Jay Bruce

Phillies' bench was putrid early last year but should be better in 2020

Phillies' bench was putrid early last year but should be better in 2020

The Phillies' bench was a clear weakness early last season, the worst in the National League from opening day through the end of May. Phillies pinch-hitters went 13 for 90 in the season's first two months, hitting .144 with one home run in 95 plate appearances.

The early-June acquisition of Jay Bruce from Seattle was designed to improve the bench. But Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL just after the trade and Bruce was thrust into everyday duty.

Bruce figures to be the key member of the Phillies' bench in 2020, his last year under contract. If he can hit for power in key pinch-hit opportunities, he could turn a few losses into wins. If he can also just do what he's always done when asked to spot start — hit .230-.240 with power — that would be enough from that role. He is unquestionably a positive clubhouse presence. He became a leader here last summer quickly and organically.

Bruce was great last June. In his first three weeks as a Phillie, he had the decisive, multi-run hit in six wins. Then he was absent for most of the second half. An oblique strain led to an IL-stint out of the All-Star break, and then a flexor strain cost him three weeks in August. He was relegated to strictly pinch-hit appearances as the season wound down.

Beyond Bruce, the Phillies have three other likely bench candidates in centerfielder Roman Quinn, catcher Andrew Knapp and Josh Harrison, who can play second base, third base and both outfield corners. 

Joe Girardi, set to enter his first season as Phillies manager, spoke positively of Quinn in one of his first radio interviews. The H-word with Quinn is so obvious that it's barely even worth mentioning anymore. We all know what has prevented him from producing. He's still worth his spot on the 40-man roster because of the tools, upside and inexpensive contract.

Knapp is back as a backup. The Phillies could carry three catchers in 2020, though, as MLB expands to 26-man rosters from March-through-September. That could mean a spot for Deivy Grullon or non-roster invitee Christian Bethancourt.

What about Odubel Herrera? He's a big wild-card heading into spring training. It feels like a significant long shot that he is back with the team, but there's always a chance he could convince the organization he deserves a second chance.

Spring training invitees Phil Gosselin and Matt Szczur, both local guys, will battle for roles as extra men in the infield and outfield, respectively. Gosselin was, statistically, the Phillies' best pinch-hitter in 2019. Szczur is a former Villanova football and baseball standout who was on the Cubs' 2016 World Series team. 

Nick Williams is still on the 40-man roster but seems like a big-time change of scenery candidate if/when the Phils need to clear space.

Mikie Mahtook was invited to spring training as well. He's a 30-year-old outfielder who spent the last three seasons with the Tigers. He showed some flashes in 2017 when he hit .276 with a .787 OPS in 379 plate appearances. He spent a good portion of that second half hitting at the top or in the middle of Detroit's order. He's barely hit in the two seasons since.

The Phillies are also likely to add a few more bench candidates between now and mid-February. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11 and the first full team workout is set for Feb. 17. We're only six weeks away, people.

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How much longer will Corey Dickerson be here? Phillies gotta bring this guy back

How much longer will Corey Dickerson be here? Phillies gotta bring this guy back

Corey Dickerson has been one helluva pickup for the Phillies, probably the best in-season addition GM Matt Klentak has made the last two years.

The question is how long will the soon-to-be free agent be a Phillie?

Let’s rewind to last week. Had the Phils not blown that seven-run lead Friday night in Miami, the main talking point coming off of the road trip would have been the offense in general and Dickerson's heroics in particular.

Dickerson helped offset the loss of Bryce Harper to paternity leave by driving in seven runs in the first two games of the Marlins series. A game prior, Dickerson hit a two-run triple at Fenway.

The Phillies returned home this week and in Game 1 against the Pirates, Dickerson hit a two-run homer on a high-and-tight pitch that was not a strike. He’s become an even more well-rounded hitter by eliminating a previous susceptibility to high fastballs.

In Game 2 of the Pirates series, he doubled and scored the Phillies’ first run before driving in the second with a single.

In Game 3, he hit another homer.

In less than a month, Dickerson has made his presence felt, showing the Phillies how helpful his skill set can be. In 21 games, he has driven in 23 runs. He has 23 hits and 13 have gone for extra bases.

He does not go up to the plate looking to take to a full count or walk. He wants to swing and to drive the ball. He should keep doing so. Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper are so selective at the plate that it can pay dividends to have a more free-swinging slugger in the middle of the order. We saw it in June with Jay Bruce and have seen it in August with Dickerson, who is slugging .585 with the Phillies and .565 overall this season.

If you're the Phillies, you'd love to keep a 30-year-old player who can hit and may even be ascending. But can you?

The Phillies will enter 2020 with Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Bruce under contract. Roman Quinn (out of options) and Adam Haseley will still be under club control. Odubel Herrera and Nick Williams are on the periphery. Is there enough room in the outfield for Dickerson? 

