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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Odubel Herrera will have to fight for Phillies' starting center field job

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Odubel Herrera will have to fight for Phillies' starting center field job

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies spring training is turning into Camp Competition.

Maikel Franco and Scott Kingery will battle for the third-base job — unless, of course, the Phillies sign Manny Machado or Mike Moustakas.

And Odubel Herrera and Roman Quinn will throw down for the center field job.

“Competition is a really good thing," manager Gabe Kapler said Friday. "I think competition raises your game, it makes you focused, it makes you bring more intensity."

Andrew McCutchen is set at one of the corner outfield spots, probably left field. That leaves Herrera, Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr looking for reps in center and right — unless the Phillies sign Bryce Harper.

Kapler has met with Herrera and told him that he will have to earn the center field job.

Herrera, in camp early and looking lean and ready to rumble after getting in the gym and dropping 20 pounds this winter, is prepared to win the job.

“My mentality is that I’m still the center fielder,” he said Friday. “All that I can control is the work that I put in on the field. The rest is up to the front office and the staff. They make the decisions.”

Late last season, Herrera lost playing time in center field to Quinn. Herrera’s overall game slipped in the second half. He hit just .189 with a .530 OPS over the final two months of the season, not quite what the Phillies had come to expect after Herrera made the All-Star team in 2016 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension later that year.

Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak pulled no punches with Herrera at the end of last season. They told him he needed to get into better physical condition and eliminate mental lapses in the field and on the bases.

Performance will offer the ultimate verdict, but, so far, Herrera is doing and saying the right things.

“I think part of the maturity of a player is to know what you’ve done wrong and what you can do better,” he said through Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish-language translator. “So I took this offseason just to get better and work hard. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m definitely more motivated.

“I understand this year there is more competition and honestly I think it makes me better when I have competition around me. It gets the best out of me, because I know I have to play better. There’s pressure that you need to perform.”

Herrera’s improved physical condition is tangible.

Improvements in concentration can only be measured over time.

“That’s definitely an area where we want to raise the bar for Odubel,” Kapler said. “If he is the guy that we got closer to the beginning of last season when he was one of the best players in baseball, you’re not going to be able to keep him out of the lineup or be able to keep him off the field.”

The Phillies have hired Paco Figueroa, a former instructor in the Dodgers system, as their new outfield coach.

“He is known for developing relationships with Spanish speakers and he’s known for his ability to ask for a little bit more and get somebody to step up and meet that bar,” Kapler said. “The relationship that Odubel and Paco develop will be very important this season.”

Herrera, 27, admitted that he needs to improve his concentration.

“There definitely were times when I knew I could have focused more last season,” he said.

He said he did not know what caused the lack of focus.

“For a baseball player, it’s not easy to stay motivated because obviously it’s a long season,” Herrera said. “But my main focus is to keep that concentration going all season and through nine innings every game and the whole season.”

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Yet another indication Bryce Harper is signing tomorrow! (Now today)

Yet another indication Bryce Harper is signing tomorrow! (Now today)

Fitting the theme of our parody video yesterday ... there was yet another indication Thursday that Bryce Harper's decision could be coming tomorrow!

"Tomorrow," of course, now means today, Friday, Feb. 15. We're not holding our breath.

Chris Russell, a radio host in D.C. at 106.7 The Fan who was among the first to report news of Harper's meeting with another team (the Giants) two weeks ago, said on Thursday evening that he thought a Harper decision would be coming within 24 hours. He added that he doesn't think it would be the Nationals.

"I know that he wanted to get this done by Valentine's Day," Russell said.

Of course, less than 48 hours before, Russell said this on 910 The Fan in Richmond:

"If the Nationals are willing to go seven or eight years, maybe with an opt-out after three or four, then I think Bryce would lean toward that and staying with the known while also retaining some leverage."

In describing the Harper-Nationals situation, Russell pointed out the strong business relationship Harper's agent, Scott Boras, has with the Lerner family, the majority owners of the Nats.

Boras represents Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, who each reached deals of at least $175 million with Washington. Boras also represents Anthony Rendon, Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael A. Taylor and Matt Wieters, who signed a two-year, $21 million deal with Washington before 2017.

Maybe something happens today with Harper. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe it's the Nationals. Maybe it's not.

Isn't this fun?! (Bangs head against wall.)

Update: 12:40 p.m.

Appearing on WIP Friday afternoon, Russell had this to say:

"I'm led to believe by the people that I've talked to that are close to the situation — and I have, again, a real good source that has helped me through this process, let's just leave it at that — that Bryce was in a mood to celebrate yesterday," Russell said. 

"Now, the source said, 'I believe it's done.' I don't have concrete, 100 percent proof for you guys. I wish I did, otherwise I would have it and I would be running around with it. But I don't have that, so I want to caution everybody in Philadelphia. But that's what I was lead to believe, that this thing is now decided."


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