Phillies

What Dodgers’ signing of A.J. Pollock means for Phillies and Bryce Harper market

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What Dodgers’ signing of A.J. Pollock means for Phillies and Bryce Harper market

The Dodgers have reportedly agreed to a four-year deal in the vicinity of $50 million with free-agent outfielder A.J. Pollock, which could remove them once and for all from the Bryce Harper sweepstakes.

Harper-to-L.A. seemed like a real possibility when the offseason began, given the Dodgers’ deep pockets and their need for another middle-of-the-order bat. That need only intensified when the Dodgers traded outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to Cincinnati on Dec. 21.

Pollock projects as the Dodgers’ opening day centerfielder. As of now, he’d be flanked by some combination of Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor, but a Pederson trade could occur between now and opening day. A report last week indicated the White Sox are in on Pederson.

If the Dodgers have indeed moved on from the idea of signing Harper, it would benefit the Phillies similarly to how the Yankees’ surprisingly lukewarm interest in Manny Machado has. Teams like the Dodgers and Yankees are uniquely qualified to match the Phillies’ offers, so those teams filling their needs with other free agents is a meaningful development for the Phils. If there are any two teams the Phillies would love to see out of the race for a superstar, it’s the Yankees and Dodgers. 

It was assumed that Pollock would sign after Harper, but it’s Jan. 24 and Pollock likely wanted to solidify his payday and situation. Pollock is well-rounded — he can hit for average and power, steal bases and play solid defense — but injuries have defined his career the most to this point. Over the last three seasons, Pollock played in just 49 percent of his team’s games.

It is interesting that Pollock’s deal is for nearly the same price as Andrew McCutchen’s, just with an additional year. McCutchen, who at 32 is a little over a year older than Pollock, got a straight three-year, $50 million contract from the Phils. Prior to Wednesday, McCutchen was the only position player in baseball this offseason to join another team on a contract longer than two years. Pollock’s contract differs in that it is “filled with incentives, escalators and opt-outs,” according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

One wonders if the Phillies would still choose to sign McCutchen to that dollar figure if they could have a mulligan. Much like the Carlos Santana signing last December, the Phils gave out a rich contract relatively early in the free-agent process that appeared to be a market-setter but instead ended up being an outlier.

That was further illustrated by the cheap deal Nick Markakis ultimately signed with the Braves this week — one year, $6 million — coming off a season in which he played 162 games, made the All-Star team and hit .297/.366/.440.

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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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