A Phillies trade that affected years of National League baseball

A Phillies trade that affected years of National League baseball

In 137 years of play, the Phillies have racked up more than a few what-ifs. What if Chico Ruiz doesn't steal home in 1964? What if Danny Ozark replaces Greg Luzinski for defense on Black Friday 1977? What if the Phillies protect George Bell in the Rule 5 draft? What if they don't trade Ferguson Jenkins? Or Ryne Sandberg?

What if Michael Martinez doesn't catch that ball in deep center field that 2011 night in Atlanta and the St. Louis Cardinals don't make the postseason? What if Chase Utley's knees don't go bad and Ryan Howard doesn't blow out his Achilles tendon? There are many, many more.

Over the next few days, we'll explore a few of the moments and events that may have flown under the radar but still make you ask: what if? Join us in our trip to an alternate Phillies universe ...

The Phillies were active in the trade market every summer from 2005-12, from the days they were on the brink of contention to the days they sought to supplement a championship-level core to the days they needed to tear it all down.

When it became apparent in 2012 that the Phillies were aging out of their competitive window and that significant injuries had expedited the declines of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, the Phils shifted gears. Howard missed the Phillies' first 84 games in 2012 and Utley missed the first 77. The Phils still thought they could potentially make another run in 2013 or 2014 (it never materialized), but in 2012, they also sought to turn some of their soon-to-be-free-agents into prospects. 

And so the afternoon of the 2012 trade deadline, then-GM Ruben Amaro Jr. swung two trades. Shane Victorino, who was set for free agency, was dealt to the Dodgers for Ethan Martin and Josh Lindblom. An hour or so later, Hunter Pence was traded to the Giants in a more surprising move.

Pence, unlike Victorino, was still under team control the following season. The Phillies didn't need to trade him at the 2012 deadline, but oftentimes you want to pull the trigger before you need to in order to get more value. If you know you're not going to sign the guy in a year and a half, and you're unsure if your team can contend the next season, you might as well trade him. Far too often, GMs hold out because the right offer never materializes and the player ends up walking, with his previous team receiving no compensation except maybe a draft pick.

"I don't think anyone really anticipated the season that's gone on," Pence said the day he was dealt. "It was the perfect storm of injuries and things didn't go right for us, so that's the way the business of the game is and you have to understand that. The Phillies are going in a different direction. We had a great run at it. Now I'm going a different way."

The Pence situation was still pretty strange. Twelve months earlier, the Phillies had acquired him to bolster their lineup and fill the void in the five-hole left by Jayson Werth when Werth went to Washington. Pence was great down the stretch in 2011, hitting .324 with a .954 OPS in 236 plate appearances as a Phillie. He quickly became a fan favorite with his hustle and unorthodox style of hitting, fielding, running and throwing.

"He is the most unique player that I've ever been around," former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said several times when Pence was here. "And I mean that in a good way. This guy is so aggressive. He doesn't cut down nothing on his swing. He's just railing away. But the biggest part about him, though, is he can hit."

As the centerpiece of an Utley-less, Howard-less Phillies lineup in 2012, Pence didn't hit as much. When he was traded, he had the lowest slugging percentage of his career. He was never an offensive centerpiece but in his prime, Pence was a valuable complementary piece, the kind of player who could be the third-best hitter on a championship team.

The Phillies knew, based on Pence's skill set, age and comparable contracts, that eventually extending Pence would cost around $90 million. That was exactly what he ended up getting from the Giants: 5 years, $90 million. And really, if you took only the regular season, the Phillies probably made a wise call. Pence averaged 123 games and hit .277/.334/.447 over the life of his Giants contract. Serviceable numbers, just not worth $90 million.

Where Pence shined though, was in the playoffs. His pregame speeches, beginning before Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS, became the stuff of legend in San Francisco. He won two rings there. In 2014, he was the Giants' best hitter in the World Series, going 12 for 27 (.444) with three doubles, a homer and five RBI.

Maybe the Giants would have won it all anyway in 2012 and 2014 without Pence's production and the extra juice he gave his teammates. Maybe their starting pitching and bullpen dominance would have been enough. A lot of Pence's teammates would disagree and point out how instrumental he was through it all.

Tommy Joseph was the centerpiece of the Phillies' return for Pence and his value dipped once concussions ended his days behind the plate. Hard to predict. The other pieces were outfielder Nate Schierholtz and pitcher Seth Rosin. Schierholtz homered in his Phillies debut and was set to play every day, but a broken toe derailed his time here. Rosin ended up making just four big-league appearances.

The most unfortunate parts for the Phillies were that they didn't get enough in return for Pence, and they then went years without finding a consistently productive corner outfielder to replace him. From 2013-17, the only outfielders to post an OPS over .800 for the Phillies were Domonic Brown in 2013 and Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams in partial seasons in 2017.

During those lean years for the Phillies, Pence was across the country winning rings. It wasn't easy for Phillies fans to take in light of the 2010 NLCS. But everything comes full circle. Now, the Giants are in a rebuilding process with ex-Phils skipper Gabe Kapler, and last winter Bryce Harper chose the Phillies over the Giants, largely because of their more appealing core and ballpark.

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J.T. Realmuto offers grim view of contract talks with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto offers grim view of contract talks with Phillies

J.T. Realmuto began his first chat with reporters since baseball’s re-start with a request on Thursday.

He asked that questions about his contract situation with the Phillies be kept to a minimum. 

But in explaining why, Realmuto said plenty.

