Mookie Betts

Bryce Harper hopes Mookie Betts makes even more money than him

Bryce Harper hopes Mookie Betts makes even more money than him

Bryce Harper was the highest-paid player in MLB history for less than one month, quickly moving down a spot once Mike Trout and the Angels reached agreement on a $430 million extension in late March.

Harper could soon move even farther down the list. Red Sox superstar outfielder Mookie Betts is set for free agency after the 2020 season. If Betts does reach free agency, he will have just turned 28. Harper was 26 when he hit free agency.

Betts is a better all-around player than Harper. Betts hits for average, hits for power, plays great defense and has big-time speed. Betts hasn't been nearly as good this season as he was in his MVP 2018 but still has dynamic offensive numbers and leads the American League with 115 runs scored.

Harper has an edge on Betts and practically every other player in marketability. The Phillies have seen in Year 1 how much of a cash cow Harper is. They've seen it in increased ticket sales, jersey sales and with how quickly the Phanatic headband Harper made fashionable has risen to popularity. All over the city, people are wearing those things. Walking in the city Tuesday, I passed three people wearing them in the span of 10 minutes — a little kid on a bike, a middle-aged woman jogging and a man participating in an outdoor workout class. Harper transcends demographics.

Despite that, Harper wouldn't just be OK with Betts making more money than him. Harper hopes it happens.

"Mookie's an incredible player. If he has an opportunity to make more money than I do, then I hope he does," Harper said this week, according to NBC Sports Boston. "Just like Trout did."

If Betts reaches free agency, the bidding war between teams will be intense, not only because of his elite talent but because so many would-be-free-agent-superstars have already signed long-term extensions with their teams. Players in the Betts tier are becoming available less frequently than in the last few decades.

Harper also realizes that the Betts negotiation could take quite a while, just as his did.

"It's going to be a long process for him, but I think he'll be able to handle that. He has a great head on his shoulders and a great family," Harper said. "I didn't mind it. Only having a couple of weeks in spring training was nice, some extra time with family and friends. But it's part of the process. It's part of what teams and players are doing now."

Don't remind us.

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If Mike Schmidt played in this era, he'd have a few more MVPs

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AP Images

If Mike Schmidt played in this era, he'd have a few more MVPs

All Philly sports fans know Mike Schmidt is the greatest Phillie of all-time. But do we truly appreciate just how great he was?

That’s a thought that occurred to me after seeing this tweet last week after Mookie Betts took home AL Most Valuable Player honors.

That tweet references the first of three seasons in which Schmidt won NL MVP. But if you take a look back at his career and evaluate individual seasons applying criteria that is more common today, it’s not unrealistic to think Schmidt could have easily retired with six MVP awards and a much more robust place in the conversation of the all-time greats.

Let’s look at those seasons when a modern perspective may have changed Schmidt’s fate.

1974

Schmidt finished sixth in NL MVP voting that season without receiving a single first-place vote. For the season, Schmidt slashed .282/.395/.546. He led the NL in slugging and home runs (36) to go with 116 RBI.

His 9.7 WAR (per Baseball Reference) led all of MLB by over a full point. If these circumstances took place in 2018, Schmidt likely wins the MVP despite his team’s 80-82 third-place finish. 

Steve Garvey took home the honor after slashing .312/.342/.469 for the first-place Dodgers.

1979

Even through a 2018 lens, Schmidt would not be a clear-cut favorite to win this MVP race. But his production would have garnered more respect than a 13th-place finish.

Schmidt’s .950 OPS fell slightly behind Dave Winfield's (.953) and Dave Kingman’s (.956). Schmidt finished second in the NL in HR, RBI and WAR. 

Winfield’s pure numbers probably would carry the day in this era, but his Padres also finished 25 games under .500. So it’s conceivable Schmidt might have taken the award. 

Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell actually split the MVP that season.

1982

After winning the award in 1980 and 1981, Schmidt finished 6th this season.

Dale Murphy won MVP with 36 HR, 109 RBI and a .885 OPS. Schmidt had 35 HR, 87 RBI and a league-best .949 OPS. Schmidt’s 7.4 WAR also outshined Murhpy’s 6.1 WAR. (Gary Carter led the NL with 8.6 WAR.) 

