Phillies’ next 3 opponents have even more to play for, which doesn’t bode well

Phillies’ next 3 opponents have even more to play for, which doesn’t bode well

The Phillies will begin their final road trip of the season Tuesday and they’re five games out of the second wild-card spot with 14 to play, pending the result of Cubs-Reds Monday night.

The first stop of the 11-game trip is Atlanta, where the Braves will have as much to play for as the Phillies. They are four games behind the Dodgers in their long shot attempt to gain home-field advantage in the NL playoffs. If the Dodgers had a larger lead and no advantage was to be gained, Atlanta might have been resting key players by now.

After that three-game set comes a weekend series in Cleveland. The Indians are 1 1/2 games behind the Rays for the second AL wild-card spot. That series against the Phillies will be a must-win for Terry Francona’s club.

The last stop is D.C. for five games, including a doubleheader on day two. The Nationals are in good shape, leading the wild-card race by 1 1/2 games over the Cubs and 2 1/2 games on the teams chasing them. The Phillies will see all three of Washington’s aces in that series.

The Nationals clinched their eighth consecutive winning season over the weekend. That streak began the same year as the Phillies’ current string of non-winning seasons.

The road to a wild-card spot is damn near impossible. Even the path to a winning record will be challenging for the Phillies, who must go 6-8 or better to finish with at least 82 wins.

There will be change this offseason, the question is how much. The Phillies put together some nice pieces but not a winning formula in 2019. That may have even been true if half the injured relievers were still active, given how few games the Phillies had the pitching advantage in the first five innings this season.

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Phillies free-agent target: Anthony Rendon

Phillies free-agent target: Anthony Rendon

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, it's the top position player on the market: Anthony Rendon.

The vitals

Rendon first turned heads back in 2014. He was a dynamic player in 2017 and 2018, but this past season, he was just about the perfect position player.

Rendon hit .319/.412/.598 with 44 doubles, 34 homers and a MLB-leading 126 RBI despite missing 16 games. He did all of that damage while striking out just 86 times. Add in the solid defense and he's become one of the five best position players in the game today.

He only added more dollars to his free-agent score in the 2019 playoffs by hitting .328 with three homers and 15 RBI in 17 games en route to a ring.

The stat that epitomized Rendon in 2019 was that his batting average didn't dip below .300 once after April 1, nor did his OPS dip below .916. He was basically slump-proof.

Why he fits

The Phillies obviously need a third baseman and this market just so happens to offer three of the best. Rendon is top-two at his position leaguewide, Josh Donaldson top-seven, and Mike Moustakas is a tier slightly below Donaldson but perhaps more reliable.

If the Phillies could somehow add Rendon, they'd have an incredible duo batting 2-3 or 3-4. Many would say, "Yeah, they had that in Washington, too," but that ignores the fact that Rendon has evolved into a much better player than he was during those years.

Think about a Phils lineup of Andrew McCutchen leading off, Bryce Harper batting second and Rendon third. You'd have a ton of OBP at the top, followed by a clutch, line-drive hitter who thrives with runners in scoring position and barely swings and misses.

It could catapult the Phillies' win projection to the upper-80s, but many teams will be hotly pursuing Rendon.

Why he doesn't fit

Can any organization sign a player for $330 million one offseason and about $275 million the next? It's just not a path to sustainable success unless you hit on almost every mid-tier move and under-the-radar acquisition.

The Rangers are expected to offer Rendon, a Texas native, a ton of money as they open their new ballpark in 2020. The Nationals will do their best to retain him. The Dodgers could very well be in play. The presence of even two of those teams will make matters difficult for the Phillies.

The price tag

Nolan Arenado signed an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies in February. If Rendon wants to play eight more years, why would his deal be for a dollar less?

Arenado and Rendon are comparable players, especially when you factor Coors Field out of the equation. If you believe the defensive metrics, the gap between the two has shrunk even though Arenado is still a perennial Gold Glover.

Rendon is a better overall player than Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. His deal probably won't reach $300 million, though, because he's three years older than they were when they hit free agency a year ago.

Scout's take

"Everyone thinks he's going to Texas to help open that new ballpark. He's a real quiet leader, not demonstrative like others at that position. There's fire but it burns internally. He's a real pro and, obviously, a difference maker."

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Phillies trade for intriguing lefty pitcher, add four arms to 40-man roster

Phillies trade for intriguing lefty pitcher, add four arms to 40-man roster

The Phillies added four pitchers to their 40-man roster on Wednesday night, including Cristopher Sanchez, who was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sanchez, 23, is a 6-5 left-hander from the Dominican Republic who pitched mostly at the Single A level in 2019. The Rays were out of room on their 40-man roster and believed Sanchez would be lost in next month's Rule 5 draft so they peddled him to the Phillies for infielder Curtis Mead, a 19-year-old from Australia who played in the Gulf Coast League last summer.

Sanchez will come to big-league spring training camp in February, but he needs more development time in the minors as he has pitched just 1 1/3 inning above the Single A level. Sanchez' fastball can reach 97 mph. The Phils might have something if the lanky lefty can put it together.

The Phillies also added JoJo Romero, Garrett Cleavinger and Mauricio Llovera to the roster. Romero and Cleavinger are both lefties and Llovera is a power-armed right-hander. All three could figure in the big club’s bullpen picture at some point in 2020.

Romero, 23, was the Phillies’ fourth-round draft pick in 2016. He struggled as a starter at Double A and Triple A in 2019, but pitched well out of the bullpen in Arizona Fall League, giving up just one earned run in 10 2/3 innings.

Cleavinger, 25, was a third-round pick by the Orioles in 2015. The Phillies acquired him for Jeremy Hellickson in the summer of 2017. Cleavinger has strikeout stuff — he punched out 83 batters and allowed just 32 hits in 51 2/3 innings at Double A Reading in 2019 — but control is an issue as he walked 34.

Llovera, who turns 24 in April, has long impressed club officials with his power arm. He struck out 72 in 65 1/3 innings at Reading in 2019.

Players added to the 40-man roster by Wednesday’s deadline cannot be selected in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings next month. The Phillies’ roster stands at 39.

The Phillies left a couple of notable young players unprotected. Catcher Rafael Marchan and power-hitting outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz will both be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. If selected by another club, they must spend the entire season in the majors. Both Marchan and Ortiz will play at 21 next season. Neither has played above the Florida State League and both are in need of more development time so the Phillies stand a good shot of hanging on to both.

Ortiz made headlines in the summer of 2015 when the Phillies signed him out of the Domincan Republic for $4 million. He has big power — 19 homers at Single A Clearwater in 2019 — but contact is an issue. He has racked up 297 strikeouts in 835 at-bats while hitting just .212 the last two seasons at the Single A level.

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