Phillies

Phillies' 11-year quest to reclaim World Series trophy leads them to Joe Girardi

Phillies' 11-year quest to reclaim World Series trophy leads them to Joe Girardi

Ten years ago, John Middleton walked into the quiet visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, patted Ryan Howard on the shoulder and uttered the words that have since become as much a part of him as his square jaw and large bank account.

“I want my (bleeping) trophy back,” Middleton told Howard.

Middleton’s quest to bring a World Series championship back to Philadelphia has led him back to that night a decade ago when the Phillies lost Game 6 of the 2009 World Series to the New York Yankees.

The Yankees’ manager that night was Joe Girardi.

Now he will be the Phillies’ manager.

Girardi will be christened as the 55th manager in Phillies history in a press conference Monday at 1 p.m. It's a three-year deal with a club option for 2023. Girardi replaces Gabe Kapler, who was fired earlier this month after two seasons on the job.

"I'm excited for this next chapter of my career," Girardi said in a statement released by the team. "The Phillies have a strong commitment to winning from the owners to the front office to the players to the fans. It's something that I've seen up close for the last 30 years of my baseball career. ... To have my name now associated with this great franchise is something that I couldn't be happier about."

The Phillies prioritized experience in succeeding Kapler, a first-time big-league manager. In fact, the Phils interviewed just three candidates for the job — Girardi, Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker — and all have extensive big-league managing experience on their resumes. 

From the beginning, Girardi, 55, was believed to have been the Phillies’ preferred candidate. He managed the Miami Marlins for one season and the Yankees for 10, winning the World Series in his second year with the club. Girardi’s ability to blend baseball’s new (analytics and data) and old (instincts and feel) schools made him attractive to the Phillies' front office and ownership group, the latter of which has spent millions building an analytics operation over the last few years.

MORE: Joe Girardi's journey to the Philadelphia Phillies

Showalter and Baker are both three-time winners of the manager of the year award. Neither was seen as having Girardi’s blend of old and new.

General manager Matt Klentak led the search for a new manager, but it was made clear that his superiors, including Middleton, the team’s managing partner, would have to sign off on the hire. Middleton, according to sources, began thinking about Girardi as a potential Phillies manager back in July when he first started to contemplate dismissing Kapler.

“I don’t think there’s a relationship more important in a baseball organization than the manager and GM,” club president Andy MacPhail said at the news conference announcing Kapler’s firing. “If those two aren’t simpatico, you really have issues. I believe it’s John’s and my goal that Matt go out and start the search. At the end, he’s going to have to have the approval of John and I, just like with Gabe. John or I could have vetoed Gabe; we chose not to. But I can’t imagine us hiring somebody that Matt is not fully on board with. John and I will have some influence on whether the guys that fit that criteria who we think might be the best fit, but it’s got to emanate from the GM.”

Girardi, a former catcher, is an Illinois native who went to college near Chicago (he’s a Northwestern grad) and made it to the majors with the Cubs. He spent four years with the Cubs, went to Colorado in the expansion draft and was traded to the Yankees in November 1995. He was behind the plate the following October when the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 to win the 1996 World Series. Girardi went on to win two other World Series as a player with the Yankees.

Girardi began his managing career with the Florida Marlins in 2006. He was fired after clashing with owner Jeffrey Loria. In 2008, Girardi succeeded Joe Torre as Yankees manager. He led the Yankees to their 27th World Series title a year later, beating the Phillies in six games.

Girardi’s 2017 team lost in the American League Championship Series and he was later fired. After a decade on the job, it was time for a change. Girardi’s relationship with general manager Brian Cashman had become strained. There were reports at the time that Girardi had begun to push back over what he saw as the overuse of analytics — he favored a blend — and he was criticized for his handling of some young players.

None of this stopped Girardi from being a hot managerial candidate this fall. He also interviewed with the Cubs and Mets for their open jobs.

In Philadelphia, Girardi will be reunited with Rob Thomson, his former Yankees bench coach who now fills the same role with the Phillies. Girardi’s first order of business will be hiring a pitching coach and hitting coach. Both jobs are open.

One name to watch for Phillies pitching coach: Larry Rothschild, Girardi's former pitching coach with the Yankees. Rothschild has a year left on his Yankees deal but they could make changes on their staff.

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Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

The Phillies are about to sign a player with a resume chock-full of impressive — and important — accomplishments.

According to sources, Matt Szczur, the 30-year-old outfielder from South Jersey, has agreed to sign a minor-league contract with the Phils. The deal will include an invite to major-league spring training camp.

Szczur — pronounced SEE-zur — has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. He is a product of Lower Cape May Regional High School and Villanova University. He was a two-sport star at Villanova.

On the football field, Szczur was a dynamic receiver and return specialist for Villanova’s 2009 NCAA FCS national championship team. He racked up 270 all-purpose yards in the title game win over Montana and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

On the baseball field, Szczur was an all-Big East player and a fifth-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2010. He played in 107 games for the Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016.

Szczur’s accomplishments extend beyond the playing field.

Off the field, he did something extraordinary when he took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova in 2010 to donate bone marrow that ultimately helped save the life of a young girl from Ukraine who had battled leukemia. Szczur’s life-saving gift started with his involvement in the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Talley was Szczur’s football coach at Villanova. Szczur has subsequently started his own charitable enterprise, the Szcz The Day Foundation.

Szczur hit .259 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 185 at-bats for the World Series champion Cubs in 2016. He was traded to San Diego in 2017. He spent parts of that season and the 2018 season in the majors with that club. He signed a minor-league deal with Arizona last season and hit .322 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a .967 OPS in 44 games at Triple A Reno. His season was shortened by a quad injury.

The Phillies are set at the corner outfield spots with Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and Adam Haseley is going to get a chance to hold down the center field spot with Roman Quinn in the picture as well. Szczur will give the Phillies some outfield depth and his ability to play center field is a plus. He is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions and could push for a spot on the big club as active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 men in 2020.

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Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
 
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
 
You know the rest of the story.
 
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
 
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 

Trades

While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
 
Could the Phils make a major trade?
 
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
 
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
 
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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