Without living through it, this could have been a case of voter fatigue and an acknowledgment of the Braves winning the NL West. But Schmidt would probably have gotten the nod over Murphy if the seasons were moved to 2018.

Schmidt also has an interesting case to be made in 1983 and 1984, but Murphy and Ryne Sandberg would likely still be the winners by today’s standards. Schmidt went on to win the MVP for a final time in 1986.

Schmidt’s place in the game is secure regardless of how many MVP awards ended up on his mantle. Nearly three decades after his retirement, he remains the greatest third baseman in history.

But it’s tantalizing to think how his legacy might have been enhanced when framed by modern analytic tools.

Maybe he’d have two statues outside Citizens Bank Park.

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Phillies need their aces to be aces against historic 2018 Red Sox

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Phillies need their aces to be aces against historic 2018 Red Sox

It was a disappointing weekend in Cincinnati for the Phillies, but at times like this, you need to keep in perspective how well this team has played of late.

This is the first time in over a month — since June 24 to 26 — that the Phillies have lost three games in a row. Over the last 14 series, they're 10-3-1. 

Yes, the Reds are a last-place team, but they're also 26-15 since June 10, which is the fourth-best record in the majors and 1½ games better than the Phillies over that span. Cincinnati began the season 8-27 and has gone 40-31 since — a prolonged stretch of good baseball. The Reds' last-place standing is deceptive. More concerning than who the Phillies lost to was how they looked.

Now, the Phils head to Boston, where they'll actually have the pitching matchup advantage both nights against a Red Sox team that is 41 games over .500 and on pace to win 113, which would shatter the franchise record of 105.

The Red Sox and Phillies have been two of the majors' four best teams in interleague play this season. The order goes Boston at 7-1, Pittsburgh at 12-3, Cincinnati at 10-3 and then the Phillies at 9-4.

Nola vs. Price

Tonight, it's Aaron Nola against left-hander David Price. On Tuesday, it's Jake Arrieta against struggling, recently activated southpaw Drew Pomeranz, who has allowed 17 runs in 18 innings at Fenway this season.

You're not going to see very many off-speed pitches with Price on the mound. He's thrown his fastball or cutter 77 percent of the time. He also rarely gets wild, so the result of so many fastballs in the zone is a lot of home runs. Price has allowed 18 in 114 innings this season.

This will be Nola's second challenging start in a row. He faced the Dodgers last Tuesday in his toughest assignment of the season and surrendered three runs in five innings, throwing 91 pitches.

Boston will make Nola work just as much, if not more. The top three hitters in Boston's order — Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez — all have power and an OBP higher than .380. Newcomer Steve Pearce has also been hot since arriving in Boston. Nola should be able to navigate around the Red Sox 7-8-9, though. Nothing to write home about at the bottom of their order — Blake Swihart, Brock Holt, Sandy Leon.

Boston's soft underbelly

The way to get to the Red Sox is to force them to go to their bullpen early. Craig Kimbrel and Matt Barnes have formed a formidable 1-2 punch at the end of games but there's no other shutdown reliever in Boston's 'pen. 

And Kimbrel, for what it's worth, has been wilder than usual in 2018. His walk rate has more than doubled since 2017.

Barnes has pitched three of the last four nights. Kimbrel has pitched two of the last three and thrown 44 pitches. Both seem unlikely to be available to pitch in both games.

The key duo in the Phillies' bullpen, meanwhile, is well-rested. Seranthony Dominguez hasn't pitched since Wednesday. Pat Neshek has been off since Thursday. 

The DH effect

Asdrubal Cabrera's first two games with the Phillies were quiet — 0 for 8, three strikeouts. But acquiring him ahead of an interleague series was important because it gives the Phils one more quality bat in the lineup.

We could see the Phillies DH Cesar Hernandez in this series to give him more time to rest his achy foot. They could also DH Rhys Hoskins and start Roman Quinn in the outfield to optimize defense. Fenway has the trickiest left field in the majors, after all.

Either way, Cabrera and Quinn give the Phillies two more dynamic options than they had a week ago.

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