Several errors led Phillies to this point, and one excuse Friday doesn't hold up

Several errors led Phillies to this point, and one excuse Friday doesn't hold up

One of the key points made by John Middleton, Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak at Friday's press conference was that most of the Phillies' additions performed but many of the players who were on the 2018 team either did not improve or were worse in 2019.

That's not news to any Phillies fan. They saw the product. They watched a team they thought last winter was on the brink of contention add a superstar in Bryce Harper, a star-level catcher in J.T. Realmuto and a very good, multi-dimensional vet in Andrew McCutchen and win just one more game.

It really is staggering to look at how few players on the 2019 team sustained or increased their 2018 production. Rhys Hoskins was worse. Odubel Herrera was worse before his season-ending suspension. Maikel Franco was worse. Roman Quinn was worse (and dealt with a slew of injuries again). Nick Williams was substantially worse.

Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Seranthony Dominguez, Edubray Ramos, all worse. 

This highlights the dilemma the Phillies find themselves in. They spent so much money last offseason that they are now pot-committed. They have to continue to spend. You don't tear it down a year after building it up by committing more than $400 million to future payrolls.

A strong case can be made that the Phillies spent that money a year too soon. It's hindsight, but execs are paid to have this sort of foresight. There were too many holes on the 40-man roster. That doesn’t mean Harper was the wrong player to splurge on. It means the Phillies didn’t do a good enough job building up their roster leading to that gigantic moment they landed Harper. Their current core now looks like it clearly wasn't ready yet. The manager, hitting coach and pitching coach played a role in the disappointment, but would any coaching trio have conjured the eight additional wins it would have required just to tie the Brewers for the second wild-card spot? The answer is almost certainly no.

If the Phillies had a stronger homegrown core, they wouldn't have this great need to spend big for a second straight year. (Or a third straight year, given that Arrieta and Carlos Santana cost $135 million the prior offseason.

If Pivetta and Vince Velasquez ever developed, they could have formed 40 percent of the starting rotation. If Quinn or Williams ever seized an everyday role, or even a bench role, the offense would be in better shape. If Arrieta had been anything close to what the Phillies thought they were getting, that would mean one fewer pitching need. The Phillies didn't sign Arrieta to be the ace he was in Chicago but they certainly thought they were getting, at worst, a mid-rotation piece. Hasn't happened. Those misses matter, especially when they add up.

Then there are the drafts. MacPhail pointed out Friday that the Phillies went with three high school players in the first three rounds in 2016 and that prep prospects develop more slowly than college players. He pointed out that in 2018, the Phillies didn't have a second- or third-round pick because of free-agent signings. This past draft, they didn't have a second-round pick because of the Harper signing.

Still ... that's not an effective excuse. Bo Bichette was a high school player drafted 65 spots after Mickey Moniak that year and he's already a far better prospect. Jesus Luzardo was a high school player drafted in the third round who is now one of the most exciting pitching prospects in baseball. You could look at any draft any year and fault any team for missing on a certain player. All drafts are crap-shoots, especially in MLB. But the Phillies didn't appear to hit on the right high school players in that 2016 draft. The 2017 draft may produce three big-league players in Adam Haseley, Spencer Howard and perhaps Ethan Lindow. 

Too many misses while drafting high in every round.

The draft, the international free-agent market and player development have been the Phillies' three biggest-picture problems in recent years.

They have led the Phillies from the basement to the middle. They had the 16th-best record in 2019 and the 18th-best record in 2018.

To gain the wins needed to make the playoffs in 2020, the Phillies will need one or more of these things to happen

• Harper and Realmuto perform like superstars for the majority of the season.

• Howard or Alec Bohm not only contribute in 2020 but make a significant major-league impact as rookies.

• The players added this offseason meet or exceed expectations.

• Players like Hoskins and Scott Kingery take steps forward.

If, if, if, if. It's hard to believe that after eight years of non-winning baseball, these many ifs still exist.

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Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies went into this offseason prioritizing a contract extension for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Even as the Phils pursue pitching and possibly a third baseman, they are quietly trying to hammer out that extension, according to multiples sources. 

But the extension might not come before the New Year. It might not even come before the opening of spring training.

Don’t panic. Realmuto solidified his status as the top catcher in baseball by winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2019. The Phillies very much want to prevent him from becoming a free agent after next season and Realmuto, for months, has professed his affection for the Phillies and Philadelphia as well as his desire to stick around.

“Everything I’ve experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the rest of my career there,” he said in July. 

In order to preserve some payroll flexibility for the 2020 season, it is possible that the Phillies could sign Realmuto to a one-year contract this winter — he projects to make about $10.5 million in his final arbitration year — then subsequently finalize a separate multi-year extension that would kick in at the start of the 2021 season. The extension could be finalized and announced later this offseason or even in spring training.

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is projected to get an extension of four or five years with an average annual value of $20 million or more. By starting the extension in 2021, the AAV of Realmuto’s deal would not count toward the 2020 payroll and thus affect luxury-tax calculations. For tax purposes, the Phillies currently have about $116 million committed to nine players for 2020. Even with Realmuto’s 2020 salary still to be determined and raises due to a number of other players, the Phils do not appear to be in jeopardy of reaching the $208 million tax threshold in 2020 and have the room to pursue top free agents. But pushing Realmuto’s extension back to 2021 would allow for even more room under the tax threshold and that could come in handy this winter or even at the July trade deadline.

After the 2020 season, the Phils will gain some payroll flexibility as Jake Arrieta’s $25 million AAV and David Robertson’s $11.5 million AAV come off the books just as Realmuto’s extension would kick in.

The Phillies have never exceeded the tax threshold. Teams exceeding it for the first time pay 20 percent on every dollar they go over. Last month, owner John Middleton offered his thoughts about exceeding the tax threshold.

“I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team,” Middleton said. “That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

Other than expressing a desire to extend the relationship, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has steadfastly declined comment on the status of talks with Realmuto on a possible extension. Klentak continued that tack at this week’s GM meetings.

“We love J.T.,” Klentak said. “Every week, it seems like he’s winning a new award. What all of that is doing is confirming what a lot of us have felt for a long time. This guy is the real deal. He can do everything. At some point in this offseason, we will likely talk to him about trying to keep him in the fold beyond his control years and hopefully we’ll line up on something.”

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At the Yard podcast: Phillies takeaways from the GM Meetings


At the Yard podcast: Phillies takeaways from the GM Meetings

Jim Salisbury relays the juiciest info — Phillies and leaguewide — from MLB's GM Meetings in Arizona. Check out the latest At the Yard podcast.

• Scott Boras immediately makes his presence felt

• Biggest takeaways from the GM Meetings

• Phillies interested in Mike Moustakas

• Surveying the third base landscape

• Gerrit Cole, Cole Hamels and more

• Odubel Herrera update

• Gabe Kapler's rocky road to acceptance in San Francisco

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