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Phillies Roundtable: Assessing the Season Ahead

 

After many weeks of a nasty public negotiation between the MLB and the MLBPA, summer camp has finally opened all across the MLB and a 60-game season is tentatively slated to begin at the end of July. The negotiations, mostly centered on money, left a bad taste in many fans mouths just looking for some baseball. Oh, and that pandemic thing that was seemingly forgotten in that mess of negotiations that didn't seem do any favors for the relations between the two parties. A lockout may be on the horizon but the pandemic remains the biggest threat to whether the 2020 season even ends up being played. They saw some testing issues in the first couple days of camp openings, but they have since ironed out those issues and a season is seemingly on the way.

But enough about that!

The pandemic and how it relates to sports has dominated the news cycle for months so while the season is still on, here's my attempt to bringing it back to just pure baseball talk. Below is a roundtable where a few of our authors have weighed in on some of the biggest questions facing the Phillies and their roster heading into the shortened season. 

What are your expectations for the Phillies this season?

Brandon Musso

Despite what looks to be a very strong offense, the Phillies' pitching was still largely ignored in the offseason. General Manager Matt Klentak and the rest of the Phillies front office only managed to bring in starting pitcher Zach Wheeler, who has already announced that he will be leaving the team for a period of time when his child is born. There will be a certain portion of the shortened season where they will be without their no. 2 starter. That, combined with a bullpen that is shaky at best, is a real concern. I don't believe the strong offense will be enough to overcome their pitching shortcomings. I think this is a team that will arrive at a record that hovers around .500 and misses the playoffs.

Matt Szczypiorski

In a 60-game season, anything can happen. However, I do think that there are some factors of this odd season that are going to work against the Fightin’ Phils. The thing that concerns me the most is that the Phillies are going to have a brutal schedule. The Phillies’ opponents will consist of 40 games against division opponents and 20 games against the American League East. In the NL East, the Braves, Mets, and Nationals, who are coming off their first World Series title, are all teams that figure to be in the thick of the playoff race. Don’t discredit the Marlins either, Miami was the Phillies kryptonite in 2019. As for the AL East, the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox are top tier clubs who are sure to compete for the postseason. While I will unconditionally root for the Phillies, it’s hard to imagine this club reaching the playoffs with the holes they have in their pitching staff while playing against stiff competition. I project their record to be 28-32, missing out on the playoffs but hanging around just long enough to keep the fans invested.

Kristen Danek

Until the 60-game schedule was released, I was thinking that the Phillies might win in the mid-30s of games and snag a wild card spot. We all know their habits of the last few years - hot start, cold finish. If any team would benefit from the shortened season, it would be the Phillies. But after seeing the schedule, it got me thinking - the way the Phillies fell off at the end of the season for the past few years might not have been a result of having too many games, but instead been a result of having a non-finishing mindset - getting too relaxed and not continuing at the same pace after they took over first place. With a schedule that doesn't include the Braves or Nationals until mid-August, we might be in for a similar treat this season. A team that gets off to a hot start, then falls off when meeting teams, like the Nationals, who thrive in do-or-die situations. Unfortunately, I'm predicting another middle of the pack season - somewhere between 30-32 wins and just missing the playoffs. That's okay though - things are weird this year. I fully expect them to take the league by storm in '21 (provided they resign JT)!

