Phillies

Now with J.T. Realmuto, it's been a good winter for Phillies — and it can still get better

Now with J.T. Realmuto, it's been a good winter for Phillies — and it can still get better

The Phillies continue to make improvements to their roster and they haven’t even spent stupid money yet.

Six days before the first workout of the spring for pitchers and catchers, the team on Thursday acquired J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins for three players and international signing bonus money (see story).

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak offered his immediate take on the deal.

“J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball,” he said. “This is about us getting better and we believe it improves us considerably.”

The Phillies sent catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart to Miami. The loss of Sanchez stings, but you have to give something to get something (see story). The 20-year-old right-hander had been considered the Phillies’ top pitching prospect for his power arm and uncanny control, but he was limited to just eight starts at the Class A level last season because of an elbow injury and there is some thought in the scouting community that he may one day end up in the bullpen.

Instead of rolling the dice on Sanchez’s potential, the Phillies went for an established major-league difference-maker who plays a premium position. It is a sound move, especially for an improving team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2011 and needs to make the town crackle with baseball excitement again. On top of it all, the Phillies were able to get the deal to the finish line without adding one of their top prospects as the third man.

“It’s hard to acquire top players at any position, especially catcher,” Klentak said.

The GM, entering his fourth season with the Phils, has had a very good winter. He was able to move Carlos Santana in a deal that, one, allowed Rhys Hoskins to get back to first base and, two, upgraded the shortstop position with the addition of Jean Segura. He replaced Santana’s on-base skills with outfielder Andrew McCutchen’s 30-double, 20-homer pedigree, and brought in David Robertson, one of the game’s most consistent late-game relievers.

Klentak’s winter could go from very good to out-freaking-standing if he can spend some of John Middleton’s stupid money on Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. The Phils are in on both of those mega free agents. The field of bidders is small and the Phillies have deep pockets. The conventional wisdom is the Phillies will get one of them if they stay the course.

First and foremost, Machado and Harper are looking for dollar signs, lots of them, but wins mean something, too. Surely, they noticed that the Phillies got better with the signing of Realmuto.

“This is another acquisition that demonstrates our commitment to winning and I hope that demonstration would be appealing to free agents,” Klentak said.

Realmuto, who turns 28 in March, will make $5.9 million in 2019. He won’t be a free agent until after 2020. The Phillies did not explore a contract extension during negotiations with the Marlins, but Klentak said they might at some point.

“I think it’s a good idea to date the person before you ask to marry him,” Klentak said. “But we have every reason to believe this is the type of person we want to represent the Phillies.”

Realmuto is considered an excellent handler of pitchers.

“I’ve received so many calls and texts the last couple of hours from people who’ve been around him,” Klentak said. “They’ve talked about how much confidence pitchers have in him, how much confidence they have that they can throw the ball in the dirt because they know he’ll block it. He will have a really big impact on our group.”

He will also have a big impact on a Phillies’ offense that was inconsistent last season. Realmuto hit .277 with 30 doubles, 21 homers, 74 RBIs and an .825 OPS for the Marlins last season. And he did much of his damage on the road, away from cavernous Marlins Park. His road OPS last season was .870, compared to .773 at home. Over his career, he has hit .309 with a .848 OPS in 280 games on the road and .245 with a .678 OPS in 260 games in Marlins Park. He could conceivably hit second in the Phillies' lineup and he should love the results he gets in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

“I’d be lying if I told you we didn’t think playing half his games in Citizens Bank Park would make him better,” Klentak said.

The Phillies will introduce Realmuto at a news conference in Clearwater on Tuesday.

And, who knows, maybe they can keep the dais erected for another big unveiling in the days after that. The Phillies have had a good winter and it still might get better.

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2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

Bryce Harper spent the bulk of his video press conference last Friday discussing the unprecedented circumstances surrounding this 2020 MLB season. There were a lot of questions about health protocols, social distancing and doubt from some players that attempting to play this season is actually the right decision.

Harper talked a little baseball too. And one answer towards the end of the press conference stood out. 

He was asked whether he felt he'd have enough time in a three-week training camp featuring just three exhibition games to adequately prepare for the season. 

Harper acknowledged it would be a challenge, particularly given the Phillies’ regular season schedule.    

"East vs. East, are you kidding me?" Harper said of his team's 60-game slate consisting of solely NL East and AL East opponents. "We're going to face a lot of good teams, a lot of good organizations, a lot of good pitching. I went down each roster and was thinking to myself there could be 14 Cy Youngs in this East vs. East. I mean, that's crazy."

