Phillies

Rhys Hoskins shares his thoughts on the switch from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi

Rhys Hoskins shares his thoughts on the switch from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi

One of the main projects in Year 1 with the Phillies for Joe Girardi and the hitting coach he selects will be getting Rhys Hoskins back on track.

It was fitting that Hoskins was in attendance at Girardi's introductory press conference Monday because Hoskins himself represents so much of what has gone right or wrong for the Phillies over the last 2½ years.

It was the emergence of Hoskins and Aaron Nola in 2017 that made the Phillies confident their rebuild was nearly complete and it was time to spend money. In 2018, Nola was elite, Hoskins was very good and the Phillies increased their win total from 66 to 80.

But in 2019, Hoskins' second-half struggles mirrored those of the Phillies and his lackluster final two months contributed to their second straight late-season collapse. In a year when home runs soared, Hoskins hit 29, five fewer than the year before. He led the NL with 116 walks but hit .226 compared to .249 the prior two seasons.

Hoskins is still a good hitter. He didn't have his skills zapped out of him like Muggsy Bogues in Space Jam. He got into a bad rhyhthm at the plate during the 2019 season and couldn't work his way out of it. The swing got longer. The uppercut was more pronounced. He needs to re-figure things out. With a new manager, a new hitting coach and some different tutelage, the Phillies hope he can come closer to the Hoskins of 2018 who slugged 42 points higher.

Hoskins was asked Monday about what kind of impact the switch to Girardi can make.

"I think, and this has nothing to do with who Gabe (Kapler) is as a person or what he did as a manager, but it's the experience," Hoskins said. "He's done 'it.' And 'it' is what we're all trying to do: win.

"One way to establish respect, obviously, is your credibility, your track record. He has one of the best out there, and we're excited to be a part of that. ... Gabe was a first-time manager when he got here. Unfortunately, he didn't have experience. He will have experience. He'll have a long managerial career."

Kapler may get another job right away. He will reportedly have a second interview for the San Francisco Giants' managerial opening.

As for Hoskins, he needs to reassert himself in 2020 as the big bopper in the middle of a lineup that can carry a team for a week or two with his power. The walks are great. But the Phillies need more run production out of the cleanup spot.

With Girardi in the fold, the Phillies' offseason now transitions to phase two. The leader is in place, the organization has been stabilized and now the Phils must add a handful of impact players. Free agency begins five days after the World Series ends and it figures to be another active offseason for the Phillies.

As we've seen in recent winters, the top of the market will likely be slow to develop. The Phillies have, however, made quick strikes in free agency two years in a row by signing Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Santana.

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Braves' signing of Will Smith has ripple effect on NL East and free agency

Braves' signing of Will Smith has ripple effect on NL East and free agency

Two weeks into free agency, the Braves have been more active than any team. Their biggest move was Thursday's signing of left-hander Will Smith, the top reliever on the market.

Prior to that, Atlanta brought back three of its own would-be-free-agents in right fielder Nick Markakis, catcher Tyler Flowers and reliever Darren O'Day.

The Smith signing is definitely the highest impact move of the bunch and makes the Braves a lot better. His deal is for a reported $40 million over three years. He is coming off his first All-Star appearance and back-to-back stellar years. He was 6-0 with 34 saves and a 2.76 ERA for the Giants in 2019, he struck out 96 in 65⅓ innings and he held lefties to a .157/.167/.229 batting line. Read that again ... 157/.167/.229!

Bryce Harper will face Smith many times over the next three years. The teams meet 19 times per season and you'd figure Smith will face Harper in a high-leverage situation whenever the game is late and close. Harper is 0 for 8 with five strikeouts lifetime against Smith. Smith will also factor into plenty of matchups with Juan Soto.

The Braves tried various closing formulas in 2018. They went through Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Shane Greene and Melancon. For most of the season, the ninth-inning was a weakness, yet the Braves still won 97 games. 

Melancon will return in 2020 and could still close, but Smith is another very good option if he falters. It would probably make more sense for the Braves to try to use Melancon as the ninth-inning guy to free up Smith for high-leverage spots against lefties in the eighth or even seventh inning.

Why did Smith sign so quickly? For a couple reasons. First, $40 million over three years is a sweet contract for a reliever. He may not have beaten this deal even by waiting. But his representatives also effectively leveraged Thursday's qualifying offer deadline against teams interested in Smith. There was at least a threat that Smith could accept the Giants' one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer if a better alternative was not presented by Nov. 14. That created more urgency on the Braves' part.

Removing Smith's name from the free-agent relief market further depletes an already light market. The top two potential free-agent relievers were set to be Smith and Aroldis Chapman, but Smith is a Brave in mid-November and Chapman returned to the Yankees on a new deal.

With Smith off the board, the top free-agent reliever might be longtime lefty starter Drew Pomeranz. In 25 appearances with the Brewers after a midseason trade, Pomeranz had a 2.39 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 45 strikeouts in 26⅓ innings. He's generated a ton of buzz this winter and should also find a lucrative multi-year contract.

Chris Martin, Sergio Romo, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson and Dellin Betances are the best free-agent bullpen arms left. There are also trade candidates like Ken Giles, Raisel Iglesias and maybe Ian Kennedy if the Royals eat most of his remaining $22.5 million.

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Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies went into this offseason prioritizing a contract extension for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Even as the Phils pursue pitching and possibly a third baseman, they are quietly trying to hammer out that extension, according to multiples sources. 

But the extension might not come before the New Year. It might not even come before the opening of spring training.

Don’t panic. Realmuto solidified his status as the top catcher in baseball by winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2019. The Phillies very much want to prevent him from becoming a free agent after next season and Realmuto, for months, has professed his affection for the Phillies and Philadelphia as well as his desire to stick around.

“Everything I’ve experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the rest of my career there,” he said in July. 

In order to preserve some payroll flexibility for the 2020 season, it is possible that the Phillies could sign Realmuto to a one-year contract this winter — he projects to make about $10.5 million in his final arbitration year — then subsequently finalize a separate multi-year extension that would kick in at the start of the 2021 season. The extension could be finalized and announced later this offseason or even in spring training.

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is projected to get an extension of four or five years with an average annual value of $20 million or more. By starting the extension in 2021, the AAV of Realmuto’s deal would not count toward the 2020 payroll and thus affect luxury-tax calculations. For tax purposes, the Phillies currently have about $116 million committed to nine players for 2020. Even with Realmuto’s 2020 salary still to be determined and raises due to a number of other players, the Phils do not appear to be in jeopardy of reaching the $208 million tax threshold in 2020 and have the room to pursue top free agents. But pushing Realmuto’s extension back to 2021 would allow for even more room under the tax threshold and that could come in handy this winter or even at the July trade deadline.

After the 2020 season, the Phils will gain some payroll flexibility as Jake Arrieta’s $25 million AAV and David Robertson’s $11.5 million AAV come off the books just as Realmuto’s extension would kick in.

The Phillies have never exceeded the tax threshold. Teams exceeding it for the first time pay 20 percent on every dollar they go over. Last month, owner John Middleton offered his thoughts about exceeding the tax threshold.

“I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team,” Middleton said. “That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

Other than expressing a desire to extend the relationship, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has steadfastly declined comment on the status of talks with Realmuto on a possible extension. Klentak continued that tack at this week’s GM meetings.

“We love J.T.,” Klentak said. “Every week, it seems like he’s winning a new award. What all of that is doing is confirming what a lot of us have felt for a long time. This guy is the real deal. He can do everything. At some point in this offseason, we will likely talk to him about trying to keep him in the fold beyond his control years and hopefully we’ll line up on something.”

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