Phillies

Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Throw a log on the hot stove.

Major League Baseball general managers will assemble in Phoenix for their annual meetings on Monday. The event, which ends Thursday, serves as the de facto starting point of the offseason and this will be a busy one, locally and industry wide.

The free-agent market is led by three stars of the recently completed World Series — starting pitching studs Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and hard-hitting third baseman Anthony Rendon. Strasburg and Rendon were part of the World Series champion Washington Nationals club and Cole starred for the American League champion Houston Astros. All three players are represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who a year ago used the general managers meetings as a pulpit to announce that “Harper’s Bazaar” had opened for business. Three and a half months later, Bryce Harper signed a mammoth, 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.

Harper led the Phillies in OPS (.882), homers (35) and RBIs (114) in his first season with the club, but the Phils, who led the NL East at the end of May, faded in June and again in September to finish in fourth place in the National League East, 12 games behind the second-place (and wild card) Nationals and 16 behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies have not had a winning season (they finished .500 in 2019) or made the playoffs since 2011 and impatience is raw from the fan base to the ownership level. Managing partner John Middleton ordered the ouster of manager Gabe Kapler, proven winner Joe Girardi is now at the helm and normally guarded general manager Matt Klentak is on record as saying, “No questions asked, it is time to win right now.” That statement makes this a crucial offseason for Klentak and the Phillies because this team must fill some serious holes if it is going to win right now.

The most glaring hole — or holes — reside in the starting rotation where the Phillies currently have just one dependable starting pitcher on their roster. After Aaron Nola, the Phils have reason to believe that a healthy Jake Arrieta (he had elbow surgery in September) and an inconsistent but promising Zach Eflin can contribute in 2020, but neither are a sure-thing and even if they make an impact, the Phils will need a lot more starting pitching than that, from the top of the rotation to the back end.

You can bet the Phils will be in on all the top arms on the free-agent market. Boras, who during Harper’s Bazaar built a chemistry with Middleton, will make sure of that. 

The Phillies will at least start the offseason in the sweepstakes for Cole and Strasburg and see where it takes them. Cole seems to have his eye on the West Coast and Strasburg could end up back in Washington, but the deep-pocketed Phils cannot be ruled out, especially this early in the offseason. The Phils will be in on other top starters such as Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler. Signing any one of these four would require the Phillies to forfeit their second pick in the 2020 draft. The Phils, with a new scouting director (Brian Barber) and a need to add talent to their prospect pipeline, are not keen on losing high-round selections, but their need for starting pitching is so acute and their thirst to win so desperate that it would not be surprising to see them sacrifice a pick for an impact arm.

Given the lack of depth in the rotation, the Phillies will cast their net in the lower end of the free-agent pool, as well. Cole Hamels has long spoken of a desire to finish his career in Philadelphia. Rick Porcello and others could also boost the back end of the rotation.

As nice as Rendon’s bat would look at third base — where there is a need — the Phils probably have to allot the bulk of their financial resources on starting pitching, not to mention locking up catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension. The Phils have been linked to third baseman Mike Moustakas, yet another Boras guy, the last two winters and this might be the time to try to grab him on a one- or two-year deal. He won’t cost nearly as much as Rendon and shouldn’t cost as much as free-agent Josh Donaldson, who is also expected to cost a draft pick after being extended a qualifying offer.

With Andrew McCutchen set in left field and Harper in right field, the Phils could pursue a short-term fit like Brett Gardner in center field, but they also could look to re-sign corner man Corey Dickerson, a good lefty stick, and try to get enough out of a McCutchen-Adam Haseley combination in center field. 

As for Odubel Herrera, it’s too early to tell if he will ever suit up for the Phillies again. The guess here is that he will not, but the Phillies still have several months to make that call. Only the need for a roster spot (the team currently has five openings) or the arrival of spring training will create urgency to make a decision on Herrera, if it already has not privately been made.

It’s kind of fitting that the GM meetings are being held in the Phoenix area. That is Scott Kingery’s hometown and he sits in the middle of this Phillies offseason. Depending on how the team maneuvers its way through the winter, Kingery could open the 2020 season at third base, shortstop, second base or center field. He could play third if the team does not bring in someone from the outside, shortstop if Cesar Hernandez moves on and Jean Segura moves to second base, as has been discussed internally, or second base if the team wants to play him at his best position. He also improved greatly in center field last season and could fill that spot, depending how this offseason shakes out.

There are many possibilities for this team that says it's time to win now.

Throw a log on the fire. The hot stove is warming. Baseball’s offseason gets chugging this week.

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Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

The Phillies are about to sign a player with a resume chock-full of impressive — and important — accomplishments.

According to sources, Matt Szczur, the 30-year-old outfielder from South Jersey, has agreed to sign a minor-league contract with the Phils. The deal will include an invite to major-league spring training camp.

Szczur — pronounced SEE-zur — has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. He is a product of Lower Cape May Regional High School and Villanova University. He was a two-sport star at Villanova.

On the football field, Szczur was a dynamic receiver and return specialist for Villanova’s 2009 NCAA FCS national championship team. He racked up 270 all-purpose yards in the title game win over Montana and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

On the baseball field, Szczur was an all-Big East player and a fifth-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2010. He played in 107 games for the Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016.

Szczur’s accomplishments extend beyond the playing field.

Off the field, he did something extraordinary when he took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova in 2010 to donate bone marrow that ultimately helped save the life of a young girl from Ukraine who had battled leukemia. Szczur’s life-saving gift started with his involvement in the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Talley was Szczur’s football coach at Villanova. Szczur has subsequently started his own charitable enterprise, the Szcz The Day Foundation.

Szczur hit .259 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 185 at-bats for the World Series champion Cubs in 2016. He was traded to San Diego in 2017. He spent parts of that season and the 2018 season in the majors with that club. He signed a minor-league deal with Arizona last season and hit .322 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a .967 OPS in 44 games at Triple A Reno. His season was shortened by a quad injury.

The Phillies are set at the corner outfield spots with Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and Adam Haseley is going to get a chance to hold down the center field spot with Roman Quinn in the picture as well. Szczur will give the Phillies some outfield depth and his ability to play center field is a plus. He is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions and could push for a spot on the big club as active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 men in 2020.

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Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
 
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
 
You know the rest of the story.
 
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
 
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 

Trades

While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
 
Could the Phils make a major trade?
 
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
 
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
 
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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