If a Bryce Harper-Anthony Rendon combo costs Phillies $600 million combined, should they do it?

If a Bryce Harper-Anthony Rendon combo costs Phillies $600 million combined, should they do it?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Anthony Rendon picked the right year to morph into prime Frank Thomas or Miguel Cabrera at the plate. The soon-to-be free agent is a lock to finish in the Top 3 of NL MVP voting and may even win the award with Cody Bellinger's late-season slump and Christian Yelich's late-season injury.

Rendon has been the perfect baseball player in 2019. His batting average has been over .300 every day since April 1. His OPS has been .996 or higher every day since April 1. He has not had a bad month from an on-base or power perspective.

He has played strong defense all season. He's been both selective and successfully aggressive with runners in scoring position. He has barely struck out.

What's not to love?

Nolan Arenado, 10 months younger than Rendon, signed an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies in February. That's a template for the Rendon megadeal because one could argue Rendon is every bit as good. Maybe better. Rendon has, for the last three seasons, equaled Arenado without playing half his games at Coors Field.

So ... Phillies?

Rendon and Gerrit Cole will be the obsessions this offseason by fans of every team. If forced to pick between the two, how could you not go with the position player given how poorly most nine-figure starting pitcher deals play out? Even for deep-pocketed teams that have a third baseman, Rendon is the type of talent worth moving pieces around to add.

He is an ascending player. He is better than Bryce Harper, better than Manny Machado, better than all but five or so position players in baseball. He will be available before his 30th birthday for nothing but (a boatload of) money.

The Phillies will do their due diligence as they always do. The question is not will they pursue Rendon, it's how aggressively?

Bohm's fit

In Alec Bohm, the Phils have a third base prospect in waiting. But some inside and outside the organization question whether the 6-foot-5 Bohm can stick at third base. When a player has the bat to play every day but not the glove to stick at third, the three results are typically a move to left field, a move to first base or a trade.

Hoskins' future

The Phillies have Rhys Hoskins at first base. Hoskins, however, showed this season that he probably cannot be the second-best offensive piece on a contending team. Not unless he can fix his extreme-pull-happy ways and/or do more with his RBI opportunities. Homers and walks are great. But Adam Dunn was never a contender's second-best offensive piece either.

Hoskins' batting average, home run and RBI totals are almost sure to fall short of his 2018 numbers, despite more plate appearances and much more lineup protection around him. It's a concern that his home run rate will decline in the year of the juiced ball.

If the Phillies were to sign Rendon, they would not have room for all three of Rendon, Hoskins and Bohm unless they moved Bohm to left field, where Andrew McCutchen figures to play next season in his return from a torn ACL.

An option would be signing Rendon, moving Bohm to first base and trading Hoskins for a starting pitcher. But that sort of plan sounds easier in theory than in practice. You'd be selling low on Hoskins, who will be coming off the worst half-season of his brief MLB career. 

A front office has to time those things perfectly. If you sign Rendon before trading Hoskins, you lose leverage because the rest of the league sees your urgency to move Hoskins. You probably won't get full value. 

And you cannot trade Hoskins without a clear-cut plan to replace him with a better offensive player. Much of the criticism of Hoskins ignores the fact that he's still making less than $600,000. He's not a $25 million player who is disappointing. He's an inexpensive player who will be under club control through the end of the 2023 season. There is value to that, even with Hoskins hitting a career-low .232 with an .840 OPS.

Is Rendon the right player?

The Phillies have money and will continue to have money. Where do they spend it? Is Rendon good enough to command a contract approaching $260 million? Is he the right player for this team to lavish with that much money?

The opinion here is yes, as long as the contract doesn't reach untenable levels. Fewer and fewer young superstars are even reaching free agency. In 2019 alone, we've seen Mike Trout, Arenado, Ronald Acuña Jr., Jacob deGrom, Alex Bregman, Xander Bogaerts, Aaron Nola, Luis Severino and Ozzie Albies sign contract extensions. Under the current system where players don't earn what they're actually worth in their first three-to-six seasons, teams are offering more up-front money to save some on the back end. Players are accepting those deals to get paid quicker but also because they see how much free agency is stagnating.

Who is to say another player as great as Rendon will even be available to the Phillies in the near future? Mookie Betts might be. Or the Red Sox might let J.D. Martinez walk and give Betts Harper money. It's just hard to say.

Divisional implications

If the Nationals lose Rendon to a team outside the NL East, they will obviously be worse going forward. The strength of the Nationals' lineup is their 3-4 combination of Rendon and Juan Soto. Is there a better pair of consecutive hitters in any lineup in baseball? Maybe Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson. Maybe Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez. Rendon-Soto would still be the pick here.

If the Phillies can sign Rendon, it could legitimately be a six-to-eight-win swing between the Phils and Nationals. 

Offseason priorities

Extending J.T. Realmuto is a priority for the Phillies. So is adding several impactful starting pitchers. So, too, should be adding a better 1B to Harper's 1A. You can't waste the primes or best years of Harper, Realmuto or Nola. And while it's true that signing another massive contract would limit the number of times the Phillies can do it again during Harper's 13-year deal, it's also true that the first half of Harper's deal figures to be his most productive, making now the time to supplement the current core.

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How Phillies would have matched up this week against Mets

How Phillies would have matched up this week against Mets

Let’s say we’re beginning the first full week of the Major League Baseball season (hey — we can dream, can’t we?). That would mean your Fightin’ Phils would find themselves in Queens, NY visiting the Mets for the first of three games at Citi Field.