Jake Finnerty

As everyone is aware, the Phillies and the MLB will be facing a shortened season. I believe this can work in our advantage and am expecting to see the Phillies slide back into the playoffs once again with a wild card spot. At the star of the season last year, they immediately jumped out to a hot start, basically leading the NL East all of April and May, up until June 11 where they seemed to just run out of gas. With the strong addition of Didi Gregorius this year, the Phillies offense has already gained another solid weapon among their squad to help progress them deep into the season. On the pitching side, Zach Wheeler was added into the rotation, and I definitely look to see improvements from the entire pitching staff that allows the team to compete on a higher level. Going against the already competitive teams in the NL East is tough, and even add on the always competitive Yankees and Red Sox on top of that, the season should be tough, but as long as the Phillies manage to keep their offense hot, their pitching solid, and their win streak up, I can see a deep playoff push from a Wildcard slot. (Potential Record: 42-18)

Michael Lipinski

If you asked me in early March, I would’ve told you this Phillies team was at a MINIMUM five to six games better than last season.  Joe Girardi makes the Phillies that much better.  But that was in the marathon of a 162-game season and not the sprint of the new reality.  It won’t win me points but this Phillies team is most likely on their way to another .500 season or thereabouts.  Does that make them a playoff team? It just might. 

Who is the player that could benefit the most from the shortened season?

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Brandon Musso

I have gone back and forth on the player I wanted to pick for this and I ultimately decided on Zach Eflin. Quality starts will be a big part of the Phillies' success this year which means quality starts from Eflin will be crucial. Last season, he showed just how good he could be but struggled to make it through the whole season before he complained of feeling "heavy" and fatigued. With a extended offseason and shortened season, it sets up very well for Eflin who could hopefully take advantage of that to consistently pitch well throughout the entirety of the season.

Matt Szczypiorski

This may not be the guy who will necessarily benefit the most from the shortened season, but I think that the most important guy to watch in this shortened season will be Rhys Hoskins. The Phillies first baseman is the definition of a streaky hitter. Through the first 60 games of last season, Hoskins’ batting average was a respectable .278 with 13 home runs as the Phils clean-up hitter. However, by the end of the year his average would tumble all the way down to .226 after hitting .161 in August and .170 in September. That’s not exactly what you want to see from the guy who hits behind Bryce Harper. When Hoskins is hot, he has shown the ability to be able to carry the offense. We saw it when he was first called up in 2017 when he hit the most home runs (18) by a rookie in a 34-game span. However, he also has the chance to derail the offense if he performs the way he did in the second half of last season. You know what you’re going to get from Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, even Jean Segura. Hoskins is a wild card with boom or bust potential, and that’s what makes him the key player in this line-up.

Kristen Danek

I think some more obvious answers here include Bryce and Rhys, but I'm going to go with Zach Eflin. We all remember his start to last year - a lot of us thought he was headed towards an All-Star berth before he fell off. While it's clearly now or never time for Velasquez and/or Pivetta, I think it's something similar for Eflin. He's proven he has the stuff to succeed - he just has to string it together for a long period of time. Will he ever be able to do that for 162 without suffering the consequences and hurting all over like he did last year? I'm not sure. But if he's ever going to succeed for a full season, is a shortened one his best opportunity? Of course.

Jake Finnerty

With the shortened season, many players across the league are going to catch a hot start and never stop rolling. One person that stands out to me in Philadelphia this season is Andrew McCutchen. Last season, before his injury, McCutchen was performing as one of, if not, the best on the team. He was batting .256 with a .378 OBP and .834 OPS along with 10 HRs and 29 RBIs. McCutchen is going to come back this season with a hunger to finish what was started last year. He’s a veteran meaning he’ll be one of the guys the team looks to as a leader, and what better way than to lead by example? While McCutchen is one of the older guys in the locker room, don’t look to sleep on him this year. He’ll be out there looking to continue his already impressive career and excel the Phillies any way he can in this short season.

Michael Lipinski

The 2020 sprint season plays right into Bryce Harper’s wheelhouse.  The Phillies slugger is a notorious hot starter which plays right into the current reality for the Phillies.  Do not sleep on Aaron Nola to get off to a quick start for the Fightin’s.  Nola’s April numbers have been fantastic through out his short MLB career and despite being in July that is the perfect comparison for the Phillies hurler.  The Phillies will benefit the most from another Nola hot start.

Which prospect do you see having the most impact for the Phillies this year?

