Phillies Bullpen Reconstruction for 2021

 

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the Philadelphia Phillies faithful, missing the 2020 playoffs was squarely on the MLB-worst relief corps. Clearly, this is a must-fix shortcoming for the organization to end their postseason drought of nine seasons because the locals don’t want to see or hear a full 162 replay summed up in three words. And now pitching!     

 

Measured Relief:

Costwise and talentwise, replacing the entire pen is not a realistic goal because free agents JT Realmuto and Didi Gregorius could re-up to reprise their 2020 roles. And the Phillies also need a rotation piece due to a departure. So, the front office has those openings to plug, as they compete for solid relievers.

IN OTHER WORDS:

“What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible.” - Theodore Roethke

In ‘21, games played and attendance will depend on the pandemic in April especially after losses of $100-120 million per deep-pocketed franchise. And wealthy spenders are reluctant due to 2021’s financial uncertainty over the offseason and into March, so this will affect offers and trade-based decisions.     

Though some will question certain moves, be aware of the pitfalls. To illustrate, some hurlers dropped 2-5 mph off their fastball due to lacking the adrenaline they have with a rooting home crowd or jeering away spectators. And 2020’s stats could also be deceptive due to only 60 contests and interrupted winter routines.  

Despite fans’ beliefs, most bullpens have only 3-5 solid arms out of eight. The others are middle relievers who appear in low-stress situations: mop-up duty, long relief, extra innings, and frames before the sixth. By comparison, all stats are not equal.   

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Report: Dodgers Assistant GM is Candidate for Phillies Job

The Phillies are moving ahead with their search for baseball executives to lead the club.  We learned via Jayson Stark of the Athletic that the Phillies had begun interviews.  One of the names the Phillies are tied to has come out.

According to Jon Morosi of MLB.com, Jeff Kingston of the Los Angeles Dodgers is emerging as a candidate:

Kingston has risen up among the baseball ranks over the years.

Kingston got his start in baseball as an intern for Theo Epstein with the San Diego Padres and would go on to be Director of Baseball Operations, a position he held for nine years.  He then spent two years as assistant general manager for the Seattle Mariners under Jerry DiPoto, and then moved to the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2018.  There, he assisted Andrew Friedman's construction of the team that won the 2020 World Series.

Would the Phillies hire a general manager before a president?   That is possible.  Are the Phillies in on Epstein, for whom Kingston worked?  Or do the Phillies know who they plan to hire for president and have not announced such?  Stay tuned.


Phillies Set 40-Man Roster Ahead of Rule 5 Draft

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Nick Maton has been added to the 40-man roster (Frank Klose/Sports Talk Philly)

Friday night was the deadline for Major League Baseball teams to set their rosters ahead of the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  Players on the 40-man roster may not be selected by clubs in the draft, scheduled for the winter meetings, which will be held virtually December 7-10.  The Phillies announced that they have added six players to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 draft.

The players protected by the Phillies are:

  • Kyle Dohy. left-handed pitcher
  • Bailey Falter. left-handed pitcher
  • Damon Jones. left-handed pitcher
  • Nick Maton, infielder
  • Francisco Morales. right-handed pitcher
  • Simon Muzziotti, outfielder

A couple of the players protected could help the Phillies sooner than later.   

Nick Maton and Damon Jones both spent some time in Phillies Spring Training in Clearwater and got some playing time.  Jones could factor into the 2021 Phillies bullpen from the left side, and Maton could potentially fill a utility infield role.

Francisco Morales is one of the top Phillies pitching prospects, likely tagged for Double-A and maybe Triple-A in 2021; Morales is someone hurt by the lack of a minor league season in 2020.   The MLB Pipeline Top 30 lists 2022 as a target date for Morales.

Both Kyle Dohy is also probably close to the major leagues.  He could get a look in Clearwater in the Spring and have the chance to show what he can do for a mid-season call-up, depending how the Phillies bullpen goes.  The same could be said for Bailey Falter, who did not make the MLB Pipeline Top 30 prospect list, but pitched pretty well at Class A Clearwater in 2018 and Double-A Reading in 2019.