The Mets, with 86 wins, finished five games ahead of the Phillies (81-81) in 2019. New York made a nine-game improvement from 2018 (77-85) while the Phillies won just one more game — in part leading to manager Gabe Kapler’s dismissal.

BUT ... the Phils took 12 of 19 in the season series last year against New York.

The Mets' rotation is fairly strong (Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello) and that’s with Noah Syndergaard out for the season after Tommy John surgery last week.

They’ve got a pretty strong bullpen with Robert GSELLman (fun to say) in middle relief and Edwin Diaz closing.

How is New York’s 1 through 8?

Pretty good. They’re young and have the young All-Stars, Jeff McNeil and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso, at the top and middle of the order. Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes are big keys — Cano was irrelevant in 2019 and Cespedes was hurt. In all, there are five current or former All-Stars in the lineup for the Mets this season.

The Mets would be in the midst of a season-opening five-game homestand. The Phillies were supposed to be in Miami and New York before coming back to Philly for Thursday's home opener against the Brewers. Oh well.

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The Phillies' 20-inning win vs. the Dodgers in 1993 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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The Phillies' 20-inning win vs. the Dodgers in 1993 was The Best Game I Ever Saw Live

The 1993 season will always hold a special place in the hearts of Phillies fans. The Dude, Dutch, Krukker, and the Wild Thing took us on a magical ride all summer. They swept the Astros in Houston the opening series and never looked back, racing to the finish line while never relinquishing at least a share of 1st place all season in the old National League East (this was the last year of the old 2-division set-up in each league). So many games and moments stand out from that season. I was lucky to be at one of those games, one that turned out to make some Veterans Stadium history on July 7, 1993, when the Phillies hosted the Dodgers.
That summer I was working in the Fieldhouse at St. Joe's, doing whatever they needed me to do around the offices. The legendary Don DiJulia, our Athletic Director for over 3 decades who retired in 2018, asked me if I could use his tickets to the Phillies game that night. Always down for a trip to the Vet, I said yes. I called my friend Joe (future Catholic League coach of the year) and within an hour we were in South Philly. Our lives were so much simpler then.
Because Mr. D's son Chris (a local legend among basketball folks in his own right) has special needs, one of the tickets was for the handicapped section down the LF line, the last section in the 200 level next to the visitor's bullpen. We met up with my friend and Joe's cousin Mountain (his real name, and now the head coach for LaSalle women's basketball), and settled in for some baseball. We had no idea we'd be there for over 6 hours.
The game went like a lot of games that year. Kruk and Dykstra both hit HRs off of Dodgers starter Ramon Martinez. In the bullpen, we could see Martinez's skinny (I mean SKINNY) little brother Pedro warming up. Looked like he threw pretty hard. I wish I could tell you at the time I knew he would fill out (slightly) and become the Hall of Famer we knew and loved. But back then, he was just Ramon's little brother. The Phillies took a two-run lead into the 9th, and in came Mitch Williams. When Mitch entered, you never knew what would happen. But that year, he ended up with 43 saves. You knew it wouldn't be 1-2-3, but you had a little more confidence in '93. Unfortunately, this was not a night he recorded one of those saves. The Dodgers scored 2 runs, and might have scored more, if not for a nice play in the hole by SS Kevin Stocker, who was making his major league debut. Quite a game to break into the big leagues, kid.
We then watched 10 innings of scoreless baseball. Future All-Star closer Mike Williams ended up pitching the last 6 for the Phillies. Phanavision must've been running out of inventory because in between every inning they showed a promo for the Notre Dame-Navy football game that would be played at the Vet that fall. My friend Joe is a huge ND fan, and by the 19th inning, he noticed the Dodgers bullpen catcher saluting Phanvision when they showed the promo. Since we were right next to the bullpen, he started talking to the guy as he entered the pen below us. Turns out, he had played baseball for the Irish, so him and Joe talked some Notre Dame football.
The Dodgers scored a run in the top of the 20th. But the only thing I remember about that inning is that Mike Williams picked Cory Snyder off at 3RD BASE! Just a straight-up pick-off move, as if a lefty would pick someone off at 1st base. I don't think I've ever seen someone do that, at any level, before or since. It also reminds me that the Dodgers had some stars from the 80's on this team. Snyder was on the cover of Sports Illustrated baseball preview one year (with a teammate. Think his name was Joe Carter. Not sure whatever happened to him). Tim Wallach played 3rd and made a handful of All-Star teams with the Expos before landing in LA. And they had Eric Davis playing in LF. To anyone who grew up a baseball fan in the 80's, he was one of the coolest and most productive players we got to watch when he was in Cincinnati. After some injuries and playing on so much artificial turf, he was no longer Eric the Red, but still smooth as could be.

In the bottom of the 20th, the Phils put a couple men on base. With 2 outs, Lenny Dykstra stepped to the plate. That year, you wouldn't want any other Phil at the plate with the game on the line. For some reason, the Dodgers pitched to him with a base open. He laced a liner to LF, and I can still see Davis coming or way, tracking it down. Not many left-fielders would've had a chance at it, but this was Eric Davis. But the ball just missed his outstretched glove, landed on the warning track, and then hopped over the wall and into the Dodgers bullpen. Phils win. It tied the longest game, by innings, in the history of the Vet. And the ND guy, being the only guy left in the bullpen, picked the ball up and flipped it up to Joe (he still has it).
Pretty amazing finish to a pretty amazing game in a pretty amazing season. 

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