Phillies

Why White Sox shouldn't be dismissed in race for Bryce Harper

Why White Sox shouldn't be dismissed in race for Bryce Harper

As mentioned last week, there always seems to be a mystery team or two in the mix when a superstar is available in free agency.

With Bryce Harper, one unexpected suitor has already emerged: the Chicago White Sox.

There was a lot of hoopla Thursday over the marquee bearing Harper's name, No. 34 and a White Sox logo at Chicago's United Center. It sure looked like the preparation for a presentation the White Sox plan to make to Harper. 

The White Sox, really? The same White Sox who've averaged 92 losses the last five years and, record-wise, have trended in the wrong direction the last three?

Can they even make Harper an effective sales pitch?

Phillies vs. White Sox

When you think about it, the White Sox aren't in a wholly different situation than the Phillies. Sure, the Phillies went 80-82 this past season while the White Sox lost 100 games, but the Phils themselves are only one year removed from 96 losses, and getting to 80 wins did involve some luck.

Both teams have stockpiled and played young talent during their rebuilding phases. The Phillies are closer to making it out of theirs, but that gap could close over the next few years if Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson and Michael Kopech make strides.

Currently, Aaron Nola is the best player on either team. A healthy Jose Abreu would be next, followed by Rhys Hoskins.

Moncada is the most intriguing young position player on either team, Jimenez has tremendous power and Anderson could be a good one, but is Harper really going to bank on unrealized potential?

While the overall talent gap between the Phillies and White Sox isn't as vast as some would make it out to be, the Phillies still offer Harper a better chance to be competitive in 2019 and 2020. 

What does Bryce want?

If you've watched Harper all these years, you know that he cares deeply about winning. He has one speed and it's all-out. 

Harper's going to be able to find a massive offer from any team hot after him. If Scott Boras insinuates to the White Sox that it would take $40 million a year over 10 years, they might do it. Why even express interest if you're not willing to meet the expected price tag?

Keep in mind that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is 82 years old and probably wants to make a splash or see his team win while he still can.

It will be about more than money for Harper. It will be a combination of money, a chance to win, fit and the city itself. Harper, over the years, has shown a fondness for Chicago, whether it's naming his dog Wrigley or wearing Chicago team gear in public. That obviously always painted a path to the Cubs, who have some payroll concerns and do not appear to be a major player for Harper.

It's hard to envision the White Sox making an offer the Phillies couldn't match or exceed. So at the end of the day, it's going to come down to where Harper wants to be. The Sixers offered LeBron a better chance to win now than did the Lakers, but he went to L.A. because that's where his heart was. 

The Phillies just have to hope Harper's infatuation with Chicago is overblown.

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Will Phillies promote pitching prospect Spencer Howard in September? Discussions ongoing

Will Phillies promote pitching prospect Spencer Howard in September? Discussions ongoing

MIAMI — Spencer Howard, the Phillies’ top pitching prospect, tossed another gem for Double A Reading on Thursday night.

The possibility of the right-hander helping out the big club in September has been mentioned for weeks.

So, what does the manager think?

“I think Spencer has great stuff and he’s had tremendous results and yesterday’s game was no exception,” Gabe Kapler said Friday. “I think everybody is sort of dreaming on what he can be. Whether that happens at some point late this season or it happens next year, I think it’s inevitable that Spencer Howard is going to be on a big-league mound and I don’t think it’s going to take very long.”

Kapler was asked if there would be a hesitation to bring up Howard if the Phillies are still in the race in September.

“I think those discussions are ongoing,” he said. “You’re always trying to balance long-term development with what the club needs and does the pitcher appear ready to help. There’s a lot of things to consider when talking about when is the right time to advance Spencer Howard.”

In addition to simple readiness, both physical and mental, matters to cover when discussing whether to bring up Howard in September likely include the Phillies’ place in the standings, the need for him in relation to the performance of the rest of the rotation, starting his big-league service-time clock, and one other less obvious subject.

The baseball.

Howard has dominated hitters in the Single A Florida State League and Double A Eastern League this season. In 60 innings, he’s allowed 12 earned runs (1.80 ERA) and 36 hits. He has rung up 80 strikeouts and walked just 11. He pitched six shutout innings, gave up two hits, walked none and struck out seven for Reading against Hartford on Thursday night.

Howard has done all of his work this season with a baseball that is different than the one used in the majors and Triple A. The Major League ball, which is being used for the first time in Triple A this season, has smaller, tighter and less pronounced seams. It is made from a higher quality leather than the ball being used at the Double A level and below. And it flies. (MLB is headed toward a record-setting season for home runs.) 

Pitchers notice a difference in the feel of the two baseballs and that feel can affect performance. As an example, Kapler mentioned Damon Jones, a Phillies pitching prospect who rocketed up the system from Single A this season and has struggled at Triple A.

“One thing we’ve seen is the adjustment to the baseball is real,” Kapler said. “It’s a difficult thing just going from Double A to Triple A. We’ve seen it with Damon Jones. He was essentially unhittable in A ball and Double A and he struggled more as he reached the Triple A level and had to adjust to the new ball.”

There are several factors, beyond his performance, that make Howard a good consideration for a September promotion. He’s 23 and mature. He was a second-round pick in the 2017 draft out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And he will have innings left in his arm after missing time this season with what the team called shoulder fatigue.

September is fast approaching. We’ll know soon if Howard, profiled here, is going to be part of the Phillies’ September push.

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At The Yard podcast: How to avoid another Miami letdown; NL Cy Young race; scary Nationals

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At The Yard podcast: How to avoid another Miami letdown; NL Cy Young race; scary Nationals

On this episode of "At the Yard," Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman break down how the Phillies can avoid another letdown in Miami and handicap the NL Cy Young race and wild-card races.

• Anything less than 4-2 vs. the Marlins and Pirates would be a major fail for the Phils.

• How to avoid another letdown in Miami — made more difficult by Bryce Harper's absence.

• Are the Nationals more dangerous than the Braves?

• Who will win NL Cy Young?

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