Phillies

Source: Phillies finally agree to deal with Bryce Harper

Source: Phillies finally agree to deal with Bryce Harper

After years of speculation and preparation, the Phillies have finally landed their superstar.

It took until the last day of February, but the Phils have agreed to a 13-year deal worth $330 million with 26-year-old Bryce Harper, a source tells NBC Sports Philadelphia Phillies insider Jim Salisbury. 

And here's the kicker:

Harper, like Jake Arrieta and Rhys Hoskins, is a Scott Boras client. There was no question Harper was going to get paid this offseason, the question was just how many hundreds of millions, and which city.

Manny Machado served as the pace car, agreeing on Feb. 19 to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres. At one point in the offseason, it appeared the Phils were prioritizing Machado, but that valuation was too high for their liking. Harper brings more of an entertainment factor than Machado and will be even better for business, which likely factored into the price tag. In some ways, Harper is also a better fit because he adds left-handed power. 

In the days leading up to the Phillies' agreement with Harper, he was connected to the Dodgers, a scary suitor because of their deep pockets, proximity to Harper's Las Vegas home and their ability to contend immediately. But money always talks and the Phillies' offer was the richest.

Even though Harper has hit below .250 in two of the past three seasons, he is one of baseball's biggest offensive difference-makers. In a healthy season, you know you're going to get huge power numbers and more than 100 walks from him. In a year when it all comes together for Harper, he's capable of putting up Barry Bonds-like numbers. See 2015, when he hit .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers.

In Harper, the Phillies are also going to get an elite player who plays with attitude and an edge. This city loves the Aaron Rowand types. Harper is that, just in superstar form. He is a genuine attraction who will increase ticket sales, jersey sales, you name it.

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Machado may be the better all-around player because of his defense and baserunning, but Harper’s OPS is 96 points higher over the last four seasons. In a down year from Harper, you’re still getting a .380 on-base percentage and 30 home runs. In Machado’s most recent down year, 2017, he hit .259 with a .310 OBP.

Adding Harper gives the Phillies such a deeper and more formidable lineup. He will likely bat second or fourth. If forced to guess at this moment, it would be second, with Hoskins in the cleanup spot.

The Phillies love to see pitches and make the opposing pitcher work. Harper does that as well as any player in either league. With Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Hoskins batting after a catalyst like Jean Segura, the top of the Phils’ order will be potent. By turning a bottom-of-the-order catcher in Jorge Alfaro into a top-of-the-order catcher in J.T. Realmuto, the Phils may indeed have the deepest batting order, 1 through 8, in the National League.

This move will obviously increase the Phils’ chances to win the NL East. So far, Phillies over-under win totals out of Vegas have hovered in the low-80s. Landing Harper pushes the Phils closer to the high-80s.

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Bryce Harper, Jake Arrieta, the infield puzzle ... lots going on in Phillies camp Tuesday

Bryce Harper, Jake Arrieta, the infield puzzle ... lots going on in Phillies camp Tuesday

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Tuesday should be an interesting day in Phillies camp.

Bryce Harper will make his spring debut. He is slated to play five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays at Spectrum Field.

Jake Arrieta, healthy and upbeat after having his elbow surgically cleaned out last season, will make his first start of the spring in the game.

Forty-five miles south, in Bradenton, the Phillies will play a split-squad game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lefty Ranger Suarez, a dark horse candidate for the fifth starting pitcher’s job, will get the start against the Pirates.

Lefty Damon Jones, who emerged as a solid starting pitching prospect last season, is also slated to get some work in that game. Jones struck out 12 batters per nine innings in the minors last season. He is slated to open the season at Triple A but could be in the picture in Philadelphia at some point.

Manager Joe Girardi will preside over the game in Bradenton.

Girardi is making the trip over the Sunshine Skyway because he wants to get a look at Suarez.

He also wants to continue to evaluate Jean Segura’s work at third base. Segura is slated to start at third base in Bradenton and Scott Kingery at second base. The addition of shortstop Didi Gregorius has pushed Segura off shortstop. Segura has experience at second base and is open to playing there. But the team would prefer to use him at third base so Kingery can play second base, his best position. This equation all rides on Segura’s ability to play third.

“It's important I continue to see Segura at third and Kingery at second,” Girardi said.

