Phillies

Phillies set to renew 'interesting' relationship with super-agent Scott Boras

Phillies set to renew 'interesting' relationship with super-agent Scott Boras

The Phillies will renew what has been at times a trying, but always interesting, relationship with baseball's most powerful agent when club leaders travel to Las Vegas on Saturday.

Somewhere in that desert town of bright lights and big shows, Phillies officials will sit across from Bryce Harper, one of the two megastars on this winter's free-agent market. The other, of course, is Manny Machado, a player the Phillies have already visited with and are actively trying to sign.

The Phillies' interest in Harper is real, but for months it has been clear that Machado is the team's priority. It is unlikely the team would sign both players and club president Andy MacPhail indicated as much back in October. If Machado signs elsewhere, the Phillies' interest in Harper could swell, hence Saturday's meeting with the player in Las Vegas. It will be the first time Phillies officials have met with Harper. They have already had several ground-laying conversations with Harper's super-agent, Scott Boras.

The current Phillies front office knows Boras well, having hammered out a deal with him for Jake Arrieta last year.

But Boras' relationship with the franchise goes back farther than that and it hasn't always been smooth sailing. Working out a deal for first-rounder Carlton Loewer in 1994 was easy, but it was a different story just a few years later when the two sides could not come to an agreement for No. 2 overall pick J.D. Drew and he re-entered the draft after a year of acrimonious negotiations that included Boras appearing via satellite from California on our very own sports network and getting into a testy verbal joust with Curt Schilling, who was then still a Phillie and sticking up for his team.

The Phillies had only limited dealings with Boras for a while after L'Affaire Drew. Things got a little sticky in the fall of 2011 when the two sides were moving toward a contract extension for free agent Ryan Madson before the Phillies quickly pivoted and signed Jonathan Papelbon. Boras was none too happy with the Phillies, but he didn't hold a grudge. He never does. He didn't become the game's most powerful agent by closing doors on potential landing spots for his guys. Heck, he even put on a happy face during the Drew saga and negotiated a one-year deal with the Phils for infielder Mark Lewis in December 1997.

The dust from the Drew situation has long settled and the days when Boras was likened in Philadelphia to the Big Bad Wolf have faded. Even Boras jokes about that. A former minor-league infielder, he recently told of how his affiliation with the Phillies went back to his teen years when he played on a scout team in the Sacramento area run by Eddie Bockman, the legendary former Phillies scout who signed Larry Bowa, Bob Boone and John Vukovich.

"So I wore a Phillie uniform every winter when I had the privilege of playing in that program," Boras said. "I love the Philadelphia fans, I love their intensity. I love how they treat the game of baseball. So I have nothing but brotherly love for the city of Philadelphia."

Does Harper feel the same way?

There have been reports that he does not. That's one of the topics Phillies officials will drill into during their meeting. 

Where once there were few, Boras' stable is now loaded with clients who are Phillies. Arrieta, Nick Williams and Vince Velasquez are all Boras men. Late last summer, Boras snagged Rhys Hoskins as a client. Boras reps Sixto Sanchez, the team's top pitching prospect, Cole Irvin, the organization's minor-league pitcher of the year in 2018, and Cornelius Randolph, the team's top pick in the 2015 draft.

Maybe he'll soon represent another Phillie in Harper. Or maybe the Phillies will get Machado instead. If that happens, Boras won't hold a grudge. He will look for the next match with the team. Mike Moustakas? Dallas Keuchel? Those are his guys, too, and they are still out there and the Phils have had considered both.

Managing partner John Middleton will lead the Phillies contingent to Vegas on Saturday. You know Boras has to be elated about that. Middleton and Boras have some similarities. Both are extremely competitive and want to win. And both are wildly successful businessmen. Boras has long preferred to sit at a negotiating table with the people who own teams. It's almost as if he sees them as equals speaking a shared language. He likes to sell owners on the overall impact that a superstar like Harper will have on an organization, from wins on the field to revenues and franchise values that are generated by those wins.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall Saturday in Vegas.

