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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NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

NL East departures of Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon are like a free-agent signing for Phillies

A lot happened across baseball last week, so much in fact that a $92 million contract was kind of overlooked.

Josh Donaldson signed early in the week with the Minnesota Twins. Four years, $92 million for the 34-year-old third baseman who returned to an All-Star-level in 2019 with the Braves. Donaldson went to Atlanta last offseason on a one-year, $23 million deal and proved his health, hitting .259 with a .900 OPS, 37 homers, 94 RBI and 100 walks. He's always been a plus defender and last season was no exception.

This is a big loss for the Braves, and you have to say their offseason looks worse in light of losing Donaldson. They were active early, signing Cole Hamels, lefty reliever Will Smith, righty reliever Chris Martin and catcher Travis d'Arnaud.

But the loss of Donaldson negates most, if not all of that. 

The Braves are still probably a playoff team — 88 or so wins feels right for this team. 

Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. are still MVP-caliber players. Ozzie Albies, Mike Soroka and Max Fried are good, young players. At third base, the Braves can use 23-year old Austin Riley or 26-year-old Johan Camargo. 

Riley's first 30 games as a rookie last season were so impressive — he hit .298, slugged .628, went deep 11 times and drove in 32 runs. It was a nightmarish, swing-and-miss-filled season for him after that. 

Camargo, you'll recall, was productive in 2018. It was his first full season and he hit .272/.349/.457 with 19 homers and 76 RBI. Most teams would take that at third base. The Donaldson signing by Atlanta last offseason was a surprise because of what the Braves had at the hot corner. There are worse third base situations than Riley/Camargo.

Still, Donaldson is such a difference-maker. Another difference-maker who has left the division. The exits of Donaldson and Anthony Rendon are huge plusses for the Phillies and Mets. It's tough to conceptualize it, but not having to face Donaldson and Rendon is almost as beneficial as a one more solid free-agent signing for the Phillies. The drop-off from those two third basemen to Riley/Camargo in Atlanta and Starlin Castro/Asdrubal Cabrera in Washington is massive. Like, maybe 50 fewer extra-base hits.

Donaldson and Rendon had 145 combined plate appearances last season against the Phillies. Rendon hit .353 with a 1.102 OPS in his. Donaldson hit six homers, four doubles and drove in 16 runs in his 18 games.

All told, the NL East (aside from the Phillies) lost more than it gained this offseason. Out are Donaldson, Rendon and Dallas Keuchel. In are Hamels and Smith in Atlanta; Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha in New York; Will Harris, Castro and Eric Thames in Washington; Corey Dickerson in Miami.

Aaron Nola will not miss facing Donaldson and Rendon. Those two hit a combined .345/.456/.545 with four homers and three doubles in 68 plate appearances against the Phillies' top starter. 

Donaldson is also 9 for 16 lifetime against Zack Wheeler, 6 for 14 with five extra-base hits off Zach Eflin and 4 for 12 with three homers vs. Nick Pivetta.

Rendon is 11 for 21 with four homers and 10 RBI off Pivetta.

Phillies fans may be frustrated by the post-Wheeler/Didi Gregorius period of the offseason, but Phillies pitchers are cool with how it's played out.

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Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Every one of the 15 minor-league prospects that the Phillies have invited to big-league spring training camp has a story.

Zach Warren’s is unique because (in his heart) he was a Phillie before he was technically a Phillie.

Warren grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, in the “glory era,” as he correctly called it, when the Phillies were racking up National League East titles, going to two World Series and winning one of them. Young Zach rooted for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but his eye always drifted toward the work being done by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, not surprising because Warren was a left-handed pitcher on the rise in those days.

After successful runs at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey and the University of Tennessee, Warren is still a pitcher on the rise. Three strong seasons in the Phillies’ minor-league system earned him an invite to major-league spring training camp next month in Clearwater.

At the Phillies’ prospect-education seminar last week at Citizens Bank Park, Warren recalled the pinch-me moment when he got the phone call from Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development, telling him he’d been invited to big-league camp, and following up that thrilling news with a phone call to his dad, Geoff.

“I had dropped off my car to be worked on in Vineland the day before,” Zach recalled with a laugh, “and my dad was a little unhappy because it was dirty and had no gas. I told him the news and that cheered him up.”

Warren, 23, is one of a handful of left-handed relievers coming to big-league camp on non-roster invites. Most, if not all, will open the season in the minor leagues, but team officials, including new manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price, clearly want to get a look at what they have for future reference. The Phillies, under general manager Matt Klentak, have been aggressive running relievers in and out from the minors so it’s likely several of these relievers will get a shot in the majors this season. And if they throw strikes and get outs – well, they’ll stick around.

Warren, 6-5 and 200 pounds, was selected in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He features a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He has racked up double-digit strikeouts-per-nine innings in each of his three pro seasons. He spent the last two seasons working late in the game, including closer, at Lakewood and Clearwater. In 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons, he allowed just 76 hits and 34 earned runs (2.62 ERA) while striking out 180 and walking 66.

The 2020 season will be a prove-it one for Warren. He projects to make the jump to Double A Reading and be an important part of that club’s bullpen. Double A is the level where they separate the men from the boys. Have success at the level and you can rise quickly to the majors.

“I’m not thinking too far in advance, where I’m going to be and things like that,” said Warren, showing a healthy perspective. “All I can control is working on what I need to work on to get better and becoming the best player I can be. My ideal blueprint for this season is to make strides and get better and help my team win games and get to the playoffs.”

First-timers in big-league camp are like sponges. They soak up the experience and try to learn from the players who’ve walked the miles they hope to one day walk. Warren has a healthy respect for Adam Morgan, another lefty reliever and SEC product from the University of Alabama, and is eager to speak with him.

“I want to learn from Adam Morgan,” Warren said. “He was up as a starter and had to go to the minors to learn, adapt and change, and he developed and got back. I think there’s a ton I could learn from someone like that.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from everybody. I think it’s going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to get down there and get going.”

With a clean car and a full tank of gas, of course.

 

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