Phillies' bench was putrid early last year but should be better in 2020

Phillies' bench was putrid early last year but should be better in 2020

The Phillies' bench was a clear weakness early last season, the worst in the National League from opening day through the end of May. Phillies pinch-hitters went 13 for 90 in the season's first two months, hitting .144 with one home run in 95 plate appearances.

The early-June acquisition of Jay Bruce from Seattle was designed to improve the bench. But Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL just after the trade and Bruce was thrust into everyday duty.

Bruce figures to be the key member of the Phillies' bench in 2020, his last year under contract. If he can hit for power in key pinch-hit opportunities, he could turn a few losses into wins. If he can also just do what he's always done when asked to spot start — hit .230-.240 with power — that would be enough from that role. He is unquestionably a positive clubhouse presence. He became a leader here last summer quickly and organically.

Bruce was great last June. In his first three weeks as a Phillie, he had the decisive, multi-run hit in six wins. Then he was absent for most of the second half. An oblique strain led to an IL-stint out of the All-Star break, and then a flexor strain cost him three weeks in August. He was relegated to strictly pinch-hit appearances as the season wound down.

Beyond Bruce, the Phillies have three other likely bench candidates in centerfielder Roman Quinn, catcher Andrew Knapp and Josh Harrison, who can play second base, third base and both outfield corners. 

Joe Girardi, set to enter his first season as Phillies manager, spoke positively of Quinn in one of his first radio interviews. The H-word with Quinn is so obvious that it's barely even worth mentioning anymore. We all know what has prevented him from producing. He's still worth his spot on the 40-man roster because of the tools, upside and inexpensive contract.

Knapp is back as a backup. The Phillies could carry three catchers in 2020, though, as MLB expands to 26-man rosters from March-through-September. That could mean a spot for Deivy Grullon or non-roster invitee Christian Bethancourt.

What about Odubel Herrera? He's a big wild-card heading into spring training. It feels like a significant long shot that he is back with the team, but there's always a chance he could convince the organization he deserves a second chance.

Spring training invitees Phil Gosselin and Matt Szczur, both local guys, will battle for roles as extra men in the infield and outfield, respectively. Gosselin was, statistically, the Phillies' best pinch-hitter in 2019. Szczur is a former Villanova football and baseball standout who was on the Cubs' 2016 World Series team. 

Nick Williams is still on the 40-man roster but seems like a big-time change of scenery candidate if/when the Phils need to clear space.

Mikie Mahtook was invited to spring training as well. He's a 30-year-old outfielder who spent the last three seasons with the Tigers. He showed some flashes in 2017 when he hit .276 with a .787 OPS in 379 plate appearances. He spent a good portion of that second half hitting at the top or in the middle of Detroit's order. He's barely hit in the two seasons since.

The Phillies are also likely to add a few more bench candidates between now and mid-February. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11 and the first full team workout is set for Feb. 17. We're only six weeks away, people.

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Scott Boras lays out reasons why MLB players shouldn't give owners a 'bailout'

Scott Boras lays out reasons why MLB players shouldn't give owners a 'bailout'

In an e-mail to his clients obtained by The Associated Press, agent Scott Boras urged his players (which includes Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and other Phillies) to reject MLB's salary reduction proposal, citing debt financing as the reason franchises are facing financial issues during the coronavirus pandemic.

Boras wrote this:

"Remember, games cannot be played without you. Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.

"Owners are asking for more salary cuts to bail them out of the investment decisions they have made. If this was just about baseball, playing games would give the owners enough money to pay the players their full prorated salaries and run the baseball organization. The owners' current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks. This type of financing is allowed and encouraged by MLB because it has resulted in significant franchise valuations.

“Owners now want players to take additional pay cuts to help them pay these loans. They want a bailout. They are not offering players a share of the stadiums, ballpark villages or the club itself, even though salary reductions would help owners pay for these valuable franchise assets. These billionaires want the money for free. No bank would do that. Banks demand loans be repaid with interest. Players should be entitled to the same respect.