“We were in the really preliminary stages (of negotiations) early on in spring training before the pandemic and we haven't really gone anywhere since then, so if we could focus on the team here and speak a little bit less about myself that would be greatly appreciated,” the All-Star catcher said.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s two separate comments from two different people involved in this drama that would suggest negotiations aren’t going particularly well

Ten days ago, general manager Matt Klentak, who rarely even entertains a question about ongoing contract negotiations, offered this on the state of talks with Realmuto’s camp:

"The landscape that we left in March is different from the one we return to now. We just have to see how that manifests itself in our discussions. We still love the player. We'd still love to have him in red pinstripes for the long haul. But there’s a lot of uncertainty in the game right now on a variety of levels. We just need to play that out."

Opening day for the shortened 2020 season is just two weeks away. Given the tone of the remarks offered by both sides, it’s difficult to see the Phillies and Realmuto coming to terms on a deal before then. Once the season starts, Realmuto will be just a few months away from free agency, a place that elite players fantasize about.

Realmuto was pressed on the topic of what appear to be stagnant negotiations with the Phillies.

“There's no frustration,” he said. “I understand the business of baseball. I'm here to play baseball and focus on this team winning and getting to the playoffs.”

The business of baseball in the pandemic year of 2020 means revenues are down all over the game. Phillies managing partner John Middleton, in an email to club employees back on June 1, said the team was braced to lose “significantly more than 100 million” this season.

Realmuto, 29, has long made it known that he’s looking to significantly raise the salary bar for all catchers in his next contract – be it with the Phillies or out on the open market. Something rivaling Joe Mauer’s average salary of $23 million – a record for a catcher – in the form of a multiyear deal seemed to be the starting point for Realmuto and it really didn’t seem that unreasonable over the winter.

Then the pandemic hit. The game shut down. Even when the games come back in two weeks, there will be no fans in the stands. The “gate” accounts for about 40 percent of the revenues that most teams bring in. Teams will reap some television revenues when the shortened, 60-game season begins in two weeks, but who knows if the season will be completed with COVID-19 spiking in a number of baseball states, and who knows if there will even be fans in the stands next season. The world begs for a vaccine. Baseball’s next free-agent class begs for a vaccine.

Realmuto has concerns about how "the new landscape" will affect the overall free-agent market this winter, but, personally, he’s undaunted about the prospect of hitting the market.

“It definitely concerns me,” he said. “Necessarily not for myself, but it does concern me for the free-agency class as a whole. I mentioned a few months back that the top guys usually find a way to get their dollars. Teams are going to want them, you know. Maybe if it's not 20 teams that are in on you, now there'll be five to 10. I just think that a lot of teams will be able to look at this as a time to take advantage and actually go for it instead of backing off. As half the league will probably be trying to cut revenue and save some money and the other ones will look at it as an advantage to maybe go forward and press forward. I think that it could affect free agency as a whole, but for myself, I'm not really too worried about it.”

Even with negotiations not progressing, Realmuto expressed affection for the Phillies organization.

“My opinion of the organization has not changed one bit,” he said. “I love this organization. They've been great to me and my family since I showed up. From top to bottom, they're just good people and they care about baseball, and that's really important to me.”

It’s still quite possible that Realmuto and the Phillies find a way to strike a long-term marriage. Baseball negotiations can endure painful moments and still end up with everyone happy. But no baseball negotiation has ever had to play out against a pandemic that has caused the game to hemorrhage revenues. Had this pandemic hit 18 months ago, Relamuto’s teammate, Bryce Harper, probably would not have landed a $330 million contract.

Harper wants Realmuto to remain with the Phillies. He wants him to get paid. He made that clear when he shouted, “Sign him!” during an intersquad game at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. 

“I hope he owns a team one day, honestly,” Realmuto said. “I might be able to catch until I'm 60 if he owns a team.

“Honestly, it’s all in good fun. I appreciate the support and the respect is mutual there. He has a little fun with it so I don't mind it too much.

“From a public standpoint, it doesn't bother me how much it's being talked about. For me I'm going to focus on this season and focus on helping this team win and that's really all I can do.”

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Phillies’ 2021 schedule includes a bucket list trip for baseball fans

Phillies’ 2021 schedule includes a bucket list trip for baseball fans

Three days after MLB’s 2020 schedule came out, the league released the 2021 schedule.

There’s so much uncertainty around baseball right now, with COVID-19 cases around the league, issues with testing, players opting out and many others wary of the virus. There will be no fans in the stands in 2020, but this look at the 2021 schedule provides some early excitement for if/when the coronavirus pandemic slows enough to allow fans back into stadiums.

The Phillies will open the 2021 season at home against the Braves on April 1. The first four series alternate between Braves and Mets, the first two at home and next two on the road.

The Phils’ earliest 2021 non-division road trip is to Colorado and St. Louis from April 23-29.

The month of May includes two long road trips — a nine-gamer through Atlanta, Washington and Toronto, and another nine-game trip to Miami, Tampa and Cincy the week of Memorial Day. The Phillies also have a home weekend series against the Red Sox.

The Phillies face a daunting slate in June, with 11 consecutive games against the Nationals, Braves, Yankees and Dodgers. That Dodgers series is the Phils’ first West Coast swing, with a series in San Francisco to follow.

The Phillies are home for July 4 (a Sunday) against the Padres and then close out the first half of 2021 on the road at Wrigley Field and Fenway Park in back-to-back series. That is a bucket list trip for many baseball fans.

From July 22 through Aug. 15, the Phils play 17 of 24 games at home, before their final West Coast trip to Arizona and San Diego.

September/October 2021 is not as heavy a dose of division matchups as usual for the final month. Only 13 of the Phillies’ 30 regular-season games after Sept. 1 are against NL East teams. Their final week is a trip to Atlanta and Miami.

The Phillies’ interleague schedule is entirely against the AL East, so these two divisions will become quite familiar over the next 15 months. The Phillies play the Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees and Red Sox on the road. They host the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Orioles.

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