Brandon Musso

In a shortened season, depth is going to very important as an injury to a regular can heavily impact a team. Just missing a week or two of games could be devastating to a team's playoff chances. It will be crucial to have the a good pool of players that can step up to minimize the damage of an injury. With the Phillies already having weak pitching, this could further impact them. With that being said, I think having Spencer Howard on the team and ready to step up will be a huge help. If any injury derails the current starting pitching rotation, the impact of a couple strong starts from Howard can have a major impact on the team and it's chances for the playoffs.

Matt Szczypiorski

The prospect that will have the biggest impact on the Phillies 2020 season is pitcher Spencer Howard. He won’t play right away, but he should make his debut at some point during this shortened season. The reason I think the right hander will have more of an impact than a guy like Alec Bohm is because of the fact that pitching is this team’s most glaring hole. The Phillies bullpen is suspect at best and I have zero confidence in starting pitchers Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velazquez and Zac Eflin, as they’ve all shown their own inconsistencies. Deeper than that though, is the fact that the newest pitcher in red pinstripes, Zack Wheeler, is going to be a question mark when the season starts. Wheeler’s wife is expecting their first child around the time the Phillies season is scheduled to begin. Zack has already gone on record saying he is hesitant about playing during the pandemic because of this, which is fair, I think anyone would feel concerns in his situation. He backed that up on July 5th when he said he is staying with the club for now, but that could change after the birth of his child. For all of these reasons, Howard should see time sooner rather than later this season. Here’s to hoping he’s as good as he’s been projected to be.

Kristen Danek

While I agree that Bohm and Howard are the two that everyone will have their eyes on, I don't think we can underestimate the potential impact by Connor Seabold. The most shocking name to not make the major league camp in the spring, which led him to be the most shocking name to make the 60-man pool this summer. The Phillies bullpen is lackluster at best, and the ones we can usually count on have already landed themselves on the COVID-19 list. Last year, we were desperate enough to bring up JD Hammer, who clearly did not have enough minor league experience to be in the majors. Seabold is a higher end prospect than many might think, and I do believe we could be seeing a lot of him this year. I doubt he'll make the original 30-man, but with a little time at the Lehigh Valley training camp, we could be seeing him sooner rather than later at the big league level. 

Jake Finnerty

One of the changes around the league this year is the addition of the 60 man roster. It allows for a lot more prospects to be on the active roster and hopefully get their chances to play. The Phillies prospect that stands out to me this season is Spencer Howard. Phillies pitching is something that’s been needing a lot of work in recent years and if Howard can get his shot on the bump this year, I’d like to see what he has to offer. Last season, in 15 games across 3 different teams, Howard had a 3-1 record with a 2.03 ERA, .946 WHIP, and 94 SOs. Those are some exciting numbers to see from a young pitcher coming up in the minor league system. Howard can potentially be the young pitcher that the Phillies need as the final piece to their pitching staff. Make sure you keep an eye out for Spencer Howard because if he gets his shot, we’re going to be able to witness some special stuff on the mound this year.

Michael Lipinski

Keep an eye out on Spencer Howard this season.  According to reports teams are loading up on pitching for the 60-game sprint and Howard is a perfect fit to come out of the ‘pen for the big club.  Wait, isn’t Spencer Howard a starter?   Traditionally he is however due to the scenario surrounding the 2020 season the Phillies pitching prospect could be an absolute weapon out of the ‘pen.  A starter cannot get it done and in comes Howard for a long stretch.  It is a dangerous weapon for Joe Girardi to have.

What's the max, in terms of years and money, your willing to go to sign JT Realmuto?