Simon Muzziotti could be a potential Phillies center fielder of the future, but he is still is somewhat young.  Muzziotti is just 21 years old (he turns 22 next month) and probably will get a decent look in big league camp in Clearwater.  Muzziotti was originally signed by the Boston Red Sox, but made a free agent after the Red Sox were found to be in violation in the rules concerning international signings..  The Phillies swooped in and signed him in 2017 as a 16 year-old.


Phillies Hire Cotham to Be Pitching Coach

The Phillies made their first major addition on Friday afternoon.   After Bryan Price decided to retire from full-time coaching, the Phillies were left with a major vacancy on their coaching staff.  The Phillies will replace Price with someone with whom both Price and Phillies manager Joe Girardi is familiar:  Cincinnati Reds assistant pitching coach Caleb Cotham.  The Phillies announced the move Friday afternoon.

Cotham spent two seasons in the major leagues as a reliever.  In 2015, Cotham pitched for the New York Yankees with Girardi at the helm.  He then was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2016 as part of the Aroldis Chapman trade, and Price became his manager.   Cotham signed with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2017 season, but announced his retirement before throwing a pitch at the big league level.  But it sounds like Cotham leaves a good impression with his coaches.

With the Reds, Cotham served for two seasons as assistant pitching coach, under Derek Johnson, who was his college coach at Vanderbilt.   At just 33 years old, Cotham has built a reputation for his analytics, and work with Driveline Baseball, which describes itself as a "data-driven baseball performance program".

The Reds featured the 2020 Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer.  Bauer is a free agent looking for a new team. Bauer praised Cotham's work with pitchers in Todd Zolecki's piece about the appointment. It's unclear if the Phillies are interested in signing Bauer, but having Cotham certainly would not hurt the Phillies' chances to sign him.

The Phillies also have a bullpen coach vacancy after the contract of Jim Gott was not renewed.  

 


Phillies: Realmuto’s Negotiating Details for 2021

 

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For many Philadelphia Phillies fans, 2021’s success hinges on re-signing JT Realmuto because their questions and comments indicate this is priority number one. But high-octane doubts are stubborn obstacles superseding even contrary information as if to cushion an anticipated disappointment. Ergo, no reason for reason. 

 

A Neutral View:

Some Phillies faithful measure time differently than MLB front offices under normal circumstances, but now COVID-19 has lengthened those weeks and months with entirely new financial parameters. Basically, players will be available who would not be in pre-coronavirus times.  

IN OTHER WORDS:

“One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.” - Gilbert K. Chesterton

For me, writing opinion pieces involves daily MLB research to analyze how the offseason market will affect the Fightins. Therefore, the idea is to get close enough for a basic forecast, not wishful thinking. To illustrate, Realmuto’s situation combines many facets to produce a reasonable expectation for this winter. 

Considerations for the Phillies and Realmuto:

  • The major leagues’ timeline and deadlines.
  • Time estimates.
  • Financials and medicals.
  • Negotiating strategies.
  • Phils’ shortcomings.
  • Statistical evaluations by age and MLB service time.
  • The competition: their needs and finances.

Many fans have the same questions and view of roster construction. However, management isn’t always at fault but is the scapegoat because the faithful are loathe to blame the star. They root for the player until he disappoints them based on their expectations. 

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Theo Epstein Leaves the Cubs at the Phillies Amp Up Executive Search

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Photo By Scott Slingsby from Rochester, NH -Theo Epstein, Boston Red Sox, CC BY 2.0, Link

The Phillies are on the search for new baseball executive that will lead baseball operations.  In recent weeks, we've learned the Phillies could seek to hire a president of baseball operations who can begin to re-shape the organization.   One of the biggest names in baseball just hit the open market as the Phillies are looking.

