $21.5M
• Jake Arrieta $20M
• Andrew McCutchen $17M
• Jean Segura $14.85M
• Didi Gregorius $14M
• David Robertson $11M
• J.T. Realmuto $10M

They have seven more players set to make between $1.5 million and $8.5 million. The remaining 25 players on the 40-man roster, plus all the non-roster invitees and pre-arbitration players, all fall below that line.

This, from Joel Sherman of the NY Post, paints a slightly clearer picture of how it could shake out:

One person who had been briefed on the proposal said the expectation is that players due to make $1 million or less in 2020 would be made close to whole on a prorated basis for games played. Thus, if someone were making the MLB 2020 minimum of $563,500 and 82 regular-season games (almost exactly half a season) were played, they would receive roughly half their pay, about $282,000.

But players at the top of the pay chain such as Gerrit Cole and Mike Trout would get less. If that were in the 50 percent range — as an example — then Cole, who was due $36 million, this year would receive half of about the $18 million he would be due for half a season or roughly $9 million.

From a Phillies perspective, if those percentages are close to accurate, it would mean Harper would earn somewhere around $6.9 million of his $27.5 million salary. For Wheeler, that number would be about $5.4 million. For Arrieta, $5 million. And so on.

That is just an example, though. It is currently unclear how many different prorated tiers there would be, what the percentage would be for each, and whether the players would even sign off on this.

However, there are other factors at play. MLB could also elongate what we expected to be an 82-game season to closer to 100 games. The additional revenue of more games on local and national TV could mean a slightly higher percentage of salaries for players.

And, per the Post, "there also would be a kicker in which the players would receive a greater percentage of the salaries if the postseason is played — MLB receives the lion’s share of its national TV money from the playoffs."

There are some hurdles with this plan. There is the potential of pitting players against each other within their own union based on the different tiers of prorated pay. There is also the potential of a few superstar players feeling it's not worth it to play. What if you're Mookie Betts and you agree to play for a fraction of your salary and then suffer a bad injury that diminishes your free-agent value? 

There is no doubt that everyone in baseball is in this together and it benefits all sides to have the game return this summer. But there is still much more negotiating to be done.

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Important week on tap for MLB — can season actually begin in early July?

Important week on tap for MLB — can season actually begin in early July?

Signs point toward meaningful MLB news coming this week. 

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced that teams could return to their facilities to train, which is meaningful nationwide given the fact that New York has had more than twice as many cases of COVID-19 reported as any other state.

In Tampa, Tropicana Field was reopened for limited workouts and more than a dozen Rays players participated. The Astros have announced that Minute Maid Park is open for workouts, too. The Angels' spring training complex is open to all players on their 40-man roster.

MLB and the players' association are scheduled to meet today. Understandably, the players' union has, so far, been unwilling to accept another pay cut on top of what it thought agreed to in March with prorated pay. Team owners have been adamant that it is not financially viable to pay players a half-season salary with no fans in stands. From their side, the losses would be too steep and would affect future finances.

Will the sides reach a compromise? They have to. We saw again over the weekend how many Americans are starved for sports when 5.8 million tuned into the Tiger Woods-Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson-Tom Brady golf match, a number slightly higher than The Last Dance documentary received. 

MLB didn't need any more evidence that returning was crucial, but there it was. All parties feel a sense of urgency because the league doesn't want baseball to dip further in popularity, and the players want to play and get paid. If the sport were to disappear for a period of 18 months, it will fall off the radar for many casual fans. And a portion of die-hards will be so frustrated by the sides' inability to come to a financial agreement at a time when so many are suffering physically, mentally and financially and craving the escape of sports that even their viewership habits could change. 

MLB cannot afford that. It is not at the height of its popularity like the NBA.

The goal, when this is worked out, is still to hold Spring Training II in mid-June and open the season at the beginning of July. The closer we get to those dates without an agreement, the less likely it becomes that the regular season could start so soon. Players will need two or three weeks to prepare regardless of when a deal is struck.

It also looks increasingly likely that teams will stay within their own divisions. There would still be a good amount of interleague play between teams in close proximity to one another (think Yankees and Orioles for the Phillies), but the three-division, 10-team format idea is not as necessary if teams can play in their home states as opposed to just Florida, Texas and Arizona.

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