Brandon Musso

JT Realmuto's contract status is fresh in everyone's mind right now as the debate on a contract extension rolls on. This is tough issue because the Phillies are in position to contend right now and having a catcher like Realmuto as a part of the core is ideal. However, he is said to be asking for the most money a catcher has ever gotten and somewhere in the range of 4-6 years. An extension like that for Realmuto, who is entering his age 30 season in 2021, will take him into his mid 30s. The likely hood of a catcher, who catches as much as him, being productive at that age is slim. Its likely the Phillies would have to take a hit at the back end of the contract. I almost always against long term contracts but with his sheer talent and the Phillies extreme lack of options at catcher, I tend to be okay with the Phillies taking that hit in the final years of his contract in order to have him now.

Matt Szczypiorski

It’s been reported that the Phillies are expected to offer Realmuto a contract that is at least five years in length at more than $23 million per season, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. At this point, the fans want it to be a priority of general manager Matt Klentak to re-sign the best catcher in baseball. However, the longer negotiations continue on into the season, the less likely I think it will be that Realmuto signs an extension. J.T. has said publicly that he wants to be in Philly. Bryce Harper has been seen multiple times this week wearing a t-shirt with Realmuto’s name and number on his back, and he has said multiple times that he wants the organization to re-sign Realmuto. It’s fairly obvious to me: if the man you’re paying $330 million to be the face of your franchise says he wants a guy on the team, you make it happen. If the Phillies don’t re-sign Realmuto after trading away Sixto Sanchez, one of their top prospects, then it will be hard to look at this trade as a worthwhile deal. 

Kristen Danek

First of all, I would like to say that I feel terrible for JT. Best catcher in baseball and he deserves to be setting contract records and setting the market for elite catchers. Unfortunately, the pandemic is going to hinder that. Obviously, if you're the Phillies, you need to resign him - you gave up your alternative catcher and top prospect. 162 games of Andrew Knapp? No thanks. Would it be smart of the Phillies to work with him and come to an agreement before the season starts? Yes. Will it happen? I don't believe so, because the Phillies are under the impression they have all of the power right now. While they probably are willing to offer JT more than most teams will on the open market, I still think that the most likely outcome is that JT hits free agency...and then we see if the Phillies actually put the money where their mouth is. I don't think they'll have to shell out a huge contract to keep him, but they will have to pay more than other teams, and when it comes to paying free agents...I don't have much faith in the front office. My prediction is that we spend September - February on the edge of our seats, waiting for the JT news alert.

Jake Finnerty

I think everyone can agree that last season JT Realmuto was easily the best catcher in the league. Realmuto finished the season with a .275 BA, .820 OPS, .328 OBP, 25 HR, and 83 RBI which all earned him a Silver Slugger Award. Not only was his offense impressive, his performance behind the plate earned him a Gold Glove award last season. A pretty valuable player at the catcher position definitely doesn’t happen often, so the Phillies cannot let this one slip through their fingers. Jt is 28, and clearly, the catcher position takes a toll on one's body because of constantly crouching and getting hit with 90+ mph baseballs. I think that signing Jt to a 5-6 year deal would be perfect and keep him around long enough to build a championship caliber team. In terms of the money itself, I say do whatever you need to to keep him. A star like this guy cannot be lost to another team. So, in the words of Bryce Harper, SIGN HIM!

Michael Lipinski

The Phillies should do everything in their power to sign J.T. Realmuto to a long-term deal.  In my opinion, Buster Posey is the framework that the Phillies should follow when trying to lock up the best catcher in baseball.  Posey is in the middle of an 8-year/$159MM contract, an average of $19.8MM/year.  Posey still catches from time-to-time but he’s also one of the Giants first baseman.  Asking Realmuto to be the Phillies regular catcher every day for the next 5-6 years is a lot to ask due to the physical demands of the position.  With the potential of the DH coming to the NL for good, the Phillies have an opportunity to treat Realmuto the same way the Giants are treating Posey.  Sign Realmuto to a 6-year/$120MM deal with a few options on the back end.  Get it done Klentak!

What are your thoughts on the DH as it relates to the Phillies?