The Chicago Cubs announced that Theo Epstein, architect of the 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs and the 2004 Boston Red Sox, is leaving the Cubs:

Epstein had one more year left on his contract.

Will the Phillies be interested?  Recently, a report from Jayson Stark of the Athletic had the Phillies looking to make an impact move with a respected baseball executive, much like the hiring of Joe Girardi was to do at the manager position.  Epstein would certainly fit that mold.

Epstein released the following statement:

“For the rest of my life, I will cherish having been part of the great Chicago Cubs organization during this historic period.  All of the things that have made this experience so special — the fans, the players, the managers and coaches, ownership, my front office colleagues, the uniqueness of the Wrigley experience, the history — make it so tough to leave the Cubs.  But I believe this is the right decision for me even if it’s a difficult one.  And now is the right time rather than a year from now.  The organization faces a number of decisions this winter that carry long-term consequences; those types of decisions are best made by someone who will be here for a long period rather than just one more year.  Jed has earned this opportunity and is absolutely the right person to take over this baseball operation at such an important time.”

What is unclear at this point is whether or not Epstein will be free to work for another club, or if he would have to wait out his final contract year.   Whether he is allowed to do so or not, Epstein seemed to indicate that he might be taking next year off:

Will the Phillies be interested?  Stay tuned.


Phillies: MacPhail’s Head Fake for 2020-21

 

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Philadelphia Phillies president Andy MacPhail is an old-school exec; ergo, he always downplays his upcoming plans to prevent other franchises from having any advantage. Granted, other front offices know he’s posturing, but not what he will do. Yes, they can guess!     

 

Needs Determine Moves:

For many Phillies faithful, an April beginning with any weaknesses is the wrong direction. Unfortunately, no team has that financial luxury imagined by their fan base. But if their foe had four aces, some Philly fans would experience an unnecessary buzzkill.        

IN OTHER WORDS:

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!” - Audrey Hepburn

Expecting the fans’ heat, MacPhail de-emphasizes any expensive acquisitions. Ergo, this blanket denial will keep other organizations guessing which free agents will interest him, and it’ll relieve the pressure to sign or re-up stars from affecting the Fightins’ negotiating.                     

The 2020-21 extreme buyer’s market is ahead, and even top-tier players probably won’t receive the normal dollars and years prior to today’s pandemic-influenced finances. In fact, most clubs won’t exceed the $210 million CBT (competitive-balance threshold) until the trade deadline.             

JT Realmuto will have a limited market for his forecasted $125 million over five campaigns. So, managing partner John Middleton’s biggest competitor for the All-Star catcher will be the New York Mets. But expect negotiations to be inch by inch. 

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Surprise! Phillies are in on High-Profile Executives After All

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When Phillies current president Andy MacPhail took to Zoom to discuss his end-of-year matters, the result was somewhat disastrous.  The Phillies emerged as a team that seemed content to take little action this offseason, and a team who might ride out the year with MacPhail and interim general manager Ned Rice making all the baseball decisions.  This week saw the New York Mets get a new owner in Steve Cohen, who cleaned out front office.   And both the Los Angeles Angels and Miami Marlins hired general managers in Perry Minasian and Kim Ng, respectively, frustrating Phillies fans.

But there might be some good news for Phillies fans after all.

Friday evening, Jayson Stark of the Athletic indicated that the Phillies might actually be a lot closer to hiring an executive than previously thought.   In fact, Stark reports that the Phillies are set to begin interviews in coming days.  And it appears that the Phillies will be looking for a president of baseball operations:

According to industry sources, the Phillies are focusing on hiring a new president of baseball operations, while leaving their GM opening on the back burner. They have been trying to gauge the interest of a small group of experienced, highly regarded baseball people with proven, winning track records. Sources say they have asked for an answer from their remaining uncommitted candidates within the next week, if possible.

Stark referred to the hire as being a "front-office equivalent of Joe Girardi-equivalent", suggesting that the club is looking for someone experienced and with a track record.

