Brad Miller

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
 
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
 
You know the rest of the story.
 
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
 
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 

Trades

While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
 
Could the Phils make a major trade?
 
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
 
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
 
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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Winning record eludes Phillies, emotional Gabe Kapler on final day of season — will manager be back?

Winning record eludes Phillies, emotional Gabe Kapler on final day of season — will manager be back?

Updated: 8:26 p.m.

BOX SCORE

And so it ends.

With a whimper.

The Phillies’ hugely disappointing 2019 season ended in a 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon.

Before the game, Bryce Harper, whose signing in March fueled optimism and expectations not seen since the days of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, addressed the crowd of 31,805. He thanked the fans for their support, expressed his belief in the organization and the city and said, “We will reign again.” The Phillies then began to plug the final game of the season with a cast of relief pitchers. Two of them gave up three home runs before the game was three innings old. Brad Miller got the Phils on the board with a solo homer in the bottom of the third and added a two-run shot in the seventh.

But the Phils got no closer.

In a season where they came up dreadfully short, they came up short one last time when Andrew Knapp struck out with two men on base to end the game.

The Phillies’ ninth loss in the last 12 games and 16th this month denied them a winning record, which at the outset of the season seemed like the most minimal of expectations. They finished 81-81. They have not had a winning season since 2011.

Change seems to be a-brewin’ for this team. Pitching coach Chris Young is likely to be a casualty. Manager Gabe Kapler could also go. His future has been a huge topic of discussion among organization leaders for weeks and the team’s drop from wild-card contention and poor finish did not help his cause.

In two seasons on the job, Kapler is 161-163.

The Phillies were in first place in the NL East for a good period of time in both of Kapler’s seasons at the helm. The 2018 Phillies were 15 games over .500 and leading the NL East on Aug. 7. They collapsed and went 16-33 down the stretch to finish under .500.

The 2019 Phillies were 11 games over .500 and 3½ up in the division on May 30. Less than a month later, they were 6½ games back in the division.

The Phillies finished in fourth place in the NL East, not what anyone envisioned when the team acquired All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto in February and signed Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract a few weeks later.

“Obviously from a team standpoint, it was a disappointing year for us,” Realmuto said. “We had a lot of expectations and we didn't live up to them. We didn't play as well as we thought we could have. There was a lot of injuries that held us back, but we could have done more as a team to play a little bit better and stay in the hunt a little longer. But all in all, I loved this group of guys we played with this year. Everybody played really hard, fought through a lot of adversity. We stayed in the playoff hunt for a long time with not too much stuff going our way. So there is something to be said for that. But we just didn't get the job done.”

Through the final weeks of the season, as the team faded from contention and his job status became more of an issue, Kapler clenched his jaw and talked about scratching and clawing until the last out of the season.

When that last out came, he remained in the dugout and hugged every player. He received a handshake from owner John Middleton, the man who in the coming days will have final say on his future with the club. Later, in his postgame news conference, Kapler became emotional.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a group of men like these guys,” he said. “We didn’t get the job done. But it wasn’t for lack of effort. And it wasn’t for lack of character and it wasn’t for lack of grit. I’m truly proud of every one of those guys. I could talk about each of them individually, but that would take a really long time.”

Kapler said the emotion had nothing to do with his uncertain job status.

“The emotion is being proud of our players,” he said. “As a manager, this year I was blessed with high character, high quality, players and men. What you’re seeing right now, emotionally, is me feeling the power of that.”

Kapler talks to general manager Matt Klentak every day. But as Sunday night’s postgame news conference broke up, Kapler had not yet been informed whether he would be back next year or let go with a year left on his contract.

“That's not something we've talked about,” he said. “It's definitely not a conversation I need to have right now in this room. It's a private conversation. My job is to focus on managing the Phillies even after Game 162 and I will do that to the best of my ability.”

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Beyond the obvious, which Phillies might be keepers?

Beyond the obvious, which Phillies might be keepers?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It's tough to properly evaluate players when the games suddenly lack meaning and pressure. It's one of the reasons it was so difficult to evaluate young hitters and bullpen pieces in that 2013-17 period when the Phillies were well out of the playoff race by the midpoint of the summer.

These last two seasons, the Phillies were mathematically eliminated in the final week — Game 155 in 2018, Game 156 in 2019. Gabe Kapler and his players still want to win three out of four to avoid a losing season, but it's hard to watch this team right now and think about anything other than the future.

The Phillies have some obvious keepers: Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Hector Neris, Adam Haseley, probably Zach Eflin. (However you feel about Arrieta, he's still under contract and won't be giving away money.)

One other player who might be a bench keeper is Brad Miller, who has started four consecutive games in left field. Miller's playing time increased when Corey Dickerson was lost for the season but the utilityman has also earned the extra reps. Miller's locked in right now. Since Sept. 20, he is 7 for 22 (.318) with a double, five homers and seven RBI. He says his balance and mindset at the plate right now are as good as they've been in some time.

Miller has a skill set that plays off the bench. He has good plate appearances, knows the strike zone and has pop in his bat. His swing is conducive to lining balls over the scoreboard in right field at Citizens Bank Park.

Miller on Thursday said that of all the clubhouses he's been in (Seattle, Tampa, Milwaukee, Cleveland), the Phillies' is his favorite because of how many of the players genuinely like being around each other, which is evident even amid all the recent losing.

Miller had spent all but 27 career games in the American League before joining the Phillies but fits well in the National League. On the right AL team, he may have started more this season with the designated hitter slot. But in the NL, he can be a swiss army knife of sorts. He can start at either corner infield or corner outfield spot and can give you a solid AB off the bench. Not every position player is equipped to pinch-hit effectively. Miller is second on the Phillies with seven pinch-hits, including a triple and a homer.

Obviously, the Phillies have much bigger priorities this offseason than re-signing a bench player. But a 25-man roster (26 next season) is not built around 20-plus All-Stars. You need role players. You need versatile pieces who can actually produce off the bench. If it costs $1 million or so, the Phillies should be willing to bring Miller back as a Ross Gload- or Greg Dobbs-type of piece. 

They need much, much, much more, but we've seen the last two years what a bad bench looks like. The Phillies need better options off the bench from Day 1 next season.

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