Brandon Musso

I have always been a strong opponent of the the DH because removes a huge strategic part of the game and caters to potential new fans while neglecting current fans and baseball purists. I am fine with the DH being implemented in the NL for this shortened season but I don't want it to go any further than that. With that being said, a DH could really benefit the Phillies this season and beyond. For this season in particular, the DH can allow the Phillies flexibility by giving players days off in the field but keeping their bat in the lineup. This could allow Jay Bruce to get a good amount of at-bats, give Realmuto a few days off behind the plate, and give an opportunity to Alec Bohm to get some meaningful at-bats. If the DH is permanently implemented in the NL, the Phillies could see some benefits by having the ability to put Realmuto and Bryce Harper in the the lineup during the back end of their contracts (if the Phillies sign Realmuto to an extension.) This would give them the ability to still hit even when they might have become a liability in the field. In the end, however, I still hope that the DH rule reverts back to just the AL after this season.

Matt Szczypiorski

Personally, I always hated the idea of having half the league play by a different set of rules. There either needed to be no designated hitter, or every team needed to have one, it just needed to be universal. After the installation of the universal DH for this season, I don’t see a way where the MLB goes back to a situation where this isn’t implemented permanently. It’s better for baseball to have all nine guys in the order be a legitimate threat in the batter’s box. For the 2020 season, the DH is definitely going to help the Phillies. They got lucky in the fact that they have a guy that was perfectly suited for the role and would have likely been the odd man out of a crowded outfield. That man is slugger Jay Bruce. After being acquired in June of 2019, Bruce made an immediate impact on the offense while filling in for the injured Andrew McCutchen. He was less productive once he started battling injuries midseason, but he was effective when healthy. Keeping him in the lineup and out of the outfield is an ideal situation for the Phillies.

Kristen Danek

I'm about as anti-DH as a person can be. While I can see the benefit for the Phillies long-term, with Hoskins, Bohm, a contract with Bryce that will take him into his late playing years, and hopefully a similar contract with JT upcoming, I'm just not a fan of the DH as a concept. If you want the AL and NL to be the same (which they should be), then remove the DH entirely. I think it caters to the audience who believes baseball is all homers and glitz and glamour and takes away from the fundamental strategy of a normal baseball lineup and the double switch. Baseball is an inherently strategic sport - it's about the little things, like determining which pitch to throw and how shifting one foot to the left can dramatically change the outcome of an entire game. Sure, it can be fun to watch jacked dudes hit balls a really far distance. But it's so much more fun to watch a pitcher get a base hit against the odds and knock in a run to take the lead. It's a classic underdog story, and the further we take the game into the strictly home run or strikeout era, the further we get from the small ball strategy that can really make an entire game exciting rather than just a moment.

Jake Finnerty

One of the biggest changes this season was the addition of the DH in the National League. I believe this could benefit the Phillies in the upcoming season. If they go with a similar lineup to last season, where will the upcoming prospect Alec Bohm fit into it all (if they give him a chance to play)? If they choose to put Bohm in, who will sit out? With the addition of the DH, while you may not have everyone in the field, you have all the guys you want for their bat in the order. I think it will be a fresh breath of air for the NL, but I would not want it to become permanent. I like the distinction between the NL and AL with the DH. It gives fans a different watching experience, in my opinion, when you choose to watch a NL game of an AL and vice versa. It is also fun to watch NL and AL teams clash over the course of the season and have to adapt to the home ballparks rules and play to the strategy. The DH will give the NL a nice break this year, and maybe find out who some of their better, slept-on hitters are.

Michael Lipinski

I hate that the DH is coming to the National League because once it is here it’s never going back to the way it was.  I can accept the reality and it really helps the Phillies moving forward.    Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and Alec Bohm are players that have a chance to extend careers and roles due to the DH.  The Phillies will have the ability to add some serious firepower to the lineup which will be fun of the fans.  The purist in me…MAKE THE PITCHERS HIT!

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