So maybe this offseason will be a bit more interesting than Phillies fans expected.  For some, after the suggestion that an executive would not want to "uproot during a pandemic" was infuriating.   But soon it may not be MacPhail who gets to address the state of the Phillies.  Stay tuned.


J.T. Realmuto Rejects Phillies' Qualifying Offer

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By Siobhan Nolan, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer

“I wouldn’t be opposed at all to staying here for the rest of my career, you know? Right now I’m going to focus on this playoff push, but once the offseason comes, I look forward to having those discussions.”

This was J.T. Realmuto’s response to being asked about the possibility of signing a new contract with the Phillies in September 2019, and it’s safe to say that everything that could’ve happened to change his mind happened. The 2019 playoff push failed. The 2020 season playoff push failed (despite there being an expanded playoff format). The contract discussions have reportedly been stagnant and frustrating. To make matters even worse, Thursday brought Realmuto’s official rejection of the Phillies’ $18.6 million qualifying offer.

The offer was nowhere near the $200 million value Realmuto’s camp set when contract negotiations first opened, and while that number seems exorbitant, it proves that Realmuto knows his worth. He could easily get more than an $18.6 million annual salary, whether it be with the Phillies or elsewhere.

While this rejection is obviously not pleasant news, all hope is not lost on Realmuto staying in Philadelphia. If another team wants to sign him, they will most likely have to part ways with some top draft picks to do so. Realmuto is one of four players to have turned a qualifying offer this offseason (the others being Trevor Bauer, D.J. LeMahieu, and George Springer) who now carry high draft compensation. A high asking price and the risk of losing ideal draft picks could be enough to dispel other teams from making serious inquiries for him. This also turns into a win-win for the Phillies—either they’re able to keep Realmuto, or they ascertain the high draft picks that have kept them from signing certain available free agents, bolstering the prospect options that have been lacking due the club’s habit of trading draft picks for big-name players. (Looking at you, Zack Wheeler.)

With all that being said, yes, the Phillies need to up their negotiation game—Realmuto cannot be another player that the Phillies regret letting go. However, negotiations are ongoing, and he has explicitly expressed his satisfaction with the environment in Philadelphia.

“It’s been a first-class organization all around, the way they treat my family. The fans are tough in Philly, but they’re there. They’re passionate. They care about the game, which is the first time I’ve really experienced a fan base like that. Just this group of guys. It’s a great clubhouse. This team just jells. It’s a place I enjoy.” These are promising words from Realmuto in 2019. While 2020 was disappointing, it doesn’t automatically spell disaster for his current contract talks. The city has made it abundantly clear that they want to keep the BCIB in red pinstripes for as long as possible—Bryce Harper has consistently lobbied for the Phillies to resign Realmuto, fans have spammed the team’s social media pages with “Sign Realmuto” comments...there’s no question that he is wanted, even needed, here.

So we don’t have ample reason to fret right now. It’s entirely possible that a moderately higher salary offer, a guaranteed bromance with Harper, a promise to sign new players, and that good old Philly passion for sports is enough to keep Realmuto behind the plate at Citizens Bank Park.


Williams Defeats Bohm for 2020 National League Rookie of the Year

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The results are in.  We learned last week that  Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm had been named a finalist along with Jake Cronenworth of the San Diego Padres and Devin Williams of the Milwaukee Brewers.  The award was announced during a 6:00 p.m. award show on MLB Network on Monday night.   It was Williams who took home the award.

Williams was a relief pitcher for the Brewers.  He was close to perfect. In 27 innings over 22 appearances, Williams allowed just a single earned run.  Just one. 

The emergence of Williams led to the Brewers trading David Phelps to the Phillies.

Bohm batted .334 for the Phillies, with an OPS 0f .881.    The former Phillies first round pick from 2018 hit four home runs and drove in 23.  His WAR was 0.7.

Bohm was vying to be the first Phillies player to win the award since Ryan Howard won the award in 2005.  Bohm made his Major League debut on August 13 and compiled 160 at bats during 44 games.