What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

Phillies owner John Middleton recently reiterated what he's been saying for years: The Phillies will spend aggressively this offseason.

This time, he was a bit more colorful about it.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told USA Today at the owners meetings this week. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.

"We just prefer not to be completely stupid."


You know the usual suspects: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the Phillies' needs go beyond offense and there is a top-tier left-hander on the market who could boost this rotation (see story).

Harper turned down a $300 million offer from the Nationals, so it's safe to assume he's expecting a deal closer to the $350-400 million range, one with an annual value in the neighborhood of $40 million.

It's hard to gauge where Machado's price tag will be and whether his October comments affected his market. Will he get slightly less than Harper because of it? Will he get more than Harper because of the position(s) he plays?

Including guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration figures and the raises due to pre-arbitration players, the Phillies' 2019 payroll is in the vicinity of $110 million right now. But that figure is cut in half in 2020 and next-to-nothing in 2021, when the only two guaranteed deals on the Phillies' books belong to Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Aaron Nola will have to be paid sometime before 2022, and Rhys Hoskins before 2024, but the Phils still have so much wiggle room. 

Team president Andy MacPhail has been sure to remind Middleton and others that there is baseball to be played beyond 2019. But it's not often a free-agent class has headliners like this. 

The Phils could feasibly afford both Harper and Machado, but things would get extremely tricky down the road when Harper, Machado, Nola and Hoskins are combining to make about $120 million per year between the four of them. Those are the kinds of long-term issues this front office has to consider and will consider.

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Phillies roster: Top prospect Spencer Howard officially a big-leaguer

Phillies roster: Top prospect Spencer Howard officially a big-leaguer

It's finally official: Top prospect Spencer Howard was added to the Phillies' roster Sunday afternoon. J.T. Realmuto will catch Howard's MLB debut tonight against the Braves.

To make room for Howard on the active 28-man roster, the Phillies optioned Cole Irvin to Lehigh Valley. To make room for Howard on the 40-man roster, they designated Enyel De Los Santos for assignment.

Though there will be no fans or family members in the stands for his debut, there has been plenty of hoopla surrounding Howard's first start. Over the last two decades, the Phillies' only homegrown pitchers who arrived to this much hype were Cole Hamels and Aaron Nola.

It probably won't be a long start for Howard, who had been facing hitters at the Phillies' satellite site in Lehigh Valley. Something in the range of 60 to 75 pitches seems reasonable.

On Saturday, Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price described what makes Howard such an intriguing, high-ceiling prospect.

Howard will face a Braves lineup that had gone cold before breaking out for all five of their runs in the fifth inning of their Game 1 win. Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. entered Game 1 hitting a combined .207. Freeman then went 3 for 4 with a double and Acuña hit a two-run homer. The Phillies have to hope that doesn't carry into the final two games of the four-game series.

The Phillies needed three innings from their bullpen in Game 1 but did not use Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez or Tommy Hunter, three of the relievers they trust the most.

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Vince Velasquez does his job but Phillies' bullpen does not in Game 1 loss to Braves

Vince Velasquez does his job but Phillies' bullpen does not in Game 1 loss to Braves

What about a four-inning doubleheader? Is that an option?

After two strong games in a row from the Phillies' bullpen, it took another fat L in Game 1 of Sunday's doubleheader against the Braves, allowing four runs in a five-run Atlanta fifth inning.

The loss doesn't fall on starter Vince Velasquez, even if Joe Girardi left him in a batter too long. This one, again, goes to the bullpen. Velasquez stayed in after four scoreless innings with six K's. He had thrown 75 pitches and there was bullpen activity as the fourth ended. But Girardi left him in to begin the fifth and he allowed a rocketed single on the first pitch he threw to begin the Braves' rally.

Deolis Guerra relieved Velasquez and quickly served up a two-run shot to Ronald Acuña Jr. that put Atlanta ahead for good in a 5-2 Phillies loss. The biggest hit in the inning was Adam Duvall's three-run double off of Adam Morgan.

In five appearances this season, Guerra has allowed five runs. The bullpen has a 7.48 ERA.

The Phils are 4-5, and now all eyes turn to top prospect Spencer Howard, who will be called up to make his MLB debut in Game 2 against the Braves. It begins 40 minutes after Game 1 ended.

The teams have split the first two games of this four-game series despite the Braves being held scoreless in 15 of 16 innings.

Quiet bats

The Phillies entered Sunday with the second-best OPS in the majors, trailing only the Yankees. They also had the highest walk rate in MLB and the lowest strikeout rate.

If that doesn't seem right, it's because offense is down across the league. The league average batting average is about 20 points lower than it was last season. That can be attributed to infield shifts improving each year and hitters being rusty after such an unusual build-up to the regular season.

In Game 1 Sunday, the Phils had only one hit through the first four innings, a single from Neil Walker. Roman Quinn added a double in the fifth and Andrew McCutchen singled in the seventh. Those were the only three hits. Their two runs scored on an RBI groundout and a sac fly.

Lineup notes

J.T. Realmuto, Scott Kingery and McCutchen were out of the Game 1 lineup. McCutchen entered for Adam Haseley once the Braves made a pitching change.

Realmuto will be behind the plate in Game 2 to catch Howard, and Kingery will likely be back at second base. Kingery has had a dismal start to the season — he's 2 for 28.

Almost enough from Vinny

Velasquez extended the Phillies' streak to 13 innings of shutout baseball against the Braves to begin this weekend's series before the Braves broke out in the fifth. That is the only inning the Braves have scored out of 16 in the series.

Though he went only four innings, the Phillies will take it. Any time he keeps them in the game, they'll take it. Plus, going four in a seven-inning doubleheader is akin to going closer to six in a nine-inning game.

Whether or not he'd admit it, Velasquez likely feels the pressure from Howard. The thing is, the Phillies still have five more doubleheaders this season. When cycling through the rotation, they'll need six starters almost as much as they'll need five starters the rest of the way.

Through two starts, Velasquez has allowed five runs in seven innings with 10 K's.

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