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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What MLB's sliding scale proposal could look like from Phillies perspective

What MLB's sliding scale proposal could look like from Phillies perspective

Tuesday's meeting between MLB and the players' association kicked off an important week for a sport that knows it needs to quickly solve its financial battle and return to our screens.

According to multiple reports, the financial plan proposed to the players on Tuesday involved a sliding scale that would give the largest percentage of prorated salaries to players earning the least, and the smallest percentage of prorated salaries to players earning the most.

In simpler terms: If the players were to sign off on this plan, it would mean Bryce Harper ($27.5M in 2020) would get a lower percentage of his prorated salary than would Rhys Hoskins ($605,000).

The rationale of this reported proposal is pretty clear: There are so many more players earning close to the league minimum than there are superstars earning eight figures per year. If the players earning the least are given the highest percentage of their prorated salaries, it means a large chunk of the league would be close to earning what it would've if the March agreement regarding full prorated salaries remained untouched.

Let's use the Phillies as an example. In 2020, they were set to pay: 

• Bryce Harper just over $27.5M
• Zack Wheeler $21.5M
• Jake Arrieta $20M
• Andrew McCutchen $17M
• Jean Segura $14.85M
• Didi Gregorius $14M
• David Robertson $11M
• J.T. Realmuto $10M

They have seven more players set to make between $1.5 million and $8.5 million. The remaining 25 players on the 40-man roster, plus all the non-roster invitees and pre-arbitration players, all fall below that line.

This, from Joel Sherman of the NY Post, paints a slightly clearer picture of how it could shake out:

One person who had been briefed on the proposal said the expectation is that players due to make $1 million or less in 2020 would be made close to whole on a prorated basis for games played. Thus, if someone were making the MLB 2020 minimum of $563,500 and 82 regular-season games (almost exactly half a season) were played, they would receive roughly half their pay, about $282,000.

But players at the top of the pay chain such as Gerrit Cole and Mike Trout would get less. If that were in the 50 percent range — as an example — then Cole, who was due $36 million, this year would receive half of about the $18 million he would be due for half a season or roughly $9 million.

From a Phillies perspective, if those percentages are close to accurate, it would mean Harper would earn somewhere around $6.9 million of his $27.5 million salary. For Wheeler, that number would be about $5.4 million. For Arrieta, $5 million. And so on.

That is just an example, though. It is currently unclear how many different prorated tiers there would be, what the percentage would be for each, and whether the players would even sign off on this.

However, there are other factors at play. MLB could also elongate what we expected to be an 82-game season to closer to 100 games. The additional revenue of more games on local and national TV could mean a slightly higher percentage of salaries for players.

And, per the Post, "there also would be a kicker in which the players would receive a greater percentage of the salaries if the postseason is played — MLB receives the lion’s share of its national TV money from the playoffs."

There are some hurdles with this plan. There is the potential of pitting players against each other within their own union based on the different tiers of prorated pay. There is also the potential of a few superstar players feeling it's not worth it to play. What if you're Mookie Betts and you agree to play for a fraction of your salary and then suffer a bad injury that diminishes your free-agent value? 

There is no doubt that everyone in baseball is in this together and it benefits all sides to have the game return this summer. But there is still much more negotiating to be done.

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Important week on tap for MLB — can season actually begin in early July?

Important week on tap for MLB — can season actually begin in early July?

Signs point toward meaningful MLB news coming this week. 

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced that teams could return to their facilities to train, which is meaningful nationwide given the fact that New York has had more than twice as many cases of COVID-19 reported as any other state.

In Tampa, Tropicana Field was reopened for limited workouts and more than a dozen Rays players participated. The Astros have announced that Minute Maid Park is open for workouts, too. The Angels' spring training complex is open to all players on their 40-man roster.

MLB and the players' association are scheduled to meet today. Understandably, the players' union has, so far, been unwilling to accept another pay cut on top of what it thought agreed to in March with prorated pay. Team owners have been adamant that it is not financially viable to pay players a half-season salary with no fans in stands. From their side, the losses would be too steep and would affect future finances.

Will the sides reach a compromise? They have to. We saw again over the weekend how many Americans are starved for sports when 5.8 million tuned into the Tiger Woods-Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson-Tom Brady golf match, a number slightly higher than The Last Dance documentary received. 

MLB didn't need any more evidence that returning was crucial, but there it was. All parties feel a sense of urgency because the league doesn't want baseball to dip further in popularity, and the players want to play and get paid. If the sport were to disappear for a period of 18 months, it will fall off the radar for many casual fans. And a portion of die-hards will be so frustrated by the sides' inability to come to a financial agreement at a time when so many are suffering physically, mentally and financially and craving the escape of sports that even their viewership habits could change. 

MLB cannot afford that. It is not at the height of its popularity like the NBA.

The goal, when this is worked out, is still to hold Spring Training II in mid-June and open the season at the beginning of July. The closer we get to those dates without an agreement, the less likely it becomes that the regular season could start so soon. Players will need two or three weeks to prepare regardless of when a deal is struck.

It also looks increasingly likely that teams will stay within their own divisions. There would still be a good amount of interleague play between teams in close proximity to one another (think Yankees and Orioles for the Phillies), but the three-division, 10-team format idea is not as necessary if teams can play in their home states as opposed to just Florida, Texas and Arizona.

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