Tommy Hunter

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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Tommy Hunter the latest example of Phillies' cringe-worthy run with veteran relievers

Tommy Hunter the latest example of Phillies' cringe-worthy run with veteran relievers

The Phillies' run of bad luck with veteran relievers continues. Tommy Hunter will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on the flexor tendon in his right arm.

It means that for $18 million, the Phillies got 70 appearances and a 3.50 ERA out of Hunter in two seasons.

Then there's Pat Neshek, currently on the 60-day injured list with a serious hamstring injury. He may not return this season either. The Phillies brought Neshek back on a two-year, $16.25 million deal prior to 2018. It hasn't worked out. He's made just 50 appearances in those two seasons with a 3.61 ERA.

So that's 120 combined appearances for nearly $35 million.

Some of this is bad luck. Some of it is the risk of signing relievers in their early-to-mid-30s. Phillies GM Matt Klentak admitted as much earlier this summer, saying the team has learned a lesson from how these contracts for Hunter, Neshek and David Robertson have gone so far.

Between those three, Mike Adams, David Hernandez, Danys Baez and Chad Qualls, the Phillies have had a terrible run with veteran relievers over the last seven years. The Jonathan Papelbon contract did work out somewhat — he was productive for his entire tenure here. But even that deal was exorbitant for a closer at the time and still looks so, with Craig Kimbrel signing a cheaper, shorter-term deal this year.

The Phillies need to develop their relievers better. Guys like Edgar Garcia and Edubray Ramos haven't worked out yet. Garcia and J.D. Hammer were not on the Phillies' radar coming into 2019 as potential big-league arms. Injuries forced the team's hand.

It may take a few more years, but help could be on the way. These last two years, the Phillies have spent more draft picks than in prior years on relief prospects. In June, their sixth- and seventh-round picks were both college relievers, right-handers Andrew Schultz (Tennessee) and Brett Schulze (Minnesota). The Phils went with two more college relievers in Rounds 14 with Chris Micheles (Washington) and 18 with Nick Lackney (Minnesota).

It will take some time, but this could prove to be the better way to build a bullpen. It won't be hard to best the organization's recent track record with veteran relievers.

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Phillies' Tommy Hunter heads back to injured list

Phillies' Tommy Hunter heads back to injured list

The rapidly fading Phillies just cannot catch a break. Key reliever Tommy Hunter, who missed the first 82 games of the season because of a forearm/elbow strain that first surfaced early in spring training, is back on the injured list with a right forearm strain. 

The Phillies need Hunter and he had pitched very well since coming off the IL, retiring 16 of the 18 batters he faced in 5 1/3 scoreless innings. He again joins Pat Neshek and David Robertson on the injured list. Those three combine to make $26,750,000 this season and have spent the vast majority of it on the shelf. 

No team has had more relievers spend time on the IL than the Phillies with nine. Between the continuous injuries and mounting number of brutal losses like Saturday night’s, the realization has to be setting in for Phillies decision-makers that this probably just isn’t their year. 

Edubray Ramos was recalled from Triple A to replace Hunter, who is a free agent at season’s end.

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