It will surely be an interesting show.

It always is with Scott Boras and the Phillies.

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The hero again, Jay Bruce making a huge impact on the field and on his Phillies teammates

The hero again, Jay Bruce making a huge impact on the field and on his Phillies teammates

Imagine where this Phillies team would be without Jay Bruce.

When the Phillies acquired Bruce from Seattle on June 2, it was to be a platoon outfielder and extra bench bat, a player who could come off the pine, pop one and change the game.

Less than a month later, he's become one of the most instrumental bats in their lineup.

Bruce did what no other Phillie has done this season: delivered a walk-off win. His line shot off Stephen Nogosek in the 10th inning Wednesday sailed over the head of centerfielder Juan Lagares (who was playing much shallower than you'd expect) and sent the Phillies' dugout into a frenzy with a 5-4 win (see observations). Rookie Edgar Garcia, the winning pitcher, rushed to dump the Gatorade jug over Bruce's head. The party was on.

Make that three straight nights the Phillies have come back to beat the plummeting Mets. They overcame a two-run deficit Monday, a three-run deficit Tuesday and a four-run deficit Wednesday. It's probably best they don't continue the pattern.

"I don't think there's any way I could actually express it in words, how important he's been to the club," manager Gabe Kapler said of Bruce. "He spent a tremendous amount of time in the clubhouse getting to know our players very quickly. You guys have seen how many big hits he's gotten for us and how clutch he's been.

"I talked to him this morning about the possibility of maybe giving him a day. We have some [right-handed starting pitching opponents] coming up. I thought maybe it might be a good time to get him off his feet. It wasn't a push or anything. It was an open conversation between two grown-ups. He said, 'I'm in there. Not only am I in there, but I give the Phillies the best chance to win a baseball game.' And as he was coming off the field right there, he said, 'I told you.' And I believe him.

"Everything he has said has been true — from the time he got to the Phillies, from the time he walked into my office in San Diego and said he was still a strong enough defender to put out there every day, that his body was capable of bouncing back. He's proven that to be true. That he can hit left-handed pitching. He's proven that to be true. I'll never doubt another word that Jay Bruce says."

As a Phillie, Bruce has hit .294 with an OPS just under 1.000. He has seven home runs, four doubles and 20 RBI in 19 games. Keep in mind, his arrival coincided with the season-ending injury to Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera's arrest, and the beginning of cold spells for Jean Segura and Cesar Hernandez.

Bruce's bat has, in many ways, kept the Phillies afloat and prevented further disaster in the month of June.

"Jay's an awesome guy. He brings energy to the field every day, he's happy, he competes," said Nick Pivetta, who had a rough outing. "I've faced him before, he's not an easy out. He's really helping us do a lot of great things. It's been a pleasure to watch him play."

Bruce is no stranger to walk-off hits. This was the 12th of his career. In the span of 19 games, he has been the key hitter in at least five and probably six of the Phillies' 10 wins. Metrics like Win Probability Added and Wins Above Replacement are more complicated than just accounting for game-winning or game-breaking hits, but Bruce has literally added a few more wins to the Phillies' total than they'd otherwise have. 

He has shown how much added value an acquisition can bring when it's completed far ahead of the trade deadline.

"I definitely, and you can ask anybody, I want to be the guy up at the plate with a chance to end it," Bruce said. "But I think that you learn throughout your career how to approach and how to handle those situations. The biggest message I talk to myself every single at-bat in a situation like that is to just do less. Try to do less. Try not to force the situation. All the cliches, start taking it pitch by pitch.

"These guys have made it so easy on me, man. It’s been unbelievable. They’ve been so great as far as kind of welcoming me, allowing me to be myself, integrating myself in the clubhouse. I think one of the things I feel is the most important when you get traded — now being traded four times — is integrating yourself in the clubhouse. Being a little vulnerable, opening up, getting to know guys, kind of understanding how guys tick and what the team is like. I think that’s really important."