Harper's math is spot on. 

I identified 12 starting pitchers that the Phillies could face this season who have either won a Cy Young or are capable of pitching at a Cy Young level.

And if you add a pair of Harper's teammates — Aaron Nola, who finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018, and Jake Arrieta, who won the NL Cy Young in 2015 — that brings the grand total of Cy Young caliber pitchers in this East vs. East format to ... 14. 

Just like Harper said. 

Let's run through all the big arms the Phillies could face in 2020. 

After a season-opening three-game series against the Marlins, the Phillies play four straight games against the Yankees. They'll almost certainly face Gerrit Cole and James Paxton during that four-game stretch. Cole, who signed a $324 million contract with New York in the offseason, is generally regarded as the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball. Paxton is fully recovered from a back injury in the spring and has been among the top starters in the American League over the last six years.

The Phillies get their first look at the Braves a week later. Atlanta's rotation features 22-year-old ace Mike Soroka and 36-year old veteran Cole Hamels. Soroka posted a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts last season, finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting and second in the NL Rookie of the Year race behind the Mets' Pete Alonso. Hamels has finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting four times in his career and remains an elite starter when healthy. 

The Mets come to town in mid-August, led by two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. New York's rotation also includes Marcus Stroman, who finished in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young voting three years ago and finished with a 3.22 ERA in 32 starts last season. 

The Phillies don't play the Nationals until late August. But their 10 games against Washington will feature a heavy dose of three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race two years ago and 11th in the voting last season. 

If there's a team that has a “Big 3” comparable to the Nationals, it may be the Rays, who the Phillies visit in a three-game series to end the season. Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow highlight Tampa Bay's rotation. Snell won the 2018 AL Cy Young, Morton finished third in the 2019 AL Cy Young race, and Glasnow is an emerging star who posted a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts last season.

Yikes. 

But there is a silver lining — the Phillies don't have to worry about Chris Sale, Luis Severino or Noah Syndergaard. They're all out for the season with injuries. 

Nonetheless, the Phillies' bats better be ready from the outset. They'll be put to the test early and often. 

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Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper provided the first memorable moment of Phillies summer camp on Wednesday afternoon. 

It wasn’t with a swing or a web gem, but rather it was two words that has everyone talking.

“Sign him!” 

That’s what Harper exclaimed as he returned to the dugout following a home run by J.T. Realmuto in an intrasquad game. 

Harper can claim to be a five-tool player, but you might be able to add a sixth tool to the arsenal because he’s been as effective a representative for Realmuto in contract negotiations as Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent. 

In addition to Wednesday’s on-field statement, Harper donned a t-shirt with Realmuto’s name and number during his initial workouts at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month. While Harper denied sending a message to the front office with his wardrobe, he did acknowledge that it would be “terrible and sad” if the Phillies were to lose Realmuto in free agency this offseason. 

If you want to argue that Harper’s actions and statement are an admirable attempt to help a teammate to a large pay day, that’s fair. It’s also likely that Harper views retaining Realmuto as the best path towards contention for the ballclub. 

The Phillies would be naive if they did not expect Harper to have a significant voice in team construction when they inked him to a 13-year, $330 million deal last year. Although it’s fair to assume they would prefer if Harper wasn’t hurting their negotiating position.  

Either way, a player of Harper’s stature and salary certainly has the right to speak his mind on roster matters.  

Let’s say Realmuto and the Phillies agree to a record-setting contract extension for a catcher. That would make the All-Star backstop the third nine-figure player on the Phillies’ payroll (Harper and Zack Wheeler). Keep in mind, this is an organization without a winning season since 2011 and that looks to be several key pieces away from true contention. 

Who knows where the Phillies will find themselves four years down the road? It’s possible Harper and Realmuto will have taken a late October ride or two down Broad Street in that time. It’s also possible that the club will have failed to take the next step in their development, the young pieces never reaching the level needed to contend. At that stage, the club could lack the flexibility to improve due its significant financial obligations. 

If the latter happens, let’s be clear: Harper has forfeited the right to justifiably complain about a perceived lack of commitment or a feeling of being misled about the intentions of ownership. It might be hyperbole to suggest the former NL MVP is forcing the Phillies’ hand with Realmuto, but he’s certainly making it known how he wants the team built. 

Harper does not appear to be that type of person that will turn on the Phillies if things do not go as hoped, but we’ve all been down this road before with unhappy superstars across the sporting landscape. 

It might not be an issue for today, but there’s a chance that day just may come.  

Stay tuned.

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