Phillies rumors: Best available backup plans for Phillies as we enter the new year

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Phillies rumors: Best available backup plans for Phillies as we enter the new year

With 2019 just a few days away, let's take a look at the top remaining position players available in the free-agent and trade market that could fit the Phillies' needs.

This list will exclude Manny Machado and Bryce Harper because they're clearly the top two players available and their fit with the Phils has been analyzed to death.

Think of these five players as contingencies in case the Phils can't land a superstar.

C J.T. Realmuto

Realmuto would make the Phillies (and pretty much every team in baseball) better. As much as the Phils value Jorge Alfaro, Realmuto simply does it all better. The Phillies have been one of several teams to express interest this offseason in Realmuto, who is just two years older than Alfaro. It seems like the age difference should be bigger but it's not. Realmuto is set for free agency after the 2020 season, so an acquiring team would control his rights at a below-market price these next two seasons.

If the Phils miss out on both Machado and Harper, Realmuto would be the biggest difference-maker left this offseason. Do the Phillies have enough to acquire him? It will depend on which suitors remain post-Machado and Harper. The Marlins are looking for a high-quality, major-league-ready player as the centerpiece of their return. They're looking for a player better than Nick Williams, for example, and they're absolutely right to seek that. 

If the right offer for Miami doesn't materialize, the Phillies could make things interesting with a package of Alfaro, Williams and a young pitcher.

OF A.J. Pollock
OF Nick Markakis

Pollock is the best all-around position player left in free agency, though there are obvious questions about his injury history. If the Phils determine this offseason that one of Odubel Herrera or Nick Williams is not the long-term answer in the outfield, it would make more sense for them to pursue an outfielder like Markakis rather than Pollock. Markakis is four years older than Pollock but could likely be had on a two-year deal, as opposed to Pollock, who is a candidate for between three years (with an option) and five years.

If Pollock lingers in free agency to the point that a one-year, prove-it deal becomes doable, the Phillies should pounce. But we're a ways away from that point.

Markakis would be an upgrade over Williams in the immediate future, but the Phillies may want to give the Herrera-Williams-Roman Quinn setup one more year before they change course.

3B Mike Moustakas
Utilityman Marwin Gonzalez

A couple veteran answers here if the Phillies decide to flip Maikel Franco for pitching and replace him with a more reliable everyday third baseman.

Despite the perception that Moustakas and Franco are comparable players, it's just not true. Moustakas has been a lot better offensively and defensively, as outlined here.

The appeal of Gonzalez is that he can play every position except catcher and center field and play those positions well defensively. He also has power (averages of 20 homers and 30 doubles the last two seasons) and the ability to hit .270-.280 with a slightly above average on-base percentage.

My thought with Gonzalez this offseason has been that he's more of a finishing piece for a contending team, but if the Phillies miss out on the stars they covet, then bringing in a Swiss Army knife like Gonzalez in addition to a starting pitcher and reliever would be a different way to add wins to the 2019 club.

We will take a look at the best remaining arms in the coming days.

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Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There will be no quick hook for Aaron Nola this opening day. As long as he’s effective and getting the job done, he’s staying in the game longer than 68 pitches. There are no restrictions.

“Absolutely none,” pitching coach Chris Young said.

With Young looking on and Andrew Knapp doing the catching, Nola made his final start of the spring in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Friday. The Phillies chose to have Nola make his final tune-up in a controlled setting to ensure that he get his pitch count up and get into the sixth inning. He threw 91 pitches and left in the middle of the sixth.

Nola’s next outing will come Thursday at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. It will be Nola’s second straight opening day start against the Braves. Last year’s came in Atlanta and still lives in infamy. Nola was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when rookie manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and started playing the matchup game. The bullpen ended up blowing the lead, the Phillies lost, 8-5, and Kapler was roasted for taking his starter out at 68 pitches. Even the soft-spoken Nola was miffed.

As it turned out, Kapler’s controversial decision to hook Nola on opening day turned out to be a growth moment in the two men’s relationship.

“For sure,” Nola confirmed. “We had a talk after the game and he let me go the rest of the season. That’s what I want to do.”

For the season, Nola ended up pitching 212 1/3 innings, fifth most in the majors. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. Only St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (71 percent) did that more often.

Armed with a new four-year, $45 million contract, Nola, 25, comes into the new season with high expectations. He challenged for the Cy Young Award last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again this season.

But Nola is more concerned with team expectations. On paper, the Phils are the most improved club in baseball and they’re expected to contend in the NL East. The improved roster and heightened expectations can be seen at the newsstands as Nola joins Rhys Hoskins and newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

“We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete,” Nola said. “Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.

“You look at the type of guys we’ve got, All Stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners. We got ‘em on our team. But there are no guarantees.  We still have to play and compete.”

As opening day comes into focus, players are always eager to get spring training over and begin the season. There seems to be an extra bit of juice in the Phillies’ clubhouse, a feel that this team knows it could be pretty good and it can’t wait to get started and see how it all plays out.

“That’s accurate, for sure,” Nola said. “We’re all excited and ready to go. It’s not just that we have good ballplayers and good talent in there, I think they’re good guys, too, and I think that makes more icing on the cake because the better guys you have, the better chemistry you have and the easier it is to play with each other.”

Nola said he is right where he needs to be physically. He feels great. He’s excited to see Citizens Bank Park sold out on Thursday and face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. This season of big expectations is almost here.

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

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At The Yard Podcast: Bryce Harper rounding into form; why Nick Pivetta in Game 2?

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury discuss how Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down at the plate. Is there any connection whatsoever between spring training and regular-season productivity?

This is an important season for Nick Pivetta. Is he ready for it, and what went into naming him the starter in Game 2?

Also, an injury update on Rhys Hoskins.

1:00 — Bryce Harper is starting to get his timing down.
3:00 — Any carryover between spring training and real baseball?
6:00 — Why is Nick Pivetta starting Game 2?
13:00 — Phillies want a consistent batting order.
17:00 — Is Odubel Herrera starting to "get it?"
20:00 — Update on Rhys Hoskins.
22:00 — Next Phillie in line for an extension.

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