"Make no mistake, owners have chosen to take on these loans because, in normal times, it is a smart financial decision. But, these unnecessary choices have now put them in a challenging spot. Players should stand strong because players are not the ones who advised owners to borrow money to purchase their franchises and players are not the ones who have benefited from the recent record revenues and profits.

"... Please share this concept with your teammates and fellow players when MLB request further concessions or deferral of salaries.”

Boras used Cubs ownership, the Ricketts family, to illustrate the point.

"Throughout this process, they will be able to claim that they never had any profits because those profits went to pay off their loans," Boras wrote. "However, the end result is that the Ricketts will own improved assets that significantly increases the value of the Cubs — value that is not shared with the players."

Boras' e-mail followed MLB's proposal to the players' association Tuesday of a sliding scale of prorated pay in 2020 in which the highest-paid players would receive the lowest percentage of their prorated salaries and the lowest-paid players would receive the highest percentage of their prorated salaries. In essence, Harper would receive a lower percentage of his $25.4 million AAV than Hoskins would receive from his $605,000 salary.

The players' association found the proposal insulting and is not interested in the sliding scale of pay. Max Scherzer, who is on the MLBPA's eight-man subcommittee, released this statement Wednesday night.

The Phillies are well stocked with Boras clients: Harper, Hoskins, Jake Arrieta, Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, Vince Velasquez, Cole Irvin, Nick Williams. Boras also, as of this week, represents Rays lefty and former AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, whom Harper backed up recently after Snell commented on the pay dispute in a polarizing way.

Of course, not everyone agrees with Boras, as outlined in this NY Post piece and in this tweet by outspoken Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer.

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How to watch NBCSP's re-airs of Phillies' entire 2008 playoff run

How to watch NBCSP's re-airs of Phillies' entire 2008 playoff run

While MLB's pay dispute between owners and players rages on, we'll have some classic baseball for you to enjoy during the first three weeks of June.

Beginning this Monday, June 1, NBC Sports Philadelphia will re-air the Phillies' entire 2008 playoff run — all 14 games — along with two specials and a replay of the '08 parade.

Forever Philly: Cole Hamels is a half-hour, 1-on-1 interview with the '08 World Series MVP about the postseason that defined his career.

And World Champions: The Story of '08 Phillies is an expanded 90-minute documentary with bonus '08 footage and plenty of interviews with the key figures such as Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Charlie Manuel, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and many more.

Throughout these three weeks, Jim Salisbury and I will also be looking back at different angles of each game in articles, videos and in each Phillies Talk podcast in June. We'll dig back into those big moments, but also the moments behind the scenes.

Here is the TV schedule. Each game will be re-aired at 7 p.m. Both parts of the famous multi-day World Series Game 5 will air on the same night.

NLDS vs. Brewers

Monday, June 1 — NLDS Game 1

Tuesday, June 2 — NLDS Game 2

Wednesday, June 3 — NLDS Game 3

Thursday, June 4 — NLDS Game 4

NLCS vs. Dodgers

Monday, June 8 — NLCS Game 1

Tuesday, June 9  — NLCS Game 2

Wednesday, June 10 — NLCS Game 3

Thursday, June 11 — NLCS Game 4

Friday, June 12 — NLCS Game 5

World Series vs. Rays

Monday, June 15 — WS Game 1

Tuesday, June 16 — WS Game 2

Wednesday, June 17 — WS Game 3

Thursday, June 18 — WS Game 4

Friday, June 19 — WS Game 5 (Parts 1 & 2)

Forever Philly: Cole Hamels

Monday, June 1 — 9:30 p.m. (Premiere)

Monday, June 1 — 10:30 p.m.

Monday, June 1 — 11:30 pm (NBCSP+)

Tuesday, June 2 — 11 a.m.

Monday, June 8 — 9:30 p.m.

World Champions: The Story of the ’08 Phillies

Sunday, June 21 — 7 p.m. (Premiere)

Sunday, June 21 — 8:30 p.m. (Replay)

Sunday, June 21 — 4 p.m. World Series Parade

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