Moments after Bruce finished answering questions, he grabbed an adult beverage, pulled up a chair and joined the circle of Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Andrew Knapp and Sean Rodriguez in conversation.

"Ray Bjuce!" Knapp yelled, a nickname that probably won't stick.

It feels like Bruce has been with the Phillies a lot longer than 24 days.

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Phillies 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): Phillies come back for 3rd straight night, notch 1st walk-off of 2019

Phillies 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): Phillies come back for 3rd straight night, notch 1st walk-off of 2019

BOX SCORE 

It took 80 games but the Phillies have their first walk-off win of 2019. Jay Bruce smoked an RBI double over the centerfielder's head in the bottom of the 10th to give the Phillies a 5-4 win and a third straight victory over the Mets.

The Phillies came back from a two-run deficit to win Game 1, a three-run deficit to win Game 2 and a four-run deficit to win Game 3. The Mets' bullpen has been a total disaster, especially lately, which made beleaguered Mets manager Mickey Callaway's decision to pull starter Jason Vargas after just 77 pitches across 6⅓ mostly dominant innings even more strange.

The Phillies took advantage of that highly questionable decision in the sixth inning, scoring three runs on an RBI double by Cesar Hernandez and a game-tying, bases-loaded two-run single by Jean Segura, who homered an inning earlier.

Hernandez has six straight multi-hit games. Segura has nine home runs, just one fewer than he had last season.

The Phillies are 42-38; the Mets are 37-44.

Happy to see you go

The Phillies were thrilled to see Vargas exit this game. The veteran finesse lefty matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts over 6⅓ innings and allowed just five of the 24 batters he faced to reach base. 

Callaway, who has come under tremendous fire lately for the team's poor performance, his questionable managerial decisions and his tirade toward a Newsday reporter over the weekend, pulled Vargas after 77 pitches for reliever Seth Lugo. He did it despite the fact that every Mets setup man has failed this month to get the ball from the starting pitcher to closer Edwin Diaz. 

From a Phillies perspective, it paid off, just as it did 24 hours earlier when Callaway turned to his worst reliever, Wilmer Font, with the game on the line in the decisive sixth inning.

Another stressful night for Pivetta 

It was not a strong night for Nick Pivetta, who allowed a pair of solo homers and four runs total over 5⅔ innings. 

The most surprising aspect of Pivetta's start was the lack of whiffs. Just two of the 40 fastballs he threw resulted in a swinging strike and both were by the opposing pitcher, Vargas. Pivetta struck out only three batters and two were Vargas, who singled in his first AB.

Pivetta allowed a baserunner in every inning and pitched out of the stretch to 17 of the 29 batters he faced.

In six starts since returning from his stint in the minors, Pivetta has a 4.30 ERA and has allowed nine home runs in 37 innings. The Phillies are 2-4 in those games.

Phillies starting pitchers have allowed 15 runs in 16⅔ innings in the series.

Add McNeil to the list

Of Phillie-killers, that is. The guy is just a really good hitter. Strong contact skills, sneaky power, hits pitchers from both sides. McNeil followed Tuesday's four-hit game by going 2 for 4 with a solo homer, an RBI double and a walk.

In 20 career games against the Phillies, McNeil has hit .456 with 11 extra-base hits in 85 plate appearances (36-79).

Draft news

According to a source, Phillies first-round pick Bryson Stott is in Philadelphia for a physical. GM Matt Klentak had said Monday the Phillies expected to sign Stott this week. The deal could be completed as soon as Thursday morning.

Up next

The four-game series concludes tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 when Aaron Nola (6-2, 4.55) takes on Zack Wheeler (6-5, 4.69).

Wheeler has been as up-and-down this season as Nola. In his last start, Wheeler allowed one run to the Cubs over seven innings. His prior two times out, he allowed 14 runs on 20 hits in 10⅔ innings.

The Phillies faced Wheeler twice in one week in April. In those two games, Wheeler gave up three runs in seven innings in a Mets loss and went seven scoreless with 11 punchouts in a Mets win.

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