The tempting answer is that even if there is not enough room, the Phillies should still re-sign Dickerson because he's that good a hitter. He’s been one of the best in baseball this season against right-handed pitching, hitting .317 with a .616 slugging percentage.

Other teams see that. Other teams recognize that. Other teams will offer Dickerson an opportunity to play every day and do more than platoon.

Looking around the league at comparable hitters and recent contracts, Dickerson seems like a candidate for a two- or three-year deal in the vicinity of $12 million to 15 million per year. Similar to Daniel Murphy and D.J. LeMahieu last offseason. Maybe Dickerson gets more, depending on how the market moves. The difference in the contracts of Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley this past offseason illustrate that timing can be everything.

If Dickerson’s market does develop quickly — who doesn’t need a .290-hitting outfielder with power? — it could complicate things. Last offseason, the Phillies had to wait for months before they could acquire J.T. Realmuto and sign Harper. If they, for example, strongly pursue Anthony Rendon or Gerrit Cole this offseason, that could prevent them from striking an earlier deal with Dickerson or players in his tier.

One thing the Phillies should not do is let Bruce's contract status affect their decision-making with Dickerson. Yes, Bruce will be under contract for 2020 and yes, he can still have productive stretches, but he will also be 33 and coming off a season that involved two injuries that kept him off the field for the bulk of the summer. Bruce's ideal role next season would be the role the Phillies acquired him to play: power threat off the bench.

Haseley and Quinn have had their moments this season but neither has yet solidified himself as an everyday starter in the majors. It is not a knock on either player to say that Dickerson is simply better. 

Dickerson’s value is increased by his ability to hit all over the batting order, as evidenced Wednesday. His pop and success with runners in scoring position make him an ideal middle-of-the-order bat but he can also lead off because of his contact skills and decent wheels.

He’s a pure hitter. He’d fit into any lineup. Unless the Phillies have their sights set on an even bigger fish to come in to help this offense, they should re-sign Dickerson to a two- or three-year deal. These guys don’t grow on trees. 

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Phillies roster roulette: Jay Bruce injured again, Adam Haseley is back in big leagues

Phillies roster roulette: Jay Bruce injured again, Adam Haseley is back in big leagues

Updated: 9:09 p.m. 

SAN FRANCISCO — Jay Bruce’s return to action did not last long.

Neither did Adam Haseley’s trip to the minor leagues.

After one game back in the lineup, Bruce has returned to the injured list, this time with a left elbow injury.

Haseley, who despite swinging a hot bat was sent to Triple A to clear room for Bruce on Thursday, has been recalled. He was in the starting lineup in center field against the Giants on Friday night. He had never actually reported to Triple A and is allowed to return to the majors without the typical 10-day wait because his recall is the result of an injury.

Bruce returned to the Phillies’ lineup on Thursday night after being sidelined for three weeks with an oblique injury. Like every other player in the starting lineup, he went hitless in a 5-0 loss to Madison Bumgarner and the Giants. (Pinch-hitter Cesar Hernandez had the Phillies’ only hit.) Bruce emerged from the game with elbow soreness, the result of a throw he made in the third inning.

An MRI performed on Friday revealed that Bruce had a Grade 1 flexor strain. He will not hit or throw for two weeks. He will be evaluated after that.

“Frustrating is the only word for it,” Bruce said. "I needed to make a throw, I threw it, and it did not feel good."

Bruce is optimistic he will return to play this season.

Bruce’s latest injury begs the question of why the Phillies did not send him to the minors for a couple of games to get some at-bats and test his body in a rehab setting. Oftentimes, teams defer to veteran players on rehab assignments. Bruce did go through extensive outfield workouts in the days leading up to his coming off the IL.

“We look at decisions like that from every angle,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He was rehabbing an intercostal muscle that was healed and he was feeling strong. He felt like his timing and his rhythm were where they needed to be. The injury that he was dealing with got better. He got in the batter’s box last night and smoked a ball and sprinted to first base. He looked great and felt great.”

Bruce, 32, was acquired from Seattle in June. He hit 10 homers and drove in 29 runs in his first 28 games with the club but is 0 for 17 since the All-Star break.

Bruce is under contract with the Phillies for next season. He had $21 million remaining on his deal when the Phillies acquired him, but the Phils are on the hook for just $2.75 million of that.

Thursday’s decision to send Haseley to the minors raised eyebrows because he was hitting .350 with a .381 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage over his previous 11 games and he had five hits, including two doubles, while starting the first three games on this road trip. The Phils were nearly no-hit without Haseley on Thursday night. Now, the 23-year-old outfielder is back on the active roster. Maybe the Phils will get more than one hit Friday night.

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