Monday's game

The Phillies beat Baltimore, 8-7. Mikie Mahtook, Luke Williams, Logan Forsythe and Nick Maton all homered for the Phillies.

Minor-leaguer Carlos De La Cruz, who stands 6-8, got some time in center field for the Phillies.

“I thought that was Ben Simmons out there,” Girardi quipped. “I thought we were getting Ben Simmons an at-bat.”

Girardi loved the work of minor-league catcher Rafael Marchan.

“My favorite part of the game was Marchan,” Girardi raved. “He's the block master. The master. That might have been the best exhibition of blocking I have ever seen in one game.”

That’s high praise from Girardi, who caught for 15 seasons in the majors and was part of three World Series championship teams.

Marchan, who turns 21 on Tuesday, played in Single A last season. He is considered an excellent defender.

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This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

This is a recording: Vince Velasquez seeks efficiency

CLEARWATER, Fla. – In four seasons with the Phillies, Vince Velasquez has teased with his potential and frustrated with his inconsistency.

But at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

Standing in front of his locker at Spectrum Field on Monday afternoon, Velasquez made a pack of reporters break into laughter after his spring debut against the Baltimore Orioles.

“I threw 26 pitches in two innings – which is a shocker,” he said comically.

Running high pitch counts early in games has been one of the reasons for Velasquez’ frustrating inconsistency.

“The past three or four years, it’s always been an issue,” the 27-year-old right-hander said.

He’s trying to address the shortcoming – and several others – this spring under new pitching coach Bryan Price, who just might be the most popular guy in camp right now, at least with a pitching staff that is eating up everything he has to say, especially when it comes to pitching down in the strike zone.

“I’ve developed a lot of confidence with Bryan and really trust in his work,” Velasquez said. “I’ve told you guys so many times that I have that confidence to be that pitcher and I think Bryan is the guy who is going to pull that out of me.”

When Velasquez says, “that pitcher,” he means, that starting pitcher. He knows he’s in a battle for the fifth starter’s job. He knows about all the talk of possibly ending up in the bullpen when camp breaks.

But he wants to start.

“I know what the task is at hand,” he said. “It’s just a matter of what I have to do to earn that spot. Today was a good display of what I can be. It seemed like everything was working in my favor. I walked the first guy and then got some ground balls. I executed pitches down in the zone.”

Velasquez allowed just one hit, a walk and he struck out one in his two innings of work. The Phillies won the game, 8-7.

Velasquez is competing mostly with Nick Pivetta for the No. 5 starter’s job. Lefty Ranger Suarez, who will get a start Tuesday against the Pirates in Bradenton, is also in the mix.

Manager Joe Girardi has stressed that the competition for jobs has not really started yet, that the first couple of starts are a time to prepare for the competition that will come in March. But he is clearly watching. He liked what he saw of Velasquez on Monday. He especially liked the economy of pitches.

“He was very efficient,” Girardi said. “That's how you get deep in games. If you're throwing 20 pitches every inning, it's not a very long night.”

At least not for the starter.

Sometimes it is for the team.

Girardi mentioned how much he liked seeing Velasquez execute pitches down in the strike zone. Last year, Velasquez was encouraged to work the top of the strike zone. He has the giddy-up on his fastball to do that, but locating the pitch was a problem and poorly located pitches up in the zone turn into trouble and short outings.

“He got outs down in the zone, not just up in the zone, which he's done a lot in the past,” Girardi said. “But he got outs down in the zone. Because he did that, he was pretty efficient. He got a strikeout down there. He got a double play down there. So, I was encouraged by what he did.”

Velasquez believes he was too predictable last season, that he got away from throwing his changeup and lived too high in the zone with his fastball. He still wants to elevate and has the stuff to do it, but he also wants to work the lower part of the zone with his fastball like he did Monday.

“I was living at the top of the zone 95 percent of the time,” he said. “Every game plan was always at the top of the zone, so, again, you’ve got to learn how to change speeds and live up and down and in and out.

“I have the weapon to go up in the zone. That pitch just makes it even more useful to go down in the zone. You can’t be too predictable in this game.”

It’s too early to predict whether Velasquez will end up in the rotation or the bullpen. But if his work the rest of the spring is as efficient as it was Monday, he will give Phillies decision-makers something to think about.

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