Phillies

A fine first impression and other takeaways from Joe Girardi’s introduction as Phillies manager

A fine first impression and other takeaways from Joe Girardi’s introduction as Phillies manager

If Joe Girardi’s first season as Phillies manager goes as well as his introductory news conference did, the Phillies will be playing October baseball for the first time since 2011 next season. 

OK, OK. We know they need pitching and lots of it. But you get the point. 

Girardi arrived in town Monday and killed it. He crushed it, knocked it out of the ballpark. He spun tales about sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field and watching Larry Bowa and Sarge Matthews play for the Chicago Cubs. He talked about getting his first big-league hit against Phillie Floyd Youmans and how his first trip as a big-leaguer was to Philadelphia. He had gotten the news that he was headed to the majors from his Triple A manager, a guy named Pete Mackanin. A couple of years later, Girardi suffered a broken nose in a home-plate collision with John Kruk. (Kruk visited Girardi in the hospital afterward.)

Girardi mentioned his friendship with the late, great John Vukovich — that’ll earn Joe some points right there — and how, as manager of the Florida Marlins in 2006, he requested an autographed ball from Ryan Howard for his five-year-old son Dante. Howard sent a message to Girardi that he’d sign a ball when Girardi stopped walking him. Girardi sent a message back saying he’d stop walking Howard when he stopped hitting home runs against the Marlins. Eventually, the two men met somewhere in the middle and young Dante got his autographed ball.

Of course, Girardi mentioned the high point of his 10-year managerial career with the New York Yankees, that club’s 2009 World Series title, claimed in six games over the Phillies.

Girardi, 55, was let go by the Yankees after the 2017 season. He was eager to get back into the game and was interviewed for manager openings with the Cubs and Mets. He said he started to look for signs about where he might end up when all of these little Phillies connections passed through his mind.

“This is a special place,” he said, later adding, “I’m a faithful man and this is where I really believe God meant me to be.”

All in all, the new Phillies skipper made a great first impression. Now, let’s cover a few meaty topics from the news conference:

Where were the big cheeses?

A number of club officials, as well as Jim Buck of the ownership group, were on hand for the news conference. Managing partner John Middleton and club president Andy MacPhail were noticeably absent. The Phillies did not present a unified front earlier this month at the news conference announcing Gabe Kapler’s firing. Middleton pushed for the change and ultimately made the call to dismiss Kapler. GM Matt Klentak was against the move. Word is that Middleton and MacPhail stayed away because the Phillies were concerned about perpetuating the narrative of a power struggle. So only Klentak sat at the dais with Girardi. Klentak said Girardi checked all the boxes — most notably success and experience — that the club was looking for. The Phillies interviewed Dusty Baker, Buck Showalter and Girardi. Sources say that Middleton, MacPhail and Klentak all agreed that Girardi was best for the job.

“I really think we’re getting one of the best,” Klentak said.

The two bosses 

Middleton has been compared to George Steinbrenner for his deep pockets and will to win. Girardi played for Steinbrenner and managed for Steinbrenner. He interviewed with Middleton and has had several other meetings with him.

OK, Joe, compare and contrast.

“You know, people ask me that,” Girardi said. “George had a real expectation, was very driven to win. I think John is, too. Sometimes how things are expressed could be a little different. But again, I think what you see is the commitment and expectations are high, but so are mine. And so should every player’s in that room.”

Rules and regulations 

Kapler ran a loose ship. Management wants more structure in the clubhouse. How will Girardi do that?

“It's simple,” Girardi said. “I don't think you have to give them a ton of rules. It's: Be on time. Be prepared. Be accountable to each other. Be respectful of each other. Love each other. Trust each other. Be respectful to the people around us. As long as you're on time and you're prepared and you're accountable and you're focused on winning, is there really anything else? You can encompass everything in those four rules.”

Oh, yeah, if you’re wondering: Bryce Harper can keep his beard.

Analytics are here to stay 

Girardi has an engineering degree from Northwestern. He believes in numbers. He will use them, as well as his gut, in running his team. Remember, ownership has spent millions building an analytics department. Girardi may push back on some data-driven suggestions and go with his eyes and his gut at times, but he will consider all angles.

“Numbers tell a story over time, they really do,” Girardi said. “I'm an analytical guy that has an engineering degree, that loves the math, and they can never give me too much information. I think it's a tool that we use to assess players in so many different ways. Number one, how you get the best out of them? Number two, physically, are they healthy? I mean, there's so many things. Number three, can you change certain things that will make a player more successful? Those things all intrigue me. Those things I'm excited about. Because in reality, our job is to bring out the best in the player, and whatever tool we have to help us, I want.”

What about hustle?

It was an issue at times in 2019.

Girardi hustled as a player. It’s important to him as a skipper.

“There will be days when a player gets frustrated just like you and I when things don't go right,” Girardi said. “Kids get us up at 2 o'clock in the morning. There's frustration in our lives. You make an out, you miss a pitch, you slam a bat down and don't run as hard as you should. It looks bad. The perception is bad. To me, that's more about controlling your mind than a player not playing hard or being lazy. It's being able to control your emotions in those moments when things don't go your way. They're just adult tantrums. It's our job to help them not have those adult tantrums.”

The old catcher on his new catcher 

With his brush cut, square jaw and catcher’s pedigree, Girardi reminds you a little of J.T Realmuto. No catcher in baseball carried a heavier load in 2019 than Realmuto. He ended up needing a day off during the final important weeks of the season and had surgery to fix a cartilage problem in his knee after that. Girardi needs to manage Realmuto’s workload in 2020.

“I want him healthy in October," Girardi said. "I think you can overwork any player. Days off are important to all players. Rule of thumb for a catcher is 120, 130 games. You think about 120 games. That’s catching three out of every four games. That’s a lot of games.

"I want the guy healthy in October because that’s where the prize is."

OK, how far away is this club?

“It would have been interesting to see where they might have ended up if they could have kept that bullpen healthy, even remotely healthy,” Girardi said. 

He went on to mention all the injuries the 2019 team suffered in other areas.

Obviously, Girardi wasn’t going to pronounce the 2020 Phillies as a World Series team on Day 1. He acknowledged the need for pitching and the need to get the most out of some of the pitchers already on board. In private, Girardi will spend a lot time talking about pitching upgrades with Klentak. You can bet the Phillies will call on Gerrit Cole, and on Stephen Strasburg if he becomes a free agent. Zack Wheeler will be on their list as well as Rick Porcello and Cole Hamels.

And who will lead the pitchers? 

Girardi will have heavy say in who the new pitching coach is. Veteran big-league pitching coach and manager Bryan Price is getting a lot of buzz for the position. Larry Rothschild is also out there and Dave Lundquist and Rafael Chaves are in-house guys with strong reputations.

“The pitching coach has a tough job because there's so many pitchers that they deal with," Girardi said. “He has to know each one of them really well and they have to trust him and that's real important.”

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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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