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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We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.
Or, frankly, as humorous.
We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.
Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.
Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?
Jeff Francoeur remembers.
And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.
Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.
And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.
"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."
Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.
He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.
"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"
But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings.
In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.
"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.
"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.
As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.
Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.
"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."
Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.
"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.
He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.
So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.
Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.
By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.
Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.
Was it as tense as it looked?
"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.
"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."
The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.
Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.
The Phillies lost that game, too.
Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.
Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.
"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.
"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."