Phillies

Delay in MLB season gives Phillies star J.T. Realmuto something to think about

Delay in MLB season gives Phillies star J.T. Realmuto something to think about

At least the Phillies got one full season of J.T. Realmuto.

The Los Angeles Dodgers could end up getting nothing from Mookie Betts.

While there is hope of a Major League Baseball season in 2020, no one knows for sure if one will happen. One-hundred games, 120, 88, zero. No one knows. Our world is at the mercy of this beast called coronavirus and baseball is just a small part of our world.

But baseball is what we do here, so we have to consider these possibilities and one of them is that the popular and talented Realmuto has played his last game with the Phillies.

Last week, Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed that players would continue to accrue service time during the game's health-related shutdown. This means that established players who are just one season shy of free agency will still arrive at that precious and lucrative destination next offseason, regardless of whether or not there is a 2020 season.

Now, all sides are hopeful that there will be baseball in 2020, and the guess here is that there will indeed be some type of a season. But if this pandemic does not subside and the sport is shuttered for the season, Betts, picked up by the Dodgers in a February trade with the Red Sox, will enter the free-agent market next winter without ever wearing Dodger blue in an official game.

If the sport is shuttered for the year, Realmuto will become a free agent after just one All-Star season with the Phillies. Pitchers Trevor Bauer, James Paxton and Marcus Stroman will all become free agents without throwing a competitive pitch in 2020.

The Phillies have made it clear that they would like to keep Realmuto off the free-agent market. They have long called him the best catcher in baseball and with that praise seems to come an acknowledgment that they’d be willing to give him a multi-year deal with an average annual value of more than $23 million, which would exceed Joe Mauer’s record AAV for a catcher. The Phils had been engaged in talks with Realmuto’s representation about a potential contract extension before spring training camps were shut down earlier this month.

When camps were shut down, health and safety of players, staff and fans became the top priority, and contract negotiations, as a practical matter, were back-burnered. Now, they are officially off the stove as MLB has issued an indefinite freeze on transactions and negotiations.

If and when MLB comes up with a clearer idea of when the season will start, the Phillies will surely engage Realmuto’s side in contract talks again.

But now, a new variable has entered the picture.

The Phillies' best bit of leverage in talks with Realmuto was the season itself, the 162-game grind of the schedule and the risk of injury that all players assume. Suffering an injury in a walk year could seriously impact any player’s earning power in free agency so, in that regard, opening day and the length of the season was seen as an ally for the Phillies.

But what happens if the season is shortened dramatically? A shorter season would not eliminate the risk of injury because injury has no calendar and it does not discriminate Game 25 from Game 152. But, could fewer games be enough of a mitigating factor in Realmuto’s mind that he takes the risk of playing whatever the 2020 season looks like without the security of an extension so he can take his chances on greater free-agent riches in just a few months?

It’s something to think about.

But so is this:

Regardless of whether the 2020 season is simply altered, shortened or canceled altogether, revenues throughout the game are going to shrink, maybe drastically. The shutdown affects everything from ticket sales, to parking, to merchandise and concessional sales. It affects the huge revenues that teams generate through national and local media deals (TV and radio) and sponsorships. Fewer dollars coming in will affect the overall pool and that could impact next winter’s free-agent market in the amount of money that teams have to spend.

So, Realmuto has a few things to think about. Some of it might excite him. Some of it might not.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman break down potential compromises between MLB players and owners to get a deal done and baseball back on our screens.

• Gut-feelings/educated guesses: Will there be a 2020 MLB season?

• How can these sides stop circling around each other and find a compromise?

• Ideas for a pay structure.

• What would a 50-game or 60-game season look like schedule-wise?

• Phillies and other clubs hemorrhaging money right now.

• Memories from next week's classic Phillies-Dodgers NLCS re-air.

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5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.

Or, frankly, as humorous.

We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.

Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.

Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?

Literally.

Jeff Francoeur remembers.

And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.

Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.

And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."

Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.

He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.

"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"

But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings. 

In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.

"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.

"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.

As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.

Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.

"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."

Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.

"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.

He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.

So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.

Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.

By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.

Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.

Was it as tense as it looked?

"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.

"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."

The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.

Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.

The Phillies lost that game, too.

Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.

Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.